Back in March, we talked about sphere sovereignty and how it can help us think and talk about immigration. Then, we considered this issue within the sphere of the government. In this newsletter we are going to look at how we should think of immigration within the sphere of the church.
To review, sphere sovereignty is the idea that God has created distinct spheres of authority within the world. Governments have a certain sphere of authority, while the church has another sphere of authority. When applying passages of Scripture we need to ensure we are not taking a passage that is written for one sphere--say, the church--, and applying it to another sphere, such as the government. A simple example is a Christian police officer who is both to use the “power of the sword” (Rom 13:4) to protect the citizens and to follow Jesus’ teachings to “turn the other cheek.” (Matt 5:39) The sphere the police officer is currently operating in (as an on-duty officer, or as a private citizen) would tell him which scriptural principle to apply to his situation. As I mentioned in the March newsletter, many misunderstandings about the response to immigration result from taking a single Bible passage and applying it to all spheres. This wouldn’t work for Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek, and it doesn’t work for passages related to immigration.
Churches, while they reside in particular nations, do not belong to those nations, but are embassies of God’s eternal kingdom. (John 18:36, Phil 3:12) God’s kingdom is made up of people from every nation, tribe, people and language. (Rev 7:9) In one sense, God’s kingdom is wholly made up of immigrants. In Romans 4, Paul tells us that we are not born into God’s household, but become part of God’s family through faith. In other words, we all had to go through an immigration process when we became Christians. And we now live as spiritual foreigners--refugees--, awaiting the day we make it to our new home. This should give all Christians compassion for refugees and immigrants.
The purpose of the Church is to make disciples from all nations. (Matt 28:19) Traditionally, this meant missionaries would go overseas, but now, with the ongoing refugee crises, the nations are coming to us. We now have opportunities to bring the gospel to all nations without even leaving our city. In Acts 17:26-7, Paul tells us that God has ordained the boundaries and movements of all people throughout history. Thus the millions of refugees seeking a home is not a mishap, but part of God’s sovereign purpose.
Many refugees come from places where it is difficult to send Christian missionaries, and now God is bringing these formerly isolated people to us. As a church we should welcome people from around the globe because of the opportunity to share the gospel with them. Are there risks in welcoming refugees? Yes, of course. It’s the government's job to figure out how to minimize these risks. But as Christians, when did we start thinking it wasn’t risky to be a Christian? When did we start thinking there wouldn’t be a cost to following Christ? Can we claim to follow Jesus, who willingly suffered and died on a cross for his enemies, if we first seek safety and isolation from the very type of people that Jesus died for–those who wanted to kill him?
The influx of refugees and immigrants should be exciting for God’s Church. Now the nations are coming to us! And what a message of hope the Gospel has to those who have no home. For at the heart of the Gospel is the story of a man named Jesus, who, not long after he was born, was taken by his parents as a refugee to Egypt. The Gospel offers the hope of a new beginning. Whether we live in the suburbs or the slums, the Gospel shows the best is yet to come. Because of Christ, we are all immigrants, walking by faith towards the true home Jesus has prepared for us in heaven.