There are a number of passages in Old Testament that point to God’s concern for caring for those from other cultures and immigrants, like Exo 22:21a (and emphasized again Exo 23:9):
You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners
However, other OT passages like this (including Lev 23:22, Num 15:15, Lev 25:6, etc.) are not just isolated, but represent a mere foretaste of the grand theme of the mission of the in-gathering of the nations in the New Testament. The famous passage known as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, sets forth this mission in clear terms, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. The Greek here for “nations”, is “ethnos”, which is more precisely translated as ethnic groups or cultures.
This is more than just a call to evangelize, but reveals God’s aim to glorify Himself through the manifold praise and diverse adoration of every nation. The focus on the nations/ethnic groups, the “ethnos” is repeated numerous times in the New Testament, and is climatically central to God’s final vision of His bride, the Church, in Rev 7:9-10:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
We can’t compartmentalize this commission, this vision, to just inviting some friends to church sometime, it must redefine every facet of our interaction with our community and society. A singular commitment to this mission means rejecting a zenophobic cocoon, and instead embracing a whole-hearted pursuit of showing God, His Kingdom, His love to every ethnic group both near and far.
This affects both our local activities and broader public policies. We all have refugees and immigrants among us that we can reach out to. But we can’t honestly claim to be committed to teaching and calling the nations to obedience by building fences to keep them out. We undermine the efforts of those that are preaching the gospel when we bomb the very ones God called us to reach out to and love. Welcoming immigrants is not only integral to mission of in-gathering, but many believe migration is one of the powerful opportunities for many to escape poverty, which fulfills another strong Biblical theme of caring for the poor. Our allegiance to God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of all the nations, even to those that are considered our enemy (Matt 5:43), or that we fear might affect us, or alter our land, must usurp any allegiance to our country or our culture (Matt 6:24). Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Lord, please forgive us for our hypocrisy and lack of commitment to your glory among the nations. May we demonstrate your ways, your welcoming love, your invitation, you forgiveness, your generosity, to every culture both close and distant, friend or foe.
I may try to write about these topics a little more later. Some of these deserve more depth, if I get a chance. But we will see.
One thought on “Welcoming the Nations”
I hope you are able to write about this more. Do you think it is important to decisively distinguish between our nation and the Beloved Community of Jesus when you go into more detail about building fences or bombing nations? It seems to me that we in the Evangelical stream sometimes speak of our country as if our country is not a principality but almost the church. Someone has written, I can’t remember who, that the United States may be the best Babylon that has ever been but it is still Babylon. I believe and want to support activism such as exemplified by Dr. King, or Caesar Chavez, but I am afraid of diminishing our witness if we confuse the nation with the church. We can influence the nation and should, but do you think there is a subtle difference in asking how we as followers of Jesus can be friends of Jesus when we are faced with questions like border fences or supporting wars or participating in unhealthy ways with the emphases of consumerism or rights etc? For example I am trying to understand just war theory even though I at this point believe it is incompatible with Jesus’ teaching. And one key tenant and unarguable part of it is for a Christian to support or take part in a war that does not meet just war criteria and therefore is unjust,is sin. Christians should not take part or contribute to unjust wars. One author that insists that fighting in a just war is a requirement of following Jesus (I struggled reading this) emphasized that it is an important function of the teachers in the church to thoroughly teach us just war theory. He also agreed this has not been done in hundreds of years. Consequently Christians are not equipped to be able to distinguish between a just and unjust war. So, it seems to me, that I have failed in the past to distinguish between just and unjust wars because of two things. I didn’t know anything about it and wasn’t curious because whatever war my country was involved in was just because I had confused my country with the church. Similarly we are not taught very well about distinguishing between God’s economy as revealed by Jesus’ teaching and the economic isms of the nations no matter which ism it is, capitalism, some form of socialism or communism. I am more hopeful that this is changing, and some of that hopefulness comes from reading your writing.