I’m not talking about national immigration issues. I’m talking about Kingdom immigration issues. Nation and kingdom are completely separate entities.
I do think that the national discussion of immigration is helpful for the Kingdom discussion, though, if only to help us relate to the original anxieties the Jews must have felt over the unveiling of God’s new, “open door” immigration policy in Ephesians 2:11-22. Like many policies, it’s a little lengthy, but worth the read:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Okay, so this is pretty straightforward. Before Christ, the Jewish nation was secured and well-defined. The definition was found in the Law, whose rules formed a protective wall around the Jewish religious and social identity. The Law provided an intricate framework of rules and regulations that effectively kept foreigners out. In some ways, it was much better than a physical wall because, as the Jews found out via the Assyrians and Babylonians, physical walls could be destroyed. When the Jews were dispersed and led off into exile, they found out just how helpful their intangible wall could be. It allowed them to maintain their distinctness, even in the midst of a foreign culture.
Of course, foreigners could enter the Jewish nation; they just had to do so via the Law.
Honestly, it was a good system.
And then Christ came and tore it down.
It all sounds great to us, all this talk about peace and inclusiveness and citizenship. But can you imagine the Jewish reaction, even among Jewish Christians? Take a second to ponder the pitfalls of this open-door policy: with no Law in place, how do you regulate basic morality? The Law had a fixed set of physical punishments that were to be applied to different violations. When Christ took those away, it opened the door to all sorts of perversions of morality, with no physical means of curbing them. Also, the Law served as the central regulating document around which the various people in the Jewish nation could unify. Without its cohesive presence, wouldn’t internal conflict abound? And furthermore, if you were just to let anyone in through this new, “easy” path of Christ, then that would include a frighteningly wide array of former pagans. What would happen to the distinctive Jewish identity? Their distinctiveness is what carried them through years and persecution and exile. Wouldn’t the abolition of the Law take that away?
Think about those implications for a minute. Those are a big deal. And as the early church found out, they were valid concerns.
Some scholars even think that the book of Ephesians itself was written to alleviate tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church–either that, or to give the Gentiles some much-needed instruction in basic morality. But we need not speculate about the potential issues of bringing Gentiles into the church. To see them first hand, we have only to turn to the Corinthians. Corinth, you may know, was a Roman colony well-known for its immorality and populated with a wide variety of people from different places in the Roman Empire. From within this morally lax melting pot of humanity emerged a church that seemed to validate the worst fears of any traditional Jewish Christians mourning the loss of their Law-ful identity. Indeed, it is not hard to deduce from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a host of problems that racked this new church. I can imagine the former Pharisee (and self-described flawless legalist) cringing as he wrote to them:
“My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another,’I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” I Cor. 1: 11-13
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” I Cor. 3:1-3
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” 1 Cor. 5:1-2
“Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” 1 Cor. 14:36