Immigration Revisited -by Jeff Olson
During the past several months and years, we have been hearing and reading quite a lot about the need for immigration reform in our country. The arguments, and the passion which characterize them, are likely familiar to many of us and it has come well past the point that we are ready for the rhetoric to make way for some real and lasting solutions. Those should be the subject of principled and civil discourse, but they are not the subject of this writing. What is though is how this issue can serve as an analogy to what the Church should be concerned about on immigration – immigration of souls into the kingdom of God, that is.
While the Bible does not actually employ the word, “immigration”, it certainly does have some application in the life of the Christian and of the Church. By this definition, at least analogously, the church is made up of folks who have come into a new place of residence spiritually in Christ as well as physically within the family of God through the church and eventually into a place He has prepared for us in Heaven (John 14:2-3). We have essentially then immigrated from a place in and of the world to a place in a kingdom which is not of this world; a place where we dwell in the presence of Christ and among His people.
As Christian immigrants, we have crossed a border into a life carrying not just countless blessings but also personal responsibility and accountability. No VISA, no green card, and no papers of any kind are required. However, what is required is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This also carries with it a responsibility for our spiritual and leadership roles in the home, church, and community and accepting the accountability to God which we owe in living out this life in obedience to Him. These are major indicators of authenticity confirming whether or not each of us is truly a citizen of the Kingdom.
Are there any among us – members of churches – who are not citizens of God’s kingdom, who are aliens to the Body of Christ? (2 Timothy 3, Matthew 7:23). Does this justify a call for immigration reform within the Church? No, of course not. God doesn’t need any of us to try to solve this issue, and He doesn’t need any of our ill-conceived brilliance to come up with a new program to re-invent or re-package what he has already instructed us to do. The folly of making all new laws to replace old ones which are not obeyed or enforced is one that our government may choose, but not one that God will accept or adopt. Reform was never in Jesus’ vocabulary, because He knew that a mere re-working of the old material, our old nature, would at best be a patch job, a quick fix. What Christ was interested in was creating new material, a regenerated new nature, a permanent change from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As people migrate into the church, it is God’s design that their citizenship originate from the new birth into the Kingdom. Much too often folks will immigrate to and join the church having by-passed this regeneration and thus are late to (or never do) assimilate into the Body of Christ as vital functioning members. This produces a disconnect which will remain a source of frustration and discontent for these folks as they strive to serve as a body member with no connection, no power, and no relationship with the Head (Christ). Reformation cannot and will not substitute for regeneration. Reformation may close the gap, it may extend their reach, but it will bring them close enough to realize just how far it is they still have to go to cross that real border into God’s Kingdom. The only reform needed is a greater commitment and urgency on the part of the Church to share the Gospel with a lost and dying world which will not only change lives but transform our culture. We must also remember that Christ mandated the Church to make disciples, not converts (that’s His job), during our time in this world (Matthew 28:19) so we do have a place in ensuring that new citizens in God’s kingdom are mentored and prepared to fulfill their role.
In the end, it boils down to a decision that each of us will sooner or later have to make, if we haven’t already. The immigration process is simple and straightforward, but nevertheless narrow (Matthew 7:14) and specific (John 14:6). Christ is at the border, seeking lost souls and awaiting with open arms, hoping that He will see more and more of us migrating from eternal death into eternal life. His sacrifice on the Cross and His Resurrection on the third day created the entry point for you and me so that those who respond positively to Christ’s invitation of salvation can cross over into a new life into a new dwelling place with Him where deportations do not exist and citizenship has no revocation.