Strangers in Your Midst

From the beginning, the Christian faith has been at home in cosmopolitan settings. This has worked in two basic ways. One is when God’s people are living together in a way that truly honors God, and He blesses their land. When this happens, others are attracted to that blessing, and they want to come be near it. They want to partake of the blessing. The other way is when God’s people are scattered by something like persecution, and they go into other secular cosmopolitan settings in order to establish enclaves. Either way, we should see it as an opportunity to share the light of the gospel with those who don’t know the Lord. But there are temptations. In the first instance, we don’t want to become hostile to immigrants, and in the second we don’t want to hole up in our little ghettoes.

The Texts:
“One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Ex. 12:49).

“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).

Summary of the Texts:
We must begin with the understanding that what is commonly called “multiculturalism” is a secular attempt to seduce God’s people into believing that God is not the true and living God. Because there is only one God, there can only be one law. Whenever there is an attempt to have many laws, it is a surreptitious attempt to introduce many gods—polytheism. When we have anything to do it, to the extent we have anything to say, we must insist on “one law” for the native and the stranger both.

But the second greatest commandment in that true law is that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Our second text explicitly insists upon this and applies the principle to the stranger. We have strangers in our midst—they don’t know the customs, they don’t know the language, they don’t know the people—and we ourselves were once in that position. We were at one time strangers in Egypt. Remember that, and love the strangers in your midst as you love yourselves. We were once the immigrants. We were once the strangers. At the beginning of 1 Cor. 10, Paul tells the Gentile Corinthians that our fathers passed through the cloud and the sea. Live in the Scriptures, and learn to identify with your people.

One Law:
One law is what makes love possible. Those who want to set this idea aside because they are driven by sentimental ideas of love are actually introducing the seeds of cultural chaos. When we lose control of our borders, the problem is not the people coming across. The problem is with our laws—government education, food stamps, anchor babies. We are confused. We are adrift. We are the problem. They are not the problem. You can’t build a merry-go-round in your front yard and then complain when the neighbor kids come to play on it. We want to crack down on the drug cartels instead of repenting of our drug use. In any supply/demand interaction, the demand is the engine that makes it go.

We don’t have a problem, for example, on the Rio Grande. We have a symptom on the Rio Grande. The problem is in our hearts, and is reflected in our representatives both in Washington and in our state capitols. That problem is that we will not confess the name of Jesus. If we were to do that, and we repented of the disorderliness of our institutions and legal system, would the stranger and alien be welcome? Of course. So we as Christians repudiate all forms of secularism, whether nativism or globalism. So the answer is not strict but disregarded laws. The answer is reformation and revival. The answer is Jesus. And when Jesus gives the Spirit, He will not just address one issue.

When We Are the Strangers:
Jesus said that we were to go out into all the world and disciple the nations. This means that when we first get there—whether as refugees or church planters doesn’t matter—they will be operating under their system of law. They will be serving their gods. No one should be surprised by that. Our goal should be—peacefully—to supplant that unbelieving system through a bold proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. All idols must fall, and only God will be worshiped, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same (Mal. 1:11).

Guarding Against a False Standard:
There are some who say that, as a matter of theological principle, every congregation should be as mixed and as integrated as the universal church is, and as Heaven will be. This is sometimes overstated, and actually shows a lack of global awareness, rather than any real sensitivity. Does a church in northern Finland really need more Hispanics? Discipling the nations presupposes that nations will continue to exist as nations, and that is all right. The church is a salad, not a melting pot. Does everybody have to learn one language so that we can all worship together in one big service? If so, what language should the preacher use? “I know!” some helpful person says. “Mine!” But everybody all together all the time means that most of them would have to give way—and that is not catholicity, it is hegemony. You don’t improve the salad by making it one big crouton.

But at the same time, we should say, we can say, and we must say, that when the natural forces of cosmopolitan integration are doing their thing, whether in Corinth or Brooklyn, the Christian church has no business creating artificial barriers to fellowship. Remember that the church was born on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). That’s our birthday.

Cosmopolis on the Palouse:
So we live in a small community, in two small towns, with a major university in each town. There are many international students here, almost three thousand. We do have strangers in our midst. We have almost as many opportunities as we have strangers.

Remember the principle of body life. Not everyone is an eye, or an ear. But the body, taken as a whole, if that body is alive and in proximity to such aliens and strangers, must be a welcoming place for them. As a congregation, we should be looking for opportunities. If they visit us, we should not be flummoxed. We should be looking for opportunities to have them in our homes, to help them with English, to explain how the supermarkets work. If you have traveled overseas at all, do you remember how bewildering another language can be? With everybody else using it?

So pray for opportunities, if not for you, then for this congregation. As you are praying for opportunities, you are praying for the love of God’s Word to encompass you both. How? Through the Spirit of God.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • carole

    I am looking forward to hearing this on canonwired as I am already edified by it. 
    I currently live where there are many who cross the border illegally.  I want to love my neighbor in the way that you describe.  Many people I know, who despise the ‘stranger’ also hire the stranger claiming they would go out of business if they did not.  This has always baffled me, and I see it as similar to cracking down on the drug cartel without repenting our own drug use.  Am I understanding that correctly?

  • Jill Smith

    I live in a neighborhood where at least a sizeable minority are undocumented, and I struggle with the same questions.  Hiring an illegal worker for the sake of saving money seems to me immoral, and depriving them of fair wages and the safety measures required by law is downright wicked.  But the morality of what to do in any particular instance escapes me.  If I am aware of an undocumented family living in poverty and I need to hire a gardener, is it wrong (as opposed to illegal) for me to give work rather than charity to that family?  I have tried and failed for years to develop a consistent understanding here.  I recognize that to offer substantial benefits to undocumented aliens is to encourage others to come; yet I find it unthinkable to refuse health care and education to the individual children I have come to know.   I would love to see a practical discussion of what principles should guide how much help, and what kinds of help, we give to the aliens in our midst. 

  • timothy

    Edifying as usual. Thank you.
    Remember that the church was born on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). That’s our birthday.
    I never thought of that! Silly me. Thanks. How old are we now?

  • Robert

    Jill, as I understand it, in your case, offer the charity, not the work. If you offer the work, you are promoting their sin of not trusting God to come lawfully and you are in sin, yourself for breaking immigration laws.  After they know you cared for them, then you can witness.

  • Robert

    You know, if your church started free English classes, people will come.

  • Robert

    BTW, there is a significant number of illegals from Asia