Monday, 16 January 2012
By T.G. Blankenship
I focus a lot on the issue of identity. Ecclesiology is important to me and I believe our ecclesiology (study of the church) is rooted in our Christology (study of Christ). As a result of this I often write about how Christians, like Jesus, operate within the world but are not of it in nature. By adoption of the Father God we are citizens of his heavenly kingdom and thus have become strangers to the world which is a rebellious place ruled by Satan. The world is not all bad since it is a creation of God which he deemed good in Genesis (and even still the creation obeys him according to the gospels) but the influence of the enemy is strong. It is not at all uncommon for me to stress that Christians are to view themselves as strangers or foreigners where they live. Cities, states, countries, world... we are aliens to them all even though they are, for the time being, our home. We are like the exiles in Jeremiah whom God told to settle in the land, expecting to establish a life where he had placed them.
I would like to share with you an early Christian writing that supports this notion and cemented it more firmly within me several years ago.
Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of humankind by country, speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not speak a special language; they do not follow a peculiar manner of life. Their teaching was not invented by the ingenuity or speculation of men, nor do they advocate mere book learning, as other groups do. They live in Greek cities and they live in non-Greek cities according to the lot of each one. They conform to the customs of their country in dress, food, and the general mode of life, and yet they show a remarkable, an admittedly extraordinary structure of their own life together. They live in their own countries, but only as guests and aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and endure everything as aliens. Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country to them. They marry like everyone else. They beget children, but they do not expose them after they are born. They have a common table, but no common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but through their way of life they surpass these laws. They love all people and are persecuted by all. Nobody knows them, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and just through this they are brought to life. They are as poor as beggars, and yet they make many rich. They lack everything, and yet they have everything in abundance. They are dishonored, and yet have their glory in this very dishonor. They are insulted, and just in this they are vindicated. They are abused, and yet they bless. They are assaulted, and yet it is they who show respect. Doing good, they are sentenced like evildoers. When punished with death, they rejoice in the certainty of being awakened to life. Jews attack them as people of another race, and Greeks persecute them, yet those who hate them cannot give any reason to justify their hostility.
In a word: what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. As the soul is present in all the members of the body, so Christians are present in all the cities of the world. As the soul lives in the body, yet does not have its origin in the body, so the Christians live in the world yet are not of the world. Invisible, the soul is enclosed by the visible body: in the same way the Christians are known to be in the world, but their religion remains invisible. Even though the flesh suffers no wrong from the soul, it hates the soul and fights against it because it is hindered by the soul from following its lusts; so too the world, though suffering no wrong from the Christians, hates them because they oppose its lusts. The soul loves the flesh, but the flesh hates the soul; as the soul loves the members of the body, so the Christians love those who hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, yet it holds the body together; the Christians are kept prisoners in the world, as it were, yet they are the very ones who hold the world together. Immortal, the soul lives in a mortal house; so too the Christians live in a corruptible existence as strangers and look forward to incorruptible life in heaven. When the body is poorly provided with food and drink, the soul gains strength. In the same way the number of Christians increases day by day when they are punished with death. Such is the important task God has entrusted to the Christians and they must not shirk it.
It's interesting how different the lives of the Christians in the late second century look from the lives of Christians today in the United States. The issues are a bit different and the persecutions and deaths are vastly different. The Christians were more rightly hated then and there than they are here and now (in my opinion). Since Christians are in such a peculiar position in the United States today (compared to the first few hundred years of the Church) this teaching concerning identity and citizenship is more important than ever. Now, when it is easy to be overly comfortable and identified with worldly nations, Christians must remember their true identity, their true home, their true citizenship, and live according to the demands that come along with that.
We are to be a unique people, in this world but not of it. More than anything else this looks like living righteous lives in which sin is not present among us. However, we refrain from sinning because of who we are, because of our identity. Because we belong to God and his kingdom and thus operate under his reign we obey him and keep away from sin (which is rebellion against his reign). It is my belief that this allegiance to Christ, in terms of identity, goes beyond the issue of sin and reaches into how we define ourselves on this earth.