I have began reading the book Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. I know some might find it surprising that I have not read this book yet. I have read other books written by both authors but never this one, until now. Actually a woman at the church I serve has mentioned it several times and so she persuaded me to get a copy and read it.
Any ways, the authors open up in the preface with an incredible description of the church that seems even more relevant today than when the book was originally published in 1989. Hauerwas and Willimon write:
The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another. In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens. (p. 12)
This description of the church is not only true (cf. 1 Pet 2:9-12) but it is perhaps the most ignored aspect of ecclesiology (doctrine of church) in American Christianity.
So that we have a better idea of why the church is to be resident aliens among the world, observe how Paul compares Christians to the world. Paul writes in Philippians 3:18-21:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the powerthat enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
See the contrast. The focus of those who are outside of the church is “earthly things” but the church belongs to heaven. In other words, while the world is focused on the affairs of this world, the church, as citizens of heaven and thus, by necessity, aliens residing in the world, is focused on Jesus Christ who is bringing everything under his Lordship.
But if this is true, then why are so many Christians focused on earthly things? Particularly, the earthly things I am speaking about is American politics. Besides the exuberant amount of Christians using Facebook as a platform for American politics, I have received more than a dozen pieces of mail from Pastors around the nation telling me how I should vote and in my own state of Maryland. In addition to that, I have listened to numerous commercials in which Pastors were speaking as to how I should vote.
Now do not misunderstand me at this point. I am not suggesting that Christians should abstain from voting (nor am I suggesting they should vote) and I am not suggesting that Christians can never express an opinion about a particular politician or political issue. The problem I see is that Christianity, or at least some of it, appears to be better evangelists of human politics than evangelists of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of seeking to win others to Christ, the goal appears to be winning people to a political perspective. It is as though American politics has become the mistress of Christianity. Even though Jesus is called “master”, the witness for Christ has gone silent because it is impossible to serve two masters.
Whatever we might say about Paul’s acknowledgement of his Roman citizenship in the book of Acts, it ought to be clear that Paul’s passion was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He lived and breathed it. By the power of the Spirit, he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ courageously and continuously. Why?