At Christar we enter 2016 with anticipation and hope for the opportunities and experiences that lie ahead. Never before have world events pressed upon us such an urgency and eagerness to share the love of Christ with those who do not yet know the gospel. Around the globe Christar workers are ready with new outreach plans, praying expectantly for many Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims to come to faith.
Here in the United States we are amazed to see how God is bringing people from least-reached communities into our own neighborhoods. Those for whom missionaries in previous generations gave their lives to reach may soon sit in the cubicle next to us at work or drop off their children at the same schools ours attend! Could we have ever imagined a day when people from the remotest parts of the world would live next door?
However, as we anticipate their arrival, we also see the Church struggle to resist voices of fear and confusion around the issue of immigration, especially around the question of Muslims coming into the United States. American Christians are pulled on one hand by the call of the gospel to welcome the stranger and to be Christ’s witnesses, while at the same time, we witness the atrocities of San Bernardino and the Boston Marathon. This conflict highlights the reality that we hold two citizenships—one in heaven and one on earth.
Believers have dual citizenship.
As citizens of the U.S., we are profoundly blessed to be a part of a country that has historically protected the freedoms of worship, service, ministry and life. What cannot be missed is that these freedoms and blessings that we have enjoyed for hundreds of years are not to be preserved simply for our benefit, but are a means to a greater end: for others to know of God’s love and truth (Psalm 67).
We are not only citizens of the U.S., but are also heavenly citizens (Philippians 3:20). Jesus’ teaching, notably the Sermon on the Mount, emphasizes a lifestyle that is governed by an eternal perspective. The example of Abraham as a sojourner in this world (Hebrews 11) provides insight into living here but pursuing the eternal, continually “looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.”
As we navigate this dual citizenship, Paul exhorts believers to walk “in a manner worthy”—that is, to live as citizens, according to the civic duties of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). He indicates that this heavenly citizenship is to be gospel-centric.
Dual citizenship: rights and responsibilities.
A core aspect of dual citizenship is the opportunity to exercise the privileges that come with belonging to the second country. Such privileges include the ability to live in that country, to enjoy the programs offered by that country and to travel to other countries with the identity of that country.
The other reality of dual citizenship is a commitment to carry out the responsibilities of a citizen. Such responsibilities include paying taxes, civil and military obligations and, sometimes, physical presence in order to maintain citizenship.
Priority of one citizenship over another?
When a person has dual citizenship it is likely that a time will come when the responsibilities of one country will be in conflict with those of the other. At such a time, a person must choose which country will have the priority. Making such choices may jeopardize or diminish the privilege of being a citizen in one country or the other.
Difficult choices in dual citizenship.
As U.S. citizens, we have obligations to our nation. We must be faithful to fulfill those responsibilities wherever/whenever they do not conflict with the eternal truths and directives of Scripture. For example, when our federal government begins to prohibit public criticism of unbiblical lifestyles, then we must choose to speak truth in love even if such comments are not popular in the eyes of our society.
Biblical principles that apply to our choices and decisions in today’s context.
As citizens of heaven, we must align ourselves first with God’s eternal purposes. What are they?
- There will be people from every tongue, tribe and nation worshiping Jesus in eternity (Revelation 5:9; 7:9).
- Christians are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). “Ethne,” the Greek word translated as “nations,” incorporates more than the geopolitical understanding of this word.
- Today there are some 3,900 unreached people groups…of which about 1,300 are unengaged (no intentional witness and church-planting effort among them).[i]
- In today’s world, ministry to the least-reached is not only a matter of going there to where they live, but of reaching those who come here to our own communities.
- Love is the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ (John 13:34-35).[ii]
- The dominant characteristic of Christ-like love is service and self-sacrifice (Mark 10:45; see also Mark 8:33-38). In Luke 10 we read how Jesus illustrates the second greatest commandment with the story of a man risking his life for a social and ethnic adversary who was in critical need.
Should Christians urge the U.S. to ban Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.?
No, for several reasons. First, to do so fails to acknowledge how God is at work in the movement of peoples. Paul preached to the philosophers at Athens in Acts 17:26, saying that it is God who determined “appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (NASB). God has a purpose for each people group’s location: He puts them there so that “they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27, NASB)
When Christians speak of banning people of a particular religious bloc from entrance into the U.S., are they placing the interests of our earthly citizenship above that of our heavenly citizenship? God’s purpose for Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and any other religious bloc is for them to be where they can seek Him and find Him. May we be channels through which He accomplishes His purposes.
Second, those who oppose immigration of Muslims raise the issue of personal safety above the cause of the gospel. While it is not wrong for a country to pursue safety for its citizens, safety is not the biblical standard for God’s people.
Opposition, persecution and danger are to be anticipated for those who hold citizenship in heaven. Jesus predicted persecution (Matthew 5:10–12; 24:9–14; Luke 21:12–19; John 16:2); it is a recurrent theme in Acts (Acts 4:17–18; 5:17–42; 7:54–8:3; 12:1–5) and in the letters of Paul (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:23–26; 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16; see also 2 Timothy. 3:11–12). Persecution and danger also appear to be part of the occasion of the writing of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:1–11) and 1 Peter (1 Peter 1:6–7; 4:12–16; 5:9–10).[iii]
More importantly, in a fallen, fear-filled world it is often because of our willingness to suffer anything and everything that the gospel is spread widely and received as good news. Paul highlights this truth in numerous letters (Colossians 1:24-29; Philippians 1:27-29; 2 Corinthians 4:6-18; 2 Timothy 2:1-7). John Piper’s response to Ronnie Smith’s death makes a strong case along these lines and is worth reading: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-we-send-a-person-to-his-death.
A central concern with allowing Muslims to immigrate to the U.S. arises from the fear that there will be more incidents like what took place in San Bernardino, California. While this is possible, as immigrants with terrorist intent may make it through the vetting process, it is even more likely that those who have terrorist intent have not come to the U.S. as immigrants but through other means.
Do we deny safety and hope to the tens of thousands of immigrants who surely are victims of the terrorism of extremists to reduce the possibility that we might become victims as well? As citizens of heaven, we dare not.
As we evaluate our position on this difficult topic as believers in Jesus, our defining question must come down to this: Are we living primarily for our earthly citizenship or our heavenly/eternal one?
Photo courtesy of Christena Dowsett, Independent Photojournalist, ChristenaDowsettPhoto.com .
[ii] Two other core characteristics are truth (John 8:32; 17:17) and unity (John 17:22,23).
[iii] Myers, A. C. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (p. 814). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 1987.