If you’re a Christian, you want to be faithful to Jesus Christ in all things, which means you desire to conform your thoughts and actions to the Bible. A series of recent events is challenging us to do so with respect to refugees. Different views are emerging and many are appealing to the Bible as supporting their respective position on how the United States should handle refugees. Appealing to the Bible is good but not if you do it wrongly.
There is a particular error that many well-meaning Christians are making when they apply the Bible to these current events. And that error is this – they are making a direct application of old covenant legislation to the nation of the United States, expecting that Israel’s approach should be the exact approach taken by the American government. This error is exemplified by a recent article in Relevant Magazine, where the author appeals to Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, Malachi, Job, and 1 Kings as giving instruction for how we ought to handle immigrants and refugees in America. This is a confusion of the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this age. Modern nation-states are not the fulfillment of old covenant Israel; the Church is. The Church is the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:28-29), the “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9), citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), heirs of the New Jerusalem (Heb. 11:10,16; Gal. 4:26), etc.
Therefore, instead of directly applying Old Testament civil laws about refugees to the United States (something few want to do with OT civil laws about adultery), we need to recognize that the heart of their application is for the Church. So, how do various OT texts about “refugees” apply to the Church? They apply in two primary ways. First, just like the Israelites were once slaves and sojourners in Egypt, these texts teach us that, by nature, none of us belonged to the heavenly kingdom of Christ. Paul writes of us in Ephesians 2, “you were… separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” But now, in Christ, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Spiritually-speaking, we were refugees, but King Jesus has granted us asylum by sheer grace.
Secondly, these texts teach us that we meet “refugees” whenever a visitor attends our church on the Lord’s Day. Instead of crossing a physical border, entering the land of Canaan, the visitor to our worship enters a heavenly assembly of “the kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:18-29). The visitor steps into new covenant Israel, experiences a foretaste of the new creation, and is bombarded with manna from heaven in the word of God. Though they don’t belong to your church, they are among us, seeking spiritual refuge, and we owe them our fellowship and our love. Do not mistreat them (Lev. 19:33-34). Care for them in any way you can (Lev. 19:9-10). Remember that you, at one time, did not belong to the church, so have pity on those that do not at present (Deut. 10:18-19).
Christians of different philosophical and political schools may address the current political problems in different ways. All should be seeking the love of God and neighbor. Let us not wrongly apply Scripture, declaring “Thus saith the Lord” where biblical wisdom, not biblical law, is most-appropriate. Rather, let us learn the Bible’s lesson that we, who were once spiritual refugees, are now called to show mercy and compassion to those that sojourn among us, the Israel of God under the new covenant.