To my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ—now the Church in Exile: I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Over the past several decades it has become increasingly clear that the world in which we live does not share at a foundational level our understandings of truth, beliefs, or values. We are realizing, as Peter Leithart has said, “that the Christian underpinnings of our civilization are more eroded than we think.” As these underpinnings are displaced, we as believers find ourselves less at home in this world. The world that was created by God to be the home of his people has become something other, so that his people now live as exiles, resident aliens even though we share in many of the same activities as all citizens.
Living as exiles is uncomfortable and trying. No one finds it natural to live excluded or marginalized. The pressure to accommodate by adapting to this new environment for a more “at home” feel is very real. However, this would be a denial of who we are as God’s people and of his calling for our lives. The adaptation can be subtle and gradual, much like the frog in the kettle of water that gradually adjusts to the rising temperature until it is too late. The beloved apostle John writes to us: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Our Lord Jesus tells us that we who believe in him through his words are branches connected to him who is the true vine (John 15:5). His word to us makes us clean, and he now calls us his friends. So because each of us is one of his, bought with his precious blood, branched into him, we are not of this world even as he is not of the world. Our home is in him and with him. We have been chosen by him to be his very own. We belong to him. He laid down his life for us. Therefore he says to us: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:18-20).
Even as one of his we might be tempted to consider the option of escape through isolation—to attempt to insulate ourselves. After all we are not to love the world. But this alternative has not been given to us by our Lord. Even though we are not “rooted in the world, its system, its way of life,” as Frederick Dale Bruner puts it, we still live and remain in the world. In fact, we are sent to it by our Lord to care for his creation and love its people made in his image. As Jesus prays to his Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). As he was sent by the Father, Jesus sent the disciples into the world so that through their message we would believe.
But it does not stop there. Jesus prays, “…Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Dearly beloved, we remain in the world and engage the world as ones sent with his words of truth and redemption, so that the world will know that the Father has sent Jesus and that the Father loves them even as he loves Jesus. We live in the world. However, we are not rooted in the world, but rather branched in Christ for the life of the world.
The Psalmist asks, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” He then responds, “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (Psalm 11:3-4). So we live in the world with this confidence that the Lord is on his throne and that we are his people through Christ’s work on the cross. He has given his Word by which he upholds all things. By his Word we live and serve branched in him the true vine, who is also the foundation that cannot be shaken but remains forever.
Dr. Eugene Boe, Ph.D. is Dean of Lutheran Brethren Seminary, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and serves as professor of Systematic and Historical Theology.
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