The Christian and the Immigrant

Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

“People are commanded to cultivate equity toward all without exception. For, if no mention had been made of strangers, the Israelites would have thought that, provided they had not injured any one of their own nation, they had fully discharged their duty; but, when God recommends guests and sojourners to them, just as if they had been their own kindred, they thence understand that equity is to be cultivated constantly and toward all men. Nor is it without cause that God interposes Himself and His protection, lest injury should be done to strangers; for since they have no one who would submit to ill-will in their defense, they are most exposed to the violence and various oppressions of the ungodly, than as if they were under the shelter of domestic securities….”

“He recommends strangers to them on this ground, that the people, who had themselves been sojourners in Egypt, being mindful of their ancient condition, ought to deal more kindly to strangers; for although they were at last oppressed by cruel tyranny, still they were bound to consider their entrance there, vis., that poverty and hunger had driven their forefathers thither, and that they had been received hospitably, when they were in need of aid from others…. Moreover, it must be observed that, in the second passage, they are commanded to love strangers and foreigners as themselves. Hence it appears that the name of neighbour is not confined to our kindred, or such other persons with whom we are nearly connected, but extends to the whole human race; as Christ shews in the person of the Samaritan, who had compassion on an unknown man (Luke 10:30).”

“He confirms the foregoing decree by a reference to the nature of God himself; for the vile and abject condition of those with whom we have to do, causes us to injure them the more wantonly, because they seem to be altogether deserted. But God declares that their unhappy lot is no obstacle to His administering succor to them… In short, God distinguishes Himself from men, who are carried away by outward appearance, to hold the rich in honour, and the poor in contempt; to favour the beautiful or the eloquent, and to despise the unseemly… [it is] an unjust judgment, which diverts us from the cause itself, when our minds are prejudiced by what ought not to be taken into account.” (John Calvin)

I Remember R.C. Sproul

The first theology book from a Reformed perspective I ever read was R.C. Sproul’s, Chosen By God. It is a slender volume and I read it when I was sixteen or seventeen. I have never re-read or referred to that book since, and yet I vividly recall much of it. I recall the introduction where R.C. distinguishes between acknowledging the fact of God’s predestination and understanding how Christians are to derive comfort from the doctrine. That resonated with me. I was a member of a Baptist church at the time that had a high regard for the Bible. I was aware of the teaching of Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. I could see the fact of predestination. Yet this teaching perplexed me. At the time I viewed this teaching as standing in paradox with human free will. Like the Trinity or the two natures of Christ, here was another mystery of our faith. Furthermore, the whole matter seemed academic – an issue for seminary students; not for the average person in the pew.

R.C. exposed me to the broader Biblical teaching and set the doctrine of predestination in it’s wider context. This was my first exposure to the so-called “five points” of the doctrines of Grace. I began to see how these teachings were connected as a coherent whole. Fallen human nature, God’s call, the atonement, and Christian perseverance are all interdependent. I recall R.C’s appeal to Augustine and the four-fold state of man, his illustration from John Edwards and Carroll’s Cheshire Cat to teach on the freedom of the will, his Greek word study of John 6:44, and his unique (and persuasive) explanation of the perplexing passage in Hebrews 6. Although Chosen by God is a short book, R.C.’s argument was cogent, his appeal to Scripture relevant, his illustrations memorable and to the point, and the whole is easily understood by an average high school student.

This was R.C.’s genius. His gift was his ability to communicate complex ideas in simple ways. He lectured on Kierkegaard and Calvin and brought great thinkers out of the Philosophy and seminary classroom and into the family room and car radio. He communicated Confessional Presbyterian Christianity to a broad swath of diverse Christian traditions. He influenced Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and so many others. R.C. influenced me in my desire to be a teacher of the church. I was never tempted to become an academic theologian. My goal was always to communicate God’s truth simply. Yet I quickly realized how difficult simple and engaging communication can be. I am still learning from R.C. ways to communicate more effectively.

God is Mindful of the Humble (Luke 1:46-55)

“This song of Mary’s is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Christmas hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas songs, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of brining down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of the world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.”

“Mary, filled with the Spirit and prepared. Mary, the obedient handmaid, humbly accepting what is to happen to her, what the Spirit asks of her, to do with her as the Spirit will, speaks now by the Spirit of the coming of God into the world, of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. She knows better than anyone what it means to wait for Christ. He is nearer to her than to anyone else. She awaits him as his mother. She knows about the mystery of his coming, of the Spirit who came to her, the Almighty God who works his wonders. She experiences in her own body that God does wonderful things with the children of men, that his ways are not our ways, that he cannot be predicted by men, or circumscribed by their reasons and ideas, but that his way is beyond all understanding or explanations, both free and of his own will.”

“Where our reason is offended, where our nature rebels, where our piety creeps anxiously away, there, precisely there, God loves to be. There, he confuses the understanding of the clever. There he offends our nature, our piety. There he will dwell and no one can deny him. And now, only the humble can believe him, and rejoice that God is so free and so wonderful, that he works miracles when the children of men despair. He has made the lowly and humble to be lifted up. That is the wonder of wonders, that God loves the lowly: ‘God has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.'” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dec 17 1933)