Is the Church in Exile?

The people of God throughout biblical history have been a people of exile. Whether it was under the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks or the Romans, Israel had to learn how to be a holy people in alien lands and under foreign rule.

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The Flight of the Prisoners, James Tissot

Although Christianity was originally a small, persecuted Jewish sect, for much of its history the Church has enjoyed (and often abused) considerable influence and power, and its people have lived with a sense of being at home in the world. That age, known as Christendom, is now over, even in North America where the presence and influence of Christianity had been everywhere.

Christians no longer hold a monopoly in political affairs. Personal world views, religions and societies are no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity. The church has lost its place of privilege in society. For these reasons, ‘exile’ has become a popular word used to describe the situation of the contemporary church.

Exile describes a situation where one is being forced and removed from the familiar and comfortable, estranged from one’s home. It remembers a previous establishment, and hopes for the restoration of that establishment. Like the Israelites who longed for their lost kingdom, many Christians long for the Church’s lost status.

Properly understood, the exile reminds us that God has not abandoned the Church. God does not offer us a return to how things used to be, but instead reminds us of our call to embody something better: the Kingdom of God.

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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One Response to Is the Church in Exile?

  1. Jason Hamilton says:

    I think the fascinating thing is that the church, properly understood, has always been in exile. Hebrews 11, the faith hall of fame, comments that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth seeking a homeland, but they desire a better heavenly country because of this God is not ashamed to be called their God and has prepared a city for them. When the church forgets that it is not from here nor is it to stay here, it loses it’s value and motivation to advance the kingdom. When it is in exile and not longing to return to control, it remembers it does not belong here and so looks to heavenly rewards which compels it to advance the kingdom.

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