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.
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.