The Immigrant Church

Every church is called to be an immigrant church.

The concept of an immigrant church may be foreign to you (pardon the pun). There are immigrant churches everywhere. Sometimes they're organized around a non-majority culture language. Sometimes they form around a persecuted community. Sometimes they form around people who have a common formative going-out experience.

In your neighborhood, look for a Korean Presbyterian Church or a Chinese Baptist Church. Look for a church whose services are not in English. They're not too hard to find, if you look carefully.

Immigrant churches have existed through history. German Christians set up shop in England and Spain (Bonhoeffer actually pastored German congregations in both countries). British Christians fled to the Netherlands before they moved to Massachusetts, swindled the locals and gave us Thanksgiving. Immigrants formed churches in Persia and China. Immigrants from Jerusalem planted most of the early Christian churches.

These immigrant churches are easy to identify. Immigrant churches act and look and speak in ways that are distinct from the world around them. And, yet, there's more to being an immigrant church than this.

In 1 Peter 2, the Apostle calls the church to live as foreigners and aliens in the midst of the pagan culture. They are to live distinct lives, present but separate. This distinctiveness is difficult to maintain. This is why Stanley Hauerwas jokes that the church doesn't have to make the world more just, but instead has to make the world the world.

Who knows this better than immigrants? As immigrants struggle with assimilation, they live out a metaphor for every Christian community. Distinct in language, composition and behavior. The distinctiveness that emerges en la idioma que hablamos, also emerges in the way we speak the truth in love and speak the truth to power. It emerges in the make-up of our community. It emerges in how we live our lives.

Immigrants are a gift to the church because the church is called to be an immigrant church. Yet many of us are not immigrants. We live in the places where we grew up. We know the culture and feel comfortable in it. We are so familiar with our surroundings. And when God calls us out, to live as foreigners and exiles, we don't know where to begin.

Thank God for the immigrants in our churches. Whether they know it or not, they teach us important parts of what it looks like to be the church Jesus calls us to be. Without them, we'd be lost. By God's grace, we will always have immigrants in our midst. By God's grace, our churches will be immigrant churches.

This is the eighth post in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... Campus Applications concerning Immigration.

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