Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is the Church in Exile?

In one of my lectures yesterday, the lecturer made the comment that the picture of Exile still translates to the church today. The church is still in a sense in exile, in that the church are strangers in a foreign land.

My first reaction to this was, "No, the church is not in exile!" After all, is not the key emphasis of exile about judgement? Israel was exiled because of unfaithfulness? Doesn't the exile parallel being expelled from the garden, or maybe Israel in bondage in Egypt? Surely the church cannot stand under condemnation in any sense, or under that kind of oppression?!

But as we discussed it further, and as I thought about it some more, I think it is another one of those 'yes and no' answers. I think there is a dual imagery involved in the exile. From the perspective of the unfaithful, it is about judgement. From the perspective of the faithful, it is about still being faithful in a foreign land, waiting for a return to the promised land, trusting in the promises of God, walking by faith and not by sight. The former is not applicable to the church, but the latter is.

Perhaps another way to look at it is to say that the church is not sent into exile (under discipline), as Israel was, but the church does parallel Israel in the resulting situation of having been exiled, of being the people of God in a strange land (while at the same time the whole earth really belongs to the church as her inheritance!). That is because Israel's exile was not only meant to be a single image of expulsion from the land, but after being expelled, the faithful become sojourners like Abraham or even those wanderers (Joshua, Caleb and the next generation of Israelites) who waited to enter the promised land (in fact the wilderness wandering was also a mixed image, of judgement against the unfaithful and patience for the faithful). The problems arise when we try to too neatly collapse the whole Biblical event into a single image.

Anyhow, the point is that I don't as strongly say 'no' to the church being in exile as I initially did :-)


  1. Good thought, Craig.

    I suppose that we are in exile in the sense that we are not home. No matter how "at home" we may feel on this earth, we really are not there, yet. We are far away from what our heart really desires.

    Maybe the Cuban exiles here in the US would be a good example? I mean, most of them are doing very well in places like Florida and California. Life is good for them. They have friends and family nearby.

    However, they are not home. They are not able to go back, many of them. They are just waiting for the day that freedom will come, and they can return.

    Of course, they idealize their homeland, and how things were or are going to be. It won't be like they had imagined it, and there will be a lot of dissapointment.

    We Christians long for the day that we can really be home with the Lord. We can't even imagine how grorious it will be. Instead of being dissapointed, we will be more amazed than anything we could have imagined while in exile here on earth.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Craig.

    God bless,
    Donna Louise

  2. Maybe it's better to think of the church in the wilderness like Israel of old. That the assumption of Hebrews 3-4 for example.

    Rowland Ward

  3. Nice to have you stop by Rowland!

    Yes, I would agree about Hebrews 3-4 and wilderness imagery relating to the church, although I think the same imagery is present in the Exile. I think the Exile seems to parallel the Wilderness experience (although also has some different nuancing).

    I guess the problem with the Exile imagery is that it emphasises having been in the promised land and then expelled from it. This might be more potentially confusing if we try to parallel that aspect in the church's experience. On the other hand, the Wilderness imagery has less emphasis on expulsion and need for return (although the bigger picture does seem to include return imagery for Joseph as well as return to the garden etc). So I suppose Wilderness is a bit more attractive if my hand were forced to choose between the Exile or Wilderness.