Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Christians, Immigration, and the Bible

Thursday, February 1, 2018, 21:58
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By Elinor Griffin, Refugee Ministry Coordinator for Outreach North America, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Recently, a friend of mine told me about her family’s first Christmas in the United States. Her three year old son woke up to the sound of fireworks, but he was not excited. Instead he ran screaming to his parents, because he thought it was the familiar sound of incoming bombs. This little boy is one of more than 22 million refugees forced out of their homelands by violence and persecution. This family was resettled here after rigorous vetting and against almost impossible odds; less than one percent of refugees are resettled into any country annually. [1]

Tragically, LifeWay Research found in 2015 that only twelve percent of evangelical Christians in the United States listed the Bible as a major influence on their immigration views. [2] As Christians who profess that God’s Word is the “only rule of faith and life,” we cannot afford to look to any other source as our foundation, including on the topic of refugees. [3] In an era of deep divisiveness in our nation, Christians have a better way forward; rather than pitting compassion and wisdom against the other as if incompatible, followers of the risen Christ must look to our God to see the two combined. This cannot primarily become a topic of partisan ideals or limitations, but it must first and foremost be seen as an opportunity to engage these men, women, and children who are moving to the United States through refugee resettlement with the gospel. Christ’s Church must respond to the refugee crisis, recognizing that human lives and souls are at stake. In this light, here are four reasons for Christian aid to refugees in the United States.

Biblical Imperative – In Scripture, YHWH repeatedly commands His people to care for the sojourner (sometimes translated as “foreigner,” “stranger” or “resident alien”) the same as the widow, orphan, and poor (Jeremiah 22:3, Leviticus 19:9-10). Throughout redemptive history, God’s compassion for the foreigner is not found to be distant, but instead we see His own life as a physical refugee – Christ Jesus and His parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s genocide (Matthew 2:13-23). Emmanuel, God With Us, left the throne room of heaven and chose to experience the pain and vulnerability of the least of these. This lends added weight to the admonitions from Christ and His apostles in the New Testament to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35), and to provide for the needs of the weak and outcast (Luke 10:25-37). We should care for refugees because of the character of our refugee-God who cares enough for the vulnerable to become like them in their weakness.

Eschatological Opportunity – The redemption of the Tower of Babel, the purpose of the Great Commission, and the hope of the Gospel of Christ is also the promise of Revelation 7 – that men and women from every nation, tribe, people, and language will one day gather before the Lamb, singing His praises as one people (Revelation 7:9). We have an unprecedented opportunity to engage some of God’s elect from every nation, tribe, people, and language in the here and now, perhaps being used in the Lord’s mercy to proclaim the gospel to them for the first time.

Obedience to the Great Commission calls us to go and make disciples of all nations; obedience to Jesus’s words to welcome the stranger commands us to open the doors of our homes and lives to those close by to us in need. God in His sovereignty has combined the two by bringing the nations to our doorsteps. The Church in North America can revel in the diversity of the Body of Christ by offering welcome that transcends cultural differences, looking forward to the hope of heaven.

Incarnational Expression – It is a repeated plea among refugees and those that work with them that refugees’ biggest need is not food, clothing, or shelter, but community. As Rev. George Tolias in Athens, Greece said, “They need someone to come live with and among them. And what better community to do that than the Church?” Who better to live with and among the hurting than the people of Christ Jesus, who came and tabernacled among us (John 1:14)? In Scripture and through the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we know our natural state apart from Christ – that before His regenerating work in our lives we were lost in death and darkness. We were spiritual refugees, separated from our Creator. Paul addressed this grave reality as well as our glorious salvation when he wrote:

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ….So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… (Ephesians 2:12-19)

Caring for the foreigner should be a natural outflow for the Church – those who were once not a people but now are children of the Most High God.

Sovereign Design – All of this unites under the banner of God’s sovereignty. In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul proclaimed truth about the God of heaven and earth to the people of Athens (and to us today). We read,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:23-27)

Our sovereign God moves individuals and entire nations to bring His own to Himself. Christians can therefore respond to the current global refugee situation not primarily as a crisis , but as a sovereign working of our great King who rules over all. Christ’s Church in North America can confidently welcome the refugees that God has brought to our nation and neighborhoods, knowing that He places individuals and people groups when and where He wants them. That includes the refugees who are in the United States, and it includes all of us here who have this window of opportunity to serve them with the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria!


1 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Figures at a Glance.” UNHCR. Accessed January 19, 2018.

2 “Evangelical Views on Immigration.” February 2015. Accessed January 19, 2018.

3 The Confession of Faith of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, page 12. Accessed January 19, 2018.
http://arpchurch.org/documents/confession-of-faith/. Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster as the same is received by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church including amendments approved by the General Synods of 1959, 1976, 1984, 2001 and 2014.


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