This article is condensed from a blog posted on The Stand, AFA’s blogsite (afa.net/the-stand)
September 2018 – Illegal immigration and the refugee crisis continue to be hotly debated in the Christian community.
As we wrestle with such weighty matters, it is critical that Christians turn to Scripture for guidance as much as possible.
Some Christians believe the Bible is clear on these matters, citing Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 19:34: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (NIV).
From the New Testament, some Christians argue that the command to love your neighbor requires America – a so-called Christian nation – to help those in need.
However, if we are concerned with “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15*), here are some things to remember:
1. Biblical passages that address individual Christians – or the church – don’t necessarily apply to governments.
There is no doubt that Christ commanded Christians to be generous, to care for those in need, and to love our neighbor.
However, does this apply to government programs? May Christians who have the power to vote – as do those in the West – use that power to bring the government into the equation? Absolutely.
However, must Christians vote to do so? And if Christians do vote to do so, how much government activity should we demand? How much tax money should be allocated? What sort of programs must we call for? Food stamps only? Job training programs? Is there ever a time when someone should cease getting aid?
These questions are vexing, but here’s the problem: At this point, the Bible ceases to be a guide.
Instead, it becomes a matter of sound judgment, not biblical injunction. Christians, like everyone else, make their case in the public square and attempt to persuade others to join them.
Here is the principle: Biblically speaking, the government is not the same as the individual Christian, and it is not the same as the church. Therefore, believers must be careful not to apply to government Scriptures intended for the church.
For example, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
So, we must conclude that individual Christians are to forgive their enemies. But must we also conclude that governments should forgive their enemies? Must we demand that criminals convicted of crimes be released and not sent to prison?
The application of this principle is that individual Christians should help refugees who are in our nation. But the issue of who we allow in – and how many – is not a biblical matter. It is a political matter.
2. Understanding the proper biblical function of government is critical to this debate.
Many Christians fail to understand the purpose of government in a fallen world, and they act as if the matter is irrelevant to Christians focused on the eternal kingdom. But God has ordained government to serve His purposes on the earth as surely as He has ordained the church to carry out its assigned role.
Romans 13 makes plain the fact that governments derive their authority from God and are considered ministers or servants of Yahweh (vv. 1, 4). They help order human existence, represent the authority of God Himself, restrain evil, and reward good.
Therefore one must assume that a government has both the right and the responsibility before God to maintain order. Surely that would include providing for national borders – which might require restricting immigration and the flow of refugees across them.
Few of the Christians who advocate increasing the number of immigrants or refugees into the U.S. ever seem to wrestle with this matter. Invariably their responses are: “Yes, of course, the government should establish secure borders and enforce laws, but ….”
Such a proclamation is not helpful. In fact, it does not wrestle with the subtleties of the issue at all. A viable resolution requires more than platitudes.
We need these questions answered: Should a government allow every refugee who wants to enter the country to do so? No? Then exactly how should a government decide who and how many?
If a Christian insists that “love your neighbor” requires us (as a country) to accept, say, more Syrian refugees, then that Christian cannot restrict the refugee process at all. The moment a Christian says a government can be loving and restrict the refugee process, the Christian has then admitted that the political process must take place. In other words, the government must be allowed to do its job.
But if it does its job and restricts the refugee process, that Christian cannot argue that the country is no longer being loving. Why? Because the Bible does not quantify how many refugees a country must allow. Once again, that is a matter of sound judgment, rather than a biblical command.
3. Old Testament passages dealing with immigration, refugees, or foreigners in Israel do not apply to our current political debates.
It is clear that Old Testament passages (e.g., Leviticus 19:34) required God’s people to love and treat respectfully non-Jews who were living among them or passing through.
However, such verses merely assume that certain people would fall into those categories because transient peoples were common in the ancient world. Virtually all societies, and especially those in that part of the world – in the middle of major trade routes – were quite used to seeing trade caravans passing through and foreigners who stayed for a few months conducting business.
These biblical references instruct God’s people to treat lovingly those who were already passing through. The more likely parallel would be: How should Christians today treat legal immigrants who are in our midst?
4. Passages that apply to Israel do not always apply to other nations like the U.S.
It is probably safe to assume that Leviticus 19:34 requires Christians not only to help the foreigners already in their midst, but also to press their government to do likewise.
Sometimes the moral force behind a commandment given to Israel is universal in its application. But this is not always the case. Great care should be exercised when attempting to stretch a passage that might apply only to Israel and make it universally binding.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is a classic example of a promise made to Israel that evangelicals often stretch to apply to America – or some other nation.
There are certainly principles in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that should encourage American Christians to repent and pray and seek revival for their land. But it is not a covenant promise from God. He has not obligated Himself to save America as He obligated Himself to respond to the prayers of His people in the Old Testament.
As the immigration debate demonstrates, there is nothing simple about trying to interpret the Bible in the often overheated atmosphere of our contemporary culture wars. If we are to sort out the implications of such issues, it will require that all of us in the body of Christ jump into the debate.
The worst thing we can do is to accuse our brothers and sisters of disobeying Christ or not loving their neighbors when we disagree. Unity in the body of Christ is imperative if we are to be the light He commands us to be.
*Unless otherwise noted, the New American Standard Version is used throughout this article.