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The Two Kingdoms and Immigration Policy

I just completed last week a series of posts explaining what I believe to be a biblical doctrine of the differing responsibilities individual Christians and corporate churches have toward culture, and the distinct role government authority has in ruling civil matters. Contrary to many within evangelicalism today, it is very important to recognize these differences; when we blur them, we run into trouble.

Case in point: It is no secret that there is a significant debate going on right now in the US over immigration policy. A sovereign nation’s protection of her borders and decisions regarding who she allows into the country (or not) falls squarely in the realm of governmental authority. God has specifically delegated such authority to government, and as such, governments are ministers of his, overseeing order in the common kingdom (Rom 13:1-7).

Does this mean Christians can have no opinion on the matter? Sure they can, especially Christians who are part of governing authorities. Does this mean Scripture has nothing to offer the debate? Sure it does. Scripture speaks to every issue, at least in terms of biblical principles.

However, Scripture does not make pronouncements concerning governing policy on something like borders and immigration; it does not speak specifically to political public policy. This is a debatable issue that is quite complex. Good Christians who carefully consider biblical principles and who carefully think through the ramifications of public policy differ on this.

In other words, immigration policy is a matter of liberty of conscience. While Christians can certainly express opinions and seek to give reasoned arguments for why one policy or another is best, Christians must not give the impression that there is only one, biblically correct view of immigration policy.

What is even worse is when Christian leaders make public pronouncements to the effect that a particular immigration policy is obviously the only one Christians should hold. They often quote Scripture (usually out of context), and demean other Christians who hold opposing views as if they are somehow less Christian.

Some Christians quote parts of Israel’s Law (such as Leviticus 19:34) and insist that such policies must also apply to today’s sovereign nations (ironically, these are usually the same people who vehemently deny that America is a Christian nation). Yet this is a failure to recognize that while Israel was a unique union between the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, this union does not currently exist and will not again until Jesus comes.

Others quote New Testament passages about the church’s mandate for hospitality (such as Hebrews 13:2 or 1 Peter 4:9) and apply them to national immigration policy. But once again, this blurs important biblical distinctions between the common kingdom, which includes sovereign nations ruled by civil governments, and the redemptive kingdom, which includes Christians gathered together in local churches. These commands were given to churches, not governments.

The responsibility churches have toward others is different from the responsibilities governments have toward citizens and non-citizens. To blur these distinctions usually means ignoring other clear biblical principles. For example, those who attempt to apply church mandates for hospitality to the national government tend to ignore the clear biblical mandates for governments to punish wrongdoing and protect its citizens.

The bottom line is that Scripture gives specific responsibilities to churches and specific responsibilities to civic governments. We must be careful not to blur the two. And when it comes to debates about what policies are best for our government, we need to acknowledge that these are matters of conscience and not as biblically simple as some insist.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

6 Responses to The Two Kingdoms and Immigration Policy

  1. Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth was helpful to me on the content of this post. This is God’s world and His truth applies everywhere in the world. Postmodern western society has bifurcated scientific understanding from a theological understanding truth. This relates to the title, Total Truth. Truth should not be bifurcated as such. The Bible applies to immigration policy. I don’t think you would even disagree with this. There are cultures superior to others. Superior cultures are protected through separation. Borders are in part that separation. We can see this through God’s working through Israel in the Old Testament. This can be applied to immigration policy. This little bubble of freedom in which we live, an outlier in all of history, could last longer if we thought right and influenced through our vote this freedom.

    Is it possible that not taking a position could be a strategy of pandering to the left? We want a hearing on the gospel and we don’t think the left will listen unless we capitulate? We want to increase the perspective that we are tolerant.

    Salvation is supernatural. The truth is not the enemy of it. Bifurcating truth won’t help the gospel. It comes as one package, total truth.

    Christianity, yes, can still be lived in any culture. Paul didn’t call for the end of slavery in the Roman empire. He didn’t call for the overthrow of the Roman government. That works in total truth as well, but it doesn’t require us to keep the truth segregated to the spiritual and out of the piazza.

  2. Hi, Kent. Your post illustrates exactly my point. I certainly agree with you that the Bible applies to everything, including immigration policy, but while you have particular ways you think the Bible applies to the issue, there are just as many on the side of open borders who believe that the Bible applies to their situation.

    I actually agree with your applications (although I’m no sure I’d appeal to OT Israel), but I am also quick to acknowledge that this is a debatable issue. In fact, I might even insist that until Jesus comes again, there is no one immigration position that is perfect; it’s messy.

    And it’s exactly for this reason that I believe we should be careful in haphazardly quoting Scripture in favor of particular political policies. This does not mean I don’t think Scripture applies to it all; it just means I don’t believe God is ruling the whole world yet.

    When he does, there won’t be any need for borders.

  3. Scott,

    Thanks. I’m probably not read broadly enough to know of a biblical position on open borders. Do you have one to which you could refer? I would agree that as application relates to what the government does, that we don’t attempt as church practice to change the government. That, however, is also a biblical position. Perhaps that is what you mean by my post making the point. However, I think we need to say something about what is false at least, that is a lie or in error, and be fine referring to the Bible to make the point.

    OT Israel fell because it allowed outside influences on its culture, which was actually God’s culture. That’s my point there. I think it can easily be proven, and, therefore, make the point about border protection. I’m not getting into detail here about how it can be done, but that it should be done.

    Thanks again.

  4. Hi, Kent. Again, let me be clear that I agree with you on the principle of sovereign nations and protection of borders. But my point here is that I will fully acknowledge that my conclusion on this matter is not cut and dry in Scripture, and there are other good Christians who are trying to apply Scripture to immigration policy and come to different conclusions. I disagree with them, but I acknowledge this is a matter of liberty of conscience.

    So you asked for an example of a line of reasoning that argues for open borders from Scripture. I have heard many times recently people quote passages like Leviticus 19:34 that talks about welcoming the stranger and argue that we as a nation should welcome any stranger who wants to come in.

    Again, I disagree with this line of biblical reasoning. Actually, I disagree with it for several reasons, one of which is the same reason I disagree with you reasoning even though I believe in protecting borders. I do not think we can appeal to OT Law in either case!

    And that’s exactly the point. The Bible does not speak directly to this issue, and issues of public policy fall outside the pursue of the church’s authority. Therefore, we should not, in any capacity as leaders or members of churches, make pronouncements about public policy.

    As American citizens, however, we certainly have that right. I’m just not in favor of implying or outright arguing that our opinion is THE Christian position on the matter.

  5. Scott,

    When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10 that certain things were given to us for examples and he relied on the OT as an authority, isn’t that grounds for relying on it as an authority? I think I’m using it in the same fashion. Israel fell because they didn’t take heed and individual believers would fall in the same way, using OT authority. Paul used the OT as an authority for supporting pastors, 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5. When Paul said scripture was sufficient for every good work in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, he referred to OT scripture. I’m assuming you know this, but I was interested in your comments in light of your saying we can’t appeal to OT law.

    I think it is legitimate for the “other side” to refer to Leviticus, but they must use it properly, if they are going to see God’s civil laws to Israel in principle as a model for the United States, which is as worth quoting as any basis for anything. However, they’ve got to take their usage in context, that is, any one of these foreigners would be ejected for not obeying the law. You could say, law-abiding foreigners should be welcomed in the context.

    If people misuse the OT, like Jeroboam did when he built his golden calves, it doesn’t muzzle a proper usage. The Word of God, the Old Testament, is quick and powerful, etc.

    Thanks again.

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