This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for March 24 2019. An expanded version of this can be found in the ‘short articles’ page of this website.
The violent events in Christchurch last week have raised a number of cultural issues for New Zealand. As Christians the gospel should shape our values and perspectives on all issues, and here I would like to offer the example of one man whose perspective on one of these was indeed formed by his commitment to Jesus.
His name was Paulus Orosius, a Christian thinker and historian. He lived during the early 400’s AD, when the Roman Empire was in decline and mass people movements were happening all around the Roman world. Immigration was without question a very big issue of his day. It is evident that he valued his culture and took no pleasure in his civilization’s decline. But for him, that was not the most important thing. Here is what he wrote:
“If only for this reason have the barbarians been sent within Roman borders, that the church of Christ might be filled with Huns and Suevi, with Vandals and Burgundians, with diverse and innumerable peoples of believers, then let God’s mercy be praised – even if this has taken place through our own destruction.“
Orosius’ words provide reason to look past the fear of difference or of loss or of change that can fuel anti-immigration sentiments. In the events of his time he saw possible providence and certain opportunity in the coming of new peoples to the civilization where the gospel had most firmly taken root. Orosius was less concerned with what immigration might cost the “us” of his day, and more concerned with how immigration might benefit the “them”. He recognised that in this there was the opportunity to fulfil the obligation (cf. Rom. 1:14-15) of all of Christ’s people – to share the priceless spiritual treasure that is the gospel. Even if it interfered with one’s rights and privileges. This mattered more.
This is one way the gospel can (and should) foster an attitude of hospitality and welcome rather than fear and exclusion. It is, of course, an attitude that came from Jesus himself, and it is one that all his people should seek to emulate.