Still trying to make sense of this idea of the church in exile. I know it’s not original, but it hit me afresh on the completion of my dissertation. Where Isaiah urged repentance to save Jerusalem, Jeremiah urged the residents of the city to embrace exile and the destruction of their city. More than that, in fact, he urged them to seek the prosperity of the place he was sending them.
Righteousness could not be honed in Jerusalem, where membership of God’s people was defined simply by your address. “I live in Jerusalem”, they say, “therefore I’m one of God’s people”. That’s all it took. Stay within the surrounding walls of the city and you will know who is in and who is out. Walls are useful in that way, they mark out clearly who is on the inside and who is out.
I sometimes think that the church is a little like Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day. We have our own walls, often literal ones. We gather behind them safe in the knowledge that we are among God’s people and those outside are not. Like the Jerusalemites who were secure in the knowledge that they had God safely domesticated in the temple in the suburbs of the city, so we too believe we have God. We know who and what he is. We define what he can do and how and when. We have God, because we worship him here. And he’ll not be found outside.
Walls are useful in that way. They keep the outsider out. And when Judah lost itself in the ideology of Zion and the Temple and the Royal House they defined themselves over against the other nations of the world, rather than a nation for the nations of the world. By turning in on themselves in opposition to the world they lost any missionary zeal preferring instead to protect the institution.
So exile was needed. The walls needed to be broken down. The institutions destroyed. The people scattered to live among the outsiders. Only by going into this kind of exile could genuine righteousness be lived out. In exile, Daniel for instance faced a choice. To be Daniel, or Belteshazzar. Being Daniel in Jerusalem was easy. Being Belteshazzar in Babylon was similarly easy. But to be Daniel, a politician, in Babylon….now that required faith. A new kind of faith that could never be found in Jerusalem.
It was a faith that cost though. Cost everything that was dear and precious. Everything that they had been brought up on and relied on.
The implications of this for the contemporary church are almost too scary to contemplate.