Exilic Discipleship

Exilic discipleship.

That’s a new term to some. (Okay, most.) You can take the term, however, sociologically or soteriologically. (“Ok, Case, enough with the confusing words…”) Here goes…

Soteriology is the study of salvation. Soter is Greek for savior; Logos is word. Words on the savior. Soteriologically, or in the sense of our salvation as Christians, we are no longer in exile. Sin is what estranges us from a holy and pure God. Through the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross our exile is over and we are unified in Him. Because of our unification in Christ, we are called to build God’s kingdom through acts of love, justice, mercy and peace making.

Soteriologically our discipleship is not exilic, but in the words of the First Presbyterian Church theologian, Crosland Stuart, we live redemptive discipleship. Amen, sister. Preach it. We are redeemed. We follow the Rabbi Jesus. Bam.

Yet, sociologically, exilic discipleship is a phrase and orientation becoming more and more well known in the American church rooted in today’s culture. The term seeks to relate the experience of 21st century American Christians with the Jews exiled in Babylon. They were removed from Jerusalem and lived as minorities in a foreign land. One lives, feels and expresses their Judaism very differently in Jerusalem than in Babylon.

Likewise, Christ followers today are living, feeling and expressing their discipleship in Christ very differently in New York City than in Cochran, Georgia, my grandmother’s place of birth and childhood (southeast of the mega-tropolis of Macon). Furthermore, one’s discipleship is different in 2016 Orlando than in 1876 Orlando when our church began.

Let’s review from the “start…”

In 325 A.D. Constantine, emperor of the Roman Empire, issued the Edict of Milan and legalized Christianity. More than merely legalize, Constantine would go on to adopt Christian faith and make it the chief religion of the empire. Some argue that was a good thing for the Gospel, some argue it wasn’t. Either way, we Christians find ourselves in 2016 on the downward slide of cultural influence. Christians are once again becoming exiles in society, exiles from the centers of power and the places where decisions get made. Some argue this is a good thing for the Gospel.

Many scholars argue that since World War II in Europe and the social revolution of the 1960s in America, the central influence of the Church in Western culture has continued to decline; decline from a position of influence that begun in 325 A.D. That’s quite a run!

Exilic discipleship calls the question on traditional church practices. It might have worked to be nominally knowledgeable of Scripture in 1950, but it doesn’t today if one hopes to truly follow Jesus and build his kingdom. It might have worked in former days to have your name on the roll of a church and send in a check every so often. Yet, today, church affiliation can put you in danger with your employer, risk the sneer of a neighbor, or incur the wrath of a secular family member.

If we are to be disciples in an exilic context, we have to think differently and disciple differently. We have to make exilic disciples; not fat, comfortable, easy-schmeezy disciples.

David Kim, Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes, “The exilic perspective can provide important clarity and distinction to how we can mentor and shape disciples in our city context.” He offers this helpful summary chart:

Jerusalem

Exile

dominant culture

minority culture

building a kingdom within a kingdom seeking the prosperity of an alien kingdom
expectations of comfort & security

expectations of discomfort & insecurity

identity taken for granted

identity challenged

inward orientation

outward orientation

triumphalistic attitude towards surrounding cultures

servant attitude towards surrounding cultures

So, some challenging reflection questions to close:

Are you prepared as a follower of Christ to experience discomfort, and have your identity challenged? Or is it just easier to move on, neglect Jesus’ fingerprint on your life, and be a nominal follower?

In what ways are you preparing your children for increased persecution and lack of acceptance? So much of our culture is about conformity. Are you okay with, in the words of Robert Wolgemuth, saying to your children, “Well, we’re different.”?

This post is part of a series of reflections on leading the inaugural class of the Gotham Fellowship as part of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando’s Center for Faith and Work.

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