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What does it mean to be the Church in exile?

By Rachel Baarda

(Watch for more on this topic in the Jan/Feb Faith Today!)

Less than a week before the U.S. presidential election, the presidents of EFC affiliate institutions met in Mississauga for the annual Presidents Day gathering. One of the speakers was Dr. Lee Beach, author of The Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom (Intervarsity Press, 2015). He asked, “As believers, how do we maintain our cultural identity in exile?” In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, this topic seems more timely than ever.untitled

Beach said that today, Canadian Christians live in a place where our story is no longer known. More surprisingly, we’re losing sight of our identity as confessing Christians. A friend of Beach’s young son saw a nativity scene, and he asked what it was. Beach contrasted this with his own childhood biblical knowledge: even before becoming a Christian, he knew some Bible stories, such as Jonah and the whale.

With so few Canadians knowing the Christian story, we are starting to lose sense of who we are. Beach drew on the example of the Israelites in the Babylonian exile. They, too, faced challenges preserving their identities in exile:

  • The Babylonians were celebrating Marduk’s victory over Yahweh. The Israelites had to decide whether they believed that Yahweh would actually be with them.
  • The Israelites had to rediscover their identity in the midst of exile.
  • They had to rediscover a community distinctively opposed to the ways of the other nation.

Beach pointed out that in an era when faith is increasingly privatized, it’s harder to be encouraged in our faith. Christian faith is seen as antagonistic to our culture, so we have to find pathways through the marginalization of our own beliefs.
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