The Disciple Newsletter
A Newsletter for the Serious Religious Christian
By H. Bruce Stokes, Ph.D.
Nationalism and Diaspora
The Biblical faiths of Judaism and Christianity
have always had two models of existence in
relationship to other nations. One is a religious
nationalism found in the United kingdom of
Israel and the subsequent kingdoms of Judah
and Israel. This notion of religious nationalism
is even found in the modern state of Israel,
though there are many Jews and Christians who
reject this notion for the present Israel.
The second mode of existence is a Diaspora
Model. This model is found in Israel’s disbursement
among the nations both during times of captivity
and, by choice, to not live in the Land of
Diaspora for Judaism involves a separation
from the Promised Kingdom (Nationalism) and
an expectation of return. Adaptation of Judaism
to a Diaspora context has an important and
meaningful purpose to the maintenance of the
faith in persecution.
Christianity also has an historical connection
with these two modes of existence. In its origin,
Christianity as a part of Israel and Judaism
had congregations within the Land (of Israel)
and in the Diaspora (among the Gentiles). As
Christianity moved away from the emerging Rabbinic
Judaism, which followed the destruction of
the Temple, it moved more into the Christian
Nationalism mode. With the development of the
Holy Roman Empire, Christian Nationalism became
the dominant model is Christianity and Judaism
became dominated by the Diaspora Model.
At its heart, Religious Nationalism
is a matter of being in power politically.
A Diaspora approach is required where a religion
is powerless. The Nationalism Model presupposes
a political strength that is heavily dependant
on or controlled by the religious community.
Where this power does not exist, the religion
must operate as a minority and alternative
to the dominant culture and world view. For
Judaism, a National model has only existed
in the Holy Land during the time of the Kings,
and possibly during the Macabean revolt. Then
in 1948, the modern state of Israel made Diaspora
an option rather than a necessity and many
Jews moved back into the Land to live as Jews
in a Jewish State. To make these two models
clearer, we must look at the history of the
Jewish Nationalism and Diaspora
The story of Judaism is a story of promise
and waiting. Abram (Abraham), father of this
faith was called by God to leave his home and
family and come to a land which God would show
him, and give to him and his children forever.
That Promised Land would be a part of Abraham’s
life but he would never own any part of it
except for a burial place for his beloved wife.
God also promised Abraham a son. In the story
of Abraham we have both the promise of nationalism
(a Holy God, a Holy People, and a Holy Land)
and the life of Diaspora while waiting for
the promise. This theme will dominate the descendants
of Abraham and act as a pattern for Christianity
The development of the people of God takes
place, not in the land but in Diaspora. Joseph
and his brothers, along with their father Jacob
(grandson of Abraham) are found in Egypt and
ultimately become slaves. Through Moses, God
delivers Israel from slavery, brings them into
the wilderness and promises that they will
enter the Promised Land, a land flowing with
milk and honey. He will be their God and they
shall be His people. They will be a light to
the nations around them. As long as they obey,
they will be blessed in the land, but if they
do not obey, they will be cursed and they will
be removed from the land. But even then, if
they again repent and turn to their God, He
will bring them back into the land. Inherent
in the covenant with Israel, God shows both
a nationalism promise and a Diaspora waiting
period that they will experience.
The Nationalism model and pattern reaches
its apex with David, who following King Saul
unites the tribes of Israel and establishes
a Nation of a Holy God, Holy People and Holy
Land with the capitol found in Jerusalem. His
son, Solomon builds a Temple to the Lord God
and then, in disobedience of his own, and as
a result of his own father David’s sin, sees
the kingdom divided into two. The history of
Judah and Israel is chronicled in the Hebrew
Scriptures and shows that king after king did
evil in the sight of the Lord. As a result,
God sent prophets among the people to warn
and teach them.
Among the prophets were those who taught that
Israel (the ten tribes of the north) would
be removed by another nation. Later the Assyrians
captured the northern kingdom and the ten tribes
have been lost to this day, though the prophets
did suggest that God would eventually bring
even these tribes back to himself and the Kingdom
of His Reign. Jeremiah spoke often to the southern
kingdom ( Judah) that she would also be removed
from the Holy Land because of the disobedience
of the people. He set the time of the captivity
and promised that they would eventually return.
He spoke to them about their behavior and approach
to living in Diaspora in anticipation of a
lengthy stay before returning.
Thus says the Lord of Hosts,
the God of Israel,
to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile
from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Build houses and live in them, and plant
gardens and eat produce. Take wives and become
fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives
for your sons and give your daughters to
husbands that they may bear sons and daughters,
and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek
the welfare of the city where I have sent
you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its
behalf; for in its welfare you will have
welfare…….For I know the plans I have for
you, declares the Lord, Plans for welfare
and not for calamity to give you a future
and a hope. Then you will call upon me and
come and pray to me, and I will listen to
you…and I will restore your fortunes and
will gather you from all the nations and
from all the places where I have driven you,
declares the Lord, and I will bring you back
to the place from where I sent you into exile.
In this passage we see the basic Diaspora
Model. Those in Diaspora are to engage life
where they are. They are to marry and multiply.
They are to seek the good of the place where
they are for there own benefit is tied to it.
They are to anticipate a time of return to
the Promised Land and the good that was before.
Following the return from Babylon, Israel
for a short time re-established a Jewish Nation
which was successful in avoiding Greek domination
but ultimately succumbed to Roman domination
where Israel was a controlled group in their
In the period of Jesus and Paul, Judaism had
a minimal autonomy under Roman rule. The nationalism
of Jews was divided between several opinions.
Among Zealots, the most violent of the sects,
uprisings were common. The various religious
sects (Pharisee and Sadducee among others)
held differing views as to how much autonomy
as a distinct nation should be sought. Some
groups (Herodians and Sadducees) were more
positive toward the Roman occupation and control
of the Holy Land. Outside the land, (Eretz
Israel) many Jews lived in Diaspora. Large
Jewish centers existed in the city of Rome
and Alexandria in Egypt. Jews populated Babylon
and the expression of Judaism in Diaspora was
strong and thriving.
Following the destruction of the Temple and
Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the subsequent Bar
Kochba revolt in 135 CE, the Diaspora Model
moved to the forefront in Judaism. Jewish Nationalism
would remain more of a messianic hope rather
than a political goal. No Jewish Nation would
exist until 1948 when the modern secular and
democratic Jewish state would be formed following
World War II.
During the nineteen centuries of Jewish Diaspora,
Jews would both adapt to living in various
cultures and maintain the boundaries of their
unique religious and peoplehood (ethnicity)
identity by following the basic Diaspora model
of making the home and the synagogue the center
of Jewish life.
For Judaism, the Diaspora model has remained
a primary form of existence even with a modern
Jewish State. Both Nationalism and Diaspora
provide a co-existing system of Jewish culture
and religion. This means that for all Jews;
the home, synagogue, and Israel (people and
nation) form a continuum of Jewish Institutions
that serve the cultural needs of Jews around
The Messianic hope of Judaism is the restoration
of Israel in a future glory that will reflect
the Nationalism of the Davidic Kingdom. This
future hope involves a time when wars shall
cease and Israel will live in peace and safety
with its neighbors. Swords will be beaten into
plow shares, and the lion will lay down with
the lamb. This utopian future is foretold by
the prophets and interpreted by the rabbis
as a political reality. At that point, Nationalism
will be complete and Diaspora will come to
Christian Nationalism and Diaspora
As stated previously, Christianity began as
a part of first century Judaism. This means
that the institutional structure was that of
normative Judaism and the social and political
context of the Roman occupation effected early
Christianity in much the same way as it did
the other forms of Judaism. The household and
the synagogues (churches) served Christians
in the Land of Israel and those in the Diaspora.
The loss of the Temple and the increasing difficulties
with Pharisee dominated post-Temple Judaism
began to push these two sects of Judaism in
two different directions.
Pharisaic Judaism was faced with the difficult
task of rethinking Judaism as a Diaspora form
without the Temple and sacrifice system. The
oral Torah was written in a more permanent
form called the Mishnah. The next five hundred
years would see Rabbinic Judaism form the Gemara
(commentary on the Mishnah by the Rabbis).
Together the Mishnah and Gemara would form
the Talmud and become the primary tradition
for the interpretation and preservation of
Torah for Jews.
During this same period, Nazarene Judaism
(Jewish forerunner of Christianity) began to
face the issue of increasing numbers of Gentiles
entering the faith as Christians (so-called
first in Antioch) while at the same time struggling
with the new domination of Judaism by the Pharisees.
The Gentile population within this Jesus (Yeshua)
sect of Judaism was becoming more and more
central to its expression and the Greek and
Roman influence would eventually take over
this sect of Judaism, founded upon Jesus, and
popularized by Paul. After the loss of the
Temple and with the separation of Christianity
and Judaism in the second century, Roman Christianity
began to emerge and develop in a direction
very distinct from its Jewish roots. An anti-Semitic
replacement theology began to dominate the
emerging Christian world view. Diaspora Christianity
was about to be changed into a Christian nationalism
that would remain to the present day.
First tolerated and eventually made the official
religion of Rome, Christianity became the power,
of and behind the throne, of the Holy Roman
Empire. The Christian Nationalism of Rome was
a parallel of religious and civil power so
that both existed side by side with the religious
as the basis of the civil. This would set the
stage for Christian Europe and to some extent,
for the foundation of America. Popes and Kings
would represent this Christian national model
as the world became Christianized.
The Great Commission and the Christian nationalism
of history placed the Christians and Jews,
who were now established in Diaspora, at odds
with each other. Judaism purged itself of any
aspects from their history that might validate
the claims of Christianity. Christianity established
a replacement theology that made Judaism obsolete.
The Church replaced Israel as the people of
God. The Church replaced the synagogue. The
Gospel replaced the Torah. Grace replaced Law.
The Pope (High priest and Vicar of Christ)
and the Priesthood were now in the Church.
A Jew had to convert to Christianity to be
saved. This meant that from this point forward,
Judaism and Christianity were competing, or
at least separate and unrelated faiths.
The marriage of civil and religious authority
in Europe created a history of religious oppression
and often great evil was done in the Name of
God. This included much of what was done by
Christians in the exploration and imperialism
of the 1500 – 1800s. The double edged sword
of Conquering and Christianizing other peoples
is the subject of much controversy at present.
European Christianity existed under the Christian
Nationalism model but the Diaspora approach
was not completely unknown. Catholic Christianity
was both a part of the European nations and
also a nation ( Kingdom of God) unto itself.
The Vatican to this day, is a sovereign country
and is recognized as such by other nations.
In this way, the idea of being in the world
but not of it, is maintained. This is
the essence of Diaspora Theology as shall be
The establishment of America has both a political
and a religious history that are both related
and distinct. Christian Europe had fractured
as a result of the reformation and enlightenment
into a clash of Christian Nations and national
denominations or national churches, both Catholic
and Protestant. American settlers sought both
economic freedom which required political independence
as well as religious freedom which requires
political boundaries on church-state relationships.
The idea of Americans as the New Israel leaving
the bondage of Egypt ( Europe) for political,
economic, and religious freedom was a common
theme. This formed a Judeo-Christian underpinning
to most of the imagery and symbolism of the
new emerging democracy. Protestant and Free
Church traditions dominated over Catholic traditions
in America and the Bills of Rights established
that no state church would be formed and the
free exercise of religion would not be diminished.
It is commonly held that the melting pot default
culture for America is Protestant. This is
the P in the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)
abbreviation. It should more accurately be
WASJC (White Anglo-Saxon Judeo-Christian).
Christianity in America has always been more
friendly to, and beholden to, Judaism (at least
Biblical Judaism). Christians in America were
raised on the stories of Noah, and David, and
Abraham and Samson. The direct connection between
these two great Biblical faiths was clearer
in America than Europe because of this exodus
This exodus motif is ingrained in the American
psyche and was used by African slaves brought
to America and forced into, or voluntarily,
accepting Christianity. Identification with
Israel in slavery in Egypt waiting for deliverance
is common in traditional Negro spirituals and
revived during civil rights movements.
This history contributed to the founding and
development of America as a Christian Nation.
Not a Christian Nation like those of Europe,
but one that maintained a pluralistic Christian
structure which included Catholic, Protestant,
and free church traditions. It might be more
accurate to say that America, rather than being
a Christian Nation, became a nation of Christians
and as a result, was so influenced by Christian
thought that it became institutionally Christian.
What this means is that America simply syncretized
Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions
into a new and unique form. The basic institutions
of Marriage and Family and Congregations were
by default Christian. Educational institutions
were heavily influenced by Christianity or
were started by churches. Even Law and Government
had clear marks of Christianity blended into
the courts, councils and congress which opened
their sessions with prayer.
The result is that Christianity in America
developed along the Christian Nationalism model.
But American Christianity is not the whole
of Christendom. The missiological nature of
Christianity and its evangelization focus based
on the Great Commission places Christian communities
in nations and countries that are non-Christian
and in some cases hostile to Christianity.
In these places around the world, Christianity
follows a clear Diaspora model which in some
cases becomes an underground church. This Diaspora
model of Christianity is less understood by
American Christians unless they stay informed
about mission causes around the world.
So it is clear that National and Diaspora
models have developed in both Judaism and Christianity
and based on their separate histories have
emphasized different purposes. Judaism has
historically depended more on Diaspora because
nationalism is tied to the Holy Land. Christianity
has formed many Christian Nations and uses
Diaspora only in mission approaches or under
persecution when Christians are a minority.
The Theology of Nationalism and Diaspora
In some sense, both Nationalism and Diaspora
are part of the Biblical revelation and can
be formed into a theology that informs us as
to when and where to use each. I am attempting
her to establish an ideal that allows us to
understand where we are and where we have altered
this ideal. I am not, at this time, expressing
what we need to do immediately to correct our
own situation. In other words, I am seeking
understanding before change.
The message of the Biblical texts is one of
an unfolding story of God and His interaction
with His creation. Certain patterns are repeated
and as the story is told, we begin to recognize
these patterns and how they manifest the person
and nature of God. The creation and the plan
of God is in a very real sense, a self-portrait
by God so that He is seen in the creation and
story of God interacting with His creation.
One of the patterns of this Biblical story
is the promise of a people of God who will
experience Nationalism and Diaspora.
The story begins with the Garden of Eden,
a river, and the Tree of Life. The story ends
with a New Jerusalem with a River and the Tree
of Life. Between these places of paradise,
where God and Man dwell together, is the whole
of history with man in separation, waiting
the promise of this City of God and the times
of brief manifestations of the Promised Land
and City where God’s peace (shalom) dwells.
The Diaspora notion begins with a separation
from Eden, a Diaspora from the original paradise.
The children of Adam develop two lines, one
(Seth) that trusts God, and one that is self-directed
(Cain). One waits on God and the other builds
a city or repute. The two lines intermarry
(Gen 6) and the result is a loss of righteous
group as they become assimilated into the world.
God floods the creation and begins a new people
for himself through Noah. But the sin of man
continues so the man does not glorify the creator.
God now begins the clear story of redemption
and restoration. He calls Abram (Abraham) to
leave his family and city and become a wanderer
in a land of future promise. Abraham becomes
the first to be in Diaspora and wait in hope
of a future City whose maker and builder is
God, not man. This begins the notion of a Holy
God who has a Holy People and a Holy Land of
promise. This is foundational to the History
of Israel and the Church. God has called to
Himself a people out of the world who will
live in the world (Diaspora) but be of the
Kingdom of God (Nationalism). They will ultimately
dwell in the Land of promise and God, Himself,
will dwell among them and be their God.
The Bible history unfolds a back and forth
pattern of Nationalism and Diaspora for God’s
people. The prophets promise a return to the
Land for Israel in the future. The Glory of
David’s Kingdom will be seen again through
the Messiah. The promise of the future Kingdom
will include Eden like conditions. Isaiah tells
of the restoration of David’s Tent (dynasty
and kingdom) and the New Heaven and New Earth
to come in the future.
In the Gospels, Jesus teaches His disciples
to pray that God’s Kingdom would come. After
His resurrection, they ask him if He will now
restore the Kingdom to Israel. The Book of
Hebrews frames the present path of believers
as a waiting for the Kingdom posture. Speaking
of the great believers who have gone before
us, the writer states,
These all died in faith,
without receiving the promises, but having
seen them, and having welcomed them from
a distance, and having confessed that they
were strangers and exiles on the earth. For
those who say such things make it clear that
they are seeking country of their own. And
indeed if they had been thinking of that
country from which they went out, they would
have opportunity to return. But as it is,
they desire a better country, that is, a
heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed
to be called their God; for He has prepared
a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
In this passage we have the basics of the
Diaspora and National models for believers.
There is a Kingdom of God, a country for God’s
people and a City built by God for His people
to dwell with Him. But it is not here. And
that part of the Kingdom which is here is incomplete
The Book of Revelation describes that city
as the New Jerusalem.
Then I saw a new heaven
and a new earth, for the first earth and
passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God… And I
heard a loud voice from the throne, saying
“Behold the tabernacle of God is among men,
and He will dwell among them, and they shall
be His people, and God himself will be with
them. (Rev. 21:1-3)
So, the idea of Nationalism and Diaspora are
related concepts and must be understood together.
The Basic theology can be organized in the
- The Holy God is manifesting Himself in
His creation through a Holy People and a
- The Holy People begin with Abraham and
include a remnant of His descendants and
all who come to the God of Abraham by faith.
- The Holy Land is promised to Abraham and
His offspring (seed) and is the focal point
of the National aspect of God’s people. The
Temple and the City of Jerusalem are central
to the Holy Land.
- God’s people will be out of the land for
disobedience and yet will live in hope of
return in a messianic age to come.
- Beyond the messianic age will be a new
heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem
where all of God’s people will share in His
- The Jews are to be a light to the other
nations (Gentiles) so that the Gentiles will
come to God and glorify Him.
- The People of God includes Jews and Gentiles
as one flock with one shepherd.
- The Kingdom of God is both Diaspora in
the heart, in the family and congregation
of believers, and yet to come in a messianic
age and in a New Creation.
The New Testament books assume this theology
and address it in light of the emergence of
the Kingdom of God to the Jew first and also
to the Gentile.
Certain questions come to mind when this Diaspora
theology is discussed. What is the nature of
the relationship between Jewish and Gentile
believers? How does the modern nation of Israel
fit into this? Should Christian nations be
established as a part of the Great Commission?
How do we live as members of the Kingdom of
God and citizens of America? Each of these
questions must be addressed as we consider
the basic Institutional needs for God’s people
in the home and the congregation.
* This chapter is from the text Rethinking
Christian Institutions by H Bruce Stokes,
Ph.D. The text is part of the Theology as
a Behavioral Science Series by H Bruce Stokes
and Nathan P. Lewis
Would you like to see other articles Dr. Stokes has authored? Click the link to be taken to our Newsletter Archive.