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 Promise.

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 two models.

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 to follow.

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. Jer. 29:4-14

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 own land.

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 world.

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 a conclusion.

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 explained below.

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 mentality.

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 and uncertain.

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 following statements.

  1. The Holy God is manifesting Himself in His creation through a Holy People and a Holy Land.
  2. The Holy People begin with Abraham and include a remnant of His descendants and all who come to the God of Abraham by faith.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 glory forever.
  6. The Jews are to be a light to the other nations (Gentiles) so that the Gentiles will come to God and glorify Him.
  7. The People of God includes Jews and Gentiles as one flock with one shepherd.
  8. 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

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