Good thing I didn’t have to wait for congressional action and a leader’s signature to make me a legitimate member of the nation of Jesus.
Fortunately, that all got taken care of a couple of millennia ago when Peter was in Joppa and then Jerusalem (Acts 10:1-11:18).
Or was it Paul when he was in Greece and Asia? (see the last half of Acts). Or maybe it was by some unnamed Greek-speaking Jewish Christians from Cyrene and Cyprus operating in Antioch (Acts 11:20-24).
Whoever it was in the various venues of the early church, Gentiles like me got our citizenship despite our not meeting all the physical, legal and spiritual requirements that had been in place for a long time.
Just imagine what I would have had to do in order to be granted legitimacy in the democracy of Jesus if the stipulations in the proposed legislation for immigration reform were operative back then.
Did I manage to get into the Christian commune before they put in place that multibillion dollar plan to plug the holes in the border defense?
You know, the plan that involved the building of two or three layers of tall barbed-wire fences across all the borders.
The plan that provided for continual unmanned aerial surveillance of those borders and mandated the addition of thousands of border patrol officers and National Guard personnel.
Was I lucky enough to be granted “provisional legal status” as a follower of Jesus so that I could prove myself over a 13-year period on my “pathway” to Christian citizenship?
Did I sufficiently satisfy my employer of my provisional legitimacy so she or he could electronically verify my status to the church bureaucracy?
Was I sufficiently unskilled as a “temporary worker” to justify paying me a “prevailing wage” at the lowest possible level in the workforce of Jesus – with no assurance that I had lifetime membership?
Or was I lucky enough to get in, be legitimate and receive a good compensation package because I had an advanced degree in a technological field that would help the church compete successfully against rival religions?
In either case, could a case be made that I would strengthen the church’s economic health?
Did my family and I manage to survive without any benefits for the decade or more it took to be declared a legitimate citizen in the country of Christians?
I’m just trying to imagine what it would have been like.
To be sure, there was some argument in that first-century church about whether people like me and mine should be granted legitimacy in the community of Christ.
But, as I understand it, when the keepers of Christian citizenship back then were told that my Gentile forebears had confessed their loyalty to Jesus and had exhibited their reception of the gifts of the Spirit, the debate was over.
Thank God that’s still pretty much the case for the commonwealth of Jesus, although something like it hasn’t caught on in other places where the debate about becoming “legit” continues unabated.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.