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A Christian View of Emigration and Immigration – Part II

Biblical Reasons For Leaving a Nation… (continued)

4. Fleeing Genocide, War or Lawlessness. Similar to political revolution, believers have permission to preserve life by fleeing in the face of imminent threat to life. The book of Esther shows the legitimacy of protecting oneself against a targeted genocide. Jeremiah warned Judah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, and Jesus warned believers to get out of Jerusalem before its Roman siege. Broader lawlessness and social decay are more difficult to judge. There are tipping points when the fragile cords that bind the social order together can come undone, causing the collapse of policing, justice, the penal system, and a rise in vigilantism, gangs, and corruption.

These four reasons supply a legitimate cause to flee, not an obligation to do so. John Bunyan said it this way:

“If it is in thy heart to flee, flee: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flees, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yes, the same man may both flee and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Exo 2:15), Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam 19:12), David stood (24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer 37:11,12), Jeremiah stood (38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 9:10), Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor 11:33), Paul stood (Acts 20:22,23).”

There are therefore few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or flee. I [would hate to] to impose upon any man in these things; only, if you [flee] take two or three cautions with thee:

I] Do not flee out of a slavish fear, but rather because fleeing is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape [accepted] by God’s Word (Matt 10:23).

II] When you have fled, do as much good as you can in all [places that you come to], for therefore the door was opened to you, and you [sought to make your escape.](Acts 8:1-5).

III] Do not think yourself secure when you have fled; it was providence that opened the door, and the Word that did call you to escape: but where, and why, that you do not know yet. Uriah the prophet fled into Egypt, because there dwelt men that were to take him, that he might be brought again to Jerusalem to die there (Jer 26:21).

IV]  But flee not, in fleeing, from religion; flee not, in fleeing, for the sake of a trade; flee not, in fleeing, that you may have ease for the flesh: this is wicked, and will yield neither peace nor profit to thy soul; neither now, nor at death, nor at the day of judgment.

Matters to Balance With Legitimate Reasons to Flee

Ministry. Another matter of conscience is whether or not you believe you have been called to stay to make a difference. “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14). As believers, our mission is not merely to seek the safest, most comfortable place in the world. As pilgrims, citizens of heaven, and ambassadors of Christ, we are to be salt (a preservative) and light (a guide) in places where darkness and corruption are spreading.


Rootedness. The man who is always looking to some other church, country or place he will arrive in fails to build the place he is in (Prov 17:24). Jim Eliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.” We should seek the welfare of whatever place we find ourselves in (Jer 29:7).

Loyalty. Patriotism to one’s nation is broadly, a good thing. It may even be a form of obedience to the fifth commandment. A nation is something of a parent and a home to us, and we do owe it respect, gratitude and a qualified loyalty.

* National patriotism should never rise above loyalty to Christ and His church. When laws conflict, Christ’s takes precedence. [Type text] * A nation may betray its citizens by violating its own constitution, committing genocide against a particular ethnicity or religion. In these cases, one must choose between loyalty to the ideas originally enshrined in the Constitution (and so resist its corruption) or disloyalty to the corrupted version of the nation.

How to Treat Immigrants

  1. Unless immigration law contradicts biblical principles, we should obey the laws that restrict entry or residence in another country.
  2. Believers should obey the law of the country they are in. If a believer is illegally residing in South Africa, he should take active steps to rectify that situation. This may involve seeking legal residence through whatever means are available to him, be it legal counsel or other social services, or it may necessitate leaving South Africa until such a time as immigration can legally take place.
  3. The church’s role is not to police immigration, nor to adopt immigration as a political position (pro or against). It may provide counsel to believers struggling with this, or assist believers to obey the law (financially or otherwise). The church should also respect the law when hiring its own staff. 4. Immigration is an evangelistic opportunity: where the nations come to us. Rather than being fixated on the economic and social problems that illegal immigration brings, Christians should be aware that immigration is missions without having to travel.
  4. God told Israel to treat foreigners as if they were at home (Lev 19:33-34). Hospitality to the foreigner living lawfully among us is expected of the Christian (Heb 13:1). Living in a nation with different customs, ways, foods, manners, accents, languages is a difficult experience. It is painful to be ‘the outsider’ perpetually. Christians should seek to make lawful immigrants feel at home, and particularly fellow-believers.



  – David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa

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