Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

3/29 2012

Borders, Passports, and Christ

Last week the Seminary organized a symposium on the issue of Christian faith and immigration. Mark Adams, coordinator of Frontera de Cristo, a cross-cultural PC(USA) border ministry in Arizona (see http://www.fronteradecristo.org/ ) told us about his work, and PTS faculty helped students to think through the theological and ethical issues.

“Immigration” is a touchy topic in this country, and pastors may shy away from it being afraid that it will divide their congregations. But the Christian community should not without reflection accept the way politicians and commentators have set the terms of debate. We have our own story to tell, and that story is shaped by very different considerations than the ones that normally determine the conversation.

At the symposium we talked about an interesting passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:17-21). He there tells the Philippian Christians that their citizenship is not in Philippi, but in heaven, where Christ is. To understand what a powerful statement that is you need to know that at the time of Paul’s writing Philippi was a Roman colony in Greece, used by the Roman army to house veterans who, as the Army contracts stipulated, at their retirement received both citizenship of Rome and a place to live – for example, in Philippi. It is very well possible that a good number of the small Christian congregation in Philippi were such army veterans. To them Paul writes now: I know that you are proud of your newly acquired citizenship; I know that it is something that for you feels as if it shapes and expresses who you are. Have you not throughout your life put your life on the line for the Roman Empire? Nonetheless, in having met Christ, you received something that is more important than this, something that more than your Roman citizenship ought to shape your identity. As a baptized Christian, you are now a citizen of heaven, of the place where Christ is. And that trumps your alliance to Rome! As an example he tells about his own life: how once he was a Jew, proud of his heritage and ancestry, but on meeting Christ he regarded all of that as “rubbish” (3:7). You ought to do likewise, Paul writes to the Philippians: “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me” (3:17).

When we come to issues of immigration, we often feel torn between neighborly love and our sense of national identity and what might be in the interest of our nation. But we need to realize that in the New Testament nations and national identities are ranked under the powers of the old age, an age that does not have a future and that is fading away; while in our baptism we receive to participate in the new age, in the times of the world to come. Therefore, when it comes to negotiating issues of politics, including immigration, Christians have a distinct and different approach, because for them their baptismal certificate trumps the nationality listed in their passports.

That’s a radical approach. But the New Testament tells a radical story. Seminary education is about helping to live into that radical story, so that later on grads can do the same with their congregations.

The Rev. Dr. Edwin Chr. van Driel, Assistant Professor of Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary


3/16 2012

Call to Ministry through Global Missions

When I was looking at seminaries I was intrigued by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s affiliated program, World Mission Initiative. I grew up in a family that was very committed to participating in God’s mission by traveling each summer around the United States with our fellow church congregants on week-long mission trips. During college I participated in international mission trips and found that world travel, building relationships with brothers and sisters from other countries and cultures, and building community with my traveling companions was part of my call as a church leader.

While considering PTS, I was delighted to see that World Mission Initiative evokes this call in all those who participate in their mission trips, their mission discernment programs, and mission conferences. When I began my studies at PTS I also was hired as a student staff member for World Mission Initiative as my work support position. It has been a blessing to participate in projects, presentations, and the planning for WMI trips over the past three years.

This year WMI is hosting their biennial mission conference at PTS. Through my position as student worker, I am helping to coordinate the logistics for the conference. PTS students, faculty, and staff, local and regional pastors, ordained lay people, and community members are all preparing to gather together at the Seminary March 23-24, 2012 to learn more about what it means to be “The Revelant Church in a Changing World”. The conference will look at the ways that the church today can do mission and ministry well in their American context and globally.

Working for WMI has been so rewarding during the past three years. I am thankful for World Mission Initiative and for the Seminary’s commitment to nurture a program like WMI for its students.

Katie – Senior, M.Div.

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