A Brief Theology of Walls

My twin brother and I would constantly punch each other—especially through the teenage years.  Sometimes playfully. Oftentimes not. We would punch each other for any and every reason, great or small.

Usually the punching would come after some verbal sparring that escalated into personal insults.  Then would come an aggressive tap on the shoulder.  This was reciprocated by a stronger punch.  On it would go until someone was crying—or at least tearing up—because the jab was a little too strong, a little more vicious than intended.

Then the offender would apologize.  And the instigator would apologize.  And we’d get back to whatever we were doing.  At home, at school, at church, in a car, this would happen over and over, like the rising and the setting of the sun.

But it’s not just brothers that do this. Day in and day out, in the office, over social media, and in our families—we fight.  We fight about dumb things and important things.  We fight over money, and politics, and religion, and parking spots, and promotions, and parties.

And of course, we fight over President Trump’s proposed border wall.

What are we to think about this?

For the Wall

Many (largely conservative) Christians support Trump’s wall along the Mexican border.  I have heard various reasons:

  • States have a right to protect their own borders.  This isn’t racism or fear mongering.  It is just common sense.  Border security is something that every country practices (and even Nehemiah built a wall, I’ve been told).
  • Some take a step toward the theological by saying that even heaven has a border security—that all do not get in.
  • And again, supporters of the wall propose even God is exclusive, keeping some people out and letting some people into heaven.

Against the Wall

Other (often progressive) Christians oppose the way and offer their own reasons.

  • All diversity is good, and we are all a nation of immigrants, so we shouldn’t worry too much about legal or illegal immigrants.
  • Some take a step toward the theological by arguing while the new heavenly city will have walls, its gates will always be open, suggesting an open border policy in heaven.
  • And further, they will say implicitly or explicitly God is so inclusive and welcoming and loving that no one will ever be turned away.

A Symbol of Division

With these reasons and more, we continue to fight.  We claim that the other side is betraying America.  Indeed, that the other side is betraying Christianity.  We fight and fight, becoming more and more divided.

And that is what Trump’s wall is doing right now.  It is a symbol that is dividing the nation from itself, and dividing the church.  We keep exchanging blows, like brothers punching each other.

For those on the political right, the wall is a symbol for protecting a certain way of life and for promoting the rule of law.  

For those on the political left, the wall is a symbol for promoting love and diversity and for opposing Trump.  

Both Are Wrong, For the Same Reason

We may find some points of agreement and shared values for these different views, and that is good. If a law is just, then we ought to promote it. And love of neighbor and stranger are values Christians should uphold as well.

But the problem with the conservative and progressive views is that they make the same mistake in the same place.

They both see the State, the government of the United States, as God’s instrument in the world.  They both see God’s kingdom coming through the State in some form.  The conservatives see God’s kingdom reflected in their perceived “exclusivity” of heaven and how US policy should reflect that.  The progressives see God’s kingdom coming through total inclusion of all people—as if heaven on earth had come now through US immigration policy.

But God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, God’s heaven coming to earth, is not accomplished through the state.

These things are accomplished through the church!

Through the church, through all those in Christ, God is tearing down the dividing wall and building us into a temple of God’s presence, first the wall that stood between the Jews and Gentiles, then for anything else what would divide the church.

Let me unpack this.

The Dividing Wall

At the time of Jesus, there had never been a bigger dividing wall than the one between Jews and Gentiles.  The Jews had God’s law and felt secure inside the walls of its commands.  And the Gentiles were excluded and felt indignant about it.

They were fighting.  They were at war with each other.  Not an all-out war of overt violence, but a cold war—a war of mutual distain for each other. A mutual suspicion and a constant hostility.  They saw the world very differently.

What can the wall between Jews and Gentiles tell us about the wall between conservative and progressive Christians, and the wall proposed by Trump?

Breaking Down the Wall

Thinking about the wall between Jews and Gentiles, the apostle Paul said this about Jesus:

[Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. (Eph. 2:14-15, emphasis added)

Jesus, in his body, is making peace by tearing down the wall dividing us.  Jesus tears down all the things that make us fight against each other—our views on politics, religion, and culture; our views on education, income equality, or marital status; or just our views on how long before the grass needs to be cut in our neighbor’s yard, how loud they can play their music on the weekend, and how rowdy their kids are when they come over. And he is certainly tearing down the wall we construct when we say, “I cannot bear being in the same family as someone who thinks that about Trump’s wall.”

New Citizens & A New Family

What is this new humanity that is being created in Christ?  Paul tells us in verse 19.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.

We can learn two things from Paul’s words here about who we are:

1. New citizens

The new humanity in Christ means we are no longer strangers or aliens in God’s country, in God’s kingdom.  Rather we are citizens. We have been given rights and permission to live in God’s land.

And we know that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).  In the same way we can’t be citizens of two countries or kingdoms.  We are citizens of God’s kingdom exclusively, which means we are now strangers and aliens in the place of our birth—whether that is the USA or another country (1 Pet. 2:10-12). We can’t be citizens of two countries or kingdoms. We are citizens of God’s kingdom exclusively, which makes us strangers and aliens in any earthly nation or kingdom. Click To Tweet

2. New family

Paul doesn’t just say we are citizens of a new country.  We aren’t just tolerated and allowed to move into the neighborhood.  We are actually gathered into a new family.

This new family—this baptismal family—binds us together into the family of the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.  In this family, we are always welcomed and loved.  In this family, we have new brothers and sisters.  And in this family, we have a new work, a new vocation: the work of the kingdom.

Building Up the Temple

But, lastly, Paul says we are even more than new citizens and a new family.  We are actually being built into the dwelling place of God.

In [Christ], the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:21-22 NIV, emphasis added)

When the world looks for God, when the world longs to see God and know God, when the world seeks access to God, God will be found at home.  And his home is in the church.  God’s dwelling place, God’s temple, is the church.

The dividing wall has been torn down, and in its place, a temple has been built up.

Do Not Destroy What God Has Made

To a contentious church, a church full of divisions and rivalries, Paul says this about God’s temple.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them.

Whatever reasons for or against Trump’s wall that we we might have, if you are destroying God’s temple, if you are tearing down what God has built up through vitriol, name calling, trolling, or just through simple disgust and avoidance, then God will tear you down.

God’s kingdom and God’s family—a kingdom and family in which every wall has already been torn down—is too important.

So, in the name of God’s kingdom, God’s family, and God’s house, in the name of Jesus through whom we are new humanity, let us stop the fighting against each other, and let’s start working together toward the same mission.  There will be passionate arguing, to be sure. Words of loving correction will be needed. It will be difficult work. But it will be worth it, for it is the church, not the state, which is the instrument of God’s kingdom come. The hope of every Christian is this: it is the church, not the state, that is the instrument of God's Kingdom come. Click To Tweet