In the last post, we considered the importance of a pilgrim hermeneutic, and we saw an example of the way that this significantly affects our understanding of certain passages, and their application (e.g., the imprecatory Psalms).
Perhaps the most important reason to understand this idea is so that we are able to track along with the metanarrative of Scripture itself. Without understanding this principle, not only would we feel that the prayers of the Psalms contradict the teachings of Jesus, but that the biblical story itself seems to chop and change and constantly contradict itself.
First, we read of the command to withdraw from neighbouring pagan nations, but then later we read of another command to settle and dwell in Babylon. Then, during the time of Nehemiah, a command to withdraw again! Which is it, withdraw or engage? Are the people of God supposed to withdraw from unbelievers, and have no dealings with them at all, or are we supposed to follow Jesus as he eats with sinners and tax collectors? Ezra is pulling his hair out with frustration, but so is the biblical reader who does not see what is going on.
Well, the problem goes away entirely as we come to understand the pilgrim principle. What is this principle?
When God’s people are a holy theocracy (and only then), they are commanded to withdraw from …pagan culture, but when they are exiles and pilgrims, they are called to separate themselves only religiously, not culturally (Stellman).
But what determines whether God’s people are a theocracy or a band of pilgrims? It is principally to do with the land. Viz., The people of God are only under a theocratic principle of cultural engagement when they have been given a distinct geographical land to live in. If they have no land, they are pilgrims. And if they are pilgrims, then they are most certainly under a pilgrim principle. With this then, we are ready to move on to see how it all comes together in the New Testament.