We’ve argued that Jesus, during his earthly ministry, set forth a pilgrim-principle (rather than a theocratic principle) for the church and its mission. This is only confirmed and reinforced throughout the New Testament.
While not the head of the church, Peter was indeed a leader of the apostles, and what he thought about the mission mattered. Although true that as a Jewish man of his time, he struggled to understand the nature of Kingdom commencement (it was Peter, after all, who drew his sword in defence of Jesus); this all changed at Pentecost. At that point, not only was Peter empowered for the task, but he was illumined with right understanding. He knew his mission and he understood the time. It is not to be overlooked then, that Peter relates the church to a fusion of the type of covenant community that existed during the patriarchal period, along with the time of the Jews who were later exiled in Babylon. For instance, we read
. . . conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (1 Peter 1:17–19, ESV).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . . (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)
As we know, Paul was another key player. And after a vision or two, he was in total harmony with Peter. They both understood that Israel’s sojourn and exile where prototypical of the church’s status prior to the final coming of Christ. It is no surprise then that Paul taught us to engage with the city in the same way that Jeremiah instructed the exiles living in Babylon:
. . . we urge you, brothers, . . . to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs . . . (1 Thessalonians 4:10–12, ESV)
Paul expands upon Jesus’ own commandments concerning our current pilgrim status.
. . . Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:5–7, ESV)
Interaction with authorities was one thing, but surely this didn’t mean that Christians were to mingle with sinners? Au contraire! If anything, this was the major non-negotiable! Today, so many in the church want to quote 1 Cor 5:9, where Paul writes: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—”. But this stops short of the very next part — verse 10!
“–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.“
Contra the monastic movements following Paul’s time, ‘going out of the world’ was never the mission! If anything, Jesus commanded the opposite. Even as He was sent into the world for us, He commands us to go into the world for others.
If Jesus’ commission won’t convince us, then maybe his prayer will. Addressing the Father, he cries out:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world . . . (John 17:15, ESV)
While we are not to take part in the sin of the world, we are never to withdraw from sinners. Jesus himself modelled this in unbelievably provocative ways, even eating with tax collectors and sinners (in the eyes of the religious community of his day, this was seen as the very height of taboo). But though the Pharisees scoffed, they are the ones who are condemned. Jesus’ corrective message was constant and clear: while holiness is not negotiable, interaction with the world is legitimate and necessary.