In anticipation of a class discussion on Revelation, I was going back through Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman and revisited this wonderful passage on the church’s identity and mission:
The beautiful vision of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9) is – or should be – at the heart of the church’s self-understanding. This is what God is up to in the world…
The vision of a heavenly, and ultimately eschatological, reality is foundational to the church’s mission of global evangelization, its work for peace and justice among the nations, and its rejection of all forms of nationalism. Unfortunately, Christians have often been attracted to one or another of these essential marks of the church rather than all of them together. Contemporary Christian faith, if inspired by the vision in Revelation 7, would no longer be split between those who want to convert the lost and those who work for peace. Participating in the missio Dei did not, and does not, accord well with cafeteria-style Christianity.
If Christians around the globe truly understood themselves as part of this international community, and fully embraced that membership as their primary source of identity, mission, and allegiance, it is doubtful that so many Christians could maintain their deep-seated national allegiances, or their suspicions of foreigners. This would require a radical transformation within much of the Christian church, a recapturing of the wisdom of the earliest church. The second-century writing called the Epistle to Diognetus captures the spirit of Revelation 7 (and probably the entire New Testament), offering what is arguably the most appropriate attitude for Christians to have toward the country in which they happen to live:
[Christians] live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.” (5:5-6)
Reading Revelation Responsibly, pp. 133-34.