The church is not the world and the world is not the church. Peter called us "a holy nation". We were once "not a people", but we have now become "God's people" - an entirely new people group chosen by and belonging to him (see 1Peter 2:9,10).

The description of this new nation as being "holy" hopefully refers to a higher level of morality than among other people groups. But mostly it refers to the fact that we are distinct from, separate from, other kinds of nations. We are a separatist nation. 

In Canada we have some idea of how contentious Peter's terminology is. Canadians remember the outcry in 2006 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the controversial issue about Quebec nationhood. He said that he would introduce a motion into Parliament recognizing that Quebecers form a nation "within a united Canada".This is how he explained it: "Our position is clear,” he said. “Do the Québécois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form an independent nation? The answer is no and the answer will always be no." Is that clear? Are we any clearer about how the church is to be a separate nation?

In the complicated political situation in Canada, many in Quebec would love for the day to come when their leaders can say, in Peter's words, "Once you were not a people, but now you are a people!" - thereby declaring the achievement of the status of nationhood. But if that were to happen, would it be as an independent nation? Prime Minister Harper said "No!". But to many, the idea of being a nation without independence is hard to comprehend. And the complication is compounded when we try to figure out how to be a nation within a nation.

That was the dilemma the early church faced. The prevailing Roman position was very straightforward: If you're going to start calling yourselves a nation, and calling Jesus your King - that's treason! But the early church knew that they were not involved in a political struggle for freedom and independence. In every way they sought to live within the structures of their culture, to honour all who were in authority. But they did know that they were a nation.

It was not a matter of political structures, but of identity. They were holy. They were distinct. In a sense they had their own language. They spoke in ways that were utterly incomprehensible to the surrounding people groups, for spiritual things are spiritually discerned. They had their own alternative economy in the way they cared for one another and the poor around them; they were distinct in their prioritization as they viewed the ownership and use of their material possessions. They had their own approaches to issues of health and welfare, their own education programs. They had a different view of popular culture; as Paul said, sexual and other kinds of impurity were not to be mentioned among them and there was no place for crude humour (Ephesians 5:3,4).

The church was the church, not the world. A morally superior nation, and an entirely different nation. A separatist nation. Not isolating itself from the people of the world, but with an identity that set it apart from the ways of the world. To use a Canadian analogy: the church stood out in a crowd as clearly as a Quebecer at the Calgary Stampede.

In a day when many people groups around the globe are striving for separatism, asserting their own identity, it is time for God's separatist nation, the Church, to see itself as a distinct people group. It should be as unthinkable that somebody in the church would love the world as it is to imagine a separatist Québécois loving Canada. In fact John said that this was how you know who is really a Christian (1Jn 2:15)!