The Greatest Tool of the Kingdom (Part 1)

Not too long ago, I spent some time sharing why I believe the kingdom of God and the church are not synonymous (part 1, part 2). It is the kingdom which takes priority over the church, for it is the church that submits to Christ and His kingdom.

Yet, at the same time, it is definitely true that the church is the greatest tool for the advance of God’s kingdom rule. The reason being is that the church, the ekklesia of Christ, consists of those who are submitted to the rule of the King.

There are three ways in which the church is used in advancing the kingdom of God:

  • Proclaiming the kingdom
  • Prayer for the kingdom to come
  • Walking in the authority of the kingdom

I will look at the first two in this post and the final one in the following article.

Proclaimers of the Kingdom

Not only have we entered the kingdom (John 3:3, 5; Colossians 1:13), but, just as Christ did, we have the opportunity of declaring that God’s kingdom rule has broken into human history.

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)

And he [Paul] entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

30 He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31)

Also, it will do us well to remember that the gospel is the power of God, thus we proclaim a powerful message:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

And, it is the Great Commission that maybe sums it all up:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus had just taught the disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. He was king and He was in charge. Therefore, they could go about the nations, calling people into discipleship relationship with the King. And, even more, the King would be with them until the end of the age.

This is our mission and this is our privilege!

Prayer for the Kingdom

As I pointed out in a previous article, we are not called to pray for the church to come on earth as it is in heaven, but we are called to pray for the kingdom rule of God to come on earth just as it is in heaven.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

In heaven, the will of God is at its perfection. As we pray for His kingdom to invade earth, we can be assured that His purposes will be accomplished. And, as His will is accomplished, we know His rule will be made manifest.

Thus, let the church never cease to pray that His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

These two – proclaiming and praying for the kingdom to come – are the great privileges of the church. There is no other people on the earth that have the opportunity to take part in such. As subjects of the King, let us be encouraged to continue in these two activities.

Click here to read the final article on the church as the greatest tool of the kingdom.

The Kingdom and the Church (Part 2)

In my last post, though contrary to some theologians, I concluded that the kingdom of God and the church are not synonymous. Why such a conclusion? I specifically pointed to four main reasons in Scripture:

  • The kingdom was first, not the church (i.e. Psalm 145:13)
  • It is the gospel of the kingdom, not the gospel of the church (i.e. Matthew 4:23)
  • We are to pray for the kingdom to come, not the church to come (i.e. Matthew 6:10)
  • We are to seek the kingdom, not the church (i.e. Matthew 6:33)

For those who are still convinced that the kingdom of God and the church are synonymous, there are two passages that are usually pointed out in support of such an argument:

…and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:6)

…and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:10)

Revelation 1:6 says that Jesus ‘made us [God’s church] a kingdom,’ and then Revelation 5:10 goes on to say that Christ ‘made them [God’s church] a kingdom’. Such words are, many times, taken as proof that the kingdom and the church are equal entities.

So, what are these two verses teaching?

First off, Revelation 1:6 should be considered within the context of vs5 as well. Vs5 tells us that Jesus is the great ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’. Then, vs6 goes on to tell us, ‘to him [Christ, or the Father] be glory and dominion forever’. Thus, the fuller context makes it clear who is the King. It is Christ! And it is ultimately His kingdom! Yes, no doubt we have submitted to that kingdom rule, but we are not to be equally identified with the kingdom since the kingdom existed long before we did.

Also, in regards to Revelation 5:10, the word kingdom points to the reality of the church reigning with Christ, not being the kingdom itself: ‘they shall reign on the earth’. Regardless of one’s millennial view, this verse does not qualify the kingdom and the church as being synonymous.

Ladd’s words, in regards to both passages, only underline the point:

‘The only references to the people as basileia [kingdom] are Revelation 1:6 and 5:10; but the people are so designated not because they are the subjects of God’s reign but because they will share Christ’s reign. “They shall reign on earth” (Rev 5:10). In these sayings, “kingdom” is synonymous with “kings,” not with the people over whom God rules.’ (A Theology of the New Testament)

It is the church, the people of God, who are to reign with Christ, but they are not the kingdom in and of itself.

Thus, while the church, the ekklesia of Christ, consists of those who have bowed their knee to Him and have received His rule even now, we should not equate the church with the kingdom of God. The kingdom was first. The kingdom takes priority.

‘The Church therefore is not the Kingdom of God; God’s Kingdom creates the Church and works in the world through the Church.’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom)

Click here to read my thoughts on the church being the greatest tool of the kingdom.

The Kingdom and the Church (Part 1)

Over the past few months, I have been posting articles in which I have been considering two major topics set within Scripture: the nature of the church and the kingdom of God. Hey, these are probably my two most favourite topics to discuss from the Scriptures, hence why I’ve taken up such a task.

When I set out to discuss the kingdom of God, it was definitely my desire to discuss the nature of its relationship to the church. When considering such, these are some questions that would probably arise:

• Are the kingdom of God and the church synonymous?
• Are they distinct from one another?
• Is one more important than the other?

Ladd echoes these questions here:

‘One of the most difficult questions in the study of the Kingdom of God is its relationship to the church. Is the Kingdom of God in any sense of the word to be identified with the church? If not, what is the relationship? (A Theology of the New Testament)

It is Roman Catholic theology that has typically identified the church with the kingdom of God, as espoused in works like Augustine’s City of God (see Book 20, ch.9).

Yet, I believe there are four major teachings within Scripture that show the kingdom of God and the church are not synonymous. I will take a look at these four points in this post while, in the next article, I plan to address a major objection that might still arise.

The Kingdom Was First, Not the Church

As I put forth in one of my first articles on the kingdom, God has been King from the beginning and His kingdom rule is eternal:

The LORD is king forever and ever. (Psalm 10:16)

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The sceptre of your kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. (Psalm 45:6)

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. (Psalm 145:13)

There has never been a time when God was not King and there was never a time when He did not rule. But, in contrast, there was a time when the church, God’s ekklesia, did not exist. Even for those who believe the church/ekklesia is actually a continuation of Israel, which I fall into this camp, there was still a time when the kingdom existed but not the church.

Thus, if God’s kingdom is eternal, but the church is not, then we find the church utterly dependent upon the King and His rule. And that is good news! Therefore, my conclusion is that the rule and reign of God takes precedence over the church.

‘The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men.’ (George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament)

Even if one wants to equate the physical nation of Israel with the kingdom of God, there was also a time when the Hebrew people did not exist. But, again, there was never a time when the kingdom of God did not exist. God has always been king!

The Gospel of the Kingdom, Not the Gospel of the Church

It is interesting to note that Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, not the gospel of the church.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. (Luke 16:16)

For me, this alone should suffice to show that the two are not synonymous, but rather, the kingdom is of greater import. And Ladd only concurs with this remark about the first Christians:

‘The first missionaries preached the Kingdom of God, not the church (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).’ (A Theology of the New Testament)

Prayer for the Kingdom to Come, Not the Church to Come

Simply stated, Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom rule of God to come on earth as it is in heaven, not for the church to come.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

E. Stanley Jones made this powerful statement:

‘The Christian Church, while it holds within itself the best life of the Kingdom, is not the kingdom of God. The Kingdom is absolute, the Church is relative – relative to something beyond itself, the Kingdom. The Kingdom judges and redeems the Church, and the Church is potent to the degree that it obeys the Kingdom and embodies the life and spirit of the Kingdom. The Church is not an end in itself, the Kingdom is the end. Jesus never said, “May thy church come on earth as it is in heaven.” He did say, “Thy kingdom come…, on earth.”’ (The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person)

Now those are some words of truth!

We Are to Seek the Kingdom, Not the Church

Finally, in another well-known passage, Jesus declared that His followers were to seek the kingdom and its righteousness, not the church.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

As Jones goes on to state:

‘So let not our cry be, “Save the Church,” but “Seek the Kingdom,” seek the Kingdom, first, last, and always, and “all these things will be added unto you,” including the Church, redeemed and reoriented and single-pointed – the Kingdom. If the Church should perish the Kingdom would remain.’ (The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person)

Thus, for me, the gauntlet has landed. These four Scriptural points make it evident that the kingdom and the church are not synonymous. The kingdom takes precedence over the church. No doubt the church consists of the covenant people of God who have submitted to His rule, and thus, we are the greatest tool of the kingdom…but I get ahead of myself for a later post. To summarise:

  • The kingdom was first, not the church
  • It is the gospel of the kingdom, not the gospel of the church
  • We are to pray for the kingdom to come, not the church to come
  • We are to seek the kingdom, not the church

Click here to view my next article in which I address a major objection to the conclusion that the kingdom and the church are not synonymous.

The Heterogeneous Nature of the Church

This blog post is the result of a conglomeration of thoughts from the past week or so. Therefore, I will look to pull in some links and thoughts from a few different sources to present my thesis. It will be kind of like a connecting of the dots. But, in all, I think this will be thought-provoking for anyone who reads.

I am part of a theological discussion forum known as Theologica. Back on April 25, a Theologica member posted a discussion thread about ‘specialty churches’ and their validity. What do I mean by specialty church? Simply a specific, local church that is made up of a specific grouping of people, i.e., a church for university students, cowboys, athletes, etc.

In the opening point of the discussion thread, the person who started the thread posted these words:

In my hometown, there will soon be a meeting to organize a “cowboy church.” I understand taking the gospel to Jerusalem, Samaria, the ends of the earth, etc., but the idea is sort of unsettling to me. It seems to me that society is already fragmented enough, and since the gospel broke down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile and made all believers one in Christ (and the church), all these specialty churches run counter to that. We already have a gazillion denominations and churches catering to rich, poor, black, hispanic, poor whites, suburban whites, asians, etc. (I realize some are more or less necessary because of language proficiency, etc.) I would like to hear from others on this.

Various members of Theologica then shared the good, the bad and the ugly of such ‘specialty churches’, thoughts I am sure many of us have considered ourselves in the past.

I believe most people will recognise the call of Christ’s followers to be ‘all things to all people’ for the sake of the gospel, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. What an opportunity we have in drawing people to Christ by being a Jew to Jews, a Gentile to Gentiles, as one under the law to those under the law, as one not under the law to those not under the law, a scholar to scholars, an artist to artists, and the list could go on. God has truly called people from every tribe, tongue and nation to Himself. And we get to join in with seeing a mosaic of peoples come to Christ.

Interestingly enough, just this week, I began to delve into a book entitled The Gospel-Driven Church, authored by British pastor Ian Stackhouse. Stackhouse is somewhat of a neo-Pentecostal/charismatic believer, meaning he embraces most of Pentecostal and charismatic theology, but he is not too huge a fan of a two-stage reception of the Spirit. In the book, he is specifically looking to challenge some of the over-the-top experiences of revivalism as expressed in movements like the Toronto Blessing. He wasn’t labeling such as false, but he was challenging some of the current trends and fads of such movements. While I believe Stackhouse brings a wise, pastoral insight into this arena of discussion, my point is not to consider Toronto, charismatic movements, and other such things.

But what I do want to do is share a few thoughts in regards to some words in the midst of one of his chapters. The first words I would like to quote are actually Stackhouse’s own quotation of one of Gordon Fee’s books, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God:

As Fee asserts, unity ‘requires heterogeneous people to submit their diversity to the unifying work of the Spirit. Homogenous churches lie totally outside Paul’s frame of reference. After all, such churches cannot maintain the unity of the Spirit that either Ephesians 2 and 4 or 1 Corinthians 12 calls for.’

All I can say is Wow! Such words grab a hold of my heart, and that might be an understatement. Especially these words: Homogenous churches lie totally outside Paul’s frame of reference.

Now that is quite interesting to ponder. I know many people would be ready to disagree with such words. And I do understand the impulse to disagree, especially considering Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9, like we did above.

But, let’s consider these words of Gordon Fee. Remember, Fee has been around for a while. He is wise, he is somewhat of a level-headed leader within the Christian community and I would say he has great insight. Though I’ve yet to crack open this particular book by him, all the while knowing it sits snuggly upon my shelf, I suppose Fee understands the importance of reaching out to all groups of peoples. He understands that which we all understand – the necessity of being ‘all things to all people’ for the sake of winning some.

Knowing that Fee has been one of the greater scholars on Paul during the modern era, I am certain he understands the call to reach cowboys, Africans, computer techs, creative artists, professional athletes, Generation Xer’s, and a whole host of other types of people. I’m sure he would concur that Christ gave His life that people from all tribes, tongues and nations might come to the cross (Revelation 5:9).

Yet, still, Fee is convinced that homogenous churches are nowhere in Paul’s framework. Nowhere. Paul can only consider that the church, in all its diversity, is called to be a heterogeneous community of faith. And Fee is convinced this understanding is solidly based in Scripture, as in places like Ephesians 2 (probably vs11-22), Ephesians 4 (probably vs1-16) and 1 Corinthians 12 (probably vs 12-31).

Paul never once encouraged the community of believers to form a Jewish church over here and, then, have the Gentiles gather over there. Paul didn’t want the followers of Apollos in one corner, those of Peter in another, and those of Paul in a third corner (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). He wanted the body of Christ to gather in the same corner. He wanted Jews and Gentiles together. He wanted disciples of Apollos, Peter and Paul sharing the bread and wine at the same table.

And, as a footnote to Fee’s words, Stackhouse states this:

This leads us to question, once again, the direction a great deal of the renewal movement is taking towards the principle of homogeneity. Engagement with youth culture may well permit such an approach – a missiological attempt to accommodate the preferences and dislikes of Generation X – but as an exercise in cultivating holiness it could prove ineffectual.

Again, I think these are beautifully challenging words. In his pastoral wisdom, Stackhouse is not being legalistic and he is definitely not saying that we should not consider how to reach out to particular groups (in his instance, how modern renewal movements are considering outreach to those in Generation X). But, Stackhouse’s challenge is that, with such a myopic and narrow framework, we might actually miss a cultivation of holiness within the whole body of Christ as we get caught up in an over obsession with homogeneity. And I suppose Stackhouse sees our holiness ultimately being expressed in our unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

Again, it’s not that Stackhouse doesn’t give room for reaching out to particular sub-cultures. I, also, suppose he even realises that specific members of the body of Christ will develop better relationships with other particular members. To take license with the body metaphor, I suppose ears will get on better with ears because they have quite a few similarities and toes will get on better with toes because they are quite similar (at least in their stinkiness). Stackhouse, and us, are aware of this.

But the whole body metaphor is given to show that ears need eyes, toes need fingers, and elbows need belly-buttons. The body metaphor screams our need for one another, even our necessity of the weaker parts (1 Corinthians 12:22-24). If all the elbows got together, they would be missing out on so very much. Or, to keep it in the context of this article, if all the cowboys got together, they’d miss the importance of the computer techys and athletes and hippies and every other expression of personality and calling.

And so, I am convinced that the body of Christ is not called to congregate in sub-cultures. We look to reach each culture and sub-culture for the sake of the One who gave His life for all types of peoples. And we look to give expression to the differing sub-cultures within the community of believers. But we are to be a shining light and testimony that, in all of our diversity, we are a unified unit. We are called to fellowship at the same table with all members of the body – blacks with whites, English speakers with Spanish speakers, nerds with jocks, rich with poor, slave with free, cowboys with Native American Indians.

To play off the words of one Theologica colleague: Within the church, the body of Christ, people become Christians who are cowboys, Christians who are goths, Christians who are athletes, and so on, rather than vice versa.

If anything, the gospel calls the church, the ekklesia, the body of Christ to be heterogeneous. We are to be a community of all colours of skin, languages, and interests gathered at the same table under the headship of Jesus Christ. That is the effect of the cross. And as we begin to faithfully walk this out and move towards maintaining that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, I believe the world will see something they’ve maybe yet to see.

The Reign of God Post-Resurrection

Though the kingdom of God was a reality in the ministry and preaching of Jesus, it was not to be relegated solely to those few years. This was to be true even after His resurrection and ascension to the Father. It was after His sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection that Jesus proclaimed His kingship to the eleven (minus Judas Iscariot) right before He gave, what we call, the Great Commission:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Interestingly enough, as I had mentioned previously, before ascending to the Father, Jesus spent that interval of forty days continuing to teach the eleven about the kingdom of God.

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

 

And remember that this was the message Paul was teaching even at the close of Acts as he was under house arrest:

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31)

We also see the continuing present reality of Christ’s rule and reign in the letters of the New Testament:

…19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)

This is a definite statement that Christ is above every rule, authority, power, dominion and name. No, not every knee has bowed or every tongue confessed (Philippians 2:9-11). That is reserved for a future date. Nevertheless, He is truly reigning as King at His Father’s right hand – over the lives of those who have bowed their knee, but also over every circumstance and situation.

Not only that, but it is this kingdom rule of Christ into which we have been transferred:

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”…5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, 5)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)

No doubt that it is the ekklesia, Christ’s church, that has been born again and has seen the kingdom of God, for we have been transferred from the domain of the evil one into the kingdom of Christ Himself.

Thus, we can be sure that Christ not only initiated the great expression of God’s rule while He walked amongst humanity, but He continues to reign following His resurrection and ascension. Matter of fact, it is because He is at the right hand of the Father that we are assured He has all authority over heaven and earth. Let this be a comfort to the people of God!

Click here to read some thoughts on the reality of the kingdom in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.