The Kingdom of God (part 4)

In the last episode, we examined the extent to which the promise of the imminent kingdom of God in its fullness can serve as a source of great hope for us believers. In this article, we want to delve deeper into how we stand for that hope.

How we stand for the future kingdom of God

How can we, as believers, understand our relationship to a kingdom that the Bible says is already present, but its coming to pass? I think we can describe it as following Karl Barth, TF Torrance and George Ladd (others may also be mentioned here): We are called to share in the blessings of the coming kingdom of Christ and testify to this in provisional and temporally limited way. Just as we are presently perceiving and reflecting in our actions the ministry of God in the service of Jesus' ongoing ministry through His Holy Spirit, we eloquently testify to what the future may look like. A witness does not bear testimony of his own sake, but to testify to something of which he has personally gained knowledge. Likewise, a sign does not refer to itself, but to something else and much more important. As Christians, we bear witness to what is being referred to - the future kingdom of God. Thus, our testimony is important, but subject to certain restrictions. First, our testimony serves only in part as an indicator of the future empire. It does not contain all its truth and reality, and that is not possible. Our actions can not fully reveal in all its perfection Christ's Kingdom, which remains largely hidden now. Our words and actions may even obscure some aspects of the empire, while others emphasize it. In the worst case, our manifold act of proclamation can seem to be completely inconsistent, even contradict each other. We may not be able to bring about a perfect solution to any problem, how sincere, committed or skillful we will try. In some cases, any available option can inevitably be as beneficial as it is detrimental. In a sinful world, a perfect solution is not always possible, even for the church. And so, in this present world time, her testimony will be incomplete.

Second, our testimony only allows us to have a limited view of the future, which only gives us a glimpse of the future kingdom of God. In its whole reality, however, it is unable at present to grasp it for us. We see "just an unclear picture" (1, Kor 13,12, Good News Bible). This is how it is understood when we speak of a "provisional" viewpoint. Thirdly, our testimony is time bound. Works come and go. Some things done in the name of Christ may last longer than others. Some of what we witness to our actions may only be fleeting and not permanent. But understood as signs, our witnessing does not have to be valid once and for all in order to be able to refer to what is truly permanent, the eternal reign of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Thus, our witnessing is neither universal nor perfect, exhaustive or irrefutable, though of great, indeed indispensable value, since it derives from the relation to the future reality of the Kingdom of God.

Two false solutions regarding the complex theme of the already existing but not yet completed kingdom of God. Some may ask, "What is our presently gained experience and testimony worth if they are not aimed at the realm itself? So why bother with it? What use will it have? If we can not bring out the ideal, why should we invest so much effort in such a project or spend so much resources on it? "Others may answer," We would not be called by God to do anything less than to do it Achieving an ideal and the completion of something perfect. With his help, we can constantly work toward the realization of God's kingdom on earth. "Reactions to the complex issue of the" already existing, but not yet completed "kingdom have in the course of church history mostly as different answers as those cited above, produced. And this despite ongoing warnings regarding these two approaches, which they identify as serious mistakes. Officially, there is talk of triumphalism and quietism in this regard.

triumphalism

Some who do not like being reduced to the perception and realization of signs insist on being able to build the kingdom of God themselves, albeit with God's help. For example, they can not be dissuaded that we could actually be "world changers". This would be the case if only enough people would wholeheartedly commit themselves to the cause of Christ and would be prepared to pay the necessary price. So, if only enough people tirelessly and sincerely strived and, in addition, knew about the right procedures and methods, our world would be transformed more and more into that perfect kingdom of God. Christ would then, when the kingdom gradually approached its completion through our efforts, would return. All this, of course, can only be achieved with God's help.

Although not openly stated, this view of the kingdom of God assumes that what we have realized is due to the potential that Jesus Christ made possible through his work on earth and his teachings, but did not actually do so. Christ in the form of the victory has won, that we can now exploit the potential it has made possible or realize.

The triumphalist's response tends to highlight in particular those efforts that promise to bring about change in the area of ​​social justice and public morality, as well as private relations and moral behavior. The recruitment of Christians for such programs is usually based on the fact that God is in a sense dependent on us. He is just looking for "heroes". He had given us the ideal, the preliminary design, even the plan of his kingdom, and it was up to the Church to put it into practice. We are therefore given the potential to realize what is already given in perfection. This will succeed if we are only convinced that this is so, and truly and truly stand behind showing God how truly grateful we are to Him for all that He has done, so that we can realize the ideal. Accordingly, we are able to close the gap between the "real" and God's ideal - so let's just tackle it!

The promotion of the program of the triumphalist is often further fueled by the following criticism: The reason is to be found in the fact that non-believers did not join the program and just would not become Christians or followers of Christ. And further, that the Church would not do nearly enough to make the kingdom a reality, and thus to make room for God's life in perfection in the here and now. The argument goes even further: there are so many nominal Christians (in name only) and true hypocrites within the church who just do not, as Jesus taught, attach to love and seek justice so that unbelievers refuse to join - and this, one can only say, with full right! It is further alleged that the culprits that non-believers would not become Christians are essentially among the half-hearted, weak-faith or hypocritical Christians. Therefore, this problem can only be solved if all Christians are infected by the enthusiasm and become truly convinced and uncompromising Christians who already know how to perfect the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Only when Christians put into practice, to a much greater extent than before, God's will and the way of life he has championed, will the gospel of Christ convince others, because in this way they will recognize and believe in the glory of Jesus Christ. In order to reinforce this argument, it is often incorrect to use Jesus' words here: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among one another" (Jn 13,35). From this it is concluded that others do not come to believe, indeed they can not, if we do not adhere in sufficient measure to love. Their path to faith depends on how much we, like Christ, treat each other in love.

These words of Jesus (Jn 13,35) do not imply that others come to faith by it, but merely that they will recognize them as followers of Jesus, as they practice in love, as he does. He points out that our fellowship in love can serve to refer others to Christ. That's wonderful! Who did not want to join this? From his words, however, it does not appear that the faith / salvation of others depends on the extent of the love of his disciples among themselves. With reference to this verse, it is logically wrong to infer from it in reverse, if those who follow in the footsteps of Christ lacked love, others can not recognize them as such and consequently do not believe in him. If so, God would in no way be more faithful than we. The words "are we unfaithful, so he remains faithful" (2, Tim 2,13) would not then be true. All those who came to faith have realized that the church as a whole, as well as its individual church members, are entangled in contradictions and imperfect. They trusted in their Lord, because at the same time they recognized the difference between the one, the praise, and those who praise him. Just question your own belief and see if it does not behave that way. God is greater than our testifying to Himself. He is more faithful than we are. Of course, this is no excuse for being faithless witnesses to the perfect love of Christ.

quietism

At the other end of the spectrum, where we find the answer of Quietism, some have addressed the complex problem of the already existing but not yet completed Kingdom of God by asserting that at present one can not do much. For them, glory lies only in the future. Christ would have won the victory in the course of his ministry on earth, and he alone would one day bring it to fruition in all its perfection. We are simply waiting for the return of Christ to carry us to heaven, perhaps after some years of earthly reign. While Christians in the here and now would receive some blessings, such as forgiveness of sins, creation, including nature, has fallen prey to all social, cultural, scientific, and economic institutions of corruption and evil. All this can not and will not be saved. With regard to eternity, there is no provision for the good of all this. Only damnation can be given over to the wrath of God and brought to its absolute end. For the most part, people would have to be removed from this sinful world so that they can be saved. Occasionally, this quietist approach is taught a form of separatism. Accordingly, we must renounce the worldly aspiration of this world and keep away from it. According to other Quietisten, the hopelessness and helplessness of this world, the conclusion that one can hold on her harmless in many ways, since it was irrelevant, ultimately, because ultimately anyway everything will be handed over to the court. For others, a passive, quietistic approach means that at best Christians should set an example for themselves or within the community, set apart from the rest of the world. The emphasis here is often on personal, family and church morals. However, direct efforts to exert influence or to bring about change outside the Christian community are largely regarded as believable, sometimes even condemned. It is argued that the direct involvement of the surrounding culture, which has fallen into disbelief, will only lead to compromise and, ultimately, failure. Thus, personal dedication and moral purity are the dominant themes.

Often this reading of faith, the end of history, is considered as the end of creation. She will be destroyed. The existence of time and space then no longer exists. Some, the faithful, would be relieved of this process of dissolution and be brought to the perfect, pure, spiritual reality of an eternal, heavenly existence with God. These two extremes are representative of tendencies. In the church many variants and intermediate positions make school. But most of them move somewhere within this spectrum and tend to either one side or the other. The triumphalist position tends to appeal to people with an optimistic and "idealistic" personality structure, while the Quietists are more likely to find their greatest support among the pessimists or "realists". But again, these are rough generalizations that do not address a specific grouping that would suit the one extreme or the other. These are tendencies that, in one way or another, are indeed trying to simplify the complex problem of the already existing but not yet fully apparent truth and reality of the Kingdom of God.

An alternative to triumphalism and quietism

However, there is an alternative position more compatible with the biblical as well as the theological doctrine, which not only circumvents the two extremes, but alone considers the idea of ​​such a polarization wrong, since it does not do justice to the biblical revelation in its full extent. The triumphalist and quietist alternative, as well as the discussions between their respective opinion leaders, assume that the complex truth of the Kingdom of God requires us to take a stand on the controversial issue of position. Either God accomplishes everything alone or it is up to us to realize it. These two perspectives give the impression that we either have to identify ourselves as activists or take a relatively passive role if we do not like to settle somewhere in between. The biblical position regarding the already existing but not yet perfected realm of God is complex. But there is no reason for any tensions. It's not about balancing or making any intermediate position between the two extremes. There is no tension between the present time and the future time. Rather, we are called to live in this already fulfilled but not yet perfect here and now. We are currently living in a state of hope which, as we have seen in the second part of this series of articles, can be figuratively reproduced quite well with the concept of heritage. We are currently in the certainty of being in possession of our heritage, even though we are still denied access to its fruits, of which we will in the future fully participate. In the next article in this series, we will go into what it means to live in the here and now in the hope of the completion of the future kingdom of God.

from dr. Gary Deddo


pdfThe Kingdom of God (part 4)