In general, there are three points of view regarding the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God. It is the one that is in tune with biblical revelation and a theology that takes full account of the person and work of Christ, as well as of the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with the comments of George Ladd in his work A Theology of the New Testament. Thomas F. Torrance added some important conclusions in support of this doctrine. Some say the church and the kingdom of God are essentially identical. Others both clearly differ from each other, if not completely incompatible 1 .
To fully understand the biblical account, it is necessary to examine the full extent of the New Testament, taking into account many biblical passages and subtopics, what Ladd did. Based on this foundation, he proposes a third alternative, which argues that the church and kingdom of God are not identical but inseparable. They overlap. Perhaps the simplest way to describe the relationship is to say that the church is the people of God. The people who surround them are, so to speak, the citizens of the kingdom of God, but they can not be equated with the kingdom itself, which is identical with the perfect government of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The kingdom is perfect, but the church is not. The subjects are subjects of the king of the Kingdom of God, Jesus, but they are not the king himself and should not be confused with him.
The church is not the kingdom of God
The Church is in the New Testament (Greek: ekklesia) referred to as the people of God. It is in this current world time (the time since Christ first came) gathered together in one community. Church members gather, preaching the gospel as the first apostles taught - those who were empowered and sent by Jesus himself. The people of God receive the message of biblical revelation that is kept for us and, by means of repentance and faith, follows reality who God is according to this revelation. As stated in the book of Acts, it is the members of the people of God who "remain in the teaching of the apostles, in communion and in breaking bread and in prayer" (Acts 2,42) Initially, the Church was made up of the remaining faithful followers of Israel from the Old Covenant. They believed that Jesus had fulfilled the promises made to them as God's Messiah and Redeemer. Almost simultaneously with the first Pentecost festival in the New Covenant, The People of God receives the message of biblical revelation that is kept for us and, by means of repentance and the belief in reality, follows who God is according to this revelation. As stated in the book of Acts, it is the members of the people of God who "remain in the teaching of the apostles, in communion and in breaking bread and in prayer" (Acts 2,42) Initially, the Church was made up of the remaining faithful followers of Israel from the Old Covenant. They believed that Jesus had fulfilled the promises made to them as God's Messiah and Redeemer. Almost simultaneously with the first Pentecost festival in the New Bund grew
God's people under grace - not perfect
However, the New Testament points out that these people are not perfect, not exemplary. This is particularly evident in the parable of the fish caught in the net (Matthew 13,47: 49). The church community gathered around Jesus and his word will ultimately be subjected to a divorce process. There will come a time when it will become clear that some who felt they belonged to this community were not receptive to Christ and the Holy Spirit, but rather reviled and refused to do so. That is, some who belonged to the church did not place themselves under the rule of Christ, but resisted repentance and withdrew from the grace of God's forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Others have falteringly embraced Christ's ministry under his word. However, everyone has to face the struggle for faith anew every day. Everyone is addressed. All should, gently led, face the work of the Holy Spirit to share with us the sanctification that Christ himself, in human form, bought dearly for us. A sanctification that requires our old, false self to die every day. So the life of this church community is multifaceted, not perfect and pure. The Church sees itself continually supported by the grace of God. Members of the Church are beginning to repent and are constantly being renewed and reformed. The teaching in the New Testament largely points to an ongoing process of renewal that involves repentance, faith, gaining knowledge, prayer Resisting temptation, as well as recovery and restoration, that is, reconciliation with God, goes hand in hand. None of this would be necessary if the Church had already given a picture of perfection. Just as this dynamic life, shaped by further development, manifests itself wonderfully with the idea that the kingdom of God does not manifest itself in its full perfection in this world time. It is the people of God who are waiting with hope - and the life of everyone who belongs to them is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3,3) and currently resembles ordinary earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4,7). We are waiting for our salvation to perfection.
Preaching of the kingdom of God, not of the church
It should be noted with Ladd that the first apostles did not focus on the Church in their sermons, but on the Kingdom of God. It was then those who accepted their message that came together as a church, as Christi ekklesia. This means that the Church, the people of God, is not the subject of belief or worship. Only the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Triune God is this. The preaching and teaching of the Church should not make itself the object of faith, and should therefore not primarily revolve around itself. That is why Paul emphasizes that "[we] do not proclaim ourselves [...] but Jesus Christ as the Lord, but ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4,5; Zurich Bible). The Church's message and work should not refer to itself, but to the reign of the Triune God, the source of their hope. God will let His reign thrive on all creation, a reign that was founded by Christ through his earthly work and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but will only shine to perfection one day. The Church, which is sharpening around Christ, looks back on his completed work of salvation and ahead on the completion in the perfection of his continuing work. That is her real focus.
The kingdom of God does not come out of the church
The distinction between the kingdom of God and the church can also be seen from the fact that the kingdom, strictly speaking, is spoken of as the work and gift of God. It can not be established or brought about by humans, not even by those who share the new community with God. According to the New Testament, people of the kingdom of God can partake of it, find it in it, inherit it, but they can neither destroy it nor bring it on earth. They can do something for the sake of the Empire, but it will never be subject to human agency. Ladd emphasizes this point emphatically.
The Kingdom of God: on the way, but not yet completed
The Kingdom of God has been launched, but has not yet developed to perfection. In Ladd's words: "It already exists, but it is not yet complete." The kingdom of God on earth has not yet been fully realized. All people, whether or not they belong to the community of God's people, live in this age still to be perfected, and the Church itself, the community of those who care for Jesus Christ, his gospel and mission, does not escape the problems and limitations to remain attached to sin and death. Therefore it needs constant renewal and revitalization. She must continually maintain fellowship with Christ by standing by His word and being ceaselessly fed, renewed, and raised by His merciful spirit. Ladd summarized the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God in these five statements: 2
- The church is not the kingdom of God.
- The kingdom of God produces the church - not the other way round.
- The church bears witness to the kingdom of God.
- The church is the instrument of the Kingdom of God.
- The church is the administrator of the kingdom of God.
In short, we can state that the kingdom of God includes the people of God. But not all who are affiliated to the Church unconditionally submit to the reign of Christ over the Kingdom of God. The people of God are made up of those who have found their way into the kingdom of God and submit to the guidance and reign of Christ. Unfortunately, some of those who have joined the Church at some point may not quite reflect the character of the present and coming kingdoms. They continue to reject God's grace, which Christ has given them through the work of the Church. So we see that the kingdom of God and the church are inseparable, but not identical. When the kingdom of God is revealed in perfection at the Second Coming of Christ, the people of God will invariably submit themselves and without sacrificing their rule, and in the coexistence of all, this truth will be fully reflected.
What is the difference in the simultaneous inseparability of church and kingdom of God?
The distinction between the church and the kingdom of God has many effects. We can only address a few points here.
Beloved witnessing of the coming kingdom
A significant effect of both the diversity and the inseparability of the Church and Kingdom of God is that the Church should be a concretely manifest manifestation of the future Kingdom. Thomas F. Torrance explicitly pointed out in his teaching. Although the kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized, the daily life, in the here and now, of the present-day sin-laden world time is meant to testify in a living way to what is not yet completed. Just because the kingdom of God is not yet fully present does not mean that the church is merely a spiritual reality that can not be grasped or experienced in the here and now. With words and spirits and united with Christ, the people of God, in relation to the observing world, in time and space, as well as with flesh and blood, can bear concrete witness to the nature of the coming kingdom of God.
The Church will not do this exhaustively, completely or permanently. However, by virtue of the Holy Spirit and together with the Lord, the people of God can concretely express the blessing of the future kingdom, since Christ has overcome sin, evil, and death itself, and we can truly hope for the future kingdom. Its most important sign culminates in love - a love that reflects the Father's love for the Son in the Holy Spirit, and the Father's love for us and all of His creation, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Church can bear witness to the Lordship of Christ in worship, in daily life, as well as in its commitment to the common good of those who are not members of the Christian community. The unique and most salutary witness that the Church can face in the face of this reality is the presentation of the Eucharist, as it is interpreted in the preaching of God's word in worship. Here, in the circle of the congregation, we see the most concrete, simple, true, immediate, and effective witness to the grace of God in Christ. At the altar we learn, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, the already existing, but not yet perfect, reign of Christ through his person. At the Lord's table we look back on his death on the cross and turn our eyes to his kingdom, while sharing the fellowship with him, he is still present by the power of the Holy Spirit. At his altar we get a taste of his coming kingdom. We come to the Lord's table to share in Himself, as He was promised to us, as our Lord and Savior.
God is not finished with any of us
Living in the time between Christ's first coming and his return means something else. It means that everyone is on a spiritual pilgrimage - in an ever-evolving relationship with God. The Almighty is not finished with any human being when it comes to drawing him in and making him trust in him and to accept his grace and the new life he has given, at every moment, every day. It is the responsibility of the Church to preach the truth in the best possible way who God is in Christ and how he manifests himself in everyone's life. The Church is asked to bear witness to the nature and nature of Christ and his future kingdom in word and deed. However, we cannot know in advance who (to pick up on Jesus' figurative language) will be weeds or bad fish. It will be up to God Himself to make the ultimate separation of the good from the bad in due course. It is not up to us to advance the process (or to delay it). We are not the ultimate judges in the here and now. Rather, we should remain faithful in faith and patient in differentiation, hoping for God's work in everyone by means of his word and the Holy Spirit. Staying alert and giving priority to the most important, putting the essential first, and giving less importance to the less important is crucial in between. Of course, we have to distinguish between what is important and what is less important.
The Church also provides for a community of love. Its main task is not to guarantee an apparently ideal or absolutely perfect church, considering it as its primary goal to exclude from the community those who have joined the people of God but are not yet firmly in their faith or in theirs Lifestyle does not quite reflect the life of Christ. It is impossible to do this comprehensively in this present age. As Jesus taught, the attempt to weed out will (Matthew 13,29: 30) or to separate the good fish from the bad (V. 48), do not bring about perfect fellowship in this age, but rather harm the body of Christ and his witness. It will always be condescending to others in the church. It will lead to massive, condemning legalism, that is, legalism, which does not reflect Christ's own work, faith or hope in his future kingdom.
After all, the inconsistent character of the communion does not mean that everyone can participate in their leadership. The church is not intrinsically democratic in nature, though some practical consultations are conducted in this way. The church leadership has to meet clear criteria, which are listed in numerous biblical passages in the New Testament and in the early Christian community, as documented for example in the Acts of the Apostles, were also applied. Church leadership is an expression of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It needs armor and must, based on Scripture, radiate maturity in its relationship to God through Christ. Its practical implementation is sustained by a sincere, joyful and free desire, primarily Jesus Christ, through participation in His continuing ministry of mission, based on faith, hope and love, to serve.
Finally, and most important of all, the church leadership is based on a vocation emanating from Christ above the Holy Spirit and their confirmation by others to follow this call or appointment into a special ministry. Why some are called and others are not, can not always be said exactly. Thus, some who have received gracious spiritual maturity by grace may not have been called to hold a formal, ordained ministry within the church leadership. This or not made call by God has nothing to do with its divine acceptance. Rather, it is about the often hidden wisdom of God. However, the confirmation of her vocation, based on the criteria set forth in the New Testament, depends, inter alia, on her character, reputation, and appreciation of her willingness and her fortune, on the local church members in their trust in Christ and their everlasting, best possible participation in his mission to equip and to encourage.
Hopeful church discipline and judgment
Life between the two coming of Christ does not preclude the need for proper church discipline, but it must be a wise, patient, compassionate, and long-suffering discipline (loving, strong, educative) act, which, given God's love for all people, is also borne by hope for all. However, it will not allow church members to harass their fellow believers (Ezekiel 34), but rather seek to protect them. It will give hospitality, fellowship, time and space to others, so that they can seek God and seek the essence of his kingdom, find time to repent, accept Christ and become increasingly leaning towards him in faith. But there will be limits to what is allowed, including when it comes to doing injustice against other members of the congregation and containing it. We see this dynamic in early church life, as recorded in the New Testament, at work. The book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament testify to this international practice of church discipline. It requires a wise and sensitive leadership. However, it will not be possible to achieve perfection in it. Nevertheless, it has to be striven for because the alternatives are indiscipline or relentlessly judgmental, self-righteous idealism and do not do justice to Christ. Christ accepted everyone who came to him, but he never left them as they were. Rather, he instructed her to follow him. Some responded, others did not. Christ accepts us wherever we stand, but He does so to persuade us to follow. Ecclesiastical work is about receiving and welcoming, but also about guiding and disciplining those who stay, that they do penance, trust in Christ and follow him in his nature. Although the last option, as it were, is excommunication, (the exclusion from the Church) may be necessary, should it be supported by the hope of a future readmission to the Church, as we have examples from the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5,5; 2 Corinthians 2,5-7 ; Galatians 6,1).
The Church's message of hope in Christ's continuing work
Another consequence of the distinction and connection between the Church and the Kingdom of God is that the message of the Church must also address the continuing work of Christ, and not just his perfect Worker Cross. That is to say, our message should point out that everything that Christ has done with his work of salvation has not yet unfolded its full effect in history. His earthly ministry has not and has not yet produced a perfect world in the here and now. The Church does not represent the realization of God's ideal. The gospel we preach should not lead people to believe that the church is the kingdom of God , his ideal. Our message and example should include a word of hope for the future kingdom of Christ. It should be clear that the church is made up of diverse people. People who are on their way, who repent and renew their lives, and who are strengthened to faith, hope and love. The Church is thereby the proclaimer of that future kingdom - that fruit which is assured of Christ, the Crucified and the Risen Himself. The Church consists of the people who live in the present kingdom of God, thanks to the grace of the Almighty, every day in the hope of the future completion of Christ's rule.
In the hope of the future kingdom of God, repent of idealism
Too many believe that Jesus came to bring about a perfect people or a perfect world in the here and now. The Church itself may have created this impression by believing that it was what Jesus intended. Large parts of the unbelieving world may reject the gospel because the church has not been able to realize the perfect community or world. Many seem to think that Christianity stands for a certain form of idealism, only to find that such idealism is not realized. As a result, some reject Christ and his Gospel because they are looking for an ideal that is already in place, or at least soon to be implemented, and find that the Church cannot offer that ideal. Some want this now or not at all. Others may reject Christ and his gospel because they have given up entirely and have already lost hope in everything and everyone, including the Church. Some may have left the community of faith because the Church failed to realize an ideal that they believed God would help his people achieve. Those who accept this - which equates to equating the Church with the Kingdom of God - will therefore conclude that either God failed (because he may not have helped his people enough) or his people (because it may not have made enough effort). Either way, the ideal has not been achieved in either case, and so there seems to be no reason for many to continue to belong to this community.
But Christianity is not about becoming a perfect people of God who, with the help of the Almighty, realizes a perfect community or world. This Christianized form of idealism insists that if we were truthful, sincere, committed, radical, or wise enough to pursue our goals, we could achieve the ideal that God wants His people to achieve. Since this has never been the case in the entire history of the Church, the idealists also know exactly who is to blame - other so-called “Christians”. Ultimately, however, the blame often falls on the idealists themselves, who find that they too cannot achieve the ideal. When this happens, idealism sinks into hopelessness and self-accusation. The evangelical truth promises that, thanks to the grace of the Almighty, the blessings of the future kingdom of God are already entering this present, evil world time. Because of this, we can already benefit from what Christ has done for us and accept and enjoy the blessings before His Kingdom is fully realized. The most important testimony to the certainty that this coming kingdom will come is the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the living Lord. He promised the coming of his future empire and taught us, now in this present, evil world time, only to expect a foretaste, an advance, the first fruits, a legacy of that coming empire. We must preach hope for Christ and his accomplished and continued work and not Christian idealism. We do this by emphasizing the difference between the Church and the Kingdom of God, while at the same time recognizing their relationship in Christ through the Holy Spirit and our participation as witnesses - living signs and parables of his future kingdom.
In summary, the difference between the church and the kingdom of God, as well as their nevertheless existing link can be interpreted as meaning that the church should not be an object of worship or of faith, because that would be idolatry. Rather, she points away from herself to Christ and his missionary work. It is part of that mission: by word and deed, pointing to Christ, who guides us in our ministry and makes us new creatures, hoping for a new heaven and a new earth that only becomes reality when Christ Himself, Lord and Savior of our Universe, returns.
Ascension and Second Coming
A final element that helps us to understand the kingdom of God and our relationship to Christ's dominion is the ascension of our Lord. Jesus' earthly activity did not end with his resurrection, but with his heavenly journey. He left the earthly guilds and the present world time to affect us in another way - the Holy Spirit. He is not far away thanks to the Holy Spirit. He is in some ways present, but in some ways not.
Johannes Calvin used to say that Christ was "present in one way and not in a way." 3 Jesus indicates his absence, which separates him from us in a certain way by telling his disciples that he will leave to prepare a place where they cannot yet follow him. He would be with the father in a way that he could not during his time on earth (John 8,21: 14,28). He knows that his disciples may find this to be a setback, but instructs them to see it as progress and therefore useful to them, even if it does not yet provide the future, ultimate and perfect good. The Holy Spirit that was present to them would continue to be with them and inherent in them (John 14,17). However, Jesus also promises that he will return in the same way that he left the world - in human form, physically, visibly (Acts 1,11). His present absence is the incomplete kingdom of God, which is therefore not yet present in perfection. The present, evil world time is in a state of passing away, of cessation (1 Cor. 7,31; 1. John 2,8; 1. John 2,1) .Everything is currently subject to the process of transferring power to the ruling king. When Jesus ends that phase of his ongoing spiritual activity, he will return and his world domination will be perfect. Everything he is and what he has done will then be open to everyone. Everything will bow to him and everyone will recognize the truth and reality of who he is (Philippians 2,10). Only then will his work be revealed in its entirety, so his rapture points to something important that is consistent with the rest of the teaching. While not on earth, the kingdom of God will not be recognized everywhere. Christ's reign, too, will not be fully revealed, but will remain largely hidden. Many aspects of the present, sinful world time will continue to come into play, even at the expense of those who identify themselves as Christ's and who recognize his kingdom and kingship. Suffering, persecution, evil - both moral (done by human hands) as well as natural (due to the sinfulness of all being itself) - will continue. Evil will remain in a mass that may seem to many as if Christ had not won and his kingdom was not above everything.
Jesus' own parables about the Kingdom of God indicate that we react differently to the lived, written and preached word in the here and now. The seeds of the word sometimes fail to emerge, while elsewhere they fall on fertile soil. The field of the world bears both wheat and weeds. There are good and bad fish in the nets. The church is persecuted, and the blessed in its midst yearn for justice and peace, as well as a clear vision of God. After his progress, Jesus does not face the manifestation of a perfect world. Rather, he takes measures to prepare those who will follow him so that his victory and work of salvation will only be fully apparent in the future, which means that an essential characteristic of church life is hope. But not in misguided hope (actually idealism) that we're using just a little more (or much) effort of a few (or many) to bring about the ideal of making the kingdom of God valid or gradually making it come into being. Rather, the good news is that Christ will return at the right time - at exactly the right time - in all glory and with all might. Then our hope will come true. Jesus Christ will raise heaven and earth anew, yes he will make everything new. Finally, Ascension Day reminds us not to expect that he and his reign will be fully revealed, but to remain hidden at some distance. His ascension reminds us of the need to continue to hope for Christ and for the future implementation of what he has accomplished in his work on earth. It reminds us to wait and be borne with joyous confidence to look forward to Christ's return, which will go hand in hand with the manifestation of the fullness of his work of salvation as Lord of Lords and Kings of Kings, as Redeemer of all creation.
from dr. Gary Deddo
1 We largely owe the following remarks to Ladd's discussion of the theme in A Theology of the New Testament, p. 105-119.
2 Ladd S.111-119.
3 Calvin's comment on the 2. Corinthians 2,5.