The Kingdom of God (part 6)

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 incompatible1.

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

In the New Testament, the church (Greek: ekklesia) is called the people of God. It is gathered together in this present world time (the time since Christ's first coming). Church members gather with reference to the preaching of the gospel, as the first apostles taught - those authorized and sent by Jesus Himself. The people of God receive the message of the biblical revelation that is kept for us and, by virtue of the repentance and faith of the reality, follow who God is according to this revelation. As stated in Acts, it is the people of God who "remain steadfast in the teaching of the apostles, in fellowship and in the breaking of 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 revealed to them as God's Messiah and Redeemer. Almost simultaneously with the First Pentecost in the New Covenant, the people of God receive the message of the biblical revelation that is preserved for us and, by virtue of the repentance and faith of reality, follow who God is according to this revelation. As stated in Acts, it is the people of God who "remain steadfast in the teaching of the apostles, in fellowship and in the breaking of 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 revealed to them as God's Messiah and Redeemer. Almost simultaneously with the first Pentecost in the new covenant grew

God's people under grace - not perfect

However, the New Testament indicates that this people is not perfect, not exemplary. This is especially clear in the parable of the fish caught in the net (Mt 13,47-49). The congregation gathered around Jesus and His Word will eventually be subject to a divorce process. There will come a time when it becomes clear that some of those who felt attached to this church were not receptive to Christ and to the Holy Spirit, but rather reviled and denied them. That is, some who belonged to the church did not submit to the dominion of Christ, but opposed repentance and withdrew from the grace of God's forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Others have taken Christ's work in volitional submission under his word fickle. However, everyone has to face up to the fight of faith every day. Everyone is addressed. All should, gently guided, 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 daily mortalizing our old, false self. The life of this congregation is thus multifarious, not perfect and pure. The Church sees herself continually carried by the grace of God. The members of the Church make the beginning when repentance is needed and are continually renewed and reformed. The doctrine of the New Testament refers in many parts to an ongoing process of renewal, with penance, faith, gaining knowledge, prayer, prayer Resisting temptation, as well as recovery and restoration, that is, reconciliation with God, goes along. None of this would be necessary if the church already had a picture of perfection. As manifested by this dynamic, evolving life, it mirrors perfectly with the idea that the Kingdom of God does not manifest itself in its fullness in this Universal Age. It is the people of God who are waiting with hope - and the life of everyone who belongs to them, hidden in Christ (Kol 3,3) and currently resembling ordinary earthen vessels (2, Kor 4,7). We are waiting for perfection in our salvation.

Preaching of the kingdom of God, not of the church

It is important to note with Ladd that the first apostles did not focus on the church in their sermons, but on the kingdom of God. Those who accepted their message were those who came together as a church, as Christi ekklesia. This means that the church, the people of God, is not the object of faith or worship. Only the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three God is this. The preaching and teaching of the church should not make itself an object of faith, so do not turn primarily to itself. Therefore, Paul emphasizes that "[we] do not proclaim ourselves [...], but Jesus Christ as the Lord, but ourselves as your servants, for the sake of Jesus" (2, Kor 4,5, Zurich Bible). The message and work of the church should not refer to itself, but to the rule of the triune God, the source of their hope. God will grant his rule to the whole of creation, a reign established by Christ through his earthly ministry, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but only one day he will shine in perfection. The Christ-centered Church looks back on his completed work of salvation and ahead of the perfection of his continuing work. Therein lies her true 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. With Ladd's words: "It already exists, but is not yet completed." The kingdom of God on earth is not yet fully realized. All people, whether or not they belong to the community of God's people, live in this age of perfection. The church itself, the community of those who gather around Jesus Christ, his gospel, and missionary work, does not escape the problems and limitations to continue to be arrested for sin and death. Therefore, it needs a constant renewal and animation. It must continually maintain communion with Christ by putting oneself under its word and being continually fed, renewed and raised by its merciful spirit. Ladd summed up 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

To live in the time between Christ's first coming and his second coming means something else. It means that everyone is on a spiritual pilgrimage - in a constantly evolving relationship with God. The Almighty is not finished with anyone when it comes to attracting him and moving him to steadily growing faith in him, as well as accepting his grace and the new life he gives, every moment, every day. It is the task of the Church to proclaim in the best possible way the truth of who God is in Christ and how He manifests Himself in the life of every human being. The Church is called upon to bear witness in word and deed, without ceasing, about the nature and nature of Christ and his future kingdom. However, we can not know in advance who (to take up Jesus' pictorial language) will count as weeds or bad fish. It will be up to God himself to make the ultimate divorce of the good from the bad in due time. It is not up to us to advance (or delay) the process. We are not the ultimate judges in the here and now. Rather, we should remain faithful to faith and patient in differentiation, full of hope in God's work in everyone by virtue of his word and Holy Spirit. To be attentive and give priority to the most important thing, to put the essential first and to give less importance to the less important, is of crucial importance in this time between the times. Of course we have to distinguish what is important and what is less important.

Furthermore, the church provides for a community of love. Their main task is not to guarantee a seemingly ideal or absolutely perfect church, considering it their primary goal to exclude those from the community who have joined the people of God, but are not yet firmly in the faith or in theirs Life still does not quite reflect the life of Christ. It is impossible to comprehensively realize this in this present age. As Jesus taught, trying to weed out the weeds (Mt 13,29-30) or divorce the good fish from the bad (v. 48) will not bring about perfect communion in this age, but rather harm the body of Christ and his testimony. It will always result in a condescending dealings with others in the church. It will lead to massive, other condemning legalism, that is, legalism that reflects neither Christ's own work, nor faith and 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

The life between the two coming of Christ does not exclude the need for proper discipline, but it must be a wise, patient, compassionate and long-suffering discipline (affectionate, strong, educative) that, in the face of God's love, is shared with all people born of hope for all. However, it will not allow church members to harass their fellow believers (Hes 34), but rather strive to protect them. It will give fellowmen hospitality, fellowship, time and space to seek God and seek the nature of his kingdom, to find time to repent, to embrace Christ and to lean more and more in faith. But there will be limits to what is permitted, including when it comes to investigating and restraining injustices directed against other church members. We see this dynamic in early church life, as recorded in the New Testament, at work. The Acts of the Apostles 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, one must strive for it, because the alternatives of indiscipline or relentlessly self-righteous idealism are aberrations and do not do justice to Christ. Christ accepted all who came to him, but he never left them as they were. Rather, he told her to follow him. Some agreed, others did not. Christ accepts us wherever we may be, but he does so to move us to his followers. Church activity is about receiving and welcoming hot people, but also about leading and disciplining those who stay, repenting, trusting in Christ, and following His very nature. Although excommunication (exemption from the Church) may be necessary as a last resort, it should be supported by the hope of a future re-admission to the Church, as examples from the New Testament (1, Kor 5,5, 2. Kor 2,5-7; Gal 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

Only too many hold the view that Jesus came to bring about in the here and now a perfect people of God or a perfect world. The church itself may have created this impression in the belief that it is what Jesus intended. It may be that wide circles of the unbelieving world reject the gospel, because the church was unable to realize the perfect community or world. Many seem to believe that Christianity stands for a certain embodiment 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 already existing, or at least soon to be, ideal, and find that the church can not provide that ideal. Some want it now or not at all. Others may reject Christ and His gospel because they have given up altogether and have already lost hope in everything and everyone, including the Church. Some may have left the faith community because the church did not realize an ideal that they believed God would help their people to put into practice. Those who accept this - which equates the Church with the Kingdom of God - will therefore conclude that either God failed (perhaps because he did not help enough of his people) or his people (because it may not have been sufficient). However, the ideal was not achieved in either case, and 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 only true, sincere, committed, radical, or wise enough in the pursuit of our goals, we could realize the ideal that God desires for His people. Since this has never been the case throughout the history of the Church, idealists also know exactly who is to blame-others, so-called Christians. Ultimately, however, the blame often falls back to the idealists themselves, who find that even they can not reach the ideal. When that happens, idealism sinks into hopelessness and self-indulgence. 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, wicked world time. Because that is so, we can already benefit from what Christ has done for us and accept and enjoy the blessings before his kingdom is realized in perfection. The most important testimony that guarantees the certainty of the coming of this coming kingdom is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the living Lord. He promised the coming of his future kingdom, and taught us now, in this present, wicked world-time, only a foretaste, an advance, the firstfruits, to expect a legacy of that coming kingdom. We must preach hope for Christ and His finished and accomplished work, not Christian idealism. We do this by highlighting the difference between the church and the kingdom of God, while recognizing their relationship to each other 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.

John Calvin used to say that Christ is "present in some way and not in any way."3 Jesus indicates his absence, which in some way separates him from us by telling his disciples that he will go away to prepare a place to which they may not yet follow him. He will be with the Father in a way that he did not do during his time on earth (Joh 8,21, 14,28). He knows that his disciples may find this a setback, but instructs them to regard it as progress, and thus beneficial to them, even if that does not yet provide the future, ultimate, and perfect good. The Holy Spirit who was present to them would continue to be with them and indwelling them (Joh 14,17). However, Jesus also promises that he will return in the same way he left the world - in human form, physically, visibly (Act 1,11). His present absence equals the as yet unfinished kingdom of God, which thus is not, as it were, perfectly present in its perfection. The present, wicked world time is in a state of failure to endure (1, Kor7,31, 1, JN 2,8, 1, JN 2,1). Everything is currently subject to the process of transferring power to the reigning king. When Jesus finishes that phase of his continuing spiritual ministry, he will return and his world domination will be perfect. Everything he is and what he has done will be open to everyone. Everything will bow to him, and everyone will acknowledge the truth and reality of who he is (Phil 2,10). Only then will his work be revealed in its entirety. Thus his indulgence points to something important that is in harmony with the rest of the doctrine. While he is not on earth, the kingdom of God will not be universally recognized. Even Christ's rule will not be fully revealed, but largely hidden. Many aspects of the present sinful world time will continue to be felt, even at the expense of those who identify themselves as His own, Christ, and acknowledge His kingdom and kingdom. Suffering, persecution, evil - both moral (by human hands) and natural (due to the sinfulness of all being itself) - will continue. The evil will remain in a mass that may seem to many as if Christ did not win and his kingdom is not above all else.

Jesus' own parables about the Kingdom of God indicate that in the here and now we react differently to the lived, written and preached word. The seed of the word does not sometimes rise, while elsewhere it falls on fertile ground. The field of the world carries both wheat and weeds. The nets contain good and bad fish. The church is persecuted, and the blessed in their midst crave justice and peace, as well as a clear vision of God. Jesus does not see the manifestation of a perfect world after his departure. Rather, he takes measures to prepare those who succeed him to prepare for his victory and redemptive work to become fully apparent in the future. That is, an essential characteristic of church life is a life of hope. But not in the misguided hope (actually, idealism) that with just a little more (or much) effort by a few (or many), we create the ideal of validating or gradually giving birth to the Kingdom of God. Rather, the good news is that in due course, at the right time, Christ will return in all glory and power. Then our hope will come true. Jesus Christ will rebuild heaven and earth, yes, he will make everything new. Finally, the Ascension of Christ reminds us not to expect that he and his reign will be fully revealed, but will remain hidden at some distance. His Ascension points to the need to continue to hope for Christ and the future implementation of what He has initiated in His ministry on earth. It reminds us to wait and see, with joyful confidence, to face Christ's second coming, which will go hand in hand with the manifestation of the fullness of His redemptive work as Lord of lords and King of kings, the 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.

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