|Observing the Text!|
The Kingdom and the Church
How are the kingdom of God and the church to be identified? Are they different or the same? If they are not the same, what is their relationship to each other? These are important questions in light of current language which often implies that the terms and concepts are interchangeable.
It was St. Augustine (AD 345-430) who first identified the kingdom with the church. His idea has been maintained since the Reformation. The suggestion has been made by some that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom, but the result was the church. Some systems of theology still view the church and kingdom as the same. The language we use today often exchanges the word kingdom and church. We may say something like, “Let’s build the kingdom.” What we are saying is “Let’s build the church.” It is my belief that the mission of Jesus was to invade this present evil age with his kingdom rule, the age to come. Those who chose to receive the proclamation of the rule of God are, in fact, the church. But, the two are now synonymous terms.The church and the kingdom of God are not the same. Click To Tweet
|Interpreting the Text!|
The Church as Remnant
He came as a Jewish man to Jewish people. He accepted, as binding, the authority of the Old Testament scriptures. He conformed to the practices of the temple. He worshiped in the synagogue. He lived and worked as a Jew. While he would sometimes travel outside the Jewish territory, he insisted that his mission was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15.24). When he sent his disciples out to minister, he told them to go only to Israel (Matt. 10.5-6).
There are at least three exceptions to this fact of “to Israel only:”
- the Samaritan woman: John 4.1-42
- the Centurion’s servant: Matthew 8.5-13
- the Canaanite woman: Matthew 15.21-28
These three stories all seem to have mitigating circumstances, which called for exceptional steps to be taken by Jesus.
His central mission was to proclaim to Israel that God was acting to fulfill his promises and bring Israel to her true destiny as his children.
Israel rejected the message of Jesus about the kingdom of God. His proclamation came early in his ministry (Mark 1.14-15) and drew instant denial (Mark 3.1-6) and only intensified during his ministry culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross.
While Israel refused to accept the offer of Jesus, the kingdom, a small group, a remnant, did respond in faith. The Jewish idea of discipleship was to call for a commitment to the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). Jesus’ idea of discipleship was to call for a commitment to himself and his message. So he raised disciples who were committed to him and his message.
The Church and the Kingdom
Since Jesus proclaimed the kingdom to Israel as an offering of her fulfillment to her true destiny and they rejected, the mission was still accomplished in those followers who received his message and became his followers. These followers would come to be known as the church, the true Israel of God. The choice by Jesus of these twelve was an enacted parable in which Jesus authenticated that he was raising a new congregation to replace the nation of Israel who had rejected his message. Here are some illustrations from the Late Dr. Ladd in this book A Theology of the New Testament that will make this concept clear.
- The Kingdom and the Church are Not Equal
Since the kingdom of God is dynamic (his rule), the church and the kingdom are not the same. The church is made up of those who are ruled by the King of the kingdom, but the church is not the kingdom
- The Kingdom and the Church are Not the Same
The writers of the New Testament never equate the church with the kingdom. As the first preachers, they never preached the church but proclaimed the kingdom (Acts 8.12; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31). One will have great difficulty in substituting the word church for the word kingdom in these verses. John Bright is correct when he says in his book, The Kingdom of God, that there is never the slightest hint that the visible church can either be or produce the kingdom of God. It is safe to say that the church is the people of the kingdom, but never the kingdom itself.
- The Kingdom Creates the Church
The rule of God as presented in the words and works of Jesus confronted men and women to respond and come under his rule, forging a new relationship with him as King (Mark 3.31-35). When the powerful rule of God impregnates an individual, he or she is made a part of the body of Christ, the church.
- The Church’s Mission is to Bear Witness to the Kingdom
The mission of the church is to give witness to the kingdom of God. The church cannot build the kingdom or become the kingdom. The church is the vessel through which the powerful redeeming acts of Jesus are performed. This is illustrated in the commission of Jesus to the Twelve (Matt. 10) and to the Seventy (Luke 10). The proclamation of the apostles in the book of Acts reinforces it.
- The Church was to Witness to all humankind about the Kingdom.
The seventy disciples that Jesus sent out was symbolic. Jewish tradition believed that there were seventy nations in the world and that the Jewish Torah had been first given in seventy languages. The sending of seventy missionaries appears to be an implicit claim that the message of Jesus must be heard not only by Israel but by all mankind (Ladd, 1993. 109-114).
In addition to Ladd’s list, there are two more that could be added.
The Rejection of God’s Offer of the Kingdom by Israel Became Irreversible
Jesus soberly announced that Israel was no longer to be the people of God’s rule. Their place was going to be taken by others who proved trustworthy (Mark 12.1-9; Matt. 21.43—the inclusion of the Gentiles). Since the church is the recipient of the life and fellowship of the kingdom, then one of her main purposes is to demonstrate in the life and power of the age to come in this present evil age. The church lives in two ages at the same time. We are the people of the age to come living in this present evil age. The church must provide a model to display the life of the future perfected order.Jesus soberly announced that Israel was no longer to be the people of God's rule. Click To Tweet
The Church Is a Conduit Through Which the Kingdom Acts.
The church is the conduit through which God’s kingdom acts are performed (Matt. 10.8; Luke 10.17). This makes discipleship important. The church has often fallen short of making true disciples of Jesus. The church tends to promote character and community to the neglect of performing such kingdom ministry as praying for the sick and casting out demons. Proclamation of the kingdom must be words and works combined.
Responsibility and Authority
Jesus left the keys to the kingdom in the hands of Peter (Matt. 16.19). The background of this idea comes from Isaiah 22.22 where God gave Eliakim the keys to the House of David commissioning him with its care. The art of caretaking is often understood as conserving or protecting. We must not make the mistake of the third servant in the parable of Jesus found in Matthew 25.13-40. He received his talent, conserved it by burying it, and by doing so earned the wrath of his master. Jesus redefined caretaking to involve investing and risking.
According to Jesus, the church is built on the rock of his Messiahship. Hell will not prevail against it. To ensure that the church understands its authority Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Loosing denotes freeing those under the control of Satan. Binding means to prohibit or forbid Satan from harming the church. Binding and loosing do not automatically mean that God will do what the church speaks. Binding and loosing means that the church does in this Age what the Father has already ratified and determined in the age to come. The church is attentive to what God is doing, binding what he has bound, and losing what he has losed.
The kingdom of God is his rule and reign. The church is the fellowship of those who have experienced the rule of God and entered into the blessings of doing the words and works. The kingdom creates the church, works through the church, and through her demonstrates the rule of God to the world. The kingdom is not the church and the church is not the kingdom.
|Living into the Text!|
It is always important to apply what you have learned. Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and put into practice some or all of the following.
- How well do you conform to your religious beliefs?
- How do these ideas fit into a Dispensational theological view of the past, present, and future?
- How are you a part of the remnant?
- How often do you interchange the word kingdom for church? What difference does the language make?
- What are your responsibilities as kingdom people?
- Does our Christian practice have both words and works?
- In what ways are you a witness of the kingdom of God?
The articles below come from various Bible Dictionaries and other sources. The posting of these brief articles are to introduce some readers to the vast amount of information that is provided to enhance your reading of the text of the Bible with a hope that it will lead to a better understanding of the text and will lead the reader to an improved praxis in his or her community of faith and personal life. You might read the articles offline in a number of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try Revell Bible Dictionary. Revell Bible Dictionary is no longer in print but is available from Amazon. One of these should suit your personal needs.