Thirty-one years ago, while I was a student at Wheaton Grad School near Chicago, I had an “epiphanic moment.” Owing to a variety of influences that converged on my life in 1980, I became convinced that the most important theme in the Bible was not grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, or salvation. It was the Kingdom of God.
Over the next three decades I explored and examined that theme and that conclusion from every conceivable angle. I am even more convinced today than I was then. The most important theme in all of Scripture is the Kingdom of God. Everything else, as vital and essential as it may seem, finds its place somewhere in relation to the central theme, the unifying motif, of the Kingdom.
I mention this topic so early in my career as a blogger because virtually everything else I will say from this moment forward will be affected and influenced by my convictions in this area. I read the Old Testament, with its creation narrative and its historical record of the people of Israel, through the lens of the Kingdom. I interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from the perspective of the Kingdom. My view of life after death and of the ultimate future purpose of God for the earth is shaped by my belief that those ideas can be understood only in relation to the Kingdom of God. Salvation is the way of entry into the Kingdom. Love is the controlling principle for life in the Kingdom. Even my political views are shaped and influenced by Jesus’ words in the Lord’s prayer: “Father,… may Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Nowhere does this principle have more practical application than in relation to the church. I still believe that the best description of the purpose for the church in the world is that put forward by George Eldon Ladd more than a generation ago: the church is the agent of the Kingdom of God.
The church is where the distinctives of the Kingdom are supposed to be cultivated, where we learn how to live by Kingdom values in the face of the pressure—which comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil—to succumb to the influence of the prevailing culture. The place where we encourage one another to hang tough, be consistent, don’t surrender, don’t lose heart.
The church is the place where we embrace and comfort and bandage and console those who are battered and bruised from their confrontation with a hostile culture—a culture under the control of a power opposed to God and intent on frustrating every attempt on the part of the citizens of the Kingdom to live according to the priorities and directives of the King.
The church is supposed to be a living example of the gospel of the Kingdom. As Lesslie Newbigin has written: The church is not an end in itself. “Church growth” is not an end in itself. The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom.
I wonder how many pastors perceive their role, in large part, as fostering an environment where the values and priorities and principles of the Kingdom of God can be lived out.