The Kingdom Is The Thing (Part Two)

Just a few more thoughts on the transformational nature of the Kingdom of God… for now.  By “the Kingdom of God,” the Bible means the right and authority of God to exercise His power and sovereignty in each human life and in the world at large.  For now, although God is the sovereign power in the universe, He has chosen to give humans the freedom to choose whether they will live under His authority, as citizens of His Kingdom.  When Kingdom citizens choose to come together in community and encourage one another in Kingdom living, a local church exists.  The church is the agent of the Kingdom of God in the world.

While the New Testament does not contain a constitution or a set of bylaws for the way Kingdom citizens should live, it is not difficult to surmise such a pattern for behavior.  Kingdom citizens should emulate the character of the King.  The cultivation and development of Christlike character traits is called spiritual formation, and it is the most important work in which the church can be involved.  It includes public worship, personal devotion, and self-sacrificing service.  And it takes a church, the community of the King, to be the context, the fertile environment, in which spiritual formation can flourish.

The truth about the Kingdom of God can resolve all manner of church conflicts—simply follow the course that most consistently models the values of the Kingdom and the character of the King.  It can provide guidance in political issues and matters of public policy—support the candidates and policies which are most likely to produce a society which reflects Kingdom values.

It was the truth about the comprehensive nature of the Kingdom of God which ultimately drew me to the liturgical tradition which I now embrace in Anglicanism.  Many of my friends in the free church tradition, where I lived and worked for thirty-five years, feel uncomfortable with what they perceive as “pomp and pageantry” in some forms and expressions of liturgical worship.  For me, those outward expressions—the bowing, the kneeling, the incense—all remind me that I serve the King of Kings, and one day I will have opportunity to acknowledge His very presence in similar acts of honor and worship.  Until then, they bring a little of heaven to earth, and instill a level of reverence in public worship which never fails to lift my spirit and transport me  spiritually into the presence of the King.

The Kingdom Is The Thing (Part One)

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.

More anon.