The Church and Kingdom: Closer Than You Think

I love it when somebody smarter than me articulates something I believe.

Kevin DeYoung argues that the local church and the kingdom are closer together than many people think.

He starts with these observations about the current thinking:

It has become commonplace in parts of the missional discussion to make a strong emphasis on thedistinction between the kingdom and the church. I agree the two are not identical. Try replacing “kingdom” in the gospels with “church” or “church” with “kingdom” in the epistles and you quickly realize synonyms they are not.

But like the proverbial rear view mirror, might these objects–the kingdom and the church–be closer than they appear?

What are we talking about? Kevin gives us a short definition:

The kingdom is often described as God’s reign and rule. I like to particularize this definition by pointing to the first and last chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 give us a picture of the kingdom. Where the kingdom is present there is peace, provision, and security. Mourning and pain give way to joy and comfort. Human relationships work right, and our relationship with God is free and confident. Most importantly, in the kingdom God is all in all. Consequently, the wicked will  not inherit the kingdom. They cannot belong to God’s realm, because sin cannot stand in the presence of the King. In the kingdom, everyone worships and reverences the King.

This literal heaven on earth is what the kingdom of God is like. Adam and Eve lost it in the garden. The Israelites lost a type of it in the promised land. And Jesus came to usher in the fullness of the kingdom once and for all, culminating in the day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15).

So here it the conclusion:

In other words, when we think of the kingdom as what we are trying to build in this world we will be severely disappointed, potentially dangerous. But when we see the church as the presence of the kingdom in this world then the theological pieces start falling into place. The oversight in some recent conceptions of building the kingdom is that the kingdom is only thought of in terms of social services. But where Christ reigns, wickedness is expelled too. If you want to build the kingdom in your town, if you want heaven to come down to earth in your city, then you must not allow unrepentant sinners to live there. For Scripture is clear that they share no part in the kingdom.

But once we understand that the local church is the witness to and manifestation ofthe kingdom the Bible makes more practical sense. In the kingdom, possessions are shared so that no one has to suffer want. That’s why the needs of the covenant community are met through the deacons. In the kingdom, unrepentant sinners are barred from entering. That’s why we have membership and church discipline. In the kingdom there is relational harmony and everyone is accepted by God and delights in God through his Son Jesus Christ. This is not only the goal of the church, but only in the church could we ever expect to see these realities.

So yes, we desire to bring the heavenly kingdom down to earth. But the kingdom that comes, the one we are looking for and living in, shows up in the church.

Often building the kingdom is a reason to bash the local church. But if we see the local church as a witness to and the greatest manifestation of the kingdom in this era, then we will see why she is worthy of our work and effort. – Chap

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