Church and Kingdom

Kevin DeYoung has noted before that people talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, but don’t always have a fully biblical view of this issue.  Last week, he posted some thoughts on this issue, cautioning people who want to bring the kingdom to earth.  DeYoung argues instead that the kingdom is closely identified with the Church:

If the kingdom of God is heaven breaking into earth, Eden being replanted, the New Jerusalem nailing in stakes, then we should expect to see the kingdom almost exclusively in the church. Of course, the church, living in the world, ought to embody the principles of the kingdom. Likewise, we will be pleased when the world around us reflects many of the values of the kingdom–forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and justice. But we will not expect the world, in this life, to become the kingdom.

Here’s the problem: when people talk broadly about bringing heaven down to earth on the culture writ large, they can’t help but be selective about the nature of the kingdom. So some Christians will argue for dismantling of nuclear weapons because in the kingdom swords are beaten into plowshares. True, but in the kingdom everyone also sits under their own vine and fig tree. The vision of the kingdom/garden/city is one of extravagant opulence and prosperity. So should we try to be as rich as possible as a sign of the kingdom’s in-breaking? Well, no because the kingdom is not the full reality yet. As a result we must temper the notion of kingdom-living prosperity with the reality that some people don’t have enough to live. In the same way, we must temper the notion of kingdom-living pacifism with the reality that there are lots of bad guys in the world who don’t want us to live.

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 of the 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.

Today, a friend shared a post by Doug Wilson from January that enjoyed re-reading for its bold explanation of Wilson’s vision of the Christian future.  He also discussed the relationship between the church and the kingdom:

So my proposed solution to all this, my fourth option, is to divide a believing world into Church (believing administration of Word and sacrament) and Kingdom (believing administration of bread baking, lovemaking, candlestick making, warfare, sewage treatment, etc.) The Church is the central cathedral and the Kingdom is the parish. The Kingdom may certainly be called the Church by synecdoche, just as all ancient Israel could be called Zion, just so long as we maintain a category elsewhere that keeps them clearly distinct. I want to keep this distinction sharp because I don’t ever want to have ministers of the Word too closely involved in chopping off the heads of miscreants. Wanting to do better than the Inquisition is not setting the bar too high. Whaddaya say?…

The Church is the heart of the Kingdom, but not everything in the Kingdom is Church proper, although it is “Church” in some sense. The Church is at the center, and Christendom surrounds her.

DeYoung leans towards a two-kingdom theology which (correct me if I’m wrong) tends to go with amillenialism.  Doug Wilson is a postmillennialist who expects that the gospel will transform the world before Christ’s coming.  It seems like the eschatologies of both men inform their views of the Church-Kingdom relationship.

Also, if you want to listen to a debate on eschatology, Desiring God held a good conversation (about two hours) between people with historical premillennial, postmillienial, and amillenial views, with John Piper moderating.  It’s not a bad thing to put on your MP3 player and listen two while you’re running or something.  Doug Wilson represented postmill.

UPDATE (3/9/10): I inserted the link for Wilson’s column, which I forgot to include before.

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12 thoughts on “Church and Kingdom

  1. Though they use the terms a bit differently, it’s interesting how their perspectives overlap — both drawing a marked distinction between inside and outside the Church.

    But I think they only indirectly address the central issue and the reason for the distinction they draw, which is free will. Is living in the Kingdom of God voluntary? What if people choose not to cooperate? To what extent should people be coerced? These are important questions even after God’s conspicuous rule begins, yet our task is to answer them without that aid.

    I think that drawing the line at the Church allows them to separate the willing from the unwilling. Problem solved! — We can have harmony within the Church, and we don’t have to deal with the cantankerous unwilling. But the willful unity of the Church is only broadly true — free will also exists within the Church, evinced by the diversity within Christianity.

    Kevin

    1. True points, Kevin. I’m still trying to figure out how the idea of the Kingdom works. There are certainly a lot of definitions.

      In this period, I think that I would agree with the authors that the Kingdom and the Church are fairly close, and that the disagreements and lack of unity do go with the territory of both human choice and sinfulness. When God’s rule truly comes, our wills are transformed with our glorified bodies that will is truly freed from the desire to sin.

      I think that some of the pre-millennialists view Christ’s millennial rule as a time where people can still not believe, but many will. But then there is God’s ultimate rule in the new heavens and new earth after that where all the redeemed live. I could be wrong in this summary.

      How do you try to answer these questions?

      1. While it can be fun at times to ponder, I try to avoid eschatalogical conclusions except as they should affect our behavior today. That said… 🙂

        I’d like to believe that whenever Christ rules for a millenium, we will be able to readily identify it as ongoing for that period.

        While it makes sense to me that our desire to sin will significantly wane, it seems likely that free will (which includes the potential to sin) will still exist, given the parallel between Eden and New Jerusalem, and the fact that Adam sinned.

        I agree with you about the Kingdom and the Church. Roughly speaking, I’d say that the Church is God’s people (believers) and the Kingdom is when God’s will is done. Hopefully, there should be some overlap there. 🙂

        So the “kingdom of God” can refer to instances or threads of God’s will being done (perhaps most often with His power) or even the ultimate kingdom where God conspicuously rules. e.g. Luke 11:20, 17:21. I think that Mark 9:1 is probably referring to the day of Pentecost with the gift and baptism of holy spirit.

  2. The guy missed the biggest danger of neo-big K word thought, in my opinion. As soon as the church makes the state its business and tries to bring all things under Christ’s subjection, the temporal powers try to influence the Church’s behavior and wield control over her leaders. This is dangerous. One should always be careful that the moral authority of the church is not squandered in struggles over temporal authority.
    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/01/the-gift-of-the-west

    1. Yes, that is really the big question for people like Wilson. In times where the influence of Christianity wanes, it’s attractive to think of Christendom past. But it brings a whole new set of problems, as you point out.

      You can also argue that the Western separation of church and state has let the state put the church in its little religion box while the state and its ruling ideology get to really shape society. That’s one of the central arguments that Wilson and others make, which I think is a pretty interesting problem too. http://livingtext.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/stanley-fish-on-liberalism/

      1. Yeah, it definitely takes a balance. Both too much intertwinement between state and religion and complete separation of basic ethics from government are harmful.

        MB

  3. Kevin, I don’t think that we’ll be able to sin because that would start everything over again. Here are two possible perspectives on how this could work:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn/ByTopic/77/3805_If_the_angels_could_sin_and_fall_how_can_we_be_sure_this_wont_happen_to_us_sometime_in_eternity/

    It’s my understanding that Augustine believed that we are most truly free not when we have choices (more of a modern Enlightenment idea of freedom), but rather when God frees us to act like him (Mama’s Boy, you may be able to let me know if this is using Augustine out of context. I got this quote from the Ancient Christian Devotional). Here’s the quote that I have from Enchiridion 9:31:

    “We are then mostly truly free when God orders our lives, that is, forms and creates us not as human beings — this he has already done — but as good people, which he is now doing by his grace, that we may indeed be new creatures in Christ Jesus. Accordingly, the prayer: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God.'”

    True freedom, in this view, will come in not being able to sin as we are made perfect, upheld by God’s grace and power.

    1. Becoming free from desires to sin does make us more free to choose without distraction, like a smoker who quits and eventually no longer has the urge to smoke, but if our ability to choose is removed, it is in no sense “freedom”.

      I don’t see that starting everything over again is excluded. It certainly wasn’t excluded with Adam. We might ponder why.

  4. I don’t know. Interacting with people without the temptations to anger, lust, selfishness, greed, etc. will feel pretty free to me.

    The older sense of freedom (Plato, Augustine, and Calvin) is freedom to do what is right. I need to do more looking into this, but it seems that the Bible might portray freedom as freedom from slavery (whether Pharaoh’s or sin’s).

    The way that you described it wouldn’t be slavery, but the old slave master (to use an expression that I’ve heard) coming back would still be a possibility. Sin’s total destruction would mean that there’s no possibility of his coming back, and thus there is freedom for all.

    It’s my understanding the that the tradition of the church is that the new heavens and earth will be sinless forever without the possibility of sin. As for why Adam could sin and we won’t, there have probably been different answers for this.

    1. I don’t know. Interacting with people without the temptations to anger, lust, selfishness, greed, etc. will feel pretty free to me.

      I agree; that was my point about the smoker. Unwanted temptations work to limit your perceived choices. Without them you will feel freer. Eliminating temptations is entirely different from eliminating the possibility to choose. In fact, they are roughly opposite.

      No matter whether you define freedom as toward what is right or away from slavery, freedom requires the ability to choose. Robots have no freedom even if we program them to always do what is right. For that exact same reason, morality does not apply to them.

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