Allow me to apologize in advance, just in case this all sounds insufferably arrogant to my readers, because I make no pretense at any impressive theological erudition … but it seems to me that in the ongoing confusion in the several Christian traditions about the very essence of the ‘church’ and of its mission, one can point to one of the sources of that confusion in the thinking of so many about a clear definition of the Kingdom of God. What in the world is the Kingdom of God?

John the Baptist came preaching: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus, likewise, came preaching the Kingdom of God and calling upon his hearers to: “Repent” (whatever that means) and “believe” this good news (whatever that means). His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel) /on the Plain (Luke’s gospel) is replete with the assumption that this sermon is a key to understanding the practical implications of whatever this Kingdom of God is all about. We are taught to pray: “Thy Kingdom come” (or, more literally, be coming, i.e., dynamically realized) on earth as it is in heaven. What are we praying for? We are taught to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness …” What do we conceive that we are to be seeking?

Do you get my point? If we’re fuzzy on what it is that Jesus is talking about, then the fuzziness tends to influence nearly everything else in our New Testament understanding, including our understanding of the church. This is especially true when one seeks to understand what is the purpose-nature and mission of the thing that Jesus told his disciples that he was going to build (Matthew 16:18), namely: the church. Maybe I can offer a bit of light (not original with me, but most helpful to me) on this.

The whole concept of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Yahweh, would have had great resonance within the Jewish community, since it had been prophesied and hinted at in many of the Old Testament writings. At the same time it would not have had much resonance within the Gentile community, they not having had the background of understanding out of that Jewish tradition. The first three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all make the “gospel of the Kingdom” the major designation of their proclamation, because they were addressed to a Jewish community. But, then you will notice that John, writing to a primarily Gentile community, tends to use the designation: eternal life, to refer to the same reality.

But it doesn’t stop there. The coming of Jesus, God’s Messiah, heralded the in-breaking of God’s New Creation, his eschatological design of rescuing and recreating his whole rebellious and scarred creation. Jesus is basically announcing that, in himself, that eschatological, that rescuing and recreating design of God, is being inaugurated, and that through him is dynamically present, and will ultimately be consummated. Paul, then, will use the designation: new creation, to refer to the same Kingdom of God reality, of Eternal Life … since he knew that this would communicate to a Gentile/Greek/Roman audience the reality of what had transpired in Christ.

There are other words that are used by the New Testament writers that reflect the same ultimate and reconciling work of God. Yes: reconciliation is one of those words, as is salvation, and occasionally: righteousness. They are like different facets of the same jewel—they all refer to the awesome self-giving of God in Christ in order to make all things new: the announcement of the mission, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, hope, and love—not to mention the empowering by the Spirit of God to make the humanly impossible to be possible (today is Pentecost Sunday: note).

My thesis, which I will pursue in these Blogs? The church is the communal demonstration of that very Kingdom, God’s New Creation, founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

How is it such a demonstration? Stay tuned …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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