Friday, June 4, 2010

The Kingdom, the Cross, and the Church

I like all the “kingdom" talk going on these days, especially as it relates to Muslim Ministry: we are not spreading “Christianity,” but the gospel of the Kingdom.  The “Kingdom Circles” presentation can be a very helpful evangelistic tool (if modified slightly and used correctly).  To learn more about the Kingdom Circles presentation see the bottom of this article or or here

There are times, however, when I feel that the Kingdom of God is presented Cross-less and Church-less.  I think this is a disservice to Muslims.  What is it that makes living in the Kingdom even possible?  And what is life in the Kingdom?  Ironically, a kingdom without the Cross is just another “religion.”

Here is a post from Greg Gilbert on the relationship between the cross and the kingdom that clarifies this point (HT: JT):

The kingdom is an incredibly important theme in the Bible, and it’s good that evangelicals are thinking hard about it. But it seems to me that far too often when evangelicals start talking about the kingdom, there’s an almost reactionary tendency not to say much about the cross. It’s almost like it’s a different story, and we can’t figure out very well how the cross fits into this story of the kingdom. So we manage to create in our thought and conversation a rift between the cross and the kingdom, with cross over here and kingdom over there and everyone crouching on one side or the other of the chasm, sneering suspiciously at each other.

I don’t think the Bible leaves us with such a division, though. Here’s why: The only way into the Kingdom is through the Cross. Yes, Jesus came to inaugurate a kingdom which will one day be established with perfect justice and righteousness. But that is good news only because he also came to save a people from the wrath of God so that they could be citizens of that kingdom, and the way he did that was by dying in the place of those people for their sin. Jesus is not just King; He is Suffering King.

Put another way, it is the cross—and the cross alone—which is the gateway to the blessings of the kingdom. That’s how you put all this together. You don’t get the blessings of the kingdom unless you come into them through the blood of the King. Therefore if you preach a sermon or write a chapter on the good news of the kingdom, but neglect to talk about the cross, you’ve not preached good news at all. You’ve just shown people a wonderful thing that they have no right to be a part of because they are sinners. That’s why we never see Jesus preaching, “The kingdom of God has come!” No, it’s always, “The kingdom of God has come! Therefore repent and believe!” He didn’t just preach the coming of the kingdom. He preached the coming of the kingdom and the way people could enter it.

So by all means, preach about the kingdom, talk about Jesus’ conquest of evil, write about his coming reign. But don’t pretend that all those things are glorious good news all by themselves. They’re not. The bare fact that Jesus is going to rule the world with perfect righteousness is not good news to me; it’s terrifying news, because I am not righteous! I’m one of the enemies he’s coming to crush! The coming kingdom becomes good news only when I’m told that the coming King is also a Savior who forgives sin and makes people righteous—and he does that through his death on the cross. Ignore that, downplay it, shove it out of the center of the gospel, and you make the whole thing not good news at all, but a terrifying message of judgment to rebellious sinners.

Now here is the relationship between the church and the kingdom from Grudem's Systematic Theology (pg. 863, I reformatted and underlined for clarity):

What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God? The differences have been summarized well by George Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament:

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men (pg, 111). 

Ladd goes on to summarize five specific aspects of the relationship between the kingdom and the church:

  1. The church is not the kingdom (for Jesus and the early Christians preached that the kingdom of God was near, not that the church was near, and preached the good news of the kingdom, not the good news of the church: Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
  2. The kingdom creates the church (for as people enter into God’s kingdom they become joined to the human fellowship of the church).
  3. The church witnesses to the kingdom (for Jesus said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world,” Matt. 24:14).
  4. The church is the instrument of the kingdom (for the Holy Spirit, manifesting the power of the kingdom, works through the disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons, as he did in the ministry of Jesus: Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:17).
  5. The church is the custodian of the kingdom (for the church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 16:19) (pgs. 111-19)

Therefore we should not identify the kingdom of God and the church (as in Roman Catholic theology), nor should we see the kingdom of God as entirely future, something distinct from the church age (as in older dispensational theology). Rather, we should recognize that there is a close connection between the kingdom of God and the church.

  • As the church proclaims the good news of the kingdom, people will come into the church and begin to experience the blessings of God’s rule in their lives.
  • The kingdom manifests itself through the church, and thereby the future reign of God breaks into the present (it is “already” here: Matt. 12:28; Rom. 14:17; and “not yet” here fully: Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9–10).
  • Therefore those who believe in Christ will begin to experience something of what God’s final kingdom reign will be like: they will know some measure of victory over sin (Rom. 6:14; 14:17), over demonic opposition (Luke 10:17), and over disease (Luke 10:9). They will live in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Rom. 8:4–17; 14:17), who is the dynamic power of the coming kingdom.  Eventually Jesus will return and his kingdom reign will extend over all creation (1 Cor. 15:24–28).

Muslims need it all; the Kingdom, the Cross, and the Church.  Let’s not sell them short.

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