E. Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.
Relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church
Whenever you read the Gospels you cannot miss our Lord’s countless number of references to the “Kingdom of God.” Every such instance is aimed at people coming into the Kingdom, to receive the “Good News” offered by Jesus and be saved. It may seem paradoxical that whereas Jesus summoned men and women to receive the Kingdom, the apostles regarded those who responded to the Kingdom’s message as members of the Church and heirs to the promises made to Israel (Rom 4: 13-15).
This fact raises the issue of the relationship of the Kingdom and the Church and church planting. Are they then the same, or is there a difference between them?
The purpose of this short article is to clarify this relationship, so that it can become a strategy for us in reaching the unreached.
A Normative Witness for the Church
Actually, when Jesus called people to repent and follow Him (Lk 9:23), He provided the normative witness for the Church for all time. This essential invitation to the Kingdom meant that God’s reign (rule), could be accepted inwardly by men and women everywhere by simple submission in complete childlike obedience and trustful receptiveness.
Since the Kingdom of God had entered the human situation through Jesus and brought people into direct confrontation with Him to open one’s heart to His mission, it meant that the Kingdom of God becomes dynamically active in one’s life. Although the one responding may not be instantly transformed and translated into the future age of consummation when God makes all things new, this encounter does involve an ‘upheaval’ type of a transformational change.
First Priority is to Summon the People to Salvation in Jesus
It is then crucial for us to know that the Church is nothing less than the missionary people of the Kingdom of God whose first and foremost priority is to summon the people to salvation in Jesus. But it is important for us to note at this point that the Church does not establish the Kingdom. It is rather the custodian of the Kingdom, because it is the Kingdom that creates the Church.
Church is Not the Kingdom, Not an Institutional Growth
While we affirm that the Church is not the Kingdom, we should be careful not to fall prey to the temptation to mark the advance of the Kingdom merely in terms of institutional growth. Somehow the ‘mega church’ is a mentality that one must shun. The reason being that while a mega church may show large numbers of people in its congregation, many of them may not have actually come under the Kingdom’s rule, hence no commitment to the missionary cause, as observed in many parts of the world. Are we not struggling with this problem today?
A mega church with so many members in it and yet no commitment to spreading the “good news” of the Kingdom-how tragic! We are living in a day where it is increasingly becoming difficult to have an institutionalized church, but the writer would like to assure the readers that there are no barriers to spreading the Kingdom-the little leaven the leavens the whole lump of dough!
Not an Age for Denominational Deification!
Actually only the Church, which is His Body, constitutes the people of the Kingdom, but denominations and institutionalized structures, no matter how good they may appear to be, are not the Kingdom. This is not the age for ecclesiastical or denominational deification, but proclamation of the “good news” of the gospel of the Kingdom. The writer fears for some such ecclesiastical and denominational structures today that have made their agenda to ‘plant’ their “own kind” in countries where there is no Christian witness, rather than spreading the “Kingdom” and issuing summons to the people to it. In this age Christians should never cease to pray: “Thy Kingdom come.”
Specific Relationship Between the Church and the Kingdom
What then is the specific relationship between the Church and the Kingdom? We believe Church is the true Israel or the spiritual Israel-God’s covenant and servant people, called to be a sign of the many-faceted righteousness and justice of the Kingdom. The Kingdom in contrast represents the dynamic activity of God and the sphere in which His rule is experienced, both today and in the future.
The Kingdom is the rule of God whereas the Church is His Body. The Kingdom of God is the conception placed above that of the Church. The Church is not the Kingdom, but the Church owes her existence to the Kingdom of God. She exists for the sake of the Kingdom; she represents the Kingdom of God on earth in the present age and until the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Kingdom of God the Church has her ultimate frontiers; from the Kingdom she receives all her substance, her power and hope. In the age of the church everything is characterized by the sign “till he comes.”
In this context we understand that salvation is receiving the “good news of the Kingdom,” therefore, the Church is not to conduct missions and evangelism as one of her many activities, although sadly we find that to be the case in many churches of the world today.
But the Church is primarily a missionary people, a sign of the Kingdom, whose chief agenda is to proclaim the “good news” of the Kingdom always and all the time without ceasing-if she does not do that, she is not the Church or the bride of Christ. Her gospel declares that the salvation of man lies only in the Kingdom of God, and that salvation she announces to the world, and summons men and women everywhere to come into it through repentance so that “Every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Therefore, while we are to be busy in Church-planting, we need to ensure that we are spreading the Kingdom of God. A church in which the members are not under the Kingdom’s rule is no church then.
Are we then spreading the “Good News” of the Kingdom among the unreached peoples of the world?
Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.
Bethany International University