Sunday, July 26, 2009

Church or Kingdom?

Church or Kingdom, Earth or Heaven? Where do you live? 

[An appeal to discover our true citizenship and the fullness of God's purpose in our lives.]

By Greg Austin

As followers of Christ, our continual call is upward. The directive come up here in Revelation 4 is the recurrent appeal of heaven. The direction of Gods intent for our lives is always above what we have known and where we have trod. Yet the upward direction, the above life may not be up in any physical sense. Up in the realm of the Spirit may well be in or it may merely be an awareness, a discernment of something unseen yet authentic.

A dictionary description of the word up yields in part, with greater intensity, in or into a better or more advanced state; into evidence, prominence, or prevalence, and into operation or practical form; into possession or custody.

Could it be that the current generation of followers of Christ is experiencing a revealing from heaven of something coming into evidence, prominence or prevalence? Something, which is coming into operation in a practical form? Something the Bible describes as the kingdom of God?

We will always live and have our being where our hearts are, where our perception is active, where our minds are engaged.

If our awareness our set point is anchored in an understanding of life and experience within the concept of the church, we tend to live with a temporal, earthly and it might be argued, a worldly view of life.

If on the other hand, we have developed a sense of life within the kingdom of God, we tend to live with an eternal, as opposed to a temporal perspective. This Kingdom Perspective or kingdom life means that the various and myriad vicissitudes of life which political party is in power, whether we are employed or not, whether we enjoy physical health or we daily endure pain, and countless other potential obstacles have no bearing on our manner of life. 

Witness the Apostle Paul, speaking of many tears and trials which happened to him by the plotting of the Jews . . . And now he proceeds, bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that would happen to him there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations awaited him. 

But none of these things move me; (emphasis mine) nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24ff).

Living with Kingdom Perspective does not mean that we are exempt from the experiences of the world around us: Pain still hurts, our bodies continue to deteriorate with age, our physical dimensions remain subject to physical law, bad things still intrude, but they do not impinge on our lives. Our spirits, the eternal us, find balance and meaning living within an eternal kingdom. Life, for the child of the kingdom begins to make sense and finds order. Within the kingdom of God we begin to sort out the significance of temporal conditions in the light of an eternal purpose and place of Gods providence.

Jesus and the apostles after Him taught that those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ are living now, in this present moment in the kingdom of God. The arguable reality of this condition is that we are now living in eternity, we are living our eternal lives now and we are not waiting for our entry into heaven some day in the future when we will at long last begin to experience eternal life. 

Because we are creatures of time and space, we have always known beginnings and endings, starts and finishes. Eternity has no such encumbrances: Even the thing we call eternity is largely misapplied simply because of the space and time confine we were born into. 

But when an eternal Christ stepped out of an eternal heaven and pierced the shroud of time and space, He brought to humanity the potential to escape those confines, even while existing within them. It is part of being in, but not of the world. 

That Christ was in the world before His fleshly birth in Bethlehems stable is obvious. John declares in the first chapter of his gospel, He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him (Jn 1:10).

Christ was in the world, but He was not confined to the limits and the laws of the natural world. His existence was supra-natural as well as supernatural; that is to say He lived above the limitations of the physical laws of the natural universe and He lived a supernatural life, which is to say He was inseparable from and fully part of God and thus had access to Gods capabilities while at the same time abiding within a fleshly, human body. His physical body grew weary, it required food and water, rest and protection from the elements, but Christ, the Person within the fleshly body of the Carpenter from Nazareth, was capable of all of His Fathers will and capacity.

Church or Kingdom, or Church within Kingdom?

Jesus spoke about building His church (Mt 16:18), but He articulated an existent and broader kingdom. 

In Matthew 3 John the Baptist declares that the kingdom is at hand. In the following chapter, Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4:17). In Matthew 5, Jesus tells the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake that theirs is, present tense, now and not in the sweet bye and bye the kingdom of heaven. 

In Matthew 11, Jesus declares from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, with the clear implication that the kingdom was existent in the hour of His speaking. More than 100 New Testament verses reference the kingdom. 

We are living now, in the kingdom. The kingdom displaces the here and the now with the cognizance of a greater reality and hence, a greater purpose. Within this reality is a focus and a consciousness impacted not by the day-to-day minutiae of life, but in the kingdom we consider all that takes place about us in the context of heavens eternal purpose, in the light of eternity. 

So the Apostle Paul lived not within the temporal confines of the time and space restriction, but he lived within the greater expanse of the kingdom. He worshiped a King Who dwells both within and without the restrictions of space and time.

The eternal King calls us to a higher plain of awareness and experience. He bids us rise with Him to an eternal kingdom so that we can say with the apostle, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's (Ro 14:8).

Jesus taught us to pray, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This pulling down of the kingdom through prayer is in part a verbal reminder of an extant reality: That the kingdom of heaven is even now among men, whether it is recognized, received and benefited from or not. Wherever the kingdom is acknowledged, Gods will is done on earth. When our perspective becomes the kingdom of God, our life direction aligns with the kingdom of God. When our awareness is of the kingdom, our focus becomes kingdom.

Suddenly, the baubles and trinkets that this (earthy) life advertises have no meaning or value to us. The things of life truly, grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace as we begin to live and to move and to have our being both in Christ and in the kingdom.

Generations of believers have been taught the doctrines, the practices, the purpose of the church while the concept and doctrine of the kingdom of God has largely been ignored or misunderstood. Yet it would be this gospel of the kingdom and not the gospel of the church which was commanded to be preached in all the world for a witness. . . (Mt 24:14) before the end would come.

As followers of Jesus, we are children of the kingdom and not of the church. 

If our focus ought to be the kingdom, what then is the church, and what is its purpose in the economy of God? 

First of all, The church is the structure which accommodates believers moving within the kingdom. 

The kingdom is the eternal and magnificent dwellingplace of Jehovah God, Creator and sustainer of all that exists. The church may be understood as the lesser box (not with regard to importance, but to purpose) within the greater box of the kingdom. The church consists of all believers in Jesus Christ; they are the people of the kingdom. The church is the people of God, called by God to make their habitation in the kingdom.

The church manifests and demonstrates the kingdom. The church is the realm in which the kingdom is expressed in this current phase of Gods purpose. Observe that every function of the church has to do with this present age; 

The church is the place of entry into the kingdom of God.

It is in the church that believers are welcomed as redeemed souls.

It is the church which provides a place for baptism, preaching, teaching, the observance of the Sacraments, witnessing, discipleship, and so on. 

Note that all these functions have to do with this present age. As the kingdom of God is fully established and revealed, these functions become obsolete, and the kingdom will supersede the church, because kingdom functions are eternal.

The church finds its function in making the kingdom observable. It is within the church that we witness the power of the kingdom to transform lives from death to life, from earthly to heavenly, from brute beast to living representatives of Christ Jesus, Savior of the world.

The Church then is the instrument by which the kingdom is established in the earth. When Jesus spoke of the salt of the earth He had in focus the church. His word pictures of the light of the world and a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden are references to the church. 

A Vital Difference

But here is a vital distinction: The church always was intended to be a temporary manifestation of the Kingdom, and not a permanent structure. The church is to be understood as a bridge between fallen man and the ultimate kingdom which eventually will permeate, saturate and fill all the earth. 

The seventh angel is heard in Revelation 11: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"

More than half a century after Jesus had ascended to His Father, John would write Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world (1 Jn 4:17). This is kingdom language. This is the language of eternity. It also is the language of our emerging reality:

. . . as He is, so are we

. . . in this world 

. . . in this kingdom. 

Greg Austin

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