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The Kingdom of God…
What is it?
Where is it?
When is it?

In evangelical seminary they taught us to think of the Kingdom as “here now” and “still coming” at the same time. This paradox is said to be evident in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, and has been the source of much confusion and frustration for generations of Christians. In fact the idea of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth is not a uniquely Christian concept, but a religious concept. It is a well documented fact that wherever faith in God is strong, our human disposition for using violence to enforce what we believe will increase. This is as true today in the Church as it was for the Medieval crusaders or the zealous reformers. The forms of violence are not always as obvious, but the result is the same: a strong sense of self-righteousness in ‘believers’ and a strong sense of distrust in those outside the bounds of the Church.

All of this stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God.

“The Kingdom of God is advancing violently and the violent take it by force”. To Richard the Lionhearted this meant that the Islamic hold on Jerusalem was an assult on the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. To many charismatic worship leaders this means that aggressive ‘spiritual warfare’ through prophetic song and marching around our cities seven times is the key to ‘taking back our neighborhoods for God’. To many evangelicals who flirt with emergent ideas (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), it means that aggressive political lobbying for social justice is the key to ‘bringing in’ the rule of God in our nations. But is this really faithful to the teachings of Jesus?

There can be no denying that in most of the Church over the last one hundred years there has been an overemphasis on the “Still to Come” aspect of the Kingdom. Bruxy Cavey writes,

“The religious fixation on salvation as an otherworldly destination allows for frustrating disconnects between this life and the next. For instance, Hindus can ignore the basic needs of the hurting lower castes while they look forward to eventually entering a state in which everyone’s needs and desires are met. Muslims teach marital fidelity and abstinence from alcohol in this life while they anticipate the heavenly rewards of multiple virginal sex partners and rivers flowing with wine in the next life. Christians fight wars in order to spread peace and may ignore the environmental issues of our planet because heaven is all that matters. But Jesus invites us to live one coherent life, starting now… Jesus raises the question: Are you living now the way you want to live forever?”

The Kingdom of God is not like earthly Kingdoms, where at least the threat of force (police) is necessary to maintain the Kingdom. The Kingdom is established in the hearts of those who follow Christ. The Kingdom has no boundaries. And violence and religious “effort” destroys the Kingdom rather than building it up. There is thus no possiblility for the seperation of means and ends in the Kingdom. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek [or await], but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.

Thus, Jesus doesn’t require us to lobby for, or wage war for, or sing-in the Kingdom. On the contrary, it is simply by our BEING the expression of God’s rule through the way we live that we express the “now” aspect of the Kingdom, and it is simply in the way we trust God to establish His Kingdom in us ‘with ever-increasing glory’ that we express the “still coming” aspect of the Kingdom.

Let’s consider a contemporary application of this thesis: homosexual marriage rights.

A “Kingdom coming” mindset has people frantically trying to barricade their congregations and homes and televisions against this question. They are waiting for an escape, as they watch the world slowly but surely transform into Sodom and Gomorrah part 2.

As already mentioned, this isolation and escape theology is in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus.

A “Kingdom now” ala charismatic Church sees people singing songs about God’s eternal law and prophesying God’s judgement of the Church and the nation’s sin in this regard and praying in tongues for the deliverance of those who wish to renounce their homosexuality.

A “Kingdom now” ala confused social gospel sees the Church lobbying for equal rights for homosexual couples and shaking their fists at conservative theology that values laws more than love.

None of these approaches is adequate because they see the Kingdom of God as something that we can establish in our cultures and nations and constitutions instead of something that God is establishing in the hearts of His people continuously. When we see the Kingdom this way, we focus, not on external issues of policy towards gay marriage, but on internal issues of the way that Jesus requires us to treat all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or sin inclination.

Another illustration:

Years ago, my father was conscripted into the army during the Rhodesian border wars. As was the case with many Christian men in South Africa at the time, Dad had to deal with the moral questions surrounding war. Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies, not shoot them? While there are no easy answers about “What Would Jesus Do” in the situation, and many better men than me who lived through wars disagree with my pacifist views (including C.S. Lewis), I can’t help but admire my father’s choice: he sat on the border doing guard duty… with no gun. He did not escape the war. He simply fought it according to the rules of a Higher Kingdom, in which Jesus challenges us to be the salt of the earth and a city on a hill.

This is the kind of Kingdom that Christ came to establish on earth. One in which we enter a whole new way of living where we submit to and partner with God’s loving ways at work in this fallen world, no matter what earthly Kingdom we might also belong to.

The world is fallen. Whose job is it to pick it up?

A year or two ago, my inbox was bombarded with messages about “protecting the sanctity of marriage”. In church meetings clipboards were passed around to collect signatures for a petition. The Church in South Africa was preoccupied with protecting a definition. And I wondered then what people outside the Church thought of us.

“Oh, that’s just the fear of man talking”, says my inner tv evangelist. “We shouldn’t care about what people think about the Church”.

True. But it’s not really the Church’s ‘image’ I’m worried about. It’s the Church’s mission. Are we meant to be a bunch of nimby’s? Let me explain with this poem by Chris Addison:

Gerald Quimby, Who Protested Everything

Have you heard of Gerald Quimby?
Quite the most appalling NIMBY,
PhD in demonstrating,
Cavilling and remonstrating.
In re: any proposition
Gerald was in opposition;
Staring at you long and hard
He’d bellow, ‘Not in my backyard!’

Gerry’s shed was full of banners,
Placards, paints and twelve-month planners
(Blank, so when the breakfast news
Reported things which in his view
Could not be borne, a morning’s work
Amidst the grow-bags and the murk
And he, by lunch, could from thin air
Stage demos in the village square).

Before too long, where once had been
A village round a charming green,
Stood nothing but a silly man,
Stacking placards in a van;
No shops, no phones, no food, no roads,
No nothing but his own abode.
Cut off, alone and ill-supplied,
To no one’s great surprise, he died.

Thus the fate of Gerald Quimby;
Here’s the moral: Be a NIMBY
If you like, but all you’ll save
Your backyard just to be your grave.

The question is not whether the traditional definition of marriage is good, or whether Harry Potter is bad, or whatever our current Church bugbear is. The question is whether or not that’s the point. I’m pretty sure the good news that Jesus taught and lived and died for had more to do with love and salvation than hate and sanction.

If, when the Church is mentioned outside our (un)holy huddle, people say,”Oh, you mean those homophobic, Harry Potter haters” (and I believe that sadly this is often the case), one can hardly help but see the Lord in your mind’s-eye, enthroned in majesty, with His head in His hands and tears in His eyes.

And no, I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic.

I love so many of the newer worship songs that speak of the missional Church. They connect our lives in the meetings to our lives in the streets. They connect the love of God to the love of our neighbour. They inspire me.

Consider these lyrics from three contemporary songs:
“Heal my heart and make it clean/ open up my eyes to the things unseen/ show me how to love like you/ have loved me/ Break my heart for what breaks yours/ Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause/ as I walk from earth into eternity”.

“Many are asking, ‘who can show us something real?’/ longing for hope within the pain of what they feel/ so I will go down on my knees and pray/ shine your light on us that all may see you goodness/ shine your light on us that all may see your glory”.

“So let justice flow/ like and endless stream/ flowing from your heart/ to the poor and weak/ let the things I do/ and the words I speak/ reveal the awesome love/ that You have shown to me”

Fantastic! My heart get excited all over again when I read these lyrics. They point to the emergence of a relevant Church. A Church that wants to make a difference on earth and not simply “fly away, oh glory”. But… is that really why I like them?

A few years ago, many worship songs were pushing the ideal of “revival”. In the light of exciting developments in Toronto and Brownsville (among other places), worship leaders in Charismatic congregations around the world became obsessed. Even in my own ministry, the subtle shift from worship meetings as times when we brought offerings of praise to God to times when we waited for God to “zap” us was discernable. The worship lost the cross as it’s centre, and the Spirit left the proverbial building. It was a while before we even realised what had happened to us, and how much we had cheated ourselves and God out of.

Why did we love revival-oriented worship so much? Why does my heart respond so much to this newer mission-oriented worship? I’m not sure, but perhaps the answer lies in the nature of the true foundation of worship – Jesus’ blood. When we approach the cross, we are approaching our own powerlessness and God’s awesome, terrible glory. We cannot approach the cross as devotees to a cause, or spiritual people waiting patiently for a fresh move of God. We have to approach God like the man whom Jesus identified as “the one who will leave justified”, who comes before God weak with fear and trembling and hungry for mercy. As much as we love the cross and the blood, we hate to be reminded of how we got there in the first place.

And yet the cross is what we need. What we will always need.

I’m not saying these new songs are “bad”. On the contrary, they are simple expressions of what God is already doing in the Church today. But let’s not make the same mistake twice. Let’s not make an idol of this new move of God. Let’s keep our focus where it belongs – on the grace of God revealed in the blood-stained cross.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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