Previous article in this series: October 1, 2010, p. 4.
Dear Reformed Christian Young People (and their parents),
Beware. My pastoral but very sharp warning last time was to look out for, in many Christian colleges and universities, a view of God’s kingdom that trivializes God’s church. This view makes the church merely a tool (only one of many) to establish the kingdom. For those who hold that view, God’s kingdom is far broader than the church, becomes something altogether different from God’s church, and is actually God’s real and supreme purpose in the world. In my judgment, this teaching that permeates Christian colleges in the US and Canada is more toxic than the poisons of evolutionism or egalitarianism.
Beware. This mentality of church and kingdom is a complete (and new) world-view. It forms hopes for the future, informs goals in this life, and directs one in his vocation. It changes how one thinks of the church and how, we must suppose, God thinks of the church. Saving souls (the church’s work) is important primarily if not exclusively because saved souls can go out and build the kingdom. Preaching the gospel (the church’s work) now focuses on instructing the people in their social calling, the cultural mandate, political activities, so that God’s kingdom can be established. Christians must shift their focus from the church to the kingdom.
This virulent teaching seems to be everywhere today. I would rejoice to hear from a Christian college whose views do not include this conception of God’s kingdom. We will print their letter, thus publicizing their college, and rejoice in their defense of the old faith that maintains the thinking that if God is our Father, the church is our Mother. If my children were still of the age to think about college, I would urge them to consider that college over those that promote the new thinking.
The kingdom-vision is new, but not brand-new.
It really “metastasized” in North America in the middle of the last century, which I will show next time. But I promised last time to quote the proponents of this view. I will do that more by date than by name (for now—although I have all the references at hand), so that you are not distracted by names and footnotes but concentrate on the views. I have found these views expressed in writings about missions—because the church’s mission now is to build the kingdom—although they are not confined to books on missions. They are found in books of theology, theological journals, and magazines, having authors ranging from Reformed to Roman Catholic. The kingdom vision is preached on popular blogs like Breakpoint, which heads its page today: “What’s a Christian to Think (and Do)? Defend the Truth. Live the Faith. Advance the Kingdom.” By “kingdom,” Chuck Colson and company do not mean church.
Their hope is here and now. A Reformed synod officially stated in 1997: “The goal of God’s mission is the glory of God in the establishment and acknowledgement of his rule over all creation in our present age….” The synod meant, kingdom. All creation. Our present age.
A very popular missions professor wrote a book on mission strategies, introducing it by saying, “Without the renewal of the church there is little hope for the city.” Recognize his priority: the church exists for the city, the earthly community. He dedicates his book to the theme that “living churches [are] lighthouses of the kingdom.”
Another Reformed seminary professor said about his “first article theology” (this theology emphasizes God the Father and our creation, over against God the Son and our redemption), that his view “is fully Christological and eschatological while it also preserves the primacy and relative independency of creation and law.” Listen carefully: Creation and law are before and independent from the church.
A leader in the Reformed ecumenical movement claimed that “the body of Christ gathered exists precisely for the redemption of the whole world. It exists to serve the coming of the Kingdom.”
Another Reformed seminary missions professor wrote, “Members of the body of Christ are also citizens of the kingdom of God. They show what it means to belong to that kingdom as they…fulfill again the cultural mandate…and in this way fulfill God’s original purpose for them…. The purpose of the mission mandate… is to restore people back into a right relationship with God and… so fulfill again the original mandate God gave to mankind.” Then, “The cultural mandate is prior to the mission mandate.”
The massive third “Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization”— not a Reformed, but a broadly ecumenical effort, a conference that met just last month (October 2010) in Cape Town, South Africa— emphasized kingdom over against church. At least one of its leaders hoped it would return to its “Lausanne I” social agenda. This leader has written a book called, Missions between the Times: Essays on the Kingdom, and said in a recent Christianity Today article, “the mission of the church must not be reduced to the oral proclamation of the gospel, as ‘evangelization and social-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty.'”
In full bloom, this view will candidly declare: “The kingdom stands central, not the church.” Another: “The church…is not the end, but the means to the end, in God’s purposes for the earth. That end is not the church, but the kingdom of God and of Christ, when the kingdom is interpreted as God’s reign on the earth.” The kingdom “is the creation which has achieved its goal.”
Disagree with them, and some of these teachers will assault you: “The church…maintains a crucial role in advancing the kingdom… (but) when the institutional church begins to see itself as the repository of truth and the end of all God’s dealings, it becomes an impediment to the actual task of the church, the people of God. Worse, it becomes an idol….” The church’s traditional view of herself as the pinnacle of all God’s works, to this man, is “idolatry.” Thus, you become “an idolater.”
More writers, by the dozen, could easily be cited. The view is not isolated. It is pervasive in Christianity. In Reformed Christianity.
A new thing
Many will not admit that this kingdom vision is new for orthodox Christianity. Others will admit it, even openly. Some are deceptive in this admission, even condescending: “Some Christian traditions have, from time to time, tended to equate the Kingdom of God with the church.” But “some Christian traditions” should be: “the majority opinion since the early church”! One, reckless in his defense of the new view, even claimed, “For John Calvin the Church is in the world to create the social structure long called the City.” So intoxicated with his view and carried away with his untruth, he said, “For John Calvin, Jesus came to live, to die, and to rise again to take rule in human history as King…of a ‘model community’ we’ve been calling ‘City’ and the ‘Kingdom.'” This writer did not mean church. Beware. This is the new “kingdom vision.”
Others are more honest about the novelty of the view. A Reformed seminary professor admits of “Calvin’s identification of the kingdom of God with the church.” For full disclosure, you may know that Calvin said, “It’s a Jewish vanity to seek and include the kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world…. And it matters not what your condition is among men, nor under what laws you live, since in them the kingdom of Christ does not at all consist” (Institutes, 4.20.1). But is this old view what you hear at the colleges that call themselves “Calvinist”?
The most honest among them want a “conversion of the church,” and concede that this new view “requires a fundamental reshaping of both biblical studies and our theological understanding of the church.”
What the Christian colleges are teaching about God’s kingdom is not, in fact, the historic Reformed, historic Christian, biblical and confessional teaching about the church and the kingdom. If the teachers were honest, or scholarly, they would tell you that. But the lie has always been deceptive, and by now some teachers may not even know the historic position.
Running out of space again. But let me finish this editorial with a brief overview of the traditional view of the kingdom—Calvin’s view, and Augustine’s view—and next time trace the new view to some of its sources, and show that the view these editorials propose is indeed the biblical, confessional, and historic view.
The truth about the kingdom: the church is the kingdom of God.
Apply, now, all the figures of kingdom to the church: The king is Jesus Christ, by His work on the cross. His kingdom? It is the church, according to the Reformed confessions (Westminster Confession of Faith, 30.2; I will show this from the Three Forms of Unity next time). Her citizens are believers and their elect children. Her life, power, and riches are Christ’s new, resurrection life and power, and the gospel—the pearl of great price— for citizens of this kingdom are not interested in earthly wealth. There is justice in this kingdom too: the legal righteousness of Christ imputed to believers and His actual righteousness lived out by believers who are in but not of the world. And peace. Justified by faith we have peace with God in a right relationship with Him; and peace, as much as possible, with our neighbors in the household of faith especially though not exclusively (Gal. 6:10). Entrance into the kingdom and enjoyment of the kingdom are through regeneration, for except a man be born again he cannot even see it ( John 3:3). Elders are the rulers in this kingdom, who both admit some and expel others. For this they wield the kingdom’s keys—preaching and discipline (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 31). There is even a weapon for this kingdom’s defense, carried capably by all her citizens: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The kingdom is Christ’s church. The kingdom is spiritual. It is “not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).
This kingdom we seek. Students, in Christian or state colleges, promote the institution of the church! Doing this, of course you will be not remiss in living out your earthly citizenship in faithfulness. I trust that you will not run from your duties as citizens in a particular earthly country, province or state, and local community. But you will live these earthly lives with your attention on and love for Christ’s blood-bought church. And you will live with your heads always lifted up, looking for “the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.” That’s the Reformed explanation of the confession we make every Sunday evening, which is our real and ultimate hope: “Christ shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”
“And lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).
Where is your hope? What are your goals? Beware! Listen carefully. Judge biblically. And read history. Church history. It’s on your side. So is Scripture.
And, until next issue, may God bless you in your studies!