Since the church is the kingdom of God, wrong views of God’s kingdom will go with wrong views of the church. The transformational view of the kingdom taught at some Reformed colleges, the two kingdom view taught by some Presbyterians, and the dispensational view promoted by the Baptists are all associated with wrong views of the church and its relationship to this world.
With this in mind, we begin to look at what the Scriptures teach about the church as the kingdom of God, contrasting this with the various kingdom views that are being taught in our own day. When we consider and believe what our Father tells us about what His kingdom is and what the citizens of His kingdom do, we will be on our guard against the false views of the kingdom that would lead us to deviate from the mandate that our God has graciously commissioned us to perform.
To begin, let us consider how Scripture and our confessions identify the kingdom of God.
The Church as God’s kingdom
In the days of Moses, God called Israel out of Egypt and declared to them that they were to be a special people, separate from the nations of this world. They would be the one nation on earth that would have God as their King: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” ().
They would not be like the other nations. They would be the one nation that was holy, separated from the others and consecrated to their God. Unlike the other kingdoms on this earth, they would be a kingdom of priests, receiving the honor of being both kings and priests under Jehovah their God.
When we consider this promise, as well as God’s other promises, we must keep in mind that all God’s promises are centrally to Christ. They are to us believers as well, but solely because we have been chosen in Christ and are united to Him by faith. God promised Christ that He would be both King and Priest forever (), and that His people would also be royal priests in and under Him.
In the New Testament we find references to this promise. The apostle Peter, inspired by the Spirit of our Lord, tells us that the words that God spoke at Mt. Sinai apply to the church of Jesus Christ. The true church is called “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” ().
Years before the apostle wrote these words, Christ told Peter that the church was the kingdom of God. Christ told him this after Peter made the confession that he truly believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. After Peter made this confession, our Lord said to him:
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven ().
Peter was told that Christ holds the keys of God’s kingdom, and that He gives these keys to the church that He is building. It is not every group that calls itself a church that has the keys. Rather, it is the church that confesses the truth about Jesus—the truth that Peter had just confessed—that has received the keys of the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom consists of all those who make the same confession that Peter did. By the grace of our God we have become living stones that make up a spiritual structure: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (). Delivered by the irresistible and efficacious power of God’s grace, we believers are all priests, a holy priesthood. Together we are a kingdom of priests, that one holy nation that is called in Scripture the kingdom of God.
The Reformed Position on the Kingdom
That the church is God’s kingdom has been long understood by God’s people and is confessed in a number of places in our Reformed creeds. Our Heidelberg Catechism, for example, in answer to question 85 (which is about Christian discipline), says that when someone is excommunicated that person is: “excluded from the Christian church, and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ.” To be outside the church, in other words, is to be outside Christ’s kingdom.
Lord’s Day 48 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches the same. There we confess that the petition “thy kingdom come” means: “rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to Thee; preserve and increase Thy church.” The prayer for the kingdom is a prayer for the church. It is a prayer that God would preserve and increase us, ruling within us graciously by His Word and Spirit.
The same truth is taught in the Belgic Confession. In Article 27 we declare from the heart,
This church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, which without subjects He cannot be.
This article states not only that the church is Christ’s kingdom, but also that if the church did not exist, Christ would have no subjects. In other words, the church is not a subset of the kingdom. Rather, the church is exclusively Christ’s kingdom. Without the church, Christ would have no kingdom.
But what, then, does it mean when Scripture speaks of God or of Christ as the King over all the earth? Does that not imply that His rule extends beyond the boundaries of the church? That, Lord willing, we will consider next.