“Who … hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”
No one should fear identifying the church as the kingdom because he supposes that this limits the extent of the kingdom in the world. This is the fear of some. They think that the kingdom would be shut up in the narrow confines of the instituted church. In fact, one of the main charges made by postmillennial Christian Reconstruction against the identification of the church as the kingdom is that “this equation of the Church with the kingdom of Christ evades the issue of Christendom: the wider influence of the gospel in history” (Gary North, Crossed Fingers, Tyler, Texas, 1996, p. 59).
The mistaken notion of “Christendom” aside, this fear is groundless.
The truth that the church is the kingdom does full justice to the fullest extension of the kingdom in all the world, among all nations, and in every sphere of human life. Since the kingdom is the reign of God in Jesus Christ, the reign of God in Jesus Christ extends over all the world.
The Extension of the Kingdom in the Gathering of the Church
For one thing, the church is the servant that God uses to translate those for whom the kingdom has been eternally prepared out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of the Son of His love. This translation is accomplished by the church’s preaching of the gospel, whether among the children of believers or on the mission field. In connection with this saving work of God, churches are established at home and abroad.
Thus the kingdom is extended.
Having called men, women, boys, and girls to the kingdom, the church continues to instruct and discipline these citizens in the life of the kingdom (Matt. 28:20).
The history of the church in the present age is proof that identification of the church as the kingdom does not result in restricting the kingdom, but rather in extending it over all the world. By the preaching, first, of the apostles and, then, of faithful ministers and missionaries, the kingdom spread from Jerusalem throughout the world in the form of true churches of Jesus Christ in all nations.
This spread of the kingdom in the form of true churches in all nations is the discipling of the nations that Christ mandated in Matthew 28:19: “Teach [Greek: ‘disciple’] all the nations.” In the conversion, salvation, and sanctification of the elect in all nations, regardless that they are and always have been a minority, and in the gathering of them as a church, the nations become disciples of Christ.
Not only is the church instrumental in the extension of the kingdom worldwide, it is also the agent by which the kingdom is maintained. The church defends the kingdom of God. The church defends the kingdom of God by defending the gospel of the kingdom. The Messianic kingdom of God is always under attack, as the history of Israel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation make plain. Only where a true church proclaims the gospel of sovereign grace and teaches an authoritative law of God as the rule of the life of the saints is the kingdom to be found.
Identification of the church as the kingdom in no way hinders, but in every way promotes the extension of the kingdom.
The Extension of the Kingdom in the Lives of the Citizens
For another thing, by the same royal Word by which people are naturalized as citizens of the kingdom of God, the church teaches and disciplines these people to live the life of the kingdom in every sphere of human life and in every ordinance of creation.
The kingdom of God—the reign of God in Christ—is extended in the life of every genuine member of the church. And the life of the member of the church is to be lived in the world. In the world, he lives the life of the kingdom as a citizen of this kingdom. This is a life of obedience to Jesus Christ as lord and king. In the life of the member of the church is, and is shown, the reign of God in Christ by the Spirit.
This is the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 48. In explanation of the second petition of the model prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” the Catechism begins with the life of the individual citizen of the heavenly kingdom: “Rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to Thee.”
The rule of God in the life of the believer begins with his own very personal, spiritual life and experience. The kingdom comes more and more in him when he abhors himself as a sinner, trusts alone in the cross of Christ, loves his king, seeks the glory of God and the good of the neighbor rather than himself, and makes some progress in his fight against doubt, envy, bitterness, discontent, drunkenness, illicit sexual desire, or whatever may be his own besetting demon.
That demon, by the way, promotes the kingdom of Satan in the believer’s life. The two kingdoms clash most violently and with the highest stakes, not out there in society in the culture wars. That clash is mere child’s play in comparison with the war of the two kingdoms in the soul of every Christian.
To the noisy champions of a grand, showy, outward kingdom that is one day to Christianize the world, this personal spiritual extension of the kingdom is of little account. But to God, Scripture, and the Heidelberg Catechism—as to the battling believer—it is first and basic. The apostle of Christ virtually defines the kingdom in terms of its experience by the individual church member: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). That the kingdom comes in the life of an elect sinner is a wonder of the almighty, life-giving, gracious power of the Holy Spirit.
The kingdom comes first and importantly in the soul and experience of the child of God. But then it necessarily advances into the active life of the Christian in the world in every sphere and ordinance, with body and soul and with all his gifts.
As a citizen of the kingdom, he is a member with his family of the church, indeed of the purest manifestation of the church; is diligent in church attendance; submits to Christ’s authority in the elders; uses his gifts for the good of the congregation and denomination; and lives in peace with the other members as much as possible.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the Reformed man marries in the Lord, loves his wife, honors marriage as a lifelong bond, rears his children in the truth, and rules his household well.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the Reformed woman marries in the Lord, submits to her husband with due obedience, honors marriage as a lifelong bond, is a “keeper at home,” brings up her children in the faith, and cooperates with her husband’s rule.
As citizens of the kingdom, the parents establish good Christian schools, to carry out the godly instruction of the children of the kingdom that they themselves cannot give.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the man labors faithfully in his job, whatever it is, high-powered or menial, as to the Lord, to provide for his own needs and for those of the kingdom. This includes that he recognizes and submits to the authority of his employer. If he is the employer, he treats his workers justly and pays them well.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the believer honors civil government as God’s servant, submits to the authority of the state and its functionaries, obeys all laws that do not require him to disobey God, and pays the taxes that the state decrees. If he is the ruler, which is perfectly proper, although quite rare, he keeps order in society, legislates in accordance with the law of God for national life, punishes those who disturb the common order, and protects those who are outwardly law-abiding.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the member of the church is honest and kind in his dealings with his neighbors, whether believing or unbelieving, and helpful to the needy as he has opportunity. As much as possible, he lives in peace with all men.
As a citizen of the kingdom, the Christian freely uses and enjoys the good creation of God his king, always in service of the kingdom and to the glory of the king of the kingdom. This creation, freely used and enjoyed, includes his own natural gifts of music, or art, or scientific study, or poetry, or gardening, or athletics, and much more besides.
Thus, in the active life of the member of the church the kingdom extends into all areas of human life in all the world.
None of the extension is divorced from the church. All of it proceeds from and is empowered by the church as the kingdom of God.
This all-comprehensive, all-invading, all-dominating kingdom-life is also the Reformed “world-and-life-view.” It may not be the kingdom-life that Abraham Kuyper grandiosely sketched in his Lectures on Calvinism, or the triumphalist “world-and-life-view” of the Christian Reconstructionists. But it is the humble, down-to-earth, realistic kingdom-life and “world-and-life-view” ofEphesians 5:21-6:9; I Peter 2:11-5:14; the book of Titus; Romans 13; I Timothy 4:1-8; and the New Testament generally.
This aspect of the kingdom of God, namely, the extension of the kingdom in the lives of the citizens, is fundamental.Where is it found today?
Where is it found even as regards those who are clamoring the loudest for a “world-and-life-view”? Where is it found among those who are constantly criticizing the Protestant Reformed Churches for their alleged lack of a broad, victorious kingdom-vision?
Fact is, we Protestant Reformed Christians are sharply critical of many of these “culture-transformers” and “kingdom-builders” exactly for their woeful shortcomings as regards the biblical, Reformed world-view. For all their talk about building and advancing the kingdom, the sin of many Reformed, Presbyterian, and evangelical people today is that they do not teach and live the life of the kingdom of Christ.
Many of them do not even belong to sound Reformed churches. They retain their membership in churches that do not preach the pure doctrine of the gospel, churches that corrupt the sacraments, and churches that neglect the discipline of public, impenitent sinners. They permit their children to be raised in such churches. All further kingdom-life is impossible where membership in a true church is lacking.
Many do not attend worship services twice every Lord’s Day. They use the Lord’s Day for their own work or pleasure, usually pleasure. Especially in the summer, these enthusiastic transformers of culture spend their Sundays in their boats, or on the beach, or at their cottages, or on the road to and from their vacations. Meanwhile their churches hold services with a handful of old people. It is common knowledge that a popular preacher of the “Reformed world-and-life-view” and the “full-orbed kingdom-life” runs out of the morning service on the Lord’s Day to play golf the rest of the day.
Our day is seeing the murder of Sabbath observance by those who profess to be Reformed and Presbyterian. And the murder of Sabbath observance is the end of the kingdom of God among them. Voltaire, atheist philosopher that he was, could teach these Sabbath-desecrating advocates of a “Reformed world-and-life-view” the essential importance of Sabbath observance for the kingdom of God. “If you want to kill Christianity,” that shrewd foe of Christ advised the French Revolution, “you must abolish Sunday.”
Despite the fact that marriage and the family are basic to the kingdom, many of the churches and theologians crying up a future, grand, outward, political, carnal kingdom of Christ tolerate, or even approve, divorce on other grounds than fornication (the only biblical ground for divorce) and the remarriage of divorced persons, with all the accompanying disaster for children, grandchildren, the wider family, the church, and society at large. Christian Reconstruction, for example, approves remarriage after divorce for all—innocent parties, guilty parties, parties who are simply bored—except for someone who might have AIDS (see R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 1973, pp. 401-415 and Ray Sutton, Second Chance: Biblical Principles of Divorce and Remarriage, Fort Worth, Texas, 1988).
To refer to no other corruption of true kingdom-life as prescribed by the Lord in Holy Scripture, in the vital creation ordinance of labor many of those who are vehement for the transforming of culture approve the subversion of the ordinance of labor by labor unionism. Either they themselves are members of a labor union, or they approve membership in the unions on the part of those with whom they regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Every labor union stands before God and men with blood dripping from its hands. In enforcing their strikes, they have wounded and killed innumerable men and women who have opposed them, especially the “scabs.” And the strike itself, the heart and soul of the union, is sheer, obvious rebellion by the workers against the God-given authority of the employer. By membership in a labor union, one makes himself responsible for the violence of the “brotherhood” and becomes party to the rebellion of labor against what Scripture calls the “master.”
Against all this conformity to the culture of the ungodly, we Protestant Reformed churches and people vigorously promote, insist on, and, by the grace of God, begin to live the kingdom-life and practice a Reformed world-view.
Not apart from the church!
The church is the kingdom.
The natural eye cannot see it, for by earthly reckoning the church is small, powerless, and even shameful.
But to the eye of faith, which sees Christ the king in the church, the church is great, invincible, and glorious.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge…. Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye will her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.
And out of the church is our spiritual, our kingdom, life: “All my springs are in thee” (Psalm 87:7).