Wow! What a statement can it really be justified, you may be surprised that my answer is yes depending on the context. But in what context could such a statement hold legitimacy, when can the church be said to be more important than the Kingdom? The answer is to be found Within our contemporary culture filled with a pop theology that denigrates the meaning of kingdom to an activity centred perspective, in our contemporary culture, Kingdom has come to mean “my ministry and the activities of my organisation” in as much as they are broader than the narrow ministry and activities of the local church.
In pop theology, the kingdom has come to mean “my ministry to the world”. Within this definition I would have to say the local church is a million times more important than what is meant in too many cases by Kingdom. Of course the failure of the local church to come to grips with many ills and needs in society has encouraged this new revision of the understanding of Kingdom. But failures of the local church notwithstanding, it is a revision of theology that is inconsistent with a biblical understanding of Kingdom.
Now of course preaching about the kingdom was Christ’s favourite message. But note, Israel made a similar mistake in making the hope of the kingdom promised through covenant more important than the king of the kingdom ( 2Sa 7:4-17 ). So when Christ came they crucified him and did not recognise him. The kingdom they had in mind would be imposed, evident and immediate. They had replaced the coming King with a kingdom of their own imagining.
The “kingdom of heaven” in its earthly manifested form of an earthly government, in which Christ rules, was postponed until Christ’s second coming. Presently we live in a time when the kingdom is a bit of a mystery (Mt 13), of course God rules over all, and where he is minded enforces his will. But the promised Davidic Kingdom will only be fulfilled with the coming of Christ. It has broken in but only in part.
Misunderstandings 1 “Kingdom ministry is bigger than the church”
Seeking first the kingdom is an oft misquoted scripture in contemporary culture. Let us look at it in context,
Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV) So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
In context, Christ is talking about the pursuit of a person “and his righteousness” whatever the need. Focusing on need is focusing on the wrong priority, it is not the organisational activities “what shall we eat”, that matter but the person who runs the kingdom. Seeking the kingdom is not about the pursuit of ministry, or activities accompanying it. In fact Christ emphasises that worrying produces nothing. Rather we are to pursue the kingdom, meaning Christ, and the coming of his holy rule and righteous reign in our lives. Because the Kingdom and Christ are synonymous. To reduce Kingdom down to our organisational activities be they church or ministry, is to not understand that the Kingdom and Christ are synonymous.
The focal point of biblical kingdom analogy is the king of the kingdom (Mat 22:2), It is what he is doing that is important. So the Farmer sows the seed, which produces a crop sixty times what is sown or grows to become the biggest tree though the smallest seed ( Mt 13:31,32; Lk 13:18,19). Similarly the casting out of demons is not a function of man but the presence of Christ (Mat 12:28). Entrance into the Kingdom is impossible unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, again pointing to the activities of God not our activities.
How then should we refer to our activities as opposed to God’s? If we choose to talk about our activities scripture encourages us to do so out of the context of “Church”. The New Testament shows us that what is important is not individual ministries although it teaches about that. Neither is it about one team although it teaches about team. No, it is about the activities of the church community and how those activities were supported and supervised, both from a divine perspective “Spirit” and human “Apostles, prophets and elders”. When we talk about the church we have legitimacy in talking about what we are doing as church but when we talk about Kingdom we should be talking about The King and not our organisations, church or ministry. Calling our ministry a kingdom ministry without it being subject to church community accountability is contrary to the kind of team discipline the King promotes. As if by so doing it has legitimacy from Christ himself. When a person uses the phrase kingdom as a synonym for their ministry or organisational activities, then I can confidently say that the kingdom they are talking about is not bigger than the church.
Misunderstanding 2 “A call to ministry which is kingdom ministry is just as important if not more important than the activities of the church.”
This is the rubric that leads to what I believe is a compounding of the fundamental errors in our understanding. By equating the kingdom with Christian activities some go on to legitimise an abdication of true community accountability and engagement with the church family. But we know that Jesus did not die for kingdom ministry, rather he died for the church. How can any ministry be more important than the people Christ died for? Not so, the church is more important than any ministry. John the Baptist found that out.
It would be wise to remember that all kingdom authority within and without the power of the church (a whole new subject) is currently delegated by the King of this kingdom to the glory of God and for the benefit of the church which he intends to gift to the father.
Ephesians 1:18-23 (NIV) I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Christ reigns legitimately in his right as King over the universe, but some have not thought this through and think that the Sun, Moon and stars are more important than people. I would assert that one human being is worth more to God than ten thousand stars. Again, note to whose benefit he reigns. Not as some tin pot dictator but as a benevolent and loving God, for the good of the church. So we understand that to Christ the church is more important and is a worthy beneficiary of the benefits of his rein and rule.
And what of this kingdom influence that as some claim is wider than the church? Again if they mean the influence of Christ fantastic, but very often they essentially mean the collective influence of organisations which are in some form seen through a bi-polar lens, as distinct from the church. Such a statement disconnects with the spiritual reality, a reality which teaches us that it is through the church that God’s wisdom is being revealed. Of course God uses individuals but his working intention is clear;
Ephesians 3:10-12 (NIV) His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
The kingdom is influential because of the rule and presence of the King.
Luke 17:21 (NIV) nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you “ (GK Entos as “in your midst.” )
Jesus was there standing in the middle of them, in their midst and they missed it. For the church it goes way beyond a physical Christ working miracles in the midst. Christ dwells within us, not only is his rule enforced through the life of believers, his presence accompanies us. Whilst the kingdom is not always evident to the eyes of fallen humanity, the Church, or temple in which God dwells is clearly seen as Christ’s vehicle of choice through which to speak of this kingdom. It is from this context that it is best to understand the influence of the kingdom which is like a mustard seed, small but grows to become the biggest tree (Luke 13:18), it is both the eschatological door at the end of time through which we enter into the bosom of God (luke 13:22-30) and a door through which we presently gain access to relationship with God because we are born again (john 3).
A call to Kingdom ministry should not encourage a confusion that what we are doing is somehow legitimate when not connected to church, or that somehow it can ever be more important than the church. Any given ministry is purely and simply a call to serve the King who chooses to work through us all as his body the church. If an individual is not committed to a church community when one exists then that individual is no longer taking the Kings orders and has become their own lawmaker.
Misunderstanding 3 “Putting the kingdom first is more important than putting any local church first”
The King sends labours into his vineyard to work on his behalf. Ministry is a beautiful thing and we must applaud missionaries who give their lives for the sake of the poor, disabled, marginalised, lost, hungry, sick, destitute, grief struck, prisoner. They are to be highly commended and deserve a place of honour in our communities. But all these things are done through our place as sons and daughters of God, as members of the church through which he is making his divine wisdom know. Not primarily as agents of the Kingdom. Angels are probably more legitimately agents of the Kingdom than we are, despite the fact that they are also called sons of God. Nevertheless we are “the church” and are called in that to a higher order of relationships than angels. It out of that relationship that we serve our Father, not primarily as agents of the Kingdom.
If “seeking the kingdom” means you place your emphasis on your ministry or organisation asserting in any way by such a claim that the ministry equates to or is just as important as the activities of the church community (which in most cases people nowadays invariably mean) then I would have to say not so. That thing above all else that Christ wants to build is not a shelter for the homeless although he wants us to shelter the homeless if we can, nor is it a refuge for the sick although he wants us to heal the sick. Neither is it a prison ministry although he wants us to visit the prisoner. No! More important to Christ than all these wonderful ministries is the church itself. Those who have accepted and repented of their sins accepting Christ as Lord. It amazes me when people put their ministry before genuine church community relationships and say it is more important or even equally important. Not to Christ it is not. The scriptures clearly say do good to all people especially to those who belong to the household of God. True Kingdom (Christ centred) ministry starts with a genuine care for the body of Christ. Where it is lacking the organisation/ministry is not rightly connected nor is it balanced.
Misunderstanding 4 “the kingdom is the ultimate expression of divine rule”
All organisations and ministries should be accountable to a local church, if not they do not have divine order. Why? Christ is head of the church to which the Father appointed him. The greatest display of power in the godhead is not seen in the ultimate rule of God as king, but in God as Father. He wants his connection to us to be defined by relationship (Father) rather than power (Sovereign) although he is both. It is through the order of Family (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) in which God displays the highest form of ”Rulership”
So, the kingdom is where the rule and reign of Christ exists and extends whether that is realised or not. As far as I am aware God is sovereign over all. And his rule is not diminished or added to by any activity of man. 1Co 15:25-28 ). Christ was born a king ( Mt 2:2 ;Lk 1:32-33, He was rejected by his people as a king ( Mk 15:12-13; Lk 19:14 ). He died as sovereign ( Mt 27:37 and is coming again as a king ( Rev 19:16 ). Christ is never called “King of the church,” although the church uses his kingship as a means of attributing praise to him. ( 1Ti 1:17 ). He is “King of the Jews”
We hail him as King, but he wants us ultimately to be able to call him Brother. What a God. Thus ministry for the believer is best defined through that relationship by which we are brought into the church “sons and daughters” rather than a power term by which we claim legitimacy to rule or work in his name.
The ultimate expression of Divine rule is parental “Father”. To whom the kingdom is handed back to by Christ when he brings many sons to God.
Don’t get me wrong we need ministries that are transforming society and changing our environment for Christ’s glory. As long as one means by kingdom Christ then we are on solid ground, but the minute Christ is substituted for an organisation or individuals activities as a means of legitimising such without an honest connection to local church then we move onto much more shaky ground.
The Church the Kingdom and I
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