on the Kingdom

emerging church, nascent church Add comments

In Emerging circles the buzz phrase is the Kingdom of God. It implies an emphasis on the life of Jesus, what he did and how he taught and what he emphasized. It implies ethics and actions. While it doesn’t eliminate the importance of right doctrine, it places declarative statements within the fold of a broader Christian reality. Jesus did not go directly to the cross without passing Go. He sat for a while. Taught for a while. Healed for a while. He lived for a while. And it is in the consideration of how he lived, not just the reasons he died, we can learn what it means to be a Church. For we are not a church who goes straight to martyrdom. We are not a church who sits around and waits for Christ’s second coming, all the while sending out strongly worded missives to the wider world so they’ll join us in our waiting bunker.

We are called to live. To interact. To do good. Jesus preached. He also healed. The Good Samaritan did a work, he did not hand out tracts. The Kingdom of God is one of action and power. It is said to already be among us.

But how do we assess this kingdom? In what part of theology does Kingdom studies reside? This isn’t merely an academic or philosophical question. How we answer this has a massive impact on what we then see as the Kingdom and how we see the Kingdom organized. Is the study of the Kingdom contained within ecclesiology, the study of the Church. That has been the answer through most of the last 2000 years. The Church is a reflection of the Kingdom and the Kingdom is a reflection of the church. Thus rules and policies and organization and purging and policing and hierarchies are established so as to form the boundaries of this Kingdom. We have princes of the church, and local bureaucracies who see their authority not merely as human organization but as endowed by the very power of God for the purpose of his reign. Little functionaries abound who wield their particular portion as though given a directed mandate by God himself, something Roman Catholics claim explicitly as the source of the Pope’s status.

The Church then takes on a political reality, as the Kingdom is understood according to political kingdoms. As England is organized so too the Church is organized. As Rome was led, so too the Church should be led. Those liking Democracy tend towards a Democratic church. Which is why ecclesiology is such a touchy subject. We can wrestle with so many other topics and yet we see the particularities of a liturgy as being almost untouchable. Preaching is the manifestation of the Kingdom because ecclesiology is the ruling guide of the Kingdom. The Church is the reflection of God in this world and so how we see Church, how we do Church, how we organize Church is the bedrock of our whole existence as Christians. If ecclesiology is the ruling topic for our view of the Kingdom then we are constantly thrown back into discussions of organization, and hierarchy, and liturgy, and politics. Nasty topics those, because then the expression of Power is an expression of the power of particular people. People who want power rise within the hierarchy, and so take the kingdom by force.

Where did we get this idea that when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom he was implying the Church? Why do we see the Church as the political, social, and theological expression of the Kingdom?

What is the proper theological topic in regards to the Kingdom of God? What direction in theology will help steer us and correct us? Clearly ecclesiology hasn’t worked out well. The history of the world over the last 2000 years has shown a lot of things but it hasn’t shown the Kingdom of God expressed fully and clearly. Indeed, God has been maligned again, and again, and again by those who seek to act in and for his name. But they have acted for their own names and the power that has led to wars, and persecutions, and false religions, and constant strife is not the power of God. Yet it is the power that a kingdom based on ecclesiology has given us. It is a false power. It is a lying power. It is a power that has used what was meant for wonderful good to bring corruption into this world and into our faith. The Church cannot be the source and topic of the study of the Kingdom of God. It is only a reflection of the Kingdom, not a guide.

And that is what I think needs to change. Christendom, the idea that the Church is the prime reference of the Kingdom of God, is dying. This approach had a good run of about 1500 years, with some wonderful moments along with the terrible. What the world needs, however, is for those who seek Christ to listen better to what he said about the Kingdom. For too long the Church has been the unenlightened disciples, always clamoring for the political presence of the visible, physical kingdom in which Peter and John and James sit on their thrones.

The Pentecost disciples, however, hadn’t a lick of politics in them. Their concern was elsewhere. And while it’s been hip in many circles to note the change of conversation from the Gospels to the Epistles, I think we’ve been arrogant in our assumptions that there was a change.

The Emerging Church has been marked by a re-emphasis on the Kingdom of God practices as illustrated by Jesus. Following, in part, the lead of NT Wright and Dallas Willard. Yet, underneath so much of this is the same sort of problems that run through church history. Leadership. Power. Control. In and Out. The liturgies change. The hierarchy changes. But where is the guide that can focus and hone the real discovery of the Kingdom of God that leads us past yet a different list?

That’s the question I’m asking. It’s not enough to say we emphasize the Kingdom of God. We have to also say what part of theology includes and guides the Kingdom of God. How we answer this determines where we look for both the questions and the answers.

This change, I think, will propel the Emerging Church past its lingering moment of frustrated rejections, in which it is defined as much by what it is against as what it is for. This change of core theology, core theology that has had 1500+ years of tradition built up around it, will be the way the Church steps past the politics of earthly kingdoms and towards the re-embrace of the fullness of the Kingdom of God in all its various expressions.

What is the Kingdom of God? What is that which is already among us? What is that which the disciples were told to wait for and that many of them would live to see in power and fullness?

It is the Holy Spirit. And it is the topics of pneumatology and eschatology that the Kingdom of God will find its expression and its present guide for the lives we live now in this world. Study of the Holy Spirit and of Last Things isn’t a matter of speaking in tongues or a matter of watching for the signs of the coming millennium. Study of the Holy Spirit and of God’s Eternal work is how we experience, know, embrace, and begin to live out the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about and expressed in all his work. Is is not the study of the Church that reflects the Kingdom. It is the Holy Spirit who is the Kingdom among us. Where the Spirit is, there is the Kingdom. Where the Kingdom is, there is the Spirit. For Eternity, and that eternity includes our present.

So what does it mean to assess the Kingdom in terms of the study of the Holy Spirit? I suggest you read the book. Well, that one. And the one that should be out roundabout this Fall.

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