| A Dialogue on the Kingdom of God
Narrated by Peter Hoover
Under the heading "The Kingdom of God" you may read the following in our statement of belief:
"We recognise the Kingdom of God (the Heavenly Kingdom) in its first stages of peace, justice, and mercy already established on earth. Wherever men and women that believe in Jesus and follow him, old people, young people, and little children live in peace and equality one with another—wherever they give themselves for others as Jesus gave himself for them—his Kingdom comes. But we believe it will come in unspeakably greater power and glory when Jesus himself will come again. We give ourselves and all we have to the proclamation of the good news of his Kingdom, and expect to live, work, and worship with Jesus in its heavenly love and light forever.
On discovering this last week, a believer from Australia wrote: "I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this. It was my understanding that the Kingdom is to come when Jesus returns."
This brings us right to the heart of the "Gospel" (the "good news" of the Kingdom of God) that Jesus asks us to carry to the ends of the earth. And because this is the central theme of what we say, live, and do, I will share some correspondence here (all names being changed) that may explain how strongly we feel about it.
We firmly believe that we have no right to talk with others about any issue (about sin and righteousness, about the church, about life in community, about returning good for evil, about evangelism, holiness, godly families, nonconformity to the world, or anything else under the sun) before we have come to a common understanding on the Kingdom of God. Only where we agree with others on who runs the Kingdom and how, what the Kingdom actually is, and how we should live within it, may we proceed on our way together.
The Kingdom of God is our goal – our common cause.
For much too long well-meaning but misguided believers have presented the Kingdom of God as being the church. But the church is no more the Kingdom of God than Fiji is the British Commonwealth, or than Tchaikovsky is Russia. Jesus’ church is only one microscopic component within God’s infinitely greater and more glorious Kingdom.
Some time ago when another seeking individual, a woman I will name "Sally," asked me what I saw as the difference between the two, I wrote:
The Kingdom is all-inclusive. Everything and everyone that has not rebelled against God still functions within his Kingdom (under his wise and permanent rule). So the Kingdom of God includes the electronic flashes that make it possible for you to read this note. It includes all living, growing, moving things around us (although suffering under a curse and groaning for deliverance). It includes the indestructible elements of this earth, the solar system, the universe and untold numbers of other suns and planets and moons in galaxies around us to no end.
The Kingdom of God is in your human body and mine (in every cell, every molecule, every atom ever created or held together by Christ (Colossians 1:16-17).
For too many people I am afraid the "Kingdom" is little more than the Mennonite church. (At best it might include a few Baptists and Brethren. . . .) But that is not how the first Anabaptists or the early Christians understood it.
Although the first Anabaptists had astounding perceptions of the Kingdom in their day, I never saw a better exposition of it than in E. Stanley Jones's book, "The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person." Please don't be shocked at me recommending that you read it, if you wish to get a good picture of what I am trying to describe.
E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist missionary to India that got "converted" by what he found there. He spent the rest of his life (from the 1920s to the 1970s) building non-violent communities he called Christian Ashrams. Much food for thought. This last, and arguably his best book (although it follows the rambling thought patterns of a very old man), was written when he was 88, and published the year before he died in India in 1973.
In reply to this, a brother I will call "John" wrote:
"I see the kingdom of God as the social order God wants to establish among a separate people. It has a present and future aspect in that it is to be present now and will some day be established over all of creation, when sin and death shall be no more."
There is a great deal of mystery about the Kingdom.
In prophetic literature (especially Isaiah) we read about the Messiah and his coming to establish his rule, and we read of the characteristics of that rule. Jesus pronounced the good news that the Kingdom was being established; he taught more than anything else about the kingdom.
The Kingdom of God is one of those topics which, if you can encounter it fresh in the scriptures, looms large and is extremely significant theme of the Jesus' teachings. I believe the church is the manifestation of the Kingdom, and that was demonstrated especially in the early church and among the Fratricelli and the early Anabaptists, among others – perhaps among the Christian Ashrams. To follow Jesus is to participate in his rule and his social order. The kingdom is the society and culture of those whom God has transformed, of those born of the Spirit.
Unfortunately it seldom manifests itself fully in this world, but it can."
To this I responded:
Good track. What you speak about are kingdom communities -- little islands or outposts of human society already operating along kingdom lines. The true kingdom community is a microcosm, a little picture of the Kingdom of God in its entirety. A signpost pointing that direction. But no community, no church, not even the "Universal Church of Jesus Christ" (the "catholic" Church, or the oikoumenikos itself) can claim to be the kingdom of God.
Plain and simple, the kingdom of God is whatever God rules over. It would be foolish for us to try defining the extent of that.
Most of human society is not under God's rule today, hence outside the kingdom.
In the future all non-kingdom elements shall be destroyed (annihilated) except Satan himself and some others that seem doomed to suffer eternal punishment. Then "the kingdom will have come" and we shall reign on the earth with him. Forever. "New heavens, new earth, where righteousness dwells. . . . all things restored (as in Eden, just what God originally had in mind).
In Romans 8 I read: "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
I am not sure that all of creation is under God's rule and order. I really don't know all of what is under God's order, because many of the things you described are subject to death and decay and will be made new some time in the future.
I also cannot think so broadly of the kingdom, as "kingdom" denotes a social and political order. What you describe as the kingdom is bigger, it is the creation which waits to be liberated, that waits to be remade into a new heaven and a new earth. But the kingdom is already established.
So if the kingdom is a social order then the members of the society are the followers of Jesus who form organized units (villages?) and interact, under the rule of God, with one another and with other realms. This gives individuals a much greater responsibility to come together and create a tangible manifestation of the Kingdom -- a "church". So much of what Jesus taught is irrelevant if there is no gathered group of followers of Jesus interacting with each other socially. But the church as a manifestation of the kingdom is very different than a Sunday morning social club, or religious organization we call "church".
Right, the Kingdom is "already established." It has been established as long as God has been king (in other words, forever).
But certain parts of his kingdom, because of rebellion, have been subject to a curse. Natural creation is under a curse and "groans for deliverance." So do Christians unto whom the kingdom has already come, in part. So does everyone else.
All well-meaning evangelicals to the contrary, Christians are still in sin, under sin, and sinful. "Sin" you remember is just our English way of saying "hamartia," the Greek word for imperfection or "falling short." Our bodies are full of sin, as Paul vividly describes in Romans 7. It is sinful for our hair to fall out, our teeth to decay or for us to develop allergies, arthritis, or migraine headaches. The common flu is a sin. Diabetes, cancer or the rabies are much bigger sins. Our weather patterns as we now know them are violent and sinful, in direct opposition to God's Kingdom way. Our animals sin by turning on one another, by getting sick, by going (like the rabbits of Australia) out of control. Weeds are nothing but sinful plants, equipped (since the fall) with briars and poison, and crowding out the rest. . . .
Every time you cough or sneeze without wanting to you are sinning and "live under Romans 7." To get old is nothing but one long sinful Romans 7 procedure. But it can't be helped and God does not hold us responsible for it (not all sin being "sin unto death"). The only sins we get judged for are the imperfections we choose ("voluntary" sins 1 John 3:6) or deliberately impose on God's kingdom. We will be judged, for example, for deliberately mistreating our bodies or using them for something other than what God created them for. We will be judged for wilfully destroying God's creation, whether created men, animals, plants, whatever. . . . Everything anti-Kingdom is anti-God. Everything anti-God is sin. Sin is the cause of death and death is the end of sin.
Only God did not leave us in this mess, "sold as slaves to sin." He came over on our side and in Jesus was made SIN (imperfection) like us. God let sinful men make Jesus' body sinful (imperfect) through nailing it to a cross and killing it, even though in his spirit he never sinned. Then God, in a great victory over Satan, raised Jesus back to life, SINLESS and ready to live forever.
That was Satan's defeat. That is our proof. That is our sign. Jesus took his actual human body -- still carrying the scars of sin, but now made perfect like in the Garden of Eden -- back with him into the actual heavens (the heavens you can see by looking out your window at night).
Now we know that if we believe in Jesus and follow him, God will do that for us as well. And only then, only at the END will we be saved. "Rescued from this body of death," like Paul says. Only then will we be restored with all creation when the kingdom comes.
I do not see two kingdoms of God, one for the body and one for the soul, or one "spiritual" and one "natural" one. I am sick, in fact, of every concept of "church" or "religion" or "heaven" or "correct doctrine" that is not completely tied into what actually exists all around us. My God is the one in whom I live and move and have my being, and whatever god may exist outside of this reality (this creation) is certainly not one to catch any interest or loyalty of mine.