Church and Kingdom

Kevin DeYoung has noted before that people talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, but don’t always have a fully biblical view of this issue.  Last week, he posted some thoughts on this issue, cautioning people who want to bring the kingdom to earth.  DeYoung argues instead that the kingdom is closely identified with the Church:

If the kingdom of God is heaven breaking into earth, Eden being replanted, the New Jerusalem nailing in stakes, then we should expect to see the kingdom almost exclusively in the church. Of course, the church, living in the world, ought to embody the principles of the kingdom. Likewise, we will be pleased when the world around us reflects many of the values of the kingdom–forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and justice. But we will not expect the world, in this life, to become the kingdom.

Here’s the problem: when people talk broadly about bringing heaven down to earth on the culture writ large, they can’t help but be selective about the nature of the kingdom. So some Christians will argue for dismantling of nuclear weapons because in the kingdom swords are beaten into plowshares. True, but in the kingdom everyone also sits under their own vine and fig tree. The vision of the kingdom/garden/city is one of extravagant opulence and prosperity. So should we try to be as rich as possible as a sign of the kingdom’s in-breaking? Well, no because the kingdom is not the full reality yet. As a result we must temper the notion of kingdom-living prosperity with the reality that some people don’t have enough to live. In the same way, we must temper the notion of kingdom-living pacifism with the reality that there are lots of bad guys in the world who don’t want us to live.

In other words, when we think of the kingdom as what we are trying to build in this world we will be severely disappointed, potentially dangerous. But when we see the church as the presence of the kingdom in this world then the theological pieces start falling into place. The oversight in some recent conceptions of building the kingdom is that the kingdom is only thought of in terms of social services. But where Christ reigns, wickedness is expelled too. If you want to build the kingdom in your town, if you want heaven to come down to earth in your city, then you must not allow unrepentant sinners to live there. For Scripture is clear that they share no part in the kingdom.

But once we understand that the local church is the witness to and manifestation of the kingdom the Bible makes more practical sense. In the kingdom, possessions are shared so that no one has to suffer want. That’s why the needs of the covenant community are met through the deacons. In the kingdom, unrepentant sinners are barred from entering. That’s why we have membership and church discipline. In the kingdom there is relational harmony and everyone is accepted by God and delights in God through his Son Jesus Christ. This is not only the goal of the church, but only in the church could we ever expect to see these realities.

Today, a friend shared a post by Doug Wilson from January that enjoyed re-reading for its bold explanation of Wilson’s vision of the Christian future.  He also discussed the relationship between the church and the kingdom:

So my proposed solution to all this, my fourth option, is to divide a believing world into Church (believing administration of Word and sacrament) and Kingdom (believing administration of bread baking, lovemaking, candlestick making, warfare, sewage treatment, etc.) The Church is the central cathedral and the Kingdom is the parish. The Kingdom may certainly be called the Church by synecdoche, just as all ancient Israel could be called Zion, just so long as we maintain a category elsewhere that keeps them clearly distinct. I want to keep this distinction sharp because I don’t ever want to have ministers of the Word too closely involved in chopping off the heads of miscreants. Wanting to do better than the Inquisition is not setting the bar too high. Whaddaya say?…

The Church is the heart of the Kingdom, but not everything in the Kingdom is Church proper, although it is “Church” in some sense. The Church is at the center, and Christendom surrounds her.

DeYoung leans towards a two-kingdom theology which (correct me if I’m wrong) tends to go with amillenialism.  Doug Wilson is a postmillennialist who expects that the gospel will transform the world before Christ’s coming.  It seems like the eschatologies of both men inform their views of the Church-Kingdom relationship.

Also, if you want to listen to a debate on eschatology, Desiring God held a good conversation (about two hours) between people with historical premillennial, postmillienial, and amillenial views, with John Piper moderating.  It’s not a bad thing to put on your MP3 player and listen two while you’re running or something.  Doug Wilson represented postmill.

© 2010, Scott Kistler. All rights reserved.

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2 comments on “Church and Kingdom
  1. Scott,

    The various millennial views also differ over just what is the so-called “kingdom of God”. In fact, how one understands the latter phrase impacts their take on the various stands of thought you put forward in your blog.

    Part of the difficulty is that the biblical data is pretty diverse in what is says, so evangelicals (among others) are often at odds with one another about sorting out and making sense of what Scripture is and is not teaching on the subject of the divine kingdom.

    That’s not to say the effort is pointless. Far from it! Rather, it’s just to acknowledge that even when similar hermeneuctical methods (e.g. grammatical-historical, et al.) are affirmed, it does not automatically lead to a “meeting of the minds” (so to speak) on this long-debated issue.

  2. Agreed. I think that it’s a subject that’s worth thinking about, but it can be difficult to even know where to start. It would seem like a person’s eschatology would affect his or her actions in at least some way.

    It’s pretty amazing how diverse the interpretations can be, and how passionately they can be held.

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