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.
It has become commonplace in parts of the missional discussion to make a strong emphasis on the distinction between the kingdom and the church. I agree the two are not identical. Try replacing “kingdom” in the gospels with “church” or “church” with “kingdom” in the epistles and you quickly realize synonyms they are not.
But like the proverbial rear view mirror, might these objects–the kingdom and the church–be closer than they appear?
What are We Talking About?
The kingdom is often described as God’s reign and rule. I like to particularize this definition by pointing to the first and last chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 give us a picture of the kingdom. Where the kingdom is present there is peace, provision, and security. Mourning and pain give way to joy and comfort. Human relationships work right, and our relationship with God is free and confident. Most importantly, in the kingdom God is all in all. Consequently, the wicked will not inherit the kingdom. They cannot belong to God’s realm, because sin cannot stand in the presence of the King. In the kingdom, everyone worships and reverences the King.
This literal heaven on earth is what the kingdom of God is like. Adam and Eve lost it in the garden. The Israelites lost a type of it in the promised land. And Jesus came to usher in the fullness of the kingdom once and for all, culminating in the day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15).
Where Will We See It?
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.