Dwight: I want you to stop going to church immediately!
Obviously, I have some explaining to do. Don't get ahead of me. Let me give you the context, and the why for what's on my heart. I'll begin by reading from 1 Chronicles 28.
"David assembled at Jerusalem all the officials of Israel, the officials of the tribes, the officers of the divisions that served the king, the commanders of thousands, the commanders of hundreds, the stewards of all the property and livestock of the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the mighty men, and all the seasoned warriors."
The occasion is preparation for building the house of the LORD. Towards the construction of that house, everyone—beginning with the leaders—contributed. We read further that "the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly." (1 Chr 28:9)
Listen attentively to David's prayer and praise in the following verses,
"Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name."
Dwight: In our last assembly, an elder movingly urged us, as a church, to take our responsibility to usher in the kingdom seriously. When he did so, immediately, it occurred to me to speak on this subject. I want to raise and address three questions to challenge and equip you.
Firstly, what is the kingdom?
Secondly, what is the church?
Thirdly, what is the relationship of the church to the kingdom?
Historically and theologically, there's been a lot of ambiguity about the subject of the kingdom. And the church. And the relationship between the two. There is confusion, controversy, and varying views on every one of these three issues. We need clarity on these subjects before we can correctly understand the point of my message today, which is, Stop Going to Church, and Start Being the Church.
Categorically speaking, there are two primary orientations regarding the kingdom:
One is that the kingdom is otherworldly.
The other is that the kingdom is of this world.
Now, if you hold to the view that the kingdom is of the other world, effectively you're saying the kingdom of heaven means Heaven (the world to come, where you go after you die). That is if you are saved. From this point-of-view, the church is seen as God's instrument to save souls for heaven. And heaven is primarily in the future. The church's primary task is to save souls for heaven.
On the other hand, if the church's orientation to the kingdom is only this world, then historically, there have been two typical approaches.
The first I would call the ecclesiastical perspective. Ecclesiastical refers to the church.
The second I would call the eschatological perspective. Eschatological refers to the end times, the last days.
Let's examine this in a little more detail because these two prevailing views are common in our churches today, and I daresay even held within our congregation here.
Within the ecclesiastical view of the kingdom, the church is seen as equivalent to the kingdom. The church is the kingdom. To join the church is to enter the kingdom. As the church prospers and wields ever greater influence in this world, the kingdom is advancing. Now, this is the view, for example, held for centuries by the Roman Church; the church itself is considered the embodiment of the kingdom.
It is not surprising that people within that tradition talk consistently and continually about the church. Why? Because everything revolves around it because it is, in effect, the same as the kingdom.
We can learn a lot from church history. There are at least two historical dangers that we've seen with the ecclesiastical, this world only point of view.
The first is the danger of the kingdom becoming politicized. If the kingdom is effectively an ecclesiastical enterprise in this world, then it is very vulnerable to becoming worldly by aligning itself with certain political powers, dominions, factions, etc. All under the guise of advancing the kingdom.
Not only is the church tempted to become politicized, but there is also the danger of it becoming worldly. If it is primarily a present empire in this world, it can very easily become of this world instead. It can become worldly by taking on cultural and generational characteristics that are offensive to God. The sad history of Christendom attests to that clear and present danger.
Another predominant view of many is that the kingdom is essentially an eschatological reality. It is that which is going to be set up at the advent of the Son of Man. When Jesus returns to Jerusalem to Mount Zion, he will set up his kingdom, and all the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship him. From this perspective, the kingdom is mostly identified with the millennium spoken of in Revelation.
With a millennium mentality, you tend to think primarily of Jesus' second coming and his millennial reign. In other words, when the Messiah returns to Jerusalem as king, and he begins to rein, then the kingdom is established. Within this frame of reference, we have present anticipations, but the reality of the kingdom is a future event. Now, we only have hints of the kingdom, but the fullness will only come in future fulfillment.
The church, then, is seen as a community of faith that bears present witness to the final victory of Christ. From this viewpoint, the church thereby helps prepare the way for the kingdom in the millennium.
One popular expression of this view is called dispensationalism, a view widely held within evangelical churches. In this perspective, there seven distinct dispensations or ages of God's dealing with the world. We are presently in the dispensation of grace. The kingdom dispensation is, no surprise, yet to come. Before that occurs, God is going to take the church out of this world in the so-called secret rapture before a Great Tribulation begins.
Maybe you've heard pre-trib rapture language. It means that before Jesus comes and sets up his kingdom, he will take the church out of this world, and the wrath of God will be poured out. Then we saints will return with Christ so that he can set up his kingdom in Jerusalem, and we can rule and reign with him in Zion.
OK, that's the big picture. I told you the subject of church and kingdom can be confusing. Do you recognize any of these ideas in your own thinking? How are we to make sense of it all given these varying viewpoints?
Well, first of all, we must have clarity on Jesus' teaching about the kingdom. And we must realize that as we begin with him, he takes us into the Hebrew Bible and the world of second temple Jewish discussions about those scriptures.
The goal of this study is for Jesus, by his Spirit, to help us clarify the relationship of his church to God's kingdom so that we can take our responsibility to usher in the kingdom seriously.
Read more: Next Post
Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.
Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.