In light of this study about Kingdom and church, I want to make a couple of helpful suggestions going forward.
First, we need to have an incarnational view of the church.
What do I mean by an incarnational view of the church? Classically, people tend to think of the church as a community that gathers with the intention of worship (and whatever else they may add to the list). Or they think of the church as an instrument for saving souls.
Both of those are true. Yet there is a third level of understanding of what the church is to be that is both higher and deeper. It is to be nothing less than the incarnation of Jesus. As Paul states in Colossians 1:18, "And he is the head of the body, the church."
Messiah is the head of the church, and the church is now to be the fullness of him who fills all in all. I don't know if that strikes you as outrageous, but it is something utterly impossible except with God. Embodied in the earth as Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Word now becomes temporal in a man. The scripture says he was the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily.
Now that he's ascended to the place of power and poured out his Spirit, we are to be the fullness of his body in the earth. He is at the right hand of the Father, but his body is still is on the earth. How? In you, in me, in us together!
Kingdom people gathered as his church are to be the fullness of Jesus, the Messiah.
"According to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:19-23)
That is an incarnational view of the church.
As brilliant as many of you are, none of you measure up to Jesus. The only way we can measure up to the fullness of the man Jesus is together, and only together. We need every gift, every ability, every bit of wisdom, every bit of knowledge, every bit of teaching, and instruction. And we need to be overflowing in an abundance of good works.
An incarnational view of the church is an ergonomic view of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is a people serving a person in his power. In the first sermon to Gentiles, Peter reminds us "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." (Acts 10:38)
If you want to help advance the Kingdom of heaven, together, we need to be people that can be commended to God and commended to the world by our attitudes and actions; and we need to be going about doing good. The Kingdom creates and organizes us in a way that we function to do good works, like our Lord. I call it an incarnational view of the church combined with an ergonomic view of the Kingdom.
With this in mind, we can now answer the three questions I posed at the beginning of this teaching:
Why is the church mentioned only three times in the Gospels and over one hundred times in the Epistles?
What is the relationship of the church to the Kingdom?
And why, Dwight, do you say we should stop going to church and start being the church?
Concerning the first question, the church is mentioned only at the end of Jesus' life; he's looking to the future. But during his life of ministry, he's constantly talking of the Kingdom. From the beginning of, throughout, and at the end of his ministry, he speaks about issues of the Kingdom. Even during the forty days after his resurrection, "He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3)
We can say, and we need to say that the Kingdom takes precedence and priority over the church. Please hear me; the Kingdom is not the same thing as the church. It existed long before and will exist long after the church has served its calling.
The priority Jesus gave us is not to seek first going to church. The priority is not even to seek first to be a member of the church, the real church—whatever you think it is. The priority is to seek first, what? The Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Then and only then is everything put into its proper place.
To the second question about the relationship between church and the Kingdom, let me put it to you this way. The church is an assembly of kingdom citizens for worship and instruction in the King's service in the power of the Spirit. It is the edat Ha-Mashiach, the congregation of the Messiah.
Any biblically authentic expression of the church should be kingdom citizens assembling to worship the King and to be instructed (discipled) in how to serve the King. All of that must be done in the power of the Spirit. Then, you have the church happening, the Kingdom advancing.
In other words, the church is a kingdom people assembled for kingdom purposes, equipped with kingdom power.
The Kingdom of God advances when you and I, together, operate in the King's authority by obeying his will. Now, I can say to you with complete confidence, don't worry about our King, he will take care of his responsibilities. You can count on him. Oh yes! That's right, hallelujah! Our trust and confidence are based upon his character. Because he is faithful, he will fulfill that which he has promised.
God is taking care of his responsibilities in the Kingdom. Our priority must be answering the question, How are we taking care of our kingdom responsibilities? It is only when the two are united that his kingship advances in the world. He is the King of heaven, but he cannot be King of your life unless you let him. That being said, you cannot exempt yourself from him being your judge. Why? He created you, and you will be held accountable for the life that he has given you.
You cannot opt-out of answering to God as your creator, but you can opt-out of the Kingdom.
You can say thank you very much, but all things considered, I'd rather do it my way. You can go to church every week and not be a part of the Kingdom. However, when God's redemptive initiative is met with your humble response-ability, his Kingdom advances. "Those who do the will of my Father make up my kingdom."
I know this is challenging and problematic, but the fact is, you tie the hands of a loving Father when you refuse to live up to your kingdom responsibilities.
You have little conception of what redemptive acts he can and wants to operate through you; in your homes, in your places of work, in your assembling as his church. Yet he does not override your will. You must say, even as Israel did at Mount Sinai, "All that you say, we will do." In the doing of his will, we hear his voice more and more clearly.
Brothers and sisters, that is why we study. Not to stimulate our minds, but to inform our hearts and our hands as to how we should walk, how we should serve, how we should please him. Because he alone is worthy.
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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.