A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to “The Kingdom” – Part 2

Although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, I can see now that my concept of “The Kingdom” was formulated in the Nazarene church of the early 1970’s.  I have now come to believe my early and long-suffering concept was inaccurate or (at best) incomplete.  I’m not blaming the Nazarenes.  Pretty much every model of Christian thought I have sat under has happily fed my view that “The Kingdom of God” is mostly a place that is not here, in a time that is not yet.  And that belief has profoundly affected the way I’ve “done church” and lived the “Christian Life”.  If I believe that the Kingdom is a “there and not yet” (i.e. heaven), then I am forced to reckon with how I deal with the “here and now”.

In the holiness churches, we deal with the here and now by being increasingly Christ-like, until our motives spring purely from a fount of perfect love for God and neighbor.  We also make sure our churches are adequately involved in “missions” so we can “save others” for the “there and not yet”.  Here I believed my success was based on how much I could do for God, coupled with how well I did at avoiding {insert sin of choice here}. 

In the charismatic churches, we deal with the here and now by focusing our attention on how the Holy Spirit can make our waiting time on earth more tolerable through the blessings of health, wealth, and prosperity.  Here I believed my success was based on, well… success (it all gets a little foggy if you don’t seem to be succeeding).

In the evangelical reformed churches, we deal with the here and now by having churches with a good, solid mix of discipleship and “sharing the Gospel”.  I am well acquainted with the Billy Graham “Do you know where you’d go if you died tonight” and the Campus Crusade “Four Spiritual Laws”.  Here I believed my success was based on how many people I had “led to Christ”.

For my entire Christian life, the Kingdom has been a prize at the bottom of the cereal box.  It was a “heaven to be gained” coupled with a “hell to be shunned”.  This earth was a place to endure until we finished the cereal, a place where we lived REALLY GOOD LIVES AS SINLESSLY AS POSSIBLE while longing for our heavenly rest, and (if we were really earnest), we made sure we got as many people around as possible to “pray the prayer” or “walk the aisle” so they could get to heaven along with us.

I’m not knocking any of these – I AM all of these.

But I’m also something else now.

Someone taught me to read the gospels like a first-century Jew.  Someone in a “Liberal Mainline Protestant” church (you need to say “Liberal Mainline Protestant” all together to get the right tone of derision).

I’m not saying my theology has changed or gotten more solidified (I still straddle a whole bunch of the classic views), but I have a new world view – or, more accurately, I have a new Kingdom view.

Take this quote from an article in a recent periodical, or better yet, read N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels”

In classic Judaism and first-century Christianity, believers expected this world would be transformed into God’s Kingdom — a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions.

First-century Jews who believed Jesus was Messiah also believed he inaugurated the Kingdom of God and were convinced the world would be transformed in their own lifetimes.  This inauguration, however, was far from complete and required the active participation of God’s people practicing social justice, nonviolence and forgiveness to become fulfilled.

Once the Kingdom is complete, the bodily resurrection will follow with a fully restored creation here on earth.

All of a sudden, that social gospel stuff we belittled as “soft on sin” for so long looks like it’s kind of the whole point.  The Gospel IS SOCIAL.  The Kingdom is NOW.  It ought to transform how we think about and do everything.  I honestly think if everyone who wears the label of Christian really threw his or her whole self into actually showing love in the here and now, the world would be a different place.  Have I lost my evangelical roots?  Have I gone soft on sin?  I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  What I do know is the way I see God has transformed the way I love and worship God.  The way I now see the Kingdom has transformed the way I love my neighbor.  My years spent making sure I got to heaven while bringing people with me now feel like an embarrassing exercise in self-absorption.

I have a story about a good ministry friend that put this into perspective for me.  He was very into the whole “random acts of kindness” thing, which can and should be an awesome thing.  Here’s the thing that never sat right with me, though:  For one event, he and a number of church members packed up a bunch of cold bottled water to take and give away to concert-goers on a hot summer day.  I don’t remember exactly how many bottles were given away, but I remember it was a lot, and I remember his excitement, joy and satisfaction at having planned it and done it.  On Sunday, however, he was crestfallen.  You see, each bottle of water had the church name, address, and website on it with an invitation to worship services, and on Sunday, no one who took a bottle showed up for church.  The success of his “act of kindness” hinged on an expected response from the recipient.

What if we just gave out water because it was the right thing to do?  No stickers.

I want to repent of selfishness.  I want to repent of wanting an easy road while I waited for heaven.  I want to repent of anyone I misguided while I was trying to make my own way.

But I want to go beyond repentance.  I want to commit to living a life that builds the Kingdom in the here and now.  I want to be the Samaritan that no one would have expected to help the Jew, without worrying what the religiously correct have to say about it.  I want to be the worker in the vineyard who rejoices when we all receive the same wage, rather than begrudging someone who didn’t work as hard for it as I did.  I want to be the prodigal’s big brother who rejoices in the return of the brother who squandered the inheritance, rather than bitterly complaining that I deserve better.  I want to give away a bottle of water to a thirsty person and not care whether or not she comes to my church next Sunday.

But I hope she does.

4 Comments

  1. Once upon a time it was known that the Words of the Covenant were the Ten Commandments, not so today in the mind of most. However God did not change the Words of the Covenant, whether old or new. Contained within these Commandments is access and entrance to the Kingdom that Yahshua taught. To apply ‘You shall have no other gods before me., Is huge, in application. Most of us see those old commandments as still written upon tables of stone and not the vehicle of restoring the soul, which is what they do but only when our Father hand writes them upon our heart and this is the why of the Wilderness, Yeah those Commandments still look hard as stone but in reality they are soft as flesh and full of healing.
    We have the wilderness of proving and this is ordained by God. Many fail in the wilderness because they don’t really believe that the Word is absolute and there is nothing you can about this except to obey what the Holy Spirit is teaching you that time. So when you have been proven faithful in the wilderness YHVH will part the Jordan for you and you will cross over and now, and now comes the Kingdom which is far different than anything you’ve known previously. You are sooooo right, the Kingdom is now and always has been.

    Like

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