For some time now I’ve been convinced that we’ve exchanged an overinflated view of the Church for a watered-down view of the Kingdom. Scot McKnight does a good job tackling this issue – and providing much-needed clarity – in his recent post:
Sit down some afternoon — maybe today — and look up all the “kingdom” references in the New Testament and you will see the following major ideas:
First, kingdom refers to a redemptive society. Second, one must “enter” this redemptive kingdom society by repentance and faith and obedience to Jesus. Third, kingdom society and Jesus are so closely connected one has to say that there is no such thing as “kingdom” apart from relationship to Jesus. Fourth, no one uses the word “kingdom” in the NT for “social” justice that is not connected to kingdom people of Jesus or connected to the fellowship of his followers — the Church.
The best example of “kingdom” work in the entire Bible is Acts 2:42-47, and there the kingdom people, in the context of a local fellowship (church), were making the kingdom manifest. The place to begin with kingdom work is to take care of the society of Jesus’ followers.
But somehow this equation of “kingdom” with “social” work, especially as distinguished from “church” or “spiritual” or “evangelistic” work, is precisely what has happened in our culture. We have all kinds of people who want to do “kingdom” work but by that they mean “social” justice — and by that they mean helping the poor, building homes in Haiti, creating wells of water in Africa, ministering to AIDS victims in the world, showing support for Palestinians in the Middle East, or running for political office. These folks have done the unthinkable: they have secularized the kingdom of God.
Let me say this clearly: each of those activities is good and godly; each of those actions is noble and ennobling. But none of those actions are “kingdom” work unless they are done in the context of the redemptive society of Jesus, and that means more or less in connection with the Church of Jesus Christ, who is Messiah and Lord.
One could say such actions “extend” the kingdom society of Jesus to others; I’m fine with that. But the fundamental idea here is that if we want to talk “kingdom” let’s talk what Jesus actually says about kingdom. And what he says is that the kingdom has to be entered by entering into relationship with him. He’s talking about the redemptive society around him.
So here’s my concluding point: kingdom work is church work, it is Jesus work. It is not “social” work when “social” is distinguished from “spiritual” or “church.” Jesus never left that option to us because he came to create the redemptive kingdom society and he called us to enter into by entering into relationship with him. To say “kingdom” work is “social” work (over against the church) is Constantinianism.
If you want to do kingdom work, I suggest you get busy in the ministries of your local church.