Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Church, the church, and the Kingdom

Recently I was sitting through an exam, being administered by a committee of my denomination, to make sure I'm kosher. I wanted to share one part that especially stood out to me.

At one point I was asked to define the church. Interesting question, isn't it? Have you ever thought about that one? Well, thankfully, I had thought about it in preparation for the exam, and so I was ready with the following answer: The Church, before the law, under the law, and now under the gospel, is one and the same, and is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consists of all those who believe in him, together with their children.

Pretty good answer, huh? I sure thought so. But one person took issue with it. They were uncomfortable with the fact that I had identified the church and the kingdom of God as being the same thing. They thought of the kingdom of God as being bigger than the church. And in a sense they were right. The kingdom of God is bigger than the church, but it isn't bigger than The Church.

the church is, of course, standing for our own local churches. Whereas The Church is standing for the whole thing, the worldwide communion, crossing denominational lines, national borders, and any other arbitrary line you would like to draw.

Said committee member objected that, for example, when other committee member John Doe, who is a lawyer, goes to work pursuing justice for the oppressed, that's not church work, but it is Kingdom work.

Well sure, it's not the work of First Pres, or Second Pres, or Third, Fourth or Fifth Pres. But it is the work of The Church (aka the kingdom) worldwide. The work of The Church is not simply handing out bulletins and teaching Sunday school. The work of The Church is pursuing justice, loving mercy, caring for the widow and orphan, preaching the gospel to every nation, discipling, praying, loving your neighbor, giving out cups of cold water, relieving suffering, and standing up for what is right. Or, if I might put it this way, working for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

The work of The Church includes each member working at their vocation, using their gifts, and faithfully serving their creator whether they are actually in the church building or not. In this way we might say that 90% of The Church's work occurs outside the church!


Ed Eubanks said...

Good thoughts. I think there's room for honest disagreement here, because I think (as you pointed out) the terminology can be nebulous.

For the sake of clarity, I can appreciate the distinction postulated by the Elder that you mentioned. For the sake of acknowledging our equal footing before God, I can appreciate your lack of similar distinction.

I found Brian Habig and Les Newsom's book The Enduring Community to be helpful on getting a grasp of the other side of the argument from your perspective.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the comment Ed! I don't think there's much in the way of serious disagreement here, as much as simply the way we define our terms.

As I pointed out to the elder, my definition of the church is a direct quote from the WCF, which, as you know, is the ultimate trump card!