The contemporary Church often appears to be operating in a quandary, looking much like a dog chasing its tail. Christian leaders spend valuable energy and needed resources in an attempt to define the primary mission of the Body of Christ within the context of our post-modern, post-Christian world. Although this is an important task and highly relevant given the dwindling impact of the Church on contemporary culture, I have come to believe that the critical mission of today’s Church is not a mystery wrapped inside a riddle.
Even though the specifics of carrying out the Church’s mission may change from age to age, one central purpose remains constant. This aspect of the Church’s work is obvious to anyone who undertakes even a cursory study of the life of Jesus and has remained constant throughout the centuries. Further, it will continue to be of primary importance until the Lord’s return and should always serve as the North Star for the Body of Christ during times of challenge and change.
Underlying all of our efforts as the Body of Christ is the notion of working along with God to establish the “Kingdom.” I can’t stress this notion of Kingdom enough and, if you take a close look at the gospels, neither could Christ. His first public statement was “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” After beginning this way, Christ repeatedly stressed that his mission was to inaugurate the Kingdom. As ongoing agents of incarnation, it is now our mission to pick up where Christ left off. This is the foundational mission of the church. Even the great commission is aimed at this and this only: Bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.
The coming of the Kingdom is really the heart of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins and the work on the cross, although of central significance, is not the heart of the gospel. It is not that which brings life to the body. No, it is the coming of the Kingdom that constitutes the life of the gospel. Unfortunately, the church, especially since the reformation in general and Calvinist theology in particular, has primarily defined the gospel in terms of the remission of sins by the work of Christ. Again, I am not downplaying the importance of this. All I am saying is that it is not the core of the gospel. Jesus repeatedly stressed the coming of the Kingdom. The remission of sins is part of this, but it is far from the whole enchilada.
If Jesus had composed a mission statement prior to departing the spiritual realm it would undoubtedly read: Re-establish my Father’s kingdom on earth. Wherever he traveled, the Lord preached the coming of the kingdom. The fact that today’s pastors seldom preach on the kingdom is a conundrum to the astute student of the gospels. The majority of messages from the pulpit these days are more concerned with being born again as opposed to the establishment of the kingdom. In the entire recorded narratives of Jesus’ life, he only mentioned being born again one time, and that in private under the cloak of darkness in response to a query by Nicodemus. Contrast this with the number of times Christ spoke of the kingdom.
I find the Church’s lack of focus on establishing the kingdom even more remarkable when considering other popular pulpit themes. A few months back I was conducting research on the growth of several denominations in the county where I live. This research necessitated my visiting eight different congregations over an extended period of time and provided an opportunity to hear firsthand the kind of topics preachers from a variety of denominations were expounding upon. Frankly, I was amazed. I heard at least four sermons on prosperity, four more on the reality of sin, three on the importance of speaking in tongues, two on how speaking in tongues was the work of Satan, at least two sermons detailing the importance of voting Republican in the upcoming 2008 election, and one meandering, 40-minute bombast without a discernable core.
On no occasion did I hear a sermon or even a Sunday School class that had as its central element the establishment of God’s kingdom. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed and, at best, have a second-rate mind. Still, I can see that there is something amiss here.
Granted, the Body of Christ in America faces numerous challenging issues at the dawn of the new century, however, the response to these issues must take place in the context of Jesus’ kingdom message. Our mission as Christians, both individually and corporately, is to continue incarnating Christ’s mission in the world. As Jesus stressed the kingdom, so must we. We have no greater priority.
Dr. Myles Munroe, author of several books dealing with God’s kingdom, echoes the centrality of the kingdom agenda for today’s Church:
“How important to the Body of Christ is the message of the Kingdom of God? Frankly, we have nothing else to teach. The message of the Kingdom is good news, and the Church exists to proclaim it. If we are doing our job, everything we are about will be Kingdom focused: every sermon we preach, every Bible study we teach, every ministry we perform, every activity we accomplish, and every worship service we celebrate…The Kingdom of God must be our highest priority; Jesus gave us no other commission.”
As individual members of the Body of Christ, it is our duty to share the kingdom message at every opportunity. In doing so, however, we must take care to present Jesus’ kingdom manifesto is ways that are relative to today’s world. The concept of “kingdom” has little meaning to most people, especially in the West. Perhaps it is time to seek new metaphors for explaining kingdom concepts.
Another critical factor in exposing our culture to the radical manifesto that Christ taught is to be straightforward about its content. Jesus called for a new system that ran counter to that of the world, not only in his time, but in ours as well. He called for compassion, justice, caring, service, forgiveness, and a host of other themes that are both startling and challenging. As we go about sharing Jesus’ vision, we must also be honest about how the Church, for whatever reasons, has diluted, distorted, and at times deceived in its presentation of the real “gospel” of Christ.
Further, it is incumbent upon us to lovingly confront the leaders of our churches if they have wandered too far a field from the kingdom context. By taking proactive measures to refocus our churches on the centrality of the kingdom message, we can help foster a supportive foundation for the Church as it goes about meeting the significant challenges of our world. Only by taking this course of action can the dog finally realize the folly of running in circles after something that is constantly just out of reach.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved