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Missional Church: “Three Theological Emphases for a Missional Congregation: Theology with a Cosmic Aim” Part IV

March 28, 2011

IV.  The Kingdom of God as God’s Loving Reign

The final theological distinctive is both the beginning and the end of any missional theology.  It does not precede the doctrine of the Trinity, as the kingdom of God is God’s loving kingship reigning over all his creation.  Thus, it flows out of the triune community of love.  In a very real sense, though, it is the foundation of all of God’s purposes, for God’s goal has always been to rule over his creation in a reign of unending love.

Yet, in its most complete sense, the kingdom of God is the fulfillment of God’s purposes.  When Jesus came announcing that “the kingdom of heaven had drawn near,” he was, in effect, saying, “God has not given up; His purposes from the beginning of creation are now coming to fruition; God has won.”  Yet, even more, Jesus is saying that in Him, the fulfillment of God’s mission is complete—He is the kingdom drawing near.  As Sutherland notes, “Before there was creation God had the end in mind…Crucially, this plan is to be brought about in Christ.”[1] Again, Sutherland writes concerning the kingdom, “The vision of the kingdom incorporates the entire sweep of the eschatological plan of God which we have glimpsed above.”[2]

We might boldly say, that the kingdom is the gospel.  The good news of Jesus Christ, is that in Him, God’s kingdom has been established, and thus we can be assured that it will be consummated fully in this creation.  Everything God has been doing from the foundation of the world is to establish his reign in and through Jesus Christ.  In this sense, the death and resurrection is far more than merely the forgiveness of individual sins (although it certainly includes that), but it is the demonstration that God’s purposes have won.  Jesus Christ is the victor over all creation (and all that has rebelled against him).  Though we tend to think of victory in terms of power and force, God displays the victory of the kingdom in the most unlikely of ways—through the cross.  The cross, therefore, shows the heart of God and how he wants to reign:  through sacrificial love.

Where does the Church fit into the kingdom of God?  Though some have wanted to say that the Church and the kingdom are synonymous, I would argue rather that the church is the “first fruits” or a “foretaste” or a “sign” of the kingdom.[3] In this sense, I agree with the words of P.T. Foresythe that the Church is the “kingdom in the making.”[4] The Church is the physical locale where God seeks to display his loving reign.   The kingdom is coming in its fullness, but in the mean time the church, as the “body of Christ,” is to be the place where God’s future kingdom is demonstrated in the present.

Implications for the missional church

1.     The most important aspect of the theology of the kingdom for the missional church is that it prevents a reductionistic view of the gospel.  Evangelicalism is notorious for reducing the gospel to the salvation of individual “souls” through repentance in Christ.  This is certainly an essential part of the gospel, but the gospel is more than this.  Guder eloquently captures this thought:  “The passing of Christendom and the emergence of global Christianity have revealed how reductionistic and culturally diluted our western gospel has become.  One evidence of this reductionism is the stress upon individual and personal salvation as the sole purpose of the gospel…Long lost from our evangelistic proclamation is Jesus’ own message of the inbreaking reign of God, which defines the fullness of God’s saving purposes for all the world.”[5]

2.     If the Church is the foretaste, first fruits, or sign of God’s coming kingdom, then becoming in reality what we are by faith is essential to our witness and mission in the world.  In other words, sanctification—being the kingdom people of God—is of the utmost importance.  We are to demonstrate in our communities that God does, indeed, reign over us.  We are to not just claim to be his people; we are to be his people in deed.

3.     When we embrace the comprehensiveness of the kingdom of God, we realize that everything we do, when done in faith, is a demonstration of the kingdom.  That is to say, because the Scripture gives us clear knowledge as to what the kingdom looks like, we can set our goals and intentions by the clear “fruits” of the kingdom found in Scripture.  However, even beyond that, we can take joy in the fact that when we are surrendered to God as king, even the simplest smile expressed to someone in the local grocery store is a small expression of the kingdom.  As God’s missional people, we are his kingdom citizens in this world; we are the primary base of his missional expression to the entire creation.

V. Conclusion

Though not at all exhaustive, this paper was an attempt to give some theological starting points for a missional church.  I have attempted to show how each theological distinctive is rooted in the cosmic mission of God that flows out of God’s own triune nature of self-giving love.  Even more, I hope that I have shown how each of these theological emphases finds fruitful expression in the missional church.  Though theology, as an interpretive endeavor, is always our attempt to “understand revelation in our historical and cultural context,”[6] by attempting to root the theological emphases in three classic doctrines, they may provide theological bases for missional communities in a multiplicity of contexts.  In the end, though, the success of this theological endeavor should be gauged by the words Christopher Wright uses to conclude the introduction of his phenomenal work The Mission of God’s People:

There should be no theology that does not relate to the mission of the church—either by being generated out of the church’s mission or by inspiring and shaping it.  And there should be no mission of the church carried on without deep theological roots in the soil of the Bible…No theology without missional impact; no mission without theological foundations.[7]

 


[1] Sutherland, “The Kingdom Made Visible,” 3.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Althouse, “Towards a Pentecostal Ecclesiology,” 231; 232.

[4] In Sutherland, “The Kingdom Made Visible,” 6.  Van Engen captures the “already-not yet” nature of the kingdom and the church with the following quote:  “The Church derives its dynamism to emerge from its close association with the coming of the Kingdom of God.  The impelling force of the Kingdom of God moves life from the ‘already’ to the ‘not-yet’ through the action of God in the power of the Holy Spirit,” in God’s Missionary People, 26.

[5] Guder, “Missional Theology for a Missional Church,” 7.

[6] Tite Tienou and Paul G. Hiebert, “Missional Theology,” 34.2 (2006), 221.

[7] Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 20.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Matt Bohlman permalink
    May 6, 2011 4:21

    Great stuff here Jon! I am borrowing some of it for my bible school here. We have been studying church history for the past two months. It is a challenge because Khmers have very little familiarity or knowledge of European or Roman history. What is most difficult is seeing their countenance fall when they learn of how the “church” departed from the tenants of Christ’s kingdom as he preached it and lived it. How could the church kill? Burn heretics? Wage war? Be politically corrupt? How could this happen? It is disheartening to them. I’m struggling with how best to approach it…in fact I struggle with it myself. Sometimes when I read accounts of church history my honest, gut reaction is, “WTF!” My aim tomorrow is to share on your point that authentic Christianity (kingdom Christianity) shows the marks of a life that is under the rule of God. Moreover a life under the rule of God is most beautifully expressed in the life of Jesus and in his sermon on the mount. Therefore in the eyes of God it makes no difference if you are a poor pauper or rich pope. Both the beggar and the bishop have the same duty to exemplify and demonstrate the rule of God’s kingdom in their own life. An exquisitely robed bishop who persecutes his enemies rather than prays for them, who lives lavishly rather than gives self-sacrificially stands naked before God as one who is not under the rule of God and therefore not a believer but an impostor. Thanks for the insight.

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