The True Church and the Kingdom of God

I belong to the whole church of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ, as Paul put it, in which every part of the body, every organ, vessel and nerve is an essential part of the whole. In fact the whole church of Jesus Christ cannot function if each part is not cooperating with every other one. It cannot express anything of Jesus’ Gospel until every denomination is honored for its contributions to the whole church.

Hear Paul speaking: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”[1 Corinthians 12:12-14] The body can’t do without the heart, or the mind or liver or nerve endings to send signals to all the parts. So, in fact, the church, the whole church of Jesus Christ, can’t do without the Pentacostals or the Evangelicals or the Episcopalians or the Presbyterians or Methodists or Holy Rollers or the Mormons or any other sect or denomination.

Just like the body which can’t be healthy unless all the parts are functioning well and in sync with each other or can’t exist at all if it some of the essentials aren’t there, so the church, the whole church of Jesus Christ, isn’t healthy unless every person, every denomination is at the table—honored and respected, listened to and valued, and seen as an essential part of the body of Christ. And the church doesn’t exist at all if all the parts of it are not welcomed as part of it. Where is the whole church of Jesus Christ today? I would say barely there.

We compete for members with other denominations; we fight with other denominations over interpretations. We barely acknowledge each other. We want to be right more than faithful to the One who would lead us. We identify too much with our denomination and its beliefs, more than we do with Christ who is the head of the church. And when we go down to the microcosm, the individual church, what do we see? People who are “nice,” who don’t argue, but also don’t have a meeting of the minds. We see the church in the hands of the ministers and the leadership, usually the wealthiest or most powerful, but is that how a church is supposed to be? Where are the decisions made after a prayerful period of discernment by the whole congregation? Isn’t there supposed to be just one leader, Christ himself, with all the rest of us following his lead? And are we pointing each member towards the depth of a relationship with Christ so that he or she seeks out Christ to be in charge of his or her life? Or are we more concerned with making sure each person follows the “party line?”

Does “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” just apply to God’s actions? Or am I, are we, just as responsible for the coming of the kingdom here on “earth, as it is in heaven?” I believe that the church described in Paul’s words, led by Christ, is meant to usher in the kingdom on earth, but we are far from being able to do this. We are still operating the church on a cultural paradigm, not a kingdom one.

What would the church look like if it were promoting the kingdom? First and foremost, it would be a community where all are welcome, all opinions, beliefs, races—anyone who is willing to go where God would lead them, anyone who puts God and his kingdom first in his/her life, anyone who is willing to love, to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world.

Secondly, the church would be a place where people are honest, have integrity, where the insides of the person match his outsides. So we’re no longer saying one thing that sounds great but undermining it with out state of being which is totally at odds with what is coming out of our lips. No more lip-service, only true service.

This also means that we have to have meaningful conversations in our churches about our beliefs and what they mean to us and to allow other opinions/experiences to co-exist with ours. This takes listening to and honoring where the other person is coming from and valuing their contribution, as well. It means that we would hold our beliefs lightly, not rigidly, so that we can hear others and even, maybe, be changed by what they are saying.

We have to drop our defensiveness and embrace everyone in our church, in the church, the body of Christ. We have to learn how to love as God loves us, warts and all, with forgiveness and mercy. We have to get to know each other, walk the extra mile, share who we are, learn from the other person.

Thirdly, to be a real community in the real kingdom means to embrace everyone whether they are like us or not, whether we are of the same race or ethnicity or education level or economic class, whether they hold the same beliefs as we do. And we have to bring our whole selves—warts and all to the table, so that we are real people meeting other real people. We would bring our whole selves to God in love—heart, soul, mind and strength– and to others in love, also. These are the main requirements of living in the kingdom: whole people, bound by Christ in honor of him and of ourselves and each other, treating each other as trusted members of the family of God, each of us putting the kingdom and God first, each living out the purpose for which we were created.

There is only one leader in the kingdom and that is Christ. No one else has any power over anyone else. Everyone, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is second to him and not one cut above anyone else, not because of race or privilege or job or education or class; this is true humility—knowing your place in the kingdom.

The kingdom is not a perfect place filled with perfect people, it is a human place full of the human and the Divine, filled not with rule-followers, the Pharisees of the 21st century, but with people who are committed to expressing the love of God to all of his creation. [I am currently at work writing a book about the kingdom of God and hope to publish it later this year.] It is led by Christ and no one else. It is bound by the prayer life of all who put God first, by their experience of the Living God, by their alignment with his will, by their faithfulness to him.

So everyone has a say, an equal voice. No one has power over another person. And it matters not when any one person arrived in the kingdom. All receive the same blessing regardless of their length of service.

You’ll have noticed that I have blended the notion of the whole church of Jesus Christ with the kingdom of God and that is deliberate on my part. The true church of Christ is the kingdom of God. We have a long way to go to get there, but the first thing to do is to bring along as many “Christians” as possible so that they are living in the kingdom; out of that group is formed the true church.

For too long we Christians have depended on our beliefs to be enough, we have run our churches through human needs and demands; now is the time that we step into a full relationship with Christ, to live the Gospel, not just believe in it, as deeply and as faithfully, as willingly and with as much commitment as we can bring to the One who loves and welcomes us when we have truly turned towards him.

 

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Questions to ponder over the week: Am I more attached to my church , my denomination than to Christ himself? Do I follow Christ’s lead or must I follow my denomination’s dictates? Will I give myself permission to put God/Christ/Holy Spirit first in my life?

 

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You can also find me at twitter: https://twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams
Or on YouTube at www.youtube.com/results?search_query=by+the+waters+pat+adams
Or on my website at www.bythewaters.net

 

 

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