The Rule Of Christ And The Kingdom Of God
This paper is based upon a talk given at one of the inaugural meetings of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit. The reason that this subject was high on the agenda when this fellowship began was that it gave us an opportunity to discuss a topic on which many Christians differ in today's church, and yet which all would agree remains of outstanding importance. Differences of opinion and emphasis emerged the discussion which followed the reading of the paper. However, all were agreed that our understanding of the kingdom of God should affect our understanding of how we live in and relate to this world, of how we evangelise, of the place of the church and, above all, of the sovereignty of God. This paper, therefore, seeks to stimulate thoughts and discussion on the subject but also reflection upon what difference our attitude to the kingdom makes to our daily service of the King.
These days there is a great need for a carefully considered proclamation of what some have called a 'biblical world and life view'. That is, we need to proclaim the rule of the King over every area of life. In order to do this, we need carefully to study the whole Bible. Here we can only skim the surface of that study, but we will have achieved our aim if further reading and thought about the practice of the Christian life is provoked. Because it is from within the biblical view of God's rule and sovereignty over this world that we as his people must seek to work out these implications for our day-to-day lives, we begin with an overview of the subject in the Old Testament.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
There are not very many references to the kingdom of God in the Old Testament. In fact there are only about six or eight texts that talk about it very clearly:
Yahweh has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19). They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and tell of thy power, to make known to the sons of men thy mighty deeds, and the glorious splendour of thy kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion is from generation to generation (Psalm 145:11-13).
Daniel 4, verse 3, is also interesting:
How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and his dominion is from generation to generation.
In these verses it is noticeable that kingdom is seen in terms of God's eternal dominion or rule over everything. It is not the geographical domain that we commonly think of as a kingdom. The whole stress of the context in each case is that everything, at all times and forever, is under God's rule. The world and all that is in it is under this rule. This is seen clearly in Psalm 22:
For dominion belongs to Yahweh, and he rules over the nations. Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down; before him shall bow down all who go down to the dust (vv 28-29).
Of course in many other places, especially in some of the psalms, Yahweh is addressed as King. The prophets and other parts of Scripture also use other themes which point towards the universality of the kingdom of God as his dominion over all that he has created.
However, when Yahweh is addressed as King, sometimes the references are specifically localized to the children of Israel. In this sense. God is King of Israel - he has a special relationship with his people.
This is part and parcel of God's covenantal working with Abraham, Moses and David. It is expressed in the covenant with Abraham in terms of God's ability to promise dominion to Abraham's offspring, and also in the eternal nature of that covenant. God's relations with his covenant people as King are seen in the Mosaic and Davidic covenants. He is King, therefore Israel should have no king, a point made in 1 Samuel 8 when the Israelites ask for a king. God says to them: "They have rejected me from being king over them.' The point is not that God no longer has dominion, but that he is not being acknowledged in his rule. The special covenantal relationship depended upon acknowledgement of God as the one true God and King - Yahweh ruling over all.
What is interesting here, yet is often misunderstood, is that God never ceased to have dominion even when the Israelites rejected him. What happened when they rejected their King was that the covenantal relationship was being spoiled. Again, the prophets enable us to see this. When Israel turned from acknowledging Yahweh as King, she was equated with Edom, Moab, and any other nation in the world. Her special relationship with God was disrupted, but God's rule was still over her and, in this case, was witnessed in terms of judgment, even in terms of exile.
While on this point, let me draw particular attention to two further aspects of this special relationship God had with Israel:
1) The Jewish insistence on monotheism is quite deliberately reflected in a truth repeated regularly in the Old Testament, that Yahweh's kingdom is over all that he has created. It was a lesson that the Israelites found hard to learn; it is a lesson that many Christians find hard to learn today. We tend to think that he is only King over us, or only King over the church, or will only be King when Christ comes again. But he is actually King over all.
2) Yahweh, as King over all, entered a special relationship with one group of people: the Israelites. The covenant did not make Yahweh King. He was that before the time of Moses or Abraham, but integral to the covenant stipulations and laws was the need to acknowledge the currently existing truth: 'Yahweh is King; we worship the one true God, and he has dominion over all.'
A third point to note before leaving the Old Testament is that increasingly, as God revealed more and more of his plans for his world and the redemption of his people, a future glorious kingdom was expected. Yahweh's kingship is eternal, and yet many texts begin to look for a full revealing of the King. Particularly in later prophecy this comes to the fore. But it is also there in Isaiah, chapters 24 to 27, and in the prophetic words of comfort in chapters 40 onwards.1 It is impossible to look at the great variety of prophecy involved. Some of it points to a golden age under the Davidic King, whilst other passages look right forward to an imperishable, everlasting salvation, after judgment on the nations, when a new heaven and a new earth will exist (Isaiah 60,65,66). In Isaiah 26:19 we even read of the resurrection of the dead. Here again, however, the end result is the establishing, for all to acknowledge, of the universal rule of God. It is a time when other nations will finally acknowledge the truth (Micah 4:lff).
It is not possible, on the basis of what we have seen, to talk in any meaningful sense of some people being 'inside' the kingdom and some 'outside'. It is possible to talk of being in or among those who acknowledge Yahweh's covenantal rule, and have a special relationship with their King.
This division is perhaps seen in the highly controversial passage in Daniel 7 (vv 9 ff) concerning the Son of Man. There God takes away from them whatever apparent dominion other rulers may have. All dominion and kingdom over all peoples, nations, and languages was given to the Son of Man (vv 13-14). If I understand the passage correctly, the saints of the Most High will share in that rule. In other words, the future realization of the kingdom is actually for the people to have a part in the rule itself. They will share in all the blessings reserved for those who acknowledge the kingdom (the rule of God). Part of this future expectation, therefore, also involves a final and total casting out of all who do not acknowledge
There is, then, a development in Hebrew thought about the final expectation, as God gradually reveals more and more of his purposes for his people. In the prophets there is the expectation of a day, not when God reigns for the first time but when he is acknowledged by all and when he judges evil, thus finally bringing everything and everyone who remains back into the full and perfect service of the King.
It is only with this developing background in mind that we can hope to understand Christ's own discussion of the kingdom. Christ's talk of the kingdom of God is not intelligible without the prior revelations of Yahweh's kingly rule and dominion. Christ comes in 'fulfilment' of that prior revelation. Christ comes in a manner that is based upon the great monotheistic confession that Yahweh is now King over all, but his coming is also based upon prophetic anticipation that the King, acknowledged by some, will come in a specially personal and definite way.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN INTERTESTAMENTAL TIMES
We have no time or space here to examine this body of literature, but it is important to note that 'kingdom of heavens' became a phrase used, although rarely so, to describe the rule of kingdom of God. Again it can refer both to a universal rule of God, and to the special covenantal relationship between Yahweh and those who acknowledge him as King. Under an increasing influence of Greek dualistic thought, some writers began to think of God's kingdom as revealed only in the heavens and not here on earth - a way of thinking that, as we have seen, is far from the thought of the Old Testament.
Generally, though, in writings like Enoch and the Psalms of Solomon, the kingdom of God is more and more closely related to the Messiah's coming, when the already existing universal rule of God will be revealed to all people.
Suffice it to say that two things can be noted from this period: i) there was still reference to the universal rule of God, and ii) dualistic thought was becoming evident - something which, as we shall see, is very common in the twentieth-century church.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
We must be careful not to take only one strand of Old Testament background when we seek to interpret the coming of Christ - a point made forcefully by Ridderbos.2 Because Christ and the New Testament writers also refer to a future kingdom, and to some 'inside' and some 'outside' the kingdom, we must be careful not to deny what is also present in the proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom of God: its present and universal reality and significance.
First let us begin by affirming that there is no ground for separating Matthew's favourite phrase, 'the kingdom of heaven', from his use, or the use in other gospels, of the term 'the kingdom of God'. Matthew's phrase is probably used in deference to his Jewish audience, who would have preferred not to mention the name of God.
Secondly, we must also be careful to note that, as in the Old Testament, 'kingdom of God' is not a realm; it is in fact God's rule - his dominion. The 'realm' in which God rules (if we can ever talk meaningfully of this when dealing with God who is omnipresent) is, in both the Old and New Testaments, heaven and earth. The kingdom of God is the kingly power and dominion that he has. It is very important that we understand this. If I may take some examples from those offered by G E Ladd,3 I think you will see what I mean.
When Jesus said that we must receive the kingdom of God as 'little children' (Mark 10:15), what did he really mean? Did he mean that we were to become like little children to enter the church or to get to heaven? Surely not. What we receive is God's rule. In order to receive eternal blessings in the presence of God, we 'must submit ourselves in perfect trust to God's rule here and now'.4
When we are told to seek God's kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) what is the object of our quest, asks Ladd. The church? Heaven? No, we are to seek God's righteousness - his sway, his rule, his reign in our lives.
When we pray 'Thy kingdom come', are we praying for heaven to come to earth? Primarily this is a prayer for God to manifest his kingly rule in the final routing of evil. (How sad it is that many pray this phrase quite regularly, but still do not believe in that final 'Day' when judgment will come and God's rule will be seen in all its glory.)
What we learn from a careful study of the Scriptures is that the kingdom is not synonymous with the church or with a place called heaven, but that it has to do with God's eternal and absolute authority and rule.
Matthew: the Gospel of the Kingdom of God
Matthew is perhaps especially the Gospel of the kingdom, and I now want to look briefly at the subject through his writing.
For Matthew, the kingdom of God, or of the heavens, had to do in various ways with God's rule. This was a rule acknowledged by some and not by others. It had to do with the working out of God's purposes for the world, and it had to do with the future.
The kingdom is so important in Matthew that there is no doubt that the demand for righteousness, for example in the Beatitudes, actually flows out of the proclamation of the kingdom of God. What does this mean? Simply that the 'Good News' of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; 9:35) is presented before the need for
repentance. Repentance is not, thereby, any the less important but only makes sense to people when they have first come to understand that they are under the rule of God. The 'Good News' (Gospel) is the news of the kingdom. When faced with this news of the rule and dominion and power and authority of God, men and women can make a response to the one about whom they have learned something. Repentance is the right response in the presence of the King.
Acknowledgement of Christ is, of course, part of the message of the kingdom, for the proclamation of the kingdom concerns telling people about the place of Christ in the structure of history and of God's dealings with mankind.
So what then does Matthew tell us about the kingdom? Let us ask again whether it is the church? The answer to that is a definite 'no'! The church is part of the kingdom, but it is not the essence of the kingdom.
Matthew tells us many things about the kingdom. It can be spoken of as present here on earth, and as future and coming in glory. It can be 'near at hand' and yet 'among' us. But we begin by referring to it as something which existed even before Christ's coming.
Continuity between Present and Past
This is where we find a great theme of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Consider the parable of the wicked husbandmen, who are only mentioned in Matthew 21 (vv 33ff). Tenants were given a vineyard to look after. When the owner sent his emissaries, they were killed. Finally the Son came, and he too was put to death. Then the owner came back, turned the tenants out of the vineyard, and had them put to death. 'Therefore', says Jesus in verse 43, 'I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.'
Whatever interpretation Jesus was giving to it here, the kingdom was in principle something that had existed prior to this point and concerned Israel, the people who had been given authority to work for the kingdom and to deal responsibly with it through proclamation and witness, and by living and acting according to its rules. These people had failed in their mission. They had actually rejected the authority of the King and his messengers, his ambassadors. Clearly Jesus expects us to understand this in terms of the rejection of his kingly word spoken through the prophets.
So there is continuity with the past. The kingdom was already an understandable concept when Jesus came, and, although he changed its focus, what Jesus proclaimed can be seen to be in line with Old Testament thought about the kingdom.
Something of this continuity is also seen in the healing of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:11-12). What does Jesus mean when he says that 'the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out'?5 Some have suggested that this phrase can only mean potential sons. It is a difficult point, because everywhere else, in the understanding of the New Testament, it seems that 'sons' are definitely "sons'! They are members of the inner chamber, as in Mark 2:9 ('the sons of the bridechamber').
'Sons of is a Semitic (Jewish) idiom which talks of relationship and dependence. It is not merely an opinion on the part of the individual that he or she is such a 'son' in a way that in fact bears no relationship to the truth. In other words, the use of 'son' means that this is what the person is. It is a certainty, not something that is simply potential. To talk of Old Testament people as 'sons of the kingdom' therefore poses a problem, because it means that they were just that. So we cannot interpret this verse as speaking of those Jews who thought of themselves as sons of the kingdom, only to discover that after all they were not! Rather the reference must be to the theocratic earthly kingdom of Israel. In other words they were real sons of the kingdom, as covenant members of the theocracy of Israel. Here the kingdom is being seen in terms of the special covenantal relationship with the King that we noted in the Old Testament texts.
This is all rather complicated, but it is very important to understand what Jesus indicates is happening here. He is saying something extremely radical: genuine and definite membership of the theocratic kingdom of Israel did not guarantee genuine and definite membership of the kingdom of the Messiah. In this sense, one type of kingdom gives way to another. In the words of Jesus it can quite legitimately be said, therefore, that the kingdom will be taken away from one group and given to another (Matthew 21:43).
Yes, there is continuity, but there is also a radical discontinuity in the people involved, and a quite incredible understanding that now even Gentiles, like the centurion, could be included as the sons of the kingdom - as those who receive a share in the rule of the saints of the Most High, acknowledge the true King, and are in a special relationship with him.
Kingdom of the Present and the Future
The main emphasis in Matthew is on a future completion or consummation of the kingdom and some of these verses remind us of the apocalyptic 'Son of Man' texts. But very few of the texts can be said to have an exclusively futuristic application. In Matthew 8:11 we find Abraham and others having a secure place and Gentiles also being drawn in, at a time which is clearly subsequent to the resurrection of the dead and part and parcel of the final judgment. Matthew 25 (vv 31ff) also expresses the future-ness of the kingdom. Here, connected to one of the Son of Man sayings, the final consummation of the kingdom in all its future glory is in view.
However, when we look elsewhere at the many references to the kingdom, although there is regularly a future aspect, there is also something fundamentally 'now' about the concept. In Matthew 24:30 we have a future 'Son of Man" saying, but the present constitution of the kingdom is also in view, because this Son of Man is not creating something entirely new - rather he is coming to collect his elect.
One other parable which needs comment is that of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13. It is not about the church and the world, but concerns the relationship between the kingdom, viewed in its general sense, and God. There are those who acknowledge God's kingdom and those who do not. The kingdom - the field - contains both. At the harvest there will be a sorting out, when it will be seen that what appeared as virtually irrelevant to many - the rule of God - is in fact all-encompassing. That which was so small in terms of those who acknowledged it, will be revealed as vast. That which apparently had such a small beginning with Christ's work among the disciples, will end with the massive revelation of truth. The kingdom is present now both in its general sense and in its specific sense.
The specific sense in the New Testament is often seen in terms of salvation for the elect. The Messiah, son of David, is King and has come to save. Although we cannot enter into the subject here, we find the same thing with salvation as with the kingdom. It is here now in Christ, but it is also future.
Matthew wrote at a time when the kingdom was in a real sense already here. The 'last days' had already arrived. Of course, the presence of the kingdom is now bound up with the work of the church, and Matthew's is the only gospel to spell out carefully some of the implications of this.
Let us be very careful to understand that this is not in any way to suggest that the church and the kingdom are the same thing. If they were, then the kingdom would, for most of us, be a very imperfect and rather disappointing thing.
In the church, there is to be a manifestation of the kingdom, that is, of the rule of God. In the church there is to be seen an acknowledgement of the fact that God rules. Here is the sphere of the covenant relationship. In Matthew 16:18-19, Peter is given a prominent place in this. He exercises an authority in the kingdom and on earth. He has the keys to the kingdom: to the covenant rule of God; to God's
salvation. Peter and his confession, and his particular task of bringing the new covenant Gospel to the world, are seen in terms of the administration of the kingdom here on earth. The church demonstrates on earth now the presence of kingdom decisions and kingdom living: that is, living under the rule of God, what is involved, and what the king wants of his people. Its business is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, that the King is Jesus Christ, and that history is progressing towards a great climax of his return in glory.
Its business is to proclaim the need for repentance and acknowledgement of this kingdom before it is too late. Its task is to show clearly to the world that this good news carries with it bad news for those who fail to respond. When the Son of Man returns finally and fully to establish his rule, he will have power not only over his elect, over his faithful people, but he will also cast out those who have not acknowledged him as King and Lord.
In one sense, then, the future-ness is not something new. Rather it is the glorious revelation of the truth, both universally and specifically, in covenant blessings. However, the presence of the kingdom is to be found supremely in the person of Jesus himself and his mission as Matthew describes it.
In the synagogue Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2 and says that this is fulfilled today. When John the Baptist wants to know whether Christ is really the coming one, Jesus responds by saying that he is even now fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6 (Matthew 11:2-6).
In Matthew 12:28 we read that demons were cast out. This is proof of the presence of the kingdom of God. This sort of text shows very clearly that Christ is talking about 'rule': the rule of God. Some scholars have tried to argue that the Greek word for 'has come' really implies that it is nearby. But just as in English 'has come' does not mean 'nearly come', so in Greek this is virtually an impossible understanding of the text.
So what is present? It is not the final coming in glory. As we have seen, Jesus regards that as future and as a coming of the Son of Man which is distinct from his present earthly position. What is present is an actual working of God's rule. The kingly power of God is not just a confession of faith, but is seen to be at work in the present in Christ's actions. In Jesus, the kingdom of God is seen in its power, and in its ability to overcome even areas where Satan apparently rules. The kingdom in this case, as in every other case, cannot be limited to the church. There is 'kingdom' even in an area previously regarded as the special territory of Satan.
The Old Testament teaching of the kingdom is now being clearly revealed. Just as men and women of faith in the Old Testament saw God's rule over every area of life and not just over the small territory of Israel, Jesus was demonstrating quite clearly that, as the king, he does have power in every area of life, including over those demons. But Jesus' presence was temporary, and the manifestation of that eternal truth of God's kingdom was limited to just a relatively few exorcisms and healings. The full manifestation has yet to come. But it is with us now. Of course Satan still has a certain limited freedom to do as he wills, but in principle we have already seen the reality of the kingdom in our world today. Jesus has broken the work of Satan (Matthew 12:9). Satan is bound.
The presence of Jesus, even with his power, continues in this age in which we now live, through the Holy Spirit, and this comes out in John's gospel more clearly. This is where the church fits the picture in Matthew. For it is in the church that the power and the works and the words of Jesus are proclaimed. In other words the church is the very special place in which is shown the rule of God. Here is an area, a group of people, who acknowledge the truth about the world and its history: God rules and man is to obey.
Does this mean that the church, or the Christians in the church, constitute the kingdom? Absolutely not. They are the King's subjects who reveal the truth about the King's rule. There are other subjects of this King, just as there were in the Old Testament, who do not acknowledge the King. They will not inherit the kingdom's blessings, the blessings that go with living in accordance with the rule of God, the sort of blessings outlined in the Beatitudes. But they will stand under the judgment of the King who will cast them out and destroy them.
The church experiences and acknowledges the rule of God. The church's duty is to proclaim the news of the rule of God, of which it has personal experience through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. This is good news to those who respond, but terrible for those who refuse to acknowledge the Lord.
The question for us, as twentieth-century Christians who acknowledge the kingly dominion and sovereignty of God over every area of life, is:
How Do We Proclaim It?
The essence of biblical thought has always been that we proclaim it precisely in every area of life. We live it and speak it. We proclaim it through evangelism, through seeking the conversion of many so that they may come into the covenantal blessings of the King. But we also proclaim it by seeking to bring every area of life
in which we have any say at all into obedience to the rule of God. We are to be the salt of the earth and that means what it says: we are so to cause the law of God to be obeyed, that his universal rule will be felt and tasted by all people - even those who do not acknowledge him. This, specifically, is what we must now address.
A REFORMED WORLD AND LIFE VIEW
It has generally been the case that theologians within the Reformation tradition have strongly emphasised the kingdom of God. They have done this, I believe, because they have tried to be straightforward with the Scriptures, and above all they have recognized the rule of God as sovereign over the whole earth. Unlike some Roman Catholic thought, the church has not been equated with the kingdom of God. Unlike some strands of evangelical thought, 'heaven' has not been equated with the kingdom of God.
Rather there has been a stress on the wholeness and all-encompassing nature of the kingdom. Under Calvin and the continental Reformers, a theology was developed very quickly which we may well describe as 'holistic'. Just as we have seen that the kingdom describes God's rule and authority in every area of life, so it came to be understood that the preaching of the good news of the kingdom involved speaking to every area of life.
Time and again Reformed theology down through the ages has had to challenge a dualistic Christianity which basically owes more to Greek thought than to biblical thought. For those of us in the Fellowship of Word and Spirit, here is the heart of our thinking. Here lies our desire to work in the late twentieth century, but here also lies much of our distinctiveness as a group.
As we have seen, the biblical view of the kingdom is not dualistic. It does not teach that the kingdom is to be found in some other-worldly sphere, whether it be the church or heaven itself. It stresses God's rule and action in every area of life. The Bible does not preach the good news of the conversion of some redeemable spirit as opposed to irredeemable flesh or body. That is Greek dualism, and Jewish and biblical thought never speak that way. Certainly the good news of the kingdom means that Christ is to come again, that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that we shall be raised with incorruptible bodies. But this is not dualism; this is not on two separate levels of spiritual and non-spiritual existence. Spiritual existence is also to be enjoyed now 'in Christ': not in all the glorious fulness of the time after the resurrection but, nevertheless, truly spiritual as Christ's Spirit himself dwells in us. Equally, bodily existence is to be enjoyed in the future for, as Christ was raised bodily, so shall we be. This is not dualism: this is 'whole person' (monistic) theology. The Gospel message must also, therefore, address the whole person, spirit and body. People must be shown that Christ does reign, and rightly makes demands of every area of life, for he rules over everything.
So what are the implications for a holistic theology of the kingdom of God?
1) We must be totally committed to the sovereignty of God - that has already been stated.
2) Every area of life (and there are no exceptions) in which men and women are involved may be used either for the promotion of the ways of darkness and Satan or for the kingdom of light - the kingdom of God. This is fundamentally an acknowledgement of the fact that the King created all that we have around us.
3) Closely linked to this understanding, that every area of life must be brought into obedience to the kingdom of God, is the emphasis found in Reformed theology on the 'cultural mandate'.
A Cultural Mandate
This idea of the cultural mandate looks back to the commands that God gives to men and women concerning how they are to subdue the earth and use it to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever.’6 It recognizes, for example, that culture itself need not be regarded (as in much traditional pietistic evangelical theology) as essentially evil, or at least essentially negative. Rather culture, like the rest of creation, was created 'good'. It was not simply introduced to keep the Fall within bounds. In that people do not acknowledge the rule of God we may expect them to distort this area of life through their sin, just as much as any other area, but it is the Bible-believing Christian's responsibility to cause that culture to be conformed to scriptural principles - to acknowledge the rule of God.
The Lausanne Covenant has been criticized by many evangelicals (and perhaps if we look behind the scenes there may be some reason for that) but, on the whole, under the influence of a number of Reformed theologians like, for example, Francis Schaeffer, the original work of that congress picked up some of these issues well. In that covenant there is an interesting assertion that no one culture, as we know it, is presupposed to be superior, 7 but that each will vary, depending upon where and in what age God has placed men and women. All cultures must therefore be evaluated biblically. Obviously this is a particularly difficult task, especially for those who have grown up seriously believing that we live in a Christian culture. It means stepping back from our culture and evaluating it without the usual prejudices which we shall all feel in favour of certain aspects of our background. The problems involved in this evaluation are immense.
Have I moved too far from what I was saying about the kingdom of God? I think not. We are here on earth and we are within the kingdom of God, in both the general and the particular senses. We are generally under God's rule and we are in the specific covenantal relationship with the King. It is, therefore, our duty to proclaim what the King wants of his creation in every area of life. Yes, we must work hard for new converts. We must, with the Spirit's help, work towards seeing more and more people acknowledging the King in their own lives, and repenting of their sin before him. But we must also recognize that God's rule extends over all his creation and we must speak to all these areas of life.
Towards Discussion and Application
For the sake of provoking discussion let me say that if we really believe the Bible when it says that if a man will not work he shall not eat, then part of the proclamation of God's rule in which we find ourselves involved must include a biblical attitude to work and the providing of jobs. Reformed theology at its best has always taught this. Possibly in the light of the 'modernist' or 'social gospel' theology of this century, many evangelical Christians would even now say that I am illegitimately embarking on 'polities'. Such a reaction is understandable. Both modernism and contemporary forms of the social gospel are, at best, reductionist in their presentation of biblical truth, but we cannot allow ourselves also to be forced into a reductionist position. We must not be tempted to reduce the presentation of the kingdom of God from a full-orbed. God-affirming, creation-affirming call for obedience in every area of life, to a solely individualistic appeal for salvation of a person's 'spirit'.
Difficult as it may be, we must acknowledge that culture (such as education, arts and literature) and politics (structures and rules developed to facilitate coexistence) are produced by sinful men and women. To suggest that these areas are not to be addressed by us is to be dualistic in the worst Greek sense. It is to suggest that the salvation of the individual's spirit is all that the kingdom of God is about.
In fact we are to be, like Christ, a light to the Gentiles. We are to strive to see justice and righteousness introduced in every area of life, because that is what God wants. We are to strive to introduce the world to 'God thoughts', to God's expectations of how the lives of all human beings should be run and structured. To ignore the culture of our day and not to present a positive Christian alternative, is to believe that the Gospel we proclaim only speaks to one or two areas of life rather than every area.
Calvin's Geneva may not work today, and it had all sorts of problems in its own day, but we would do well to note that in a time of extreme unemployment and poverty, when the kingdom of God was taken seriously then employment was created, the poor and orphans were taken care of, a minimum wage was introduced, and even a centralized sewage system was introduced for the first time in Europe. Why? Because they firmly believed that the kingdom of God addressed every area of life - nothing was excluded.
In a different period, for a different culture. Reformed biblical theology has other things to say. At the turn of the century in Holland, Abraham Kuyper addressed the situation in his country and had such an effect that even today that small country gives more of its gross domestic product to the third world than any other country in the world. Christians can send their children to good schools which teach Christianity (at the expense of the taxpayer), rather than remain limited, as we are, to the education system where basically only a humanistic scheme is available to the normal child.
I have deliberately introduced controversial issues. I would never expect everyone to agree with all that I have said. Certainly I am not advocating a 'Calvinistic' or 'Kuyperian' England, but I am trying to force us all to think about what applied biblical theology might mean in our society.
We preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God. It must be the whole Gospel and not just part of it.
Two Ways (of many) in Which We Can Fail
Typically there are two ways of erring in this proclamation. Sadly, I believe both types of failure are to be found in different parts of the evangelical camp.
Firstly, some evangelicals are far from 'holistic', for they emphasize the need for redemption of structures and political systems without acknowledging the need for individual repentance by sinful men and women, and the need for each individual to acknowledge God's rule through Christ, in their own lives. That is not 'holistic'.
Secondly, others emphasize individual salvation and neglect any further consideration of that individual's cultural and societal relationships.
Typical of the former group are those evangelicals who seem to spend most of their time as ministers of the Gospel speaking of the need to reform structures and criticizing governments without ever a mention (when finally they get media time) of the need for individuals to look to Christ in repentance and for eternal life. Representative of the latter was the German pietist movement, and others we would call pietists. Much of modem evangelical Anglicanism remains in this camp. There is, of course, nothing wrong in attempting, with the Spirit's help, to be as pious as we can before God. Indeed, God calls us to holiness and to a life of prayer and meditation on his Word. The problem arises when we do not use that relationship with the Lord as a basis for getting embroiled in the world in which God has called us to work.
What, then, is the Fellowship of Word and Spirit about? We would like to be known for at least trying to present a truly biblical and Reformed 'holistic' theology. No doubt we shall fail time and again.
We are committed to the proclamation of the rule and kingdom of God, and the need for individuals to acknowledge that rule through Christ the King.
We are also committed to an educated church; one which then goes on to continue the proclamation in all its fulness; one that is not dualistic and pietistic in a wrong or exclusive sense but which prepares men and women to stay in the world; one which will seek to help them reform culture and their environment in a biblical way.
Such work will give temporary blessings even to those who do not acknowledge the King. In the words of Hebrews, perhaps people out there in the world will even get a taste of the work of the Holy Spirit. They will taste the true kingdom, and with the Spirit's regenerating work we pray that they will come to acknowledge Christ. If they do not, then the work of the kingdom serves to reinforce their final condemnation.
Finally, let me apply this more broadly. There is a tremendous attraction these days in Islam, Marxism and even the 'New Age' philosophies. Many evangelicals have failed to understand why this is so. I believe that at least one rather simple fact contributes to the appeal of such philosophies. These great world-embracing philosophies have a full world-and-life view. They have their views on art, on politics, and on a person's role in society. They address every single area of life - and people want that. How much more then should we who have the truth be offering a full proclamation of that truth. We must go ahead as a group stressing not a dualistic view of the person - not a view that divides earthly existence now from an awaited salvation of the 'spirit' - but a view in which we urge that people be converted to Christ, that they then remain in that situation and that they are seen to bring those cultural, economic, and even political structures around them more and more into line with God's revealed will.
Such a person's faith will not lead him simply to a position in which his soul communes with the Lord, like some medieval mystic who has left the world behind, but, feeding on that vital personal communion with the Lord, his or her whole life will be aimed at bringing to bear the rule and will of God in every area of life with which he or she is in contact. Truly we shall be the salt of the earth.
Paul Gardner, the author of this booklet, used to teach New Testament at Oak Hill College, London. He studied at King's College, London and at Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi, USA, before training for the ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Ordained in 1980, he served in Cambridge before moving to Oak Hill in 1983.He is now senior pastor at a Presbyterian church in Atlanta.
1 We recognise that the dating of Isaiah is debated by scholars today, but here an early (eighth century) dating is assumed - a position which is taken because it appears to be the one proposed by the book itself, but also because other suggestions of dating are, in our opinion, ultimately lacking conviction.
2 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom(Presbyterian Reformed Publishing Co., New Jersey, 1962).
3 G E Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom(Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1959).
4 Ibid., p21.
5 The phrase 'sons of the kingdom' is used again in Matthew 13:38.
6 Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.
7 Lausanne Covenant (1974), para. 10.