Seek the Kingdom and you’ll get the Church. Seek the Church, and you might miss the Kingdom.
If you’ve ever tried popping a tent, you know it takes work. A secure tent is not just strong poles & tough fabric. It needs good ground. What ground is the Church on today? Jesus did not tell us “Seek first the Church”, but instead “Seek first the Kingdom of God”. [Matthew 6.33] Jesus builds his Church on the good ground of his Kingdom. So what is the difference between the two? And why does it matter?
What is the difference between the Kingdom and the Church?
The Kingdom was Jesus’ message. [Mark 1:15] Everything leading up to Jesus in the Old Testament anticipated it. Jesus announced the Kingdom with his lips, affirmed it with his miracles, and inaugurated it with his death, resurrection, & ascension to the throne. The Kingdom is the pervasive rule & reign of King Jesus over all things. [Philippians 2:9-10]
The Church, on the other hand, is citizens of this Kingdom. Jesus said as much: “the Kingdom of God is within you all.” [Luke 17.21] By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, people enter into the eternal rule & reign of Jesus. One day, the Church will reign with Jesus! [2 Timothy 2.12] So the gospel isn’t just about forgiveness, but also participation. Entry into Jesus’ kingdom, yes, but also participating in Jesus’ kingdom now with righteousness and justice. [Psalm 89:14]
The Church That Forgets Jesus’ Kingdom Will Soon Make It’s Own
Without a stake in the ground of Jesus’ Kingdom, the Church has no good ground to build on. This is why the Kingdom matters to the Church. Without the King & the Kingdom, the Church is simply a group of religious people. This is a Church without the gospel. Church members can miss out on eternity with Jesus if they are not Kingdom citizens. When Jesus takes the throne, and people come to believe Him, together they become an outpost, a “colony of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”. [Russell Moore]
An American Church without stakes in the Kingdom will be more “American” than “Church”. Disconnected from the Kingdom of Jesus, an American Church will lack the Spirit of Jesus. Without the Spirit, the American Church projects & protects what America loves, not what Jesus loves.
And what does America love? We love enterprise, and we love politics. These things are not wrong, in and of themselves. In fact, free enterprise and political liberty are some of America’s greatest contributions to history. But the Kingdom of God must set the course for the priorities of the Church, not American exceptionalism.
The American Church Needs A New (Ancient) Foundation
The American Church is not an enterprise. It is not a business to be run in competition with Wall Street executives or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Jesus himself said, “you cannot serve God and money” This is mainly a word to my fellow pastors. In the words of John Piper, “we are not professionals”. What would an American Church look like freed from corporate models & a culture of enterprising consumerism?
The Church is also not a lever for political power. The Church is a Kingdom society within American society. Our witness begins first and foremost within the Church rippling outward. Too often, the Church has compromised it’s witness internally to gain power externally. This doesn’t mean we should not engage in the public square, but that we should do so without compromising our citizenship to the Kingdom. Which would you choose? Every broken Christian marriage in the American Church fully restored, or the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage repealed? Your answer to this question reveals whether you think the Church should care more about the American kingdom, than it’s responsibility to witness to Jesus’ kingdom within itself. This doesn’t close the Church off from the world however. Consider that if the American Church had rejected a gospel that left people as property, or rejected segregation in its midst, the countercultural witness & presence in the public square would have been a city on a hill to America.