I saw this posted on a group I follow on Facebook. It’s important to understand the different roles of the Church vs. the Kingdom of God. Each serves a purpose and both are important. ~ Jay Rogers
From Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Rise of Christian Europe.
I think this is a lesson that Christians desperately need to understand, but on the whole will resist fiercely and for the most part simply stick their heads in the sand in our day as they mostly have done in the past. The Christian culture of today is church centred and for the most part Christian culture always has been. And, with the exception of a few periods of forward movement, it has been a monumental failure.
Whenever progress is made, it afterwards degenerates into stagnation and failure. And it is again in crisis. And it will always, following a time of reformation or progress, end up back in failure and crisis, because it is church centred,—it resists the Kingdom of God by substituting the Church for the Kingdom. The Church invests in itself but cannot easily change its orientation, and its social dominance in the Christian community and the institutions through which it exercises its dominance prevent others from securing power from within and changing things for the future. If things are to change and real progress is to be made therefore it will come from outside the guild mentality that is crippling the Church.
No form of Church organisation can solve our problems: not Presbyterianism, not Episcopalianism, not Congregationalism, or any variant of these. And this is because Christianity is not a church centred faith—at least not the biblical version. It is a Kingdom centred faith, a faith centred on God’s justice and making the nations the disciples of Christ. This is the command Jesus gave us. He did not command us to go Church planting, but Kingdom seeking. If we do that, all these other things will be given to us, including the Church.
Any organisation or Church or Christian mission that sees its goal as Church planting is simply idolatrous, because it replaces God’s priority with man’s priority, replaces the Kingdom with the Church. But God does not give his glory to others, and so the result is more crisis and failure. If you are involved in any kind of work or ministry that sees church planting as its goal you are involved in idolatry, and you need to repent, which means changing your mind, and as a consequence your actions.
The first priority of the Christian, no matter what walk of life he is engaged in, and the first propriety of the Church, and of all ministry and mission, and indeed of all work of any kind is, building the Kingdom of God and prioritising God’s righteousness, God’s justice. Only by pursing this will the nations be discipled to Christ. What then is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is a social order, and it is a social order that is meant to be manifested practically in the lives and societies of men and nations, in the world now.
Of course, the Church is an important institution in the Kingdom. But it is not the goal of the Kingdom, it is a servant. The last time I spoke to a clergyman about this issue he could not swallow the idea that the Kingdom is what we should seek first, not the Church. It just stuck in his throat, despite the fact that Jesus taught it so clearly, and this is powerful testimony to just how spiritually blinding this idolatry is. He could only say that we realise the Kingdom through the Church, which is really just another way of saying what churchmen have always said—the Church comes first (of course this myopic and unbiblical perspective means that the work and vocations of the vast majority of men, because they are not “ministers” in the Church, are without Christian meaning, and so they are told—as I have heard from two clergymen recently—that the most important thing they ever do in life is to be at the Church ritual every Sunday morning. In this perspective only the minister has a job that has any Christian meaning).
When the Church is put first in this way, the Kingdom is always neglected. We see this virtually everywhere. Churchmen do not want the Kingdom of God, at least not the real Kingdom, a Christian social order that takes root in men’s lives now and in the lives of the nations, in their social order—they are happy instead with a spiritualised version, pie in the sky when you die.
What they want is a Christian mystery cult that prioritises the Church’s Sunday rituals, and the ministries and interests of churchmen, not a faith that transforms society, that creates a Christian social order that transforms the world, that disciples nations. This is why so many Christians hate God’s law. It demands the sacrificing of their idols, what they have invested in. The future does not belong to those with their heads stuck in the past and in its failures, but to those who seek the Kingdom of God and his justice, and the conversion of the nations.
To seek the Kingdom first means to seek to manifest the Christian social order on earth in all the nations. It means converting nations, since it is the nations that are to be the disciples of Christ according to the Great Commission. The Church culture we have today is precisely the kind of hardened culture of vested interest committed to the past that Hugh Trevor-Roper speaks of. The future is the Kingdom of God, which may seem minuscule to the world, and even to Christians committed to the idolatry of the Church, but it will transform the world if we seek it first. But that will necessitate sacrifice. It will not be appealing to those who are invested in the past and in the world.
And this is why it is so unpopular in the Churches and with so many Christians. They want a Christianity that is a mere mystery cult, since this will not challenge their lives or the secular humanist social order they have invested their lives in. But the Kingdom of God challenges this, it demands a new, a different social order, one structured by God’s law, one that is covenantally faithful.