THE CHURCH; THE KINGDOM; RELIGION
Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Christianity is composed of three main segments: the Church, the Kingdom of God, and the Christian religion. Most of us are acquainted with the Christian religion. We may not be as clear concerning the one true Church or the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Table of Contents
THE CHURCH; THE KINGDOM; RELIGION
He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. (Matthew 13:11)
The original gospel was the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is what John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus preached. It also is what the Apostles of Christ preached.
It appears that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, or of Heaven as Matthew terms it, has largely disappeared from Christian thinking. In its place has come an unscriptural emphasis on living forever in Heaven; making Heaven our eternal home.
I suppose the stress on escaping Hell (certainly not a New Testament emphasis) and going to Heaven after we die arose in the early days of the Church. The idea of living a good life and then going to our reward, or living an evil life and being punished after we die, is such a part of many other religions that Christianity succumbed to this common understanding of God and human life.
The New Testament does mention Hell, the Lake of Fire, and the outer darkness. These are genuine destinies of wicked people and they are to be feared. But no one could claim these places are the emphasis of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul does not mention Hell, the Lake of Fire, or the outer darkness, which he certainly would have if avoiding these were the main points of the apostolic message.
The idea of making our eternal home in Heaven is not mentioned in the New Testament. This is pure tradition with no scriptural support.
What, then, does the New Testament emphasize? It stresses primarily eternal life, and inheriting the Kingdom of God. Eternal life does not refer to living forever in Heaven. Rather, eternal life is the intimate knowledge of God and Christ and a life lived in perfect unity and interaction with Them. The idea is not longevity but a quality of life. Also, eternal life has nothing to do with being in a place, such as Heaven or Paradise. Eternal life is another name for the Holy Spirit.
Eternal life is a kind of life and is distinguished from flesh and blood life.
Neither eternal life nor the Kingdom of God are places where we will go. Rather, they are changes in our personality. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God has to do with a change in what we are, although there will come a time in the future when the members of the saved nations will be able to go up to the Kingdom of God, whose center will be found in the holy city, the new Jerusalem.
In order to discuss the Kingdom of God I thought it wise to define the Church and religion as well as I can. If we can think clearly about the one true Church, and the two types of religion, then I believe the Kingdom of God will be revealed in a clearer light.
The true Church is the Body of Christ, the Wife of the Lamb. The greater part is in Heaven with God in the present hour, the remainder being on the earth.
While we may refer to a local assembly as a church, or even the building where the saints assemble, most of us understand that there is only one true Church. The true Church comprises every individual who is dwelling in Christ and is part of Christ, regardless of any organizational affiliation. I think all genuine Christians would agree to this definition.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one SpiritCjust as you were called to one hope when you were calledCone Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
Why, then, are there a thousand competing denominations? These have arisen because of man-directed religion, which we will discuss later.
By the time God is finished the Church will be perfect.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
The passage above tells us two things.
First, the Church is not made holy by imputation (ascribed holiness) but by being washed with water through the Word. Continually hearing and obeying the Word of God cleanses us from all sin and rebellion. We become clean through the Word that Christ speaks to us.
Second, the Church eventually shall be holy and blameless. This is no idle dream but the very Word of Almighty God. The same God who created the heavenly galaxies has enough power to create a blameless Church.
While today's doctrine of imputed righteousness may be intended to assure sinners of salvation, it has become so bloated that the necessary actions of sanctification have been removed from Gospel preaching. The result is millions of believers who have been deceived into thinking they are perfect through Christ when the actual truth is they are clothed in threadbare garments, having little or no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
It is obvious that no religious organization can claim to be the one true Church, in that most if not all of its members are quite imperfect. There shall come a day when the true Church is brought into one Divine whole, but that has not occurred as yet.
The Scripture portrays the perfected Church.
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:9)
The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb, is the glorified Christian Church. She has been perfected and now is ready to come down through the new sky to be established forever on the new earth.
Is the new Jerusalem the Church or the Kingdom of God? She is the Church, and the Kingdom of God is in her. We will explain as we go along.
The above paragraphs may be sufficient to provide an outline of what we mean by "the Church." It is not a building. It is not a local assembly. It is the one true Body of Christ, the Wife of the Lamb.
The Church is not made up of flesh and blood people but of people who have been changed into new creations. They are new creations because they have learned to live by the body and blood of Christ, just as Christ lives by the Father.
Christ will not marry flesh and blood. Christ will marry only that which has proceeded from His own Divine Nature.
We must be born again if we would become part of the one true Church, the Kingdom of God. We must be born of man, and then born once more, this time of God.
The original gospel was the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was preached by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostles of the Lamb.
The true Gospel has been buried under the Christian traditions. The Gospel of the Kingdom has been changed to the gospel of going to Heaven when we die.
The gospel of going to Heaven when we die is so deeply entrenched in Christian thinking (in fact, in the thinking of most people on the earth, perhaps) that it will take an act of God to bring us back to the New Testament.
We may pray that God's Kingdom come, His will be done in earth as it is in Heaven, but we do not believe what we are praying. We pray for God's Kingdom to come to earth and then preach about going to Heaven to make our eternal home there. Such inconsistency will not stand up during the age of moral horrors that is quickly coming upon us.
Almost every parable of Christ concerns the Kingdom of God. There is no parable about going to Heaven. The Kingdom of God is never shown to be a place where we go but is pictured as being a seed, or a realm of authority.
The clearest statement we can make about the Kingdom of God is that it is Christ Himself. Christ is not only the King of the Kingdom, He Himself is the Kingdom.
Christ Himself is eternal Life. Christ Himself is the Resurrection. Christ Himself is the Truth. Christ Himself is everything of worth in the universe.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have eternal life.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have the resurrection.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have the truth.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have redemption.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have the Kingdom of God.
To the extent that we have Christ, we have God.
The Apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, while he was in prison, showed us the Way. Perhaps the following verses, more than any other passage, state the driving passion of Paul. And since Paul goes on to exhort as many as are perfect to be thus minded, perhaps we should be thus minded.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7,8)
What an extraordinary outburst of zeal!
Paul was an older, seasoned veteran of the cross when he wrote the above words. Also, he was imprisoned in the barracks of the Praetorian Guard in Rome.
Paul's statement here runs absolutely counter to modern Christian preaching.
Paul realized that everything desirable is in Christnowhere else!
Paul sought above all else to know Christ. To know Christ! And this toward the end of his life!
How poverty stricken, how threadbare, how weak, how devoid of the Gospel of the Kingdom, does our current teaching appear when placed alongside Paul's striving to know Christ!
"Take the four steps of salvation and now you are saved. Go and tell others how easy it is to go to Heaven."
What destructive deception!
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God has to do with coming to know Christ. It requires a lifetime of patient cross-carrying obedience before we begin to approach the knowledge of Him who is Everything of value in the universe.
There is a practical difference between believing the gospel of going to Heaven when we die, and entering the Kingdom of God.
If our hope is to use Christ as a ticket to escape Hell and enter Heaven when we die, we are going to trust in grace and mercy and wait until we die to achieve our objective.
If, however, our hope is to enter the Kingdom of God, then every day of our life we will be endeavoring to know and gain Christ. We will walk in the Spirit of God, confessing, denouncing, and renouncing our sins as the Spirit points them out to us. We will spend time in prayer, seeking to become ever more conscious of our position in the heavenlies in Christ at the right hand of God.
We will cry out to God for iron righteousness, fiery holiness, and stern obedience in our personality. We will nourish the Divine Seed of the Kingdom that has been conceived in us.
We will count everything we have attained in life as rubbish, and set all aside that we may come to a fuller knowledge of Christ.
Our goal is not to go to Heaven, it is to be filled with Christ, to know Christ, to gain Christ, to abide in Christ as He abides in the Father.
Anything less than this is not the true Christian life, it is only man-directed religion.
And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christthe righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:9)
Some Christians, finding little substance in Christian teaching, are returning to parts of the Law of Moses. They hope to obtain righteousness by keeping the Law of Moses.
Paul's determination was to avoid the self-righteousness that comes from observing any part of the Law of Moses.
Paul wanted only the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith in Christ.
This does not mean, as is preached today, that if we "believe in Christ" we can ignore the commandments issued by Christ and His Apostles. It means that when we pursue Christ diligently every day, doing what He commanded, God will count us righteous even though we are ignoring the Law of Moses.
We understand that Paul is not referring at this point to a simple acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ as being righteousness, because such a viewpoint is contrary to the very words of Christ Himself. Jesus is not pleased when we call Him Lord and do not do what He commands. This is a sign that we do not love Him.
Rather it means, as we note from the context, that the pursuit of righteousness requires a terrific determination to be totally joined to Christ in every aspect of our personality and behavior.
Note this fact as we continue:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10,11)
In order to enter the Kingdom of God we must submit to death to the world, death to the lusts of our flesh, and death to our self-will. The Holy Spirit will lead us in putting to death our behavior in each of these three areas.
As we are willing to be brought down to death we are raised up by the Life of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, which is being formed in us. In this manner we attain to the resurrection from the dead.
What does it mean to attain to the resurrection from the dead? It means to keep pressing forward and upward toward our life that is hidden in Christ in God.
We are to keep placing our thoughts, affections, and imaginations on Christ and God, on the things of Heaven.
The things of earth seek continually to pull us down to material concerns. People and things will take our crown of life and righteousness if we permit them to do so. We keep pressing on, pressing on, pressing on that we might gain the fullness of Him who Himself is the Resurrection.
Then, when the Lord appears from Heaven, if we have previously passed on and are in the spirit realm with Him, it will be a normal, natural next step to return with the Lord, pick up our dead body from the ground, and then be clothed with our house from Heaven, which was created during our lives by sowing our earthly body to the death of the cross.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
The above passage tells us how to enter the Kingdom of God. It is by each day forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. Now we have to make a diligent effort every day to press into the Kingdom of God.
We can see immediately the paralyzing effect the current teaching of grace-Heaven-rapture has on the new believer. He is presented with the idea of escaping trouble by "accepting Christ." He is not challenged to lay all else aside, deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ diligently at all times.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10)
The above is another way of stating that the Kingdom of God (which is Christ, the eternal Word of God) is within us. The Holy Spirit is ready to write God's laws in our mind, so we will understand it, and in our heart, so we will choose to obey it. We are referring here to the eternal moral law of God, of which the Ten Commandments are an abridged version.
When God's Kingdom comes to earth in a Christian, God's will is done in the earth. The Kingdom is the rule of God through Christ. As the Kingdom enters our personality, sin is driven from us.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Paul is speaking here of inheriting or not inheriting the Kingdom of God. Those who practice the acts of the sinful nature will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This is because the Kingdom of God is the doing of God's will, so sin is not permitted.
As Christ, the Kingdom, grows in us, sin is driven from our personality.
Because of the false gospel of grace-Heaven-rapture, Paul's words in Galatians have become incompetent, immaterial, and irrelevant. They make no sense. I suppose Christian scholars must believe that Paul is not addressing the Galatian saints at this point, or else they must believe that true Christians do not sin.
In fact, I do not understand how they get around this and similar passages in the New Testament, and yet profess to believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures!
There is an external dimension of the Kingdom of God.
You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:28-30)
The Lord Jesus Christ is creating His Throne, His Kingdom, in the one true Church. When His Kingdom has been created in His Church, then the Church will govern the saved nations of the earth. This arrangement is portrayed as the new Jerusalem comes down through the new sky to be located forever on the new earth. The saved nations will walk in the moral light coming from the Church, from the saints in whom the Kingdom of God has been perfected.
Our religion is our beliefs, values, and practices. The Church and the Kingdom of God are somewhat abstract until we advance in Christ. Our religion is more familiar to us. The purpose of our earthly religious practices is to make us a member of the unblemished Church and to fill us with Christ, with the Kingdom of God.
God-ordained religion. God has ordained religious practices so we would have things we can do until we advance to our position in the one true Church, and the Kingdom of God has been formed in us.
There are numerous exhortations in the New Testament that bear directly on our conduct in our local religious organization.
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (I Timothy 3:14,15)
The gifts and ministries given to the members of the Body of Christ are religious practices. All of our worship programs, as well as our preaching, are religious practices.
However, it appears to be extremely difficult for people to wait on the Lord to the extent that all of our religious practices are ordained of Him. Our sinful nature being what it is, we soon have changed from God-ordained religious practices to man-directed religious practices.
Man-directed religion. There is no greater enemy of Christ on the earth than man-directed Christianity. It always will slay the prophets.
The leaders of man-directed Christianity will pray, and ask others to pray, that God will help them in their efforts. But after they have prayed they arise and engage in political craftiness and various schemes so they might accomplish what they believe to be the will of Christ.
What Christian denomination waits on God until it knows precisely what the Lord wants, and then moves forward cautiously and prayerfully so that every effort might be guided by the Holy Spirit? Yet, this is the only religious activity God ordains.
Satan loves religious activity. He seeks out self-serving people who desire to be preeminent. Soon they are highly placed in the organization. Most of the members follow their leadership somewhat blindly, although there will be a few Annas and Simeons who are appalled by some of the things that are said and done.
It appears that a denomination may commence with the purest of motives. It is not too long, however, before many of the leaders are going their own way without Christ. They are loyal to their denomination and support it in every way. But they would never understand the desire of Paul to count all as rubbish that they might come to know Jesus Christ.
The Bible portrayal of man-directed Christianity is found in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of the Book of Revelation. In these two chapters man-directed Christianity is given the name "Babylon."
After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants." And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever." (Revelation 19:1-3)
Babylon and her daughters are prostitutes. That is, they sell their favors to the world in the hope of gaining power and prestige.
There are only two cities worth mentioning, Jerusalem and Babylon. Jerusalem is the city of God. Babylon is the city of man-directed religion.
The original Babylon built a tower in order to define its identity, to consolidate its strength. One can notice this tendency in any Christian organization. It may say it believes in the oneness of the Church, but it certainly pays a great deal of attention to its own aggrandizement.
I think most denominations commence as God-ordained religion. But because of the sinful nature of people they rapidly devolve into man-directed religion. Soon Satan enters, and instead of having a loving group of fervent saints we have a large congregation of sinning church-attendees, most of whom have never met Jesus Christ.
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. (II Corinthians 12:20,21)
The above scarcely resembles the Church without blemish of any kind. Yet a similar situation can be found in numerous Christian assemblies. Why? Because their doctrine and practices are man-directed rather than God ordained.
The unbelievable part is that such people are awaiting with joyful expectation a "rapture" to carry them up to the Presence of God while in this deplorable moral condition.
I am not suggesting that the true saints flee from their various religious organizations. They would only create another Babylon by so doing. We must wait, pray, and serve God while in Babylon until Christ clearly shows us to do differently.
One of the symptoms of man-directed religion is the almost exclusive emphasis on numbers, where a congregations success is measured by its size. Bigness and wealth is highly esteemed in man-directed religion.
In fact, the Great Commission is changed from going forth and making disciples, instructing them to keep Christ's commandments, to going forth and getting souls saved, and building ever-larger churches.
These may appear to be one and the same. They are not! The effort to gather numerous people into one's organization requires the toning down of the demands of discipleship.
The striving for numbers is not for the love of Christ, or for the love of people, but a desire to be popular.
God-ordained religion seldom places an emphasis on large numbers of people. Sometimes the Lord moves in such a manner that thousands of people respond to the Gospel. But the Lord is just as pleased with a handful of disciples. The only truly important criterion of success is the faithfulness of the minister in performing the Lord's will.
We ought to make an effort to do away with the emphasis on numbers of people as the criterion of "success." All we succeed in doing is bringing into the assemblings a "mixed multitude" of people whose presence dilutes the effectiveness of the gathering. By this I mean the Presence of God is not sufficient to produce the all-important (from the Church and Kingdom viewpoint) growth to maturity of the saints.
I know from experience how the preceding paragraph will be scorned by man-directed religionists, but I don't think it will be scorned by the Lord Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is a Seed, the Seed that is Christ. It is one matter to sow the Seed of the Kingdom, the Seed falling where it may.
He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." (Mark 4:26,27)
It is quite another matter to strategize a program designed to induce as many people as possible to "make a profession of faith in Christ."
Man-directed religion seems to have a real problem with contenting itself to sow the Seed of the Kingdom. Such a procedure does not lend itself to an organization that is seeking to build up a membership, but it is the way of God-ordained religion.
I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. (Revelation 17:6)
There is no need to be astonished. As I stated previously, man-directed religion always will murder the prophets of the Lord.
Why is this? It is because of envy. The leaders of Israel, those who were man-directed instead of God-ordained, sought to be preeminent. When they saw Jesus, the most God-ordained of all men, they wanted to do away with Him.
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard the words of the God-ordained Stephen, they stoned him to death.
Diotrophes, who loved the preeminence, refused to permit the Apostle John to visit the assembly.
I read somewhere that certain rabbis decided the elder was greater than the prophet. They determined this from the fact that the prophet had to be validated by miracles whereas the elder, being obviously from God, needed no miracles to demonstrate his Divine authority.
Yet the Bible, when speaking of Samuel the prophet going to Bethlehem at the command of the Lord, mentions that the elders trembled, wanting to know if Samuel was coming in peace.
Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, "Do you come in peace?" (I Samuel 16:4)
The rabbis would have Samuel trembling at the presence of the elders. But in actual fact, the elders trembled at the presence of Samuel.
So it is that man-directed Christianity always vaunts itself against the servants of Christ. But, as Jude informs us, when the Lord returns with thousands of His saints, true judgment will be executed.
Those who have exalted themselves in the Christian religion will be ashamed when the Lamb appears with His obedient, cross-carrying saints. Then we will understand whom it is who actually is serving God.
The chief priests and elders lived in luxurious surroundings while the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His Head. A different picture will be presented when this same Son of Man returns at the right hand of Power.
Let each of us choose to engage in God-ordained religious practices that we may become an unblemished member of the Bride of the Lamb and an integral part of the coming Kingdom of God.
What, then, do we conclude?
We conclude that the true Christian Church is one in Heaven and on the earth. When God has completed His work in her members, she will be the unblemished new Jerusalem.
We conclude that the Kingdom of God is, for the most part, within us. It is the forming of Christ, the eternal Law of God, in our mind and heart so we no longer desire to sin and rebel against God.
We conclude that many of those who believe their goal to be that of dying and going to Heaven will largely waste their life. They are waiting to go to a Kingdom that is not found in Heaven or in any other place. The Kingdom is all around them in the present hour, waiting for them to press forward into it. Practice follows doctrine, and unscriptural doctrines are being preached today in many of the Christian churches.
We conclude that it is by means of God-ordained religious practices that we become part of the unblemished Bride of the Lamb, and that Christ, the Kingdom of God, is formed in us.
We conclude that God-ordained religious practices are soon corrupted into man-directed religious practices, as self-seeking people enter positions of leadership in the various organizations.
Of course, it is not inevitable that an assembly or denomination be thus corrupted. But such corrupting appears to be the rule rather than the exception.
What can we learn from these conclusions?
We can learn to focus our eyes on Jesus Christ who is at the right hand of God in Heaven, and also with us at the same time. We can lay hold on the concept that while earth is one place, and Heaven is another, we can bind Heaven and earth into one domain by each day fixing our mind in the heavenlies where Christ sits at the right hand of God. We can set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth, that we might even now attain to a spiritual resurrection.
We can choose each day to occupy ourselves with the continuing problems of life on the earth, or we can ask God for help in solving the problems of the day and then spend as much time as possible looking up, up, up until we are much more aware of our heavenly citizenship.
Today is the day of salvation. It is today that the Lord Jesus is standing at the door of our personality, hoping we will hear His voice and open the door. If we thus choose to occupy ourselves with the Lord Jesus rather than with the temporary elements of the world, we will gain the Kingdom of God. We will be transformed into the moral image of Christ and enter untroubled rest in the Persons of the Father and the Son.
The Church; the Kingdom; religion. These three constitute Christianity. The Church and the Kingdom are the important objectives. Religion is a means to these objectives. Religion can be viewed as scaffolding that will be removed when the structure has been completed.
Our task is to insure that our religion does not become an end in itself but becomes the means by which we become an integral part of the Bride of the Lamb, and are completely filled with Christ who Himself is the Kingdom of God.