Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category
Based on a sermon preached by Denny Kenaston, June 1991
“Antigroupism” is a broad word. One can place a multitude of names in place of “groupism,” but the goal of this article is to reveal the dangers that are lurking around anyone who has an antigroup attitude towards some church group in their past, or perhaps a church group around them. We are dealing with the attitude in this article, in a general way. You, the reader, need to make the application wherever the specific fits. We could say, for example, that we are concerned about the danger of anti-Amishism. Or, we could say, we are concerned about the danger of anti-Baptistism or anti-Pentecostalism.
Antigroupism stems from many different things, and many are the reasons that you may say, “Phew, Mennonites …” Or, “Ugh, Baptists …” There may be many different reasons why you have developed an attitude against some group—whatever name they might have. I warn you, there is some real danger behind that attitude!
It could be that you had a traumatic experience with a certain group in your past church life. One occasion that comes to my mind is a young man that went through a church split. Now church splits are not good—certainly an unfortunate experience. But usually when there is a church split, somebody gets hurt; usually young people who are confused and don’t understand what is right and who they are supposed to follow. So they get hurt.
Anyway, this one particular case I am thinking of was a young man that got hurt in a church split. It happened to be a Mennonite church that split. So his attitude was, “Mennonites, puh … I don’t ever want to see another one. I never want to hear of one. And I am never going to go to a Mennonite church again as long as I live.”
He had a traumatic experience in his life, which caused him to develop an attitude that is detrimental to his spiritual life. He is half shipwrecked already because of this attitude.
You may have been hurt in a past church experience, in a situation where someone dealt with you in a wrong way. Perhaps they were too hard on you, and sort of kicked you around spiritually—possibly you were even driven or excommunicated from that church. Because of that, you have developed an “antigroup attitude” within you.
Sometimes people grow up in a church setting that says, “This is the way we do things around here. We have the right way, and if you want to go to heaven, you do as we say and get baptized into the church, and everything will be alright.” Then someone wakes up to see that error exists in the church, and that salvation is by following Jesus, not the man-made rules. Often the immediate reaction is to develop an attitude about “that church” that taught them wrong things all their life.
Or maybe you were in a group that took an extreme position about some truth in the Bible. Because of that extreme position—after all, taking things to extreme is false doctrine—you developed an antigroup attitude.
Consider a pendulum. When a pendulum is pulled to one side and released, it swings to the opposite side an equal distance. How often we overreact to error, just like a pendulum! When we see something that is wrong, our natural tendency is to swing to the other side. In our zeal to get as far away from error as we can, we often end up in another error on the other extreme.
But praise God for the balancing of the Word and of other brothers and sisters, and of those gentle promptings of the Spirit of God! I think most of us could testify of where our attitudes swung too far one way on some issue, and God had to bring them back to the middle.
In my own testimony, I went through one of those traumatic church experiences, and in reaction I wrote off everything from my past church experience. All of it! I said in my mind, “They hurt me. They have ruined me. They have taken care of future opportunities to minister. They must be totally wrong.” At that point, I quit witnessing and wrote off all my past church experience.
That is called antigroupism.
Of course, we all have different groups that we have reacted against, but the principle is still the same. Now God was very gracious to me in my experience. He was patient with me until the pendulum came back—truth was looked at properly and balance was restored. God worked out all of the antigroupism that was in my heart towards those people, and I thank God for that. People are sometimes shocked when I tell them that I now relate well with those who treated me wrong. It is all because that antigroup attitude got worked out of my heart.
There are several dangers in anti-group attitudes. Let’s look at them closely:If you hold those “anti” feelings in your heart, you will not be able to help the group you oppose.
It is God’s will that we reach out to those within our circle of influence. Each one of you has a circle of influence from your past into churches that I do not, and God wants to use that influence. But if you harbor “anti”—which signifies “opposed to, against”— attitudes, you will NEVER be able to minister to those people. We want to stand against the attitude that says, “I am against those people that I came from.”
What is very interesting to me is that often the very people that we hold attitudes against are the ones we want to reach out to the most; yet we cannot do it because of our attitude. When we reach out to them, they sense the attitude, and refuse to receive what we have to say. In reaction, they then will sometimes begin to “throw things back.” And I realize that this reaction of theirs will sometimes come even if we approach them in a pure way, but too often we carry an antigroup attitude towards the group we have left. So we then justify ourselves, and quote Paul’s words, “I go to the Gentiles …” It is pretty hard to have a burden for people if you are disgusted with them for what they did to you in the past. It is hard to pray for them.
Paul had several reasons to have an anti-Jewish attitude. After all, he had been deceived by them in his childhood, being told that they had the right way, the only way. Paul believed this, so much so that he would imprison Christians to death for turning away from Judaism. Yes, he was deceived by his upbringing; he had plenty of “reason” to react against it. After he found faith in Jesus Christ, the Jews chased after him, wherever he went, causing him trouble. His name was well-known among the Jews, but in a negative way. They stoned him; they argued with him in all the public places; they had him thrown into prison; but not only that, he was even called by God to the Gentiles, so that he could have easily said, “Jews … huh … I am done with ’em! I’ve had enough of them! Somebody else minister to them: I am called to the Gentiles.” But listen to Paul’s heart in Romans 9:1-3:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Accursed from Christ for the sake of my people … what an amazing attitude! There was no pendulum in his life. He kept the spirit and attitude of Christ through the whole thing; he still loved them. Even though they criticized him and persecuted him, he would not allow that antigroup attitude to rise up in his heart. In chapter 10 of the same letter, we can read some more of Paul’s heart to the Jews:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
We can hear the burdened heart of Paul as he ponders his people. We cannot sense any reactionary spirit in these verses, but rather a pure, sweet desire that the Jews would come to the light and understanding that he himself had come to. Even though Paul did say those words, “I go to the Gentiles,” we need to hear his heart in the spirit in which he spoke them. It is not wrong to say those words and mean them, but may we have the same attitude that Paul had.
When the time came for Paul to return to Jerusalem, he could joyfully submit to the Jewish customs and do things that he knew were not necessary for his salvation. Had he had an anti-Jewish attitude when James came to him and said, “Paul, I want you to shave your head and go on a fast so that while you are here in Jerusalem there won’t be any trouble,” what do you suppose his response would have been? He may have spouted out something really “holy,” like, “I am free from the Law; I don’t have to do those things!” There were a lot of Scriptures he could have quoted to James. But yet his love for those people, his people, caused him to act without any “anti” reaction.
So we see that the first and foremost danger of an anti-group attitude is that we cannot help the ones we oppose; they will not receive what we have to say if they sense that attitude in us.An antigroup attitude will cause you to do things that will offend those very people.
You will not consider them when making choices in your life. Paul was not that way. His testimony was, “To the Jew I am going to be like a Jew, and to the Greek a Greek.” Paul did not have an uncaring, inconsiderate attitude when it came time to make choices. No, he did not compromise (he did not mean that he would take part in their ungodly ways to win them), but he did consider and think, “Is this going to cause hurt among those people? Is this choice going to further the Gospel among the Jews?”
If you have, for example, an anti-Amish attitude, you will not think like Paul did. In fact, even if someone would try to suggest the idea of submitting to “those people’s” ideas, you will immediately come up with one of those “righteous” answers. There are times, yes, to have those “righteous” answers, but I challenge you to consider what your attitude is, and ask yourself at decision time: “Will this hurt my opportunity to speak to those people? Is this worth doing?” After all, it may be more than just “that group” you are dealing with; “that group” may include those who are your brother or sister in the Lord.
Hear the words of the apostle Paul: “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” Consider how an “anti” attitude will blind you to this principle. You will make choices—buy things, go places, wear clothes, and do things—that will offend those you are trying to win.An antigroup attitude will hurt the next generation.
Perhaps you may have already heard words coming from the mouth of your children … words that made your conscience twinge. The next generation is at our mercy. They are making evaluations based on our attitudes. It has been said—and is very true—that what we do wrong in moderation, our children will do in excess. Ponder that!
Maybe for you it is a simple, “Ugh, Mennonites …” But for your children, that little sigh will cause them to write off the whole Anabaptist movement and cause them to become wholly Evangelical. If we have a reactionary spirit towards a certain group of people or a certain set of principles, our children will react even stronger than we have.
Have you ever heard the words from some of “those people,” such as, “Watch where you are going, you will lose your children”? These are words given from observation—wise words! Well, the answer is not necessarily to return to the old group, because, yes, there were valid reasons for leaving it. But let’s develop a Christ-like attitude toward it, not a reactionary one.An antigroup attitude will cause you to throw away truth—pitch it!
We have all seen people who have reacted and thrown away beautiful truths, because “such-and-such a group hurt me and taught me wrong. I am getting away from them!” It causes people to go from a church with strong authority—perhaps too strong—to completely abandon the idea of authority in the church. It causes people to go from a church where there was strong brotherhood accountability, to no church at all. These folks don’t even believe that there is a church, and they stay at home.
Of course, the coming generation hurts tremendously for this. The hills are filled with these “individualists,” people who cannot find anyone anywhere to fellowship with—no one they can agree with. What causes this? Many times it was a bad experience in the past with a group that perhaps abused church authority. I recognize that there are cases of people who are in an area where there is no good congregation—I am referring to people who are not even seriously looking for a church anymore.
People also react from churches that focus primarily on the outward, and they leap into the error that says the outward doesn’t matter, only the heart. In the process, many powerful Bible truths get thrown out the door. The Scriptures say, “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
What happens is, because of our “anti” attitude, we develop a blind spot. For example, take the subject of clothes. You may hear someone saying, “Clothes! I am so sick of hearing about clothes! I am sick of “plain suits” and cape dresses!” So the whole “clothes” thing gets pitched out … and blindness comes over that person. And we stand back amazed at what those people end up doing. This all stemmed from that “anti” attitude—reactionism.An antigroup attitude fosters pride and deception.
Here’s how it happens … remember that pendulum. We say, “They are wrong, and I am right. And I have got to prove that I am right, and they are wrong.” This whole attitude is not good for us. An attitude that says, “We are right, we have the answers, we have found it … and they are wrong!” will foster pride in us.
I remember a preacher once saying, “We don’t need revival; we already have revival!” Now, I had been in a number of their church services, and I knew they didn’t have revival among them. It seems that man honestly thought they had revival. However, spiritual pride had arisen in his heart and had so darkened his mind, convincing him that they were right, even when they were wrong. May God help us! May He keep us from overreacting in pride in some of these areas.
There was once a church that took some firm stands against apostasy, biblical stands, and they were right to do that. God blessed them for it. But spiritual pride came in. And now, that same church is so convinced that they are right, they say, “It has got to be done exactly like we do it, or it is not right.” Slowly but surely, an attitude begins to develop in the congregation, “We are IT. This is THE place, the place where everyone needs to be.” We need to be on guard so we do not begin to think we are better than others. God help us!
This is how an “anti” attitude develops into spiritual pride.There exists a danger of building a fellowship around “anti” attitudes.
Have you ever had “fellowship” like that? “Fellowship” centered around “them” and what “they” said and what “they” did, and what’s happening “over there”? Ever spent a Sunday afternoon like that? Well, I have, and it is NOT very edifying. What a terrible foundation to build a church upon! Sadly, this happens all the time. The bottom line is, fellowship based on others’ faults will not build the church. If you find it really easy to open up about “those people” and start shooting from the hip at “them,” I encourage you to just cleanse your heart of all that. Such talk will cause you shipwreck. Let’s talk about Jesus!
Examine yourself and ask, “Do I have an antigroup attitude?” If you cannot discern your own heart, then just ask a couple of honest people that know you well. They can tell you!
If you have found that you indeed are infected, here is how to come clean.You need to acknowledge it. This is the first step. You need to forgive those who did you wrong, if you haven’t. The antigroup attitude is there because you got hurt or misused. You need to open your heart up and retain any and every thing that was good in the group you came from. Some are so reactionary that they will not even consider a truth if “that” group also believed it. You need to purpose to overcome those attitudes, because they will want to haunt you for a long time if you have harbored them.
We need to remember the Lord Jesus, who came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him. How did He respond to those who did not receive Him? He laid Himself on the cross and died for them! This is the attitude that God would have us foster towards our background.
Antigroupism has been a real hindrance to the furtherance of the kingdom of God, and a real hindrance to the perfection of the saints. Overreaction has shipwrecked many a soul, and blinded many others. May we be on our guard!
This article is based upon a sermon preached by Denny Kenaston on June 2, 1991. It is not a literal transcription, but contains the essence of that message. You may receive a free cassette or CD of this message by writing to Ephrata Ministries, 400 W. Main St., Ephrata, PA, 17522. Or you may send an email to email@example.com. Ask for message #834 (The Dangers of Antigroup Attitudes). Or, it may be downloaded for free in MP3 format at http://www.ephrataministries.org/msg_detail.a5w?vlast_index=834.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2010), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
The Church and the World walked far apart On the changing shore of time; The World was singing a silly song, And the Church a hymn sublime.
“Come, give your hand,” said the smiling World, “And together we shall go!” But the good Church hid her snowy hand And solemnly answered, “No!!
I will not give you my hand at all, And I will not walk with you. Your way is the way of eternal death, And your words are all untrue.”
“No, walk with me a little ways,” Said the World with a kindly air. “ The road I walk is a pleasant road, And the sun shines always there.
Your path is thorny and rough and rude, But mine is broad and plain; My way is paved with flowers and dews, And yours with tears and pain.
The sky to me is always blue, No lack, no toil I know; The sky above you is always dark; Your lot is a lot of woe.
My way, you can see, is a soft, easy one, And my gate is high and wide; There is room enough for you and me; So let’s travel side by side.”
Half shyly the Church approached the World And gave him her hand of snow; And the false World grasped it, and walked along And whispered in accents low,
“Your dress is too simple to please my taste; I have pinks and oranges to wear, Sensuous hues for your graceful form And sprays to fluff your hair.”
Then added he, with a shake of his head, Shielding his eyes in the glare, “ It makes much sense in this fierce sunshine Your comely calves to bare.”
The Church looked down at her plain, modest clothes And then at the dazzling World, And blushed as she saw his handsome lip, With a smile contemptuous curled.
“I will change my dress for a prettier one,” Said the Church with a smile of grace; So her simple garments were stashed away, And the World gave, in their place,
Beautiful satins and flowery sheens, With roses and lace and swirls; While over her forehead her bright hair fell In two bouncy, enticing curls.
“Your house is too plain” said the proud old World, “Let us build you one like mine, With kitchen for feasting and rec room for play And cabinets never so fine.”
So he built her a costly and beautiful house; Awesome it was to behold! Her sons and her daughters met frequently there, Shining in purple and gold.
There were cushioned seats for the lazy and rich, To sit in their glutton and pride; But the poor who were clad in humble array, Were scorned ‘til they went outside.
Powerpoints and films in the halls were shown, And the World and his children were there. Laughter and music and Ping-Pong were heard In the place that was meant for prayer.
The angel in mercy rebuked the Church, And whispered, “I know thy sin.” Then the Church looked sad, and anxiously longed To gather the children in.
But some were away at the midnight bowl, And others online did play, And some were hangin’ at Pizza Hut: So the angel went away.
Then said the World in soothing tones, “Your children mean no harm— Merely indulging in innocent sports,” So she leaned on his proffered arm,
And texted, and chatted, and uploaded photos, And walked along with the World, While countless millions of precious souls Over the fearful brink were hurled.
“Your preachers are too old-fashioned and plain,” Said the smart World with a sneer. “ They frighten my children with dreadful tales Which I do not like to hear.
They talk of judgments and fire and pain, And the doom of darkest night. They warn of a place that should not be Mentioned to ears polite!
I will send you some of a better stamp, More brilliant, educated, fast; Who will show how men their flesh may please And go to heaven at last.
The Father is merciful, great and good; Loving and tender and kind. Do you think He’d take one child to heaven And leave another behind?”
So she called for pleasing and smart divines, Deemed gifted and great and learned; And the plain-spoken men who had preached the cross Were out of her pulpits turned.
Then Mammon came in and supported the Church And sat in a well-padded pew; And preaching and chorals and floral display Soon proclaimed a gospel new.
“You give too much to the poor,” said the World, “Far more than you ought to do; Though the poor need shelter, food, and clothes, Why thus need it deprive you?
And afar to the heathen in foreign lands Your thoughts need seldom roam. The Father of mercies will care for them: Let charity start at home.
Go take your money and buy nice shoes And cars and pickups fine; And phones and iPods and cameras, The latest and costliest kind.
My children, they dote on all such things, And if you their love would win, You must do as they do, and walk in the way— The up-to-date way they’re in.”
The Church her purse snaps tightly shut And shamefully lowered her head. She whimpered, “I’ve given too much away. I will do, sir, as you have said.”
So the poor were pushed out of her mind; She heard not the orphan’s cry; And she silently covered her MasterCard As the widows went weeping by.
Thus they of the Church and they of the World Journeyed closely, hand and heart. And none but the Master, who knows all things, Understood they had once walked apart.
Then the Church sat down at ease and said, “I am rich and in goods increased. I have need of nothing, and naught to do, But to play, to sing, and to eat.”
The sly World heard her and laughed in his sleeve, And mockingly said aside, “ The Church has fallen, the beautiful Church; Her shame is her boast and pride.”
Thus her witnessing power, alas, was lost, And perilous times came in; The times of the end, so often foretold, Of form and pleasure and sin.
Then the angel drew near the mercy seat And whispered in sighs her name, And the saints their anthems of rapture hushed And covered their heads with shame.
A voice came down from the hush of heaven, From Him who sat on the throne; “ I know your works and what you have said— But alas! You have not known,
That you are poor and naked and blind, With pride and ruin ensnared; The expectant bride of a heavenly Groom Is the harlot of the World!
You have ceased to watch for that blessed hope, Have fallen from zeal and grace; So now, alas! I must cast you out And blot your name from its place.”
Author unknown; this version taken from The Heartbeat of the Remnant (January/February 2010), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“The Kingdom of God means Heaven,” most people would answer the question in the title. This answer is partially correct – the Kingdom of God includes Heaven. However, that is not all it is.
Have you ever heard the Gospel? “Yes,” most people would think. “Of course!” How about another question: have you ever heard the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel which John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul preached?
If not, I encourage you to thoughtfully read this article, then go to your Bible and search out the truth about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel.
The Kingdom Foretold
The Kingdom of God did not simply spring onto the scene in the New Testament. Through the prophets, God foretold what would happen when His Kingdom was given to men.
In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
This prophecy foretells the birth of Jesus. It reveals that He would be a governor and ruler. It also reveals how the throne of David was a forerunner or foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God ruled by Jesus Christ.
Another prophecy about the Kingdom was given by the prophet Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of an image with a golden head, silver chest and arms, brass belly and thighs, iron legs, and mixed iron and clay feet. The image was then destroyed by a great stone. Daniel told the king that he was the head of gold, and that his kingdom would be followed by other, progressively inferior, empires. Finally,
“in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter” (Daniel 2:44-45a).
In this prophecy, we notice, among other things, the following about the Kingdom of God:
1. It will be set up “in the days of these kings” – not at the end of the world. 2. It shall never be destroyed. 3. There is a basic enmity between the worldly kingdoms and empires and the Kingdom of God.
In Daniel 7, we have another prophecy related to the Kingdom of God. In the vision, Daniel sees several beasts representing different earthly kingdoms. Then,
“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire…I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:9, 13-14).
This prophecy shows that the Kingdom of God will be ruled by Jesus Christ. Notice that it is the same indestructible, everlasting kingdom mentioned in Daniel 2. Notice the extent of Jesus’ Kingdom: all people, nations, and languages would serve Him – not just worship Him, but serve Him.
The Kingdom Announced
About the year 5 B.C., the little town of Bethlehem had been stirred by the birth of a young boy in a stable – the son of a virgin, announced by angels, visited by shepherds. About 30 years later, a relative of the boy born at Bethlehem suddenly appeared, preaching in the wilderness and drawing huge crowds. What was his message?
“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! This fact motivated the people to repentance and receiving the baptism of John. Their repentance was not simply a sorrow for their sins – it was a turning from the old life. John preached a Gospel of repentance to prepare for the coming Kingdom. He told the Pharisees,
“Bring forth therefore fruits meet [suitable] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:8-9).
John revealed the nature of the repentance necessary for readiness for the Kingdom of Heaven – fruits suitable for repentance must be brought forth. (In case you have been told that this emphasis on repentance was absent from the Gospel which Paul preached, see Acts 26:20.) Furthermore, mere genetic relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not be sufficient grounds for an easy entrance into the Kingdom. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and the requirements for entrance would be the same for Jew and Gentile.
The Kingdom Defined
Jesus began His public ministry after being baptized by John the Baptist. The King of the new Kingdom had finally arrived! What kind of a Kingdom was it? What would His message be? What did Jesus first preach?
“Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17b).
It puzzled me for years why Jesus did not give a long, detailed, exhaustive theological explanation of salvation by grace, the relationship of faith and works to salvation, the atonement…Jesus discusses none of that. He simply announces the Kingdom and commands repentance, just as John had!
What else did Jesus preach? Well, soon after His first recorded “sermon” in Matthew 4, He gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. If you read through the whole Sermon (which I would highly encourage all my readers to do), you will notice that the entire sermon is about the Kingdom of God! In fact, the first sentence of the sermon is “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amazing!
At this point I want to point out that the different terms “kingdom of heaven,” “kingdom of God,” and “kingdom of Christ” used in the New Testament are interchangeable terms. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” whereas the other Gospel writers use “kingdom of God” – sometimes in parallel passages. For instance, in Matthew 13:31-32 (parable of the mustard seed), the “kingdom of heaven” is the phrase used, whereas in the parallel passages in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19, the “kingdom of God” is used. They are clearly interchangeable. The “kingdom of Christ,” used for example in Ephesians 5:5, is also the same because Christ is the ruler of the Kingdom as shown in Daniel 7.
To return to our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that Jesus defines the “class distinctions” (if we can use that phrase) in the Kingdom.
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
In this verse, Jesus tells His followers how Kingdom citizens evaluate the “greatness” or “least-ness” of other people. Whereas the world looks at wealth, authority, military prowess, beauty, strength, or some other criterion, Jesus gives the criterion whereby He wanted His followers to think of people: the great are those who obey Jesus’ commandments and teach others to obey them. The “least” are those who disobey and teach other men to disobey.
Most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is composed of laws for Kingdom life. Near the conclusion, Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Would anyone think of becoming an American citizen just by waving a flag and saying “God bless America”? Of course not. It takes a bigger commitment than that. The prospective citizen needs to promise to obey the laws of America and submit to the military draft. In the same way, Jesus does not accept as citizens anyone who says “I love Jesus” and goes on in his old ways of sin. That is not the way the Kingdom of God works! It takes a much bigger commitment than a simple “I love Jesus.” One must do the will of God the Father.
In Matthew 13 (and paralleled in Mark and Luke), we have the Kingdom Parables of Jesus. These parables reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God. Most of them have the same basic message: the Kingdom would start small, grow over all the earth, and some false disciples would be present in it until the Judgment Day where they would be cast into Hell.
Do you remember what Jesus said not long before His transfiguration?
“Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1).
Because most churches view the kingdom of God as a future reality only, they have traditionally explained these words of Jesus as referring to His transfiguration. Perhaps this has an element of truth to it because in Matthew 16, Mark 9, and Luke 9, these words are put immediately before the account of the transfiguration. However, what about the transfiguration could truthfully be called the “kingdom of God” coming “with power”? A kingdom is not the glorification of one man – it is an entire system, complete with rulers, citizens, laws, and structure. Perhaps this verse needs to be reconsidered. In John 3:3, 5, Jesus gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom of God:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Verily verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
The New Birth is a radical change of the heart, accomplished only by the Spirit of God, imparting to a person a new mind, new desires, and a new heart, and is marked by a passing away of the old ways and desires. The man now despises and hates sin and with the Holy Spirit’s help fights it until it is vanquished in him. It is accompanied by baptism and followed by a new life of victory over sin and following Christ in His Kingdom.
In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus points out another condition of entering the Kingdom of God:
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This sounds quite different from Martin Luther’s “gospel” of faith alone…
Not only did Jesus Himself preach the Kingdom, He also instructed others to do so.
“Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Mark 9:60).
The Kingdom was what Jesus wanted to be preached!
Jesus also explicitly said that the Kingdom of God was a present reality in His day.
“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
There is no hint here that the Kingdom was simply an offer to Israel for an earthly kingdom or something strictly in the future.
The Pharisees apparently did not miss Jesus’ emphasis on the Kingdom of God. On one occasion, they asked Him a question about the Kingdom which gave Jesus the opportunity to give us one of the clearest statements on the nature of the Kingdom in the New Testament.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
These verses ought to forever lay to rest the idea that the Kingdom which Jesus preached was simply an offer to the Jews of a restored Jewish kingdom on Earth, which when they rejected, God ushered in a “Church Age” as a backup plan until such time as the Jews would be ready for Jesus to rule them as a nation. No – the Kingdom which Jesus preached was much different. It was a kingdom unlike any other kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not limited to any earthly territory, although it has citizens throughout the globe. It is a kingdom which is “within you,” within the hearts of its subjects.
Just a couple chapters after this had occurred, Jesus told another parable “because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11b). Jesus was not offering any immediate physical kingdom to the Jews. The kingdom of God was much different than what they had imagined, and the earthly ruling of Jesus was going to occur much later.
Jesus also told us what the nature of authority would be in His Kingdom.
“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30).
In Jesus’ Kingdom, all would be in direct submission to Jesus Christ. There would not be people exercising hierarchical, religious authority over others. This does not mean there would be no human authority in the church, but rather that those who have authority would use it as servants. In John 18:36-37, we learn more about the Kingdom:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Jesus reveals that His Kingdom is not an earthly one. It was not His intent to set up an earthly Jewish Kingdom, but an other-worldly kingdom come down from Heaven. This Kingdom does not operate the way the world’s kingdoms operate – for instance, regarding the sword. Jesus points out that if His Kingdom were like the kingdoms of the world, His servants would have fought for Him, just the same way any earthly kingdom works. Caesar’s servants fought for Caesar; Alexander the Great’s servants fought for him; Nebuchadnezzar’s servants fought for him, etc. But Jesus’ servants do not take up the earthly sword to fight for Him. This is a kingdom different from any other kingdom which has ever existed. Jesus’ servants do fight, but not with a physical sword. They fight spiritual wickedness with a spiritual sword.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
The Kingdom Preached
Did Jesus’ Apostles continue to preach the Kingdom of God after His ascension to Heaven? The answer is yes.
Philip preached the Kingdom of God.
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
Paul also preached the Kingdom of God. This should end the myth that Jesus and Peter preached the Gospel of the Kingdom while Paul preached a different Gospel, the Gospel of Grace.
“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).
“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (Acts 20:25).
“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening…Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:23, 31).
Paul clearly preached the Kingdom of God in the places he went. The Gospel did not change between Peter and Paul.
But is the Kingdom of God found in Paul’s epistles? Yes it is!
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).
“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:20).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
Notice how Paul continues to teach the Kingdom of God as a present reality. The Kingdom is
1. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost 2. In power 3. We have already been translated into it.
If you have any lingering doubts that the Kingdom of God is a present reality, read Revelation 1:9:
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
Notice that John says he and the other believers were “in the kingdom” just as much as they were “in tribulation” and in “patience of Jesus Christ”.
The Kingdom Laws
There is no such thing as a kingdom without laws, and the Kingdom of God is no exception. Jesus and His Apostles gave the laws for the Kingdom of God, which are contained in the New Testament. Kingdom Christians take seriously these laws which Jesus and the Apostles gave. Search the New Testament and find the laws of the Kingdom, such as:
• “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32). • “Swear not at all” (Matthew 5:34) • “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39) • “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) • “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19) • “ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14) • “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Romans 13:1) • “Salute one another with an holy kiss” (Romans 16:16) • “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (I Corinthians 14:34)
The Kingdom in Practice
The Kingdom of God is perhaps a radical new way for you to look at the Scriptures. I know that until it was pointed out to me, I had hardly noticed the many passages in the New Testament which speak of the Kingdom of God as a present reality. This reality does have an enormous impact on how we live. In this section, I want to outline only one such area – that of politics.
I am an intensely political person. I am heavily involved in politics. I have and continue to campaign heavily and actually hold a political office.
I do not have a party or a candidate; I have a Kingdom and a King: the Kingdom of God, ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. My office in this Kingdom is that of ambassador to this present world. As such, I am not a citizen of this present world system (even though by my first birth I inherited a citizen status in the United States) but am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I am only a tolerated stranger and alien here. This is not my home – I will leave someday and go to my real home. As such, I have no business meddling in the politics of this world: not of the United States nor of any other country.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners [from God’s people], but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (II Timothy 2:3-4).
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11).
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Imagine for a moment an American citizen working temporarily in Germany. As an American citizen, he would have to pay American taxes and obey American laws regarding coming and going from the country, etc. As a guest in Germany, he would have to obey the German rules and pay the German taxes, drive the speed limits, do what they said in regard to working in their country, etc. But because he is not a German citizen, he would have no right nor reason to vote or get involved in any German politics whatsoever. He is only a guest, an alien, a “stranger and pilgrim” in Germany. However, he would have the right, as an American citizen, to vote in American elections even though he is not present in that country.
The Kingdom of God works the same way as our parable. Because the citizens of God’s Kingdom are not citizens of this present world system, they have no right or reason to vote, get involved in politics, or to run for political office. As guests in this world, we hope to be treated respectfully as human beings and be allowed to carry out our work for the Kingdom in peace. We have the responsibility to obey the secular state, including paying taxes and acknowledging their power to wield the sword (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17). We also have the responsibility of praying for them and petitioning God that we may have peaceable conditions to be able to carry out His work.
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).
Notice the bolded portion: can you honestly thank God for the President? If you are in God’s Kingdom and detached from the kingdoms of this world, it should not be too hard to do so.
Although the citizens of God’s Kingdom keep from getting involved in the politics of this world, just as in our parable of the American in Germany, we have the right and duty to be as involved as possible in God’s Kingdom. Every Kingdom citizen alive is an ambassador for God’s Kingdom and should be recruiting new citizens. This is our duty – not fixing up the political entities of this world. As John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” once said, getting involved in this world’s politics is like painting the captain’s cabin while the ship is sinking.
The Kingdom in Peace
Throughout this article, the present aspect of the Kingdom of God has been emphasized. This is not meant to detract from the fact that there are some aspects of the Kingdom which will only be realized in the future world. In the next life, the Kingdom of God will be completely realized, the battle will be won – all other kingdoms will be utterly vanquished. The Kingdom of God will be triumphant and the saints will reign with Christ. The Kingdom will be in peace.
I would encourage each and every reader of this article not to accept anything here just because I said it, but to search the Scriptures for yourself. Find out if what I have said is true. Study the Kingdom of God, especially in the New Testament, and see how many references to it show it as a present reality. Study, consider, and pray about the relationship of the Kingdom of God to the present kingdoms of this world, and how you should relate to the kingdoms of this world.
If you are not a citizen of the Kingdom of God but would like to be, I would encourage you to join. Jesus clearly gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom in John 3:5: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Experience the New Birth, allow the Spirit of God to recreate you into a completely new man “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Begin living in God’s Kingdom in fellowship with your fellow citizens, and be sure to write to me and let me know of your decision!
The LORD sitteth upon the flood;
the LORD sitteth
King for ever.