I talk a lot about the things I like a lot. I talk about, my wife, Karen, my kids, Jonathan and Jamie and their spouses, Stephanie and Rob, and of course my five grandchildren. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to write about my family – not in this blog anyway. But it illustrates the point that what interests one and what is important in one’s life is what one spends time talking about. If you were interested in professional or college football, you’d talk about it. If your business is important to you, you probably talk about it. You get my point.

Now consider this fact: Jesus mentioned the church only twice; but he mentioned the kingdom of God over 100 times. Hmmm! Based upon the logic of the first paragraph this fact would seem to indicate that while the kingdom of God is very important to Jesus, the church wasn’t very important to Him. And perhaps after reading this far, you may be thinking that very thing – and if you are, you would be wrong.

Allow me take dead aim at this line of thought. It’s specious reasoning at best.

Separating What God Has Joined

First, let me say at the outset that regardless of what Christian authors and speakers write and say to pit the church against the kingdom and the kingdom against the church, they are suffering from a slanted focused on their pet doctrine – much like a politician who can only see issues from his own perspective. To my mind, this tendency reflects a profound misunderstanding of both the kingdom and the church.

Behold I show you a mystery: Without the church, there is no kingdom. And without the kingdom, there is no church.

The best definition I can give for the kingdom of God is that the kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence. As such, the kingdom is embodied in Jesus Christ. Note that Jesus is the head of the Body of Christ which is the church and the head is inseparable from the body.

When the church is functioning properly in a given place, she is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence. She reveals Christ, that is, she expresses the kingdom. Of course, that would be righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). She demonstrates the rule of God, makes visible the reign of God, and the justice, freedom, and peace that goes with it. To separate the kingdom from the church is a serious mistake.

Of course, I’m talking about the church as the New Testament envisions it, not what often goes by the name “church” in our society today. How does the New Testament envision the church? To answer that question, allow me to reference my September 3rd blog entitled “Why I Love the Church.” Here is what I wrote about the church, the ekklesia in that blog:

” . . . the ekklesia, – that is the “called out ones,” who are working diligently to follow Christ, love and relate to one another, disciple everyone they meet, operate in the power of the Holy Spirit and use the gifts He has bestowed upon them and thereby demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God and advance said kingdom everyday in every way they can.”

The Church in Fresh Perspective

With that thought in mind, let me make a radical statement: Jesus mentioned and referred to the church more than He did the kingdom of God. But He didn’t do it by using the word “ekklesia” (translated church in modern language translations). Think about it for a moment. Remember the small band of disciples that Jesus called to Himself and lived with for over three years? They were “the Twelve.” Luke adds them to what he calls “the Women.” All together they probably numbered around 20 individuals.

Those 20 people were a community that lived a shared life under the headship of Jesus Christ. Those people diligently followed Christ, loved one another, were disciples of Jesus as He showed them how to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit and use His gifts. The witnessed Jesus as He instituted and expanded the kingdom of God. In other words: they were the embryonic expression of the ekklesia – the church! 

Those 20 were the community of the King (to quote Howard Snyder). And that’s precisely what the ekklesia is. Therefore, every time you see the Twelve with Jesus (and the Women) in the Gospels, you’re seeing the church. And virtually every time Jesus spoke to His disciples and used the word “you” . . .

  • “YOU are the light of the world.”
  • “YOU are the salt of the earth.”
  • “And when the Spirit comes, He will teach YOU all things.”
  • “I am the Vine, YOU are the branches” . . .

He was referring to the church.

In addition, when John uses the word “we,” he is most often speaking of the church . . .

  • “And of His fullness WE have all received, grace upon grace.”

Do you remember when Jesus said, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it bears many grains”? The “many grains” are the church.

How about when Jesus referred to His brethren? “But go to my BRETHREN and tell them I ascend to my Father.” Who are the Lord’s “brethren”? The church.

Or how about when He prayed for His disciples in John 17 and said, “I’m not praying for these alone, but for those who will believe on me through their word.” Who are the “those who will believe on me”? They are the church.

And on and on the examples go.

Is The Church Important?

Yes, the church of the living God is on just about every page of the Gospels. Far more than the kingdom, in fact. To be accurate, there are 85 unique references to the kingdom in the Synoptic Gospels. And 5 in the Gospel of John. So the Gospels total 90 unique references to the kingdom. Put that over against the many references to the church given above, and the count is less for the kingdom. When we come to the New Testament writings (Acts to Revelation), the kingdom is mentioned 31 times and the church is found 77 times.

The word “brethren” – which refers to the brothers and sisters in the churches – is used 249 times in Acts through Revelation. The word “saints” (holy ones) which is a reference to the individual believers in the churches is used 60 times.

Now in light of all of the above, it is apparent that we must stop pitting the church against the kingdom? To do so is to violate the gospel.

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.  Amen.

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