Friday, August 08, 2008

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God

I want to return to a line of thought from a previous post, "What is the Gospel?" and explore more along the lines this concept of understanding the message Christ came to deliver. In his book, "The Kingdom That Turned the World Up Side Down", David W. Bercot wrote:

Unlike most theological systems, the gospel of the kingdom centers on the kingdom of God, not on man's personal salvation. We cannot separate salvation from the kingdom. And we cannot be devoted to Jesus Christ if we're not devoted to His Kingdom. Actually, all of Scripture looks toward this kingdom. From the beginning, God had purposed to establish a special kingdom. In fact, He prophesied about it during the Old Testament Period. One of the most significant of these Old Testament prophecies is found in the second chapter of Isaiah:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD'S house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:2-4 NKJV)

Most Christians read this passage as though it's talking about events after Christ returns to earth. And while it certainly applies to that time as well, its fulfillment is going on right now. In fact, it's been going on since Christ began His ministry. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom when He came to earth and invited his hearers to enter it.


Jesus has made a covenant to bestow a kingdom upon those who walk in His ways: "You are those who have continued with Me in my trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed on upon Me" (Luke 22"28, 29). And again, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 4:21). Chapter 17 pp. 132-133

This understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom presents a very different realization of what Christ expected His disciples to believe concerning the good news Christ delivered to mankind. Bercot notes that the emphasis was not directly aimed at the personal salvation of the individual, but of the reality of salvation of those that in obedience as disciples form the body of the Church of which Christ is the head. (Eph 1:22 And He [God] put all things under His [Christ's] feet, and gave Him [Christ] to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His [Christ's] body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (NKJV) Most theological systems go to the epistles of Paul extensively, to the point of exclusivity, built their body of thought from that perspective. This is getting the cart before the horse, first we must understand Christ through the OT and the Gospel records with most emphasis on what Christ taught and gave example to us in His walk in life among men while looking to the epistles for deeper understanding of Christ's work and message. By looking to Paul first and almost exclusively, as most systematic theologies do, the teachings of Christ are minimized at best, or totally ignored at worst.

The logical out working of easy believism that systematic theologies can bring forth is the negation of obedience to the commands of Christ. The message is directed at individual salvation and promotes individualism that is an enemy of unity in the Body of Christ, the Church. Such theology is also responsible for the separation of the Body into many factions, referred to as denominations. Such denominations teach a theology based on their interpretation of Paul's writings first and then form the balance of the Scriptures around what Paul wrote. Paul is not the author of the gospel, Christ is the Author of the Gospel, and that good news is the reality of the
kingdom of God available to all mankind which He preached in His walk among man.

Much of what the systematic theological systems eliminate or minimize is the importance of obedience to the Word, Christ the Logos. Let's look at a statement that Christ made during His ministry and recorded in two of the Gospel accounts:

Mt 7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' 24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

6:46 "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say? 47 "Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 "He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. 49 "But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great."

The Matthew account indicates the greatest challenge to the concept of "just believe" or "only have faith" and you are saved. Jesus says plainly that many will come offering proof of their salvation by their works, but their works are classified as practicing lawlessness. This lawlessness is due to their violation of the rules of the
kingdom of God which is another area we need to touch on in a future post. The Luke account indicates much the same, that people will call Christ "Lord" yet do not the things He has commanded them to do. Along with these let's look at something Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians:

Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

It is apparent that the grace of God is primary in the salvation of mankind, it is through this grace that the kingdom of God is possible, and it is apparent that no one enters on the merits of any works, righteousness, which they have done to prevent boasting. However, we are now a new creation in Christ, a workmanship of God as citizens of the kingdom of God which Christ has inaugurated and sealed with His sacrifice and resurrection. We are created unto good works; works that God has prepared for us to walk in as serving citizens of God's kingdom. We are enabled to serve God and Christ now in the kingdom of God in this life as members of the Body of Christ. Now before the charge of legalism is raised, Jesus also taught us that what we do is our reasonable service, as Paul noted in Romans 12:1. Jesus said in Luke's recorded gospel:

Lu 17:7 "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? 8 "But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? 9 "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"

The work is God's provision (Eph. 2:10) not our own creation, therefore we cannot earn or be owed anything based on doing our duty to our God and Lord. Let's look at more of what Christ said on this subject of our works:

Mt 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 "And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' 41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 'I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' 44 "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Note the questions of both groups asking when they saw Him in such sore condition, and the answer of Christ that it was the conditions of the "least of these" which represented Christ's need. The disciples of Christ noted and met these needs without apparent conscious thought, and the others on the other hand did not even see them. This difference is what separates the disciples of Christ that obey from those that profess to know Him and never see the ministry they have been called to, but seek one of their own design. James spoke of this in his general epistle to believers:

Jas 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

The comparison of the body needing the spirit to be alive gives us the point James wants to make, that in the same way faith without the deeds of its reality, works if you will, has no "life"; it is dead (vs. 17 & 26).

So, in light of the call of Christ to discipleship and entrance into the kingdom of God, the concept of easy believism, just believe on Christ, is not the total of the call of the Gospel Christ preached or which Paul and his contempories taught. We must look through the lens of the Gospels, the teaching of Christ, to understand the Epistles properly.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dehumanizing People

A post from a blog that I read often got me thinking. The Anchoress posted about those that couldn't say anything about our President without being negative and dehumanizing of him. She quoted one of my favorite lines from the last comic strip of Pogo that I remember, “we have met the enemy, and he are us?” This is so true in the area of dehumanizing others we want to hate. We dehumanize another person to make them less worthy of our respect and love; this allows us to label them as our enemy and justifies our evil treatment of them. It reminds me that Christ taught us that we should love one another as we would love ourself. In dehumanizing them we make ourself the enemy in God's eyes; we become what we hate.

Lu 6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Lu 6:28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
Lu 6:32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.

As a believing disciple of Christ, I am taught by Christ to never consider another human as an enemy. Regardless of their actions towards me I must treat all people with love and respect no matter their status in life or any supposed threat I may perceive they represent to me; i.e. tribe (nationality), skin color, religion, custom, culture, lifestyle, worldview (philosophy), etc., etc.

Joh 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Joh 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Jas 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
Jas 2:4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Jas 2:8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
Jas 2:9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Jas 2:13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Let's face the fact that in order to hate and kill another, we don't hesitate to find reasons to lower, dehumanize, the individual(s) that oppose us in some way. In her post, the Anchoress was referring to those that could not say anything positive about our current President. If we can dehumanize one of our own, then dehumanizing and demonizing those not of our own is no real problem, it becomes a matter of "us" or "them". But then, we are commanded to love our neighbor as we do ourself; loving family and spiritual brethren is expected, but we can fail there as well.

The underlying focus in dehumanizing other people, at least as I see it, is obviously to see to it that (I) we as a (person) people survive, (I) we deem it more important that (I) we live and others die, or that (I) we (am) are protected from them in some manner of isolating them. This is tribalism at its basic level; natural survival in a hostile world. It is the way of the world, and as a Christian I am called to not be conformed to the world, meaning that I may not live in accordance to all the conventional wisdom of the world or its patterns, but look to Christ for my orders while giving respect to the rulers over me in the areas that are not a conflict with my King's commands, and loving and returning good to all that choose to harm, persecute, or defraud me in anyway.

Ro 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Joh 17:14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Ro 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

As one that rejects how Christendom operated in the past since Constantine's involvement with Christianity, I read the New Testament record about the gospel of the kingdom of God and it is apparent to me that this world is not my home, nor is any particular earthly kingdom due my total allegiance, but only the kingdom of God gains that submission from me. I am to respect the earthly rulers of the nation where I live; give tribute, custom, fear, and honor to them as God's representatives of order in society (Romans 13), but my absolute obedience, allegiance if you will, is to be given only to my King, Jesus Christ, and to follow Him as directed in His teachings in the New Testament writings. This means that I will have to respectfully decline to obey the earthly rulers over me who require of me that which I may not do according to my King, and submit to any penalties that the rulers may require of me.

Ac 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Lu 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
Joh 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Mt 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

I plan, Lord willing, to continue to address this concept of living in but not of the world as a citizen of the kingdom of God in future posts. Meanwhile, I list several books that have helped me understand the reality of the kingdom of God and discipleship to Christ, along with encouragement to read the Gospel accounts in the New Testament which is of higher importance; I believe the teachings of Christ prompted these books to be written by their respective authors.

"The Kingdom That Turned the World Up Side Down" by David W. Bercot
"The Up Side Down Kingdom" by Donald B. Kraybill
"Mere Discipleship" by Lee C. Camp
"True Discipleship" by William MacDonald
"Myth of a Christian Nation" by Gregory A. Boyd

Edited to add this link to more thoughts by the Anchoress on dehumanizing.