By Doug Beacham
There are some books that I read in seminary that continue to impact my thinking. One of those is Hans Kung’s book The Church. Near the close of the Epilogue he writes:
“The Church is a minority serving a majority. This fellowship of believers, this community of those who confess and bear witness is a sign among the nations, often hidden yet always becoming visible again; it is a living invitation to the world to unite itself with the Church and join in testifying to the great things the Lord has done, not only for the Church but for the whole world.
“The whole of mankind is called upon to share in giving praise and thanks, to hear the word of grace and to celebrate the meal of love once again, in order to bear witness to Christ in everyday life by being men who not only love each other, but all men. The Church does not wish to remain isolated. It wishes to be a vanguard.”
It’s the image of the Church as a “vanguard” that has often caught my imagination. This is how I think of the Church and her mission in relation to the kingdom of God. The Church is the vanguard, the advance party of a movement that is here and is still coming.
The kingdom of God did not begin with the ministry of Jesus. God’s kingdom began in the Garden of Eden. Rebellion and disobedience have caused humanity to dwell in the realm known as “east of Eden” (Genesis 3:24; 4:16). The whole created order is suffering from this rebellion. But God’s kingdom has been seeking God’s estranged children and creation ever since. The story told in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of God seeking His lost sheep.
This is why the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth must be seen as part of this Hebrew Scripture story. Jesus’ life is the fullest revelation of God’s quest for His sheep. Jesus’ life is the centering point of the work of God for this lost world. Jesus the Christ is the center that holds and links together God’s love and humanity’s lost condition.
Thus, St.Mark’s Gospel account quickly gets to the content of Jesus’ preaching: “The gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14, NKJV). Jesus’ life is a literal fulfillment of kingdom oriented prophecy: His birth (Isaiah 7:14/ Matthew 1:23), His anointed ministry (Isaiah 35:5–6/Matthew 11:5; Isaiah 61:1/Luke 4:18), His atoning death (Isaiah 53:1–12/ John 19:21–34).
Jesus understood that His mission was to establish a “beachhead” that would extend for and through Israel for the sake of the whole world. That beachhead is visible to the world and is known as the church. The book of Acts is the story of how that beachhead grew in the first decades of the Christian era. Sociologist Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, has shown how this “beachhead” expanded across the Roman Empire in three hundred years.
I think the beachhead imagery is fruitful for us as we reflect on what it means to extend the borders of the “reign of God” (the kingdom of God) in our world. We are not called to set up a theocracy; we are called to live holy and loving in our homes, work places, and everywhere else. Our Christian faith is not merely a Sunday faith for our brains and emotions. Our Christian faith is manifested everywhere we place our feet, every time we open our mouth, every decision-making moment.
We need to live out our faith wherever our feet tread! This is why Joshua 1:3–9 is important in our understanding of extending the kingdom of God. It’s through our daily lives that kingdom influence occurs.
If we can discern this and grow in this knowledge, we become more effective ambassadors of reconciliation and peace in this world. We do our part to extend the beachhead of what Jesus is doing in every generation.
We Prayerfully Value Christ’s Kingdom is the fourth of the IPHC core values. As we grow as a place of hope and a people of promise, we are on a journey of learning what it means to faithfully serve Jesus through this movement. Through 2017, and as a special focus on our General Conference, this core value will be our emphasis.
As the fourth of seven core values, Christ’s Kingdom is the “door” that connects the other core values. The first three, Scripture, Pentecost, Holiness, reflect the spiritual work of God in redeeming, sanctifying, and empowering us for service in the world. The final three, Every Generation, Justice, and Generosity, are the daily outflowing of God’s work in finding us as lost sheep, saving us, bringing us into His folds, and preparing us for His service.
The kingdom of God is the door through which we walk into the world. We discern the world as God’s place. We take on John Wesley’s motto, “the world is my parish.” Through the kingdom door we discern that God is at work among people and places we would not easily discern. The kingdom takes us beyond our own denominational history, traditions, culture, and practices. The kingdom opens the door to God’s great work of grace among the peoples of the earth past, present, and future.
Kung concluded his Epilogue by asking the question “does the church have a future?” He answered it by writing, “the Church has a future; it has the future.” I concur. God has entrusted to the church the mystery of His kingdom. God calls us to live as fully as we can in the blessings of that future that has been revealed and displayed.
With such obedience, we live with confidence in the future that is yet to be revealed.
This article was published in the January 2017 issue of Encourage.