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Theology > Jesus > Life and Teaching > The Kingdom > The Kingdom and Social Action   


The question of social action is anchored in the questions of the nature and mission of the Church. Is the Church an institution or a fellowship; and is the task of the Church corporate or individual? Reflection on these questions and the answers given to them determine the individual believer’s position on social action.

Social action is allowed and even desired by some believers because of an improper view of the essence and assignment of the Church. They feel that the essence of the Church is institutional and that the mission of the Church is the redemption of the culture or society as well as the affirmation of the Gospel in order that individuals might be redeemed. To the degree that you have some institutional aspect associated with the Church to that degree you open up the possibility for the justification of social action. Consciously and unconsciously, directly and indirectly, the prevailing idea of the Church is that it is institutional; if that is granted then social action becomes the logical conclusion of such thinking, whether one goes to the conclusion or not.

The proposition that the Church is part of the culture, or an integral aspect of society, is flawed, for the Church is not within the culture but stands over against the culture. It is not an agent of society but bears an affirmation to society that condemns society. With the culture the Church is not compatible: the master, purpose, and destiny of each is decidedly opposed. The Church does not exist in order that it might be an asset to the surrounding culture but in order that it might proclaim and exhibit the only true message of sin and salvation to the culture. So, the Church and society cannot be considered partners in a common endeavor but are antagonists, and it can be no other way.

The body of believers has always been part of the system, in the sense that the congregation is in the world but not of the world; the Church is not at home in the world but is a pilgrim longing for and anticipating its true home. The system, the culture or the society, is alien to the believer who can never settle down into an atmosphere that is foreign and constantly threatening to his commitment to Christ. The system does not need to be changed or improved in order to be acceptable, but it must be destroyed by the One who will make all things new. The very concept of the world-system is the problem.

It seems to me that the Church is essentially spiritual and communal, and the Kingdom is essentially spiritual and Theocratic, both of which close the door on social action. The Church is a relational organism, that is, it is a fellowship of believers who are in relationship to their Lord and Savior and therefore they are in relationship to each other. The Church is comprised of the people of the Kingdom. The essential nature of the Church is not conducive to concerted activity to change society; rather, its life is found in worship of the one true Lord.

The task of the Church is to give witness to the Gospel—proclamation, the news about the person and passion of Christ and its relationship to the establishment of the Kingdom. No longer is the nation of Israel the recipient of Revelation and, therefore, it does not have the responsibility to proclaim that Revelation. In replacing the nation the Church now receives and proclaims the Revelation. Since the Canon is closed the business of the Church is the proclamation of the message.

The mission of the Church is also demonstration, especially in terms of the life of love in the fellowship and forgiveness of others, most often outside the fellowship (Matt. 6:12-14; 18:23-25). “This display of Kingdom life is an essential element in the witness of the church to the Kingdom of God” (Ladd, Theology of the NT, 115).

Moreover, the Kingdom is not dependent on the activity of men; it is established by God not by men; in this sense the Kingdom is supernatural; it is God’s doing. The Kingdom is present and it is active; but it is unknown and unseen (according to the world, and really by the Church). It cannot be measured nor evaluated; it is a spiritual phenomenon. The already/not yet is misunderstood and misapplied if the degree of its manifestation in the present order is defined or explained by the extent or amount of societal transformation taking place.

It also strikes me that using the Kingdom concept to justify social involvement reveals a subtle and sinful, and perhaps unconscious, thinking that I can be effective in effecting the Kingdom. But the Kingdom is not of men but of God. There may be only 8 or there may be additions of 3000 or 5000 but it is of Him. I cannot effect the Kingdom and should not try; my purpose and challenge is to be faithful to the working of the Kingdom that I realize in my own life.

To critique the Kingdom's work by evaluating "change" in society or by looking for evidence of societal transformation is a vain attempt and reveals a misunderstanding of the essence of the Kingdom in a most extreme manner. Currently, the Kingdom is not outward but inward. To look for evidence is to confuse its essential nature.

The ethics of the believer who is experiencing the Kingdom is well stated in Matt. 6:33, and  the prayer of the believer is “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). The goal of the Church and the final realization of the Kingdom are of God not man; it will be realized by Him in answer to the believer’s prayer.

The kingdom of the son of man does not evolve out of the succession of world empires. It breaks out of the transcendence into the history of human struggles for power, as something utterly new (Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 14).

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