LEARNING TO PERCEIVE THE KINGDOM CORRECTLY
[Editor’s Note: This is the first of a five-part article dealing with the misperceptions many Christians have of the kingdom of God. What is the role of believers in the kingdom, how are they to impact the broader kingdom? Are there really two kingdoms?]
I begin by introducing you to Bill and Mary Wright. Bill is a 34 year old husband and father of two children, Terry 10 and Susan 7. Mary is a stay at home mom and has home schooled her children for a couple years, though they are presently attending a Christian school that meets in their church. Bill and Mary are active church members and clearly demonstrate a love for the Lord that is obvious to others.
Bill is a member of a successful law firm. He teaches a young adult Sunday school class in his church and is very active in civic events. He is on the church’s board of officers. You might call the Wright’s the quintessential Christian family.
Bill majored in political science in college and later entered law school. Presently, he is an active member of the bar. For several years Bill has had a desire to become more involved in politics. His friends have suggested that on a number of occasions, so has his wife Mary. He represents the more conservative line of political thinking and is certainly an advocate for rule of law in our country.
But as Bill thinks about this, he wrestles with a dilemma. He is a Christian and believes in church and state separation; therefore he wonders how he can be a good Christian and involved in politics at the same time. He has been taught by the system to think of religion as belonging to the private area of his life, including family and church, but politics is more for the public arena. He does not want to compromise his Christian faith by involving himself in an area that would require him to keep his religious beliefs, his Christian faith, to himself.
Bill’s situation reminds me of another occasion when I was teaching a seminar to leaders from several churches. The topic for the day was making kingdom disciples. I spent some time developing the point that there is actually more involved in making disciples than is often reflected and practiced by many today. I was explaining how being a Christian involved more than merely having a personal relationship with the Lord, than reading the Bible, praying, and witnessing. My point was that Christianity is a way of life, a total way of life, which many Christians fail to understand, especially today.
Christianity is a way of life, a total way of life
In trying to be as clear as possible, I said there is a sense in which you are no more spiritual when teaching a teenage Sunday school class on John 3:16, than you are teaching an eleventh grade mathematics class. The Bible teaches God’s special truth in what we would call the spiritual realm and the mathematics class teaches God’s truth in that broader realm. I continued–the only way you can know what John 3:16 means is for God to teach it to you and the only way that you can know that 2 plus 2 is 4 is because God is the author of all truth. Both are true because they come from God, as the God of all truth. Jesus commanded us to “make disciples” and we do that according to him, by teaching to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded, and by necessary inference, he has taught us. (Matthew 28:19-20)
If we see God’s truth wholistically, we are to be spiritual in everything that we do, 24/7 both in an out of the church. I am aware in saying this, many Christians do not understand this discipleship process. Their paradigm has been based on a wrong view of the church and kingdom, as well as discipleship itself. We will show this later, but for now, some see the church and kingdom as two separate entities while others see them as one and the same. While we believe neither of those are representative of the Bible’s teaching on the church of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, it is so important to understand what the two are and how they are related, especially as they impact our worship and service of God.
On another occasion, I was speaking at an annual convention of Christian school leaders. On the program was a young man who had also been influenced by the teachings of Francis Schaeffer. At that time he was serving in a staff position in Washington, D. C. He said in his address, that we would be pleased and amazed at how many of our members of Congress attend regular Bible studies. (This was several years ago). But then he said, you would be disappointed to see some of those same people move into the legislative hall and fail to incorporate those biblical truths into the issues with which they were dealing.
There is a false scenario that has penetrated our western world, including many of our churches, and it has caused people to see life from a dualistic, even fragmented perspective, thus creating Bill’s dilemma and keeping that 11th grade math teacher from seeing himself as a disciple maker in teaching math.
My purpose in this series of articles is to understand and evaluate the fallacy of Bill and Mary’s thinking about politics, and their misunderstanding of the church and Christianity, the false dichotomy reflected in the math class, and the failure of those politicians in Washington to know how to apply biblical truth to their civil responsibilities.
I want us to consider how the above examples have grown out of a wrong paradigm regarding education, especially Christian education and disciple-making but especially a wrong paradigm of the church and the kingdom of God (“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” Psalm 103:19; “Your Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” Psalm 145:13).
a WRONG PARADIGM of the church and the kingdom of god
There is much confusion and misunderstanding about God, truth, Christianity, the church and the broader kingdom. Consequently growing out of that confusion, we have shortchanged those things. We have gone to several extremes such as: truth is for the church and the church’s role is described as spiritual and should not focus on the issues that are confronting our lives every day—politics, science, economics, art, history and so it goes. Those are what we call kingdom of God issues which are not part of the “spirituality of the church.” This creates the misunderstanding that the church has nothing to say about those things. Not long after we formed our denomination (the PCA), we adopted a position on abortion. I remember one of my older minister friends saying to me, “I thought we were not going to deal with those kinds of social issues.” You might guess my response to him.
The opposite of that extreme is that the church should be involved in every kind of activity possible, building hospitals, focusing on politics, duplicating the university’s curriculum, and getting involved in every kind of social cause. Such a dualistic model represents part of Bill’s problem. He is really confused. Part of him belongs to the church and he must do certain things that are church related such as pray read the Bible, worship, and share the Gospel, while there is another part of his life that involves his law career which cannot be connected with the church because the church focuses only on the spiritual part of life.
Believing Christ’s great commission was given to his church, we therefore believe the church has a major role in the entire genre of Christian education by teaching the people to observe all things Christ has commanded. That is what we call “kingdom education” and kingdom education equips us for all of life.
We believe that it is both urgent and crucial for us to revisit this area of truth, the church and the kingdom, in order to think or rethink the assignments, roles, and spheres in making disciples. This of course assumes that discipleship presents a far greater challenge than simply focusing on the individual and his or her relationship to Christ in a saving sense. While all of Christian education must have the person and work of Christ as its nucleus, it must also include the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19,20, coupled with the first commission in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (ESV). Those two assignments are not antithetical nor should one replace the other. In looking at both commissions from the
Lord, we realize that Christianity has a broader application than mere Bible study though studying God’s Word is at the heart of the discipleship process. And while we would never attempt to demean the importance of Bible study, because the Bible actually gives us the foundation for all truth, simply studying the content of the Bible alone does not accomplish what we call kingdom education. We must not only understand the Word, we must also understand the world. However, our understanding of the world must be in light of understanding the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” Psalm 119:105.
To understand the whole concept of Christian education as kingdom discipleship (we use those two terms interchangeably), we must understand something of the relation of the church’s role and position within the broader kingdom. This is what we will address in this precis.
First, truth is truth. It is not fragmented into different areas of life and reality in a way that the parts are not held together by the whole. Truth is a unified whole whether we are speaking of the spirituality of the church or the broader areas of life. God’s revealed truth is intended to enable us to worship and serve Him in all of life, whether we are engaged in a small group or corporate prayer and Bible study or defending someone in the court of law.
Whether we are referring to Christian education as it relates to the church or to the entire kingdom of God, its goal is to encourage believers and their covenant children to do all to the glory of God in a winsome, Christ-like manner, even when it requires transcending our immediate culture or living counter-culturally in the process. Sadly, the church has not led the charge in challenging Christians to develop a Christian mind that knows how to think and reason from God’s perspective in all of life. Without that perspective, we have seen, especially in our western Christianity, an active Thomistic dualistic framework that separates the spiritual from the natural, the sacred from the secular, religion from science, and fact from faith. What this has tended to do has been to create a dualistic paradigm where Christians operate within the grace realm without a wholistic Christian philosophy of truth. It is at this point that much of Christianity in North America has missed the totality of Gods truth concept: hence, much of life is seen, at best, neutral where God’s truth is concerned. What this has also done is to separate the spiritual from the intellectual, not seeing the spiritual and intellectual unity in the transformation process that Paul calls the transformation of the mind, (Romans 12:1 &2).
In our seminar training in this area, we identify between 9-13 different notions about the church and the kingdom, what they are and how they relate to one another. As we stated, some believe that the church and kingdom are two antithetical entities, at least in this age. Others teach that there are two kingdoms. You find this in Luther’s theology and other places. Some maintain that our Westminster Standards teach that they are the same or identical. As we stated, our understanding of Scripture and Calvinistic, Reformed theology is expressed in the one kingdom concept with the church at the heart of the kingdom of God, with a special kingdom assignment.
ONE KINGDOM model
We will close this first part of the series by showing the one kingdom model. In part two of the next issue of Equip to Disciple, we will explain why we believe the one kingdom idea is the most consistent with the Scriptures and Reformed theology and the easiest way to show how the church and kingdom as one, though not synonymous, and . what difference that makes in educating and discipling God s covenant people.
We will dismiss the notion that some teach which places the church in some lesser role in the overall scheme of God’s plan. There is the kingdom and there is the church, but it is only a parenthesis part of the kingdom. According to this view we are living in the church age as though the kingdom is on hold at this moment.
We will also dismiss the idea that the church and the kingdom are two separate entities. The David Van Drunen book, in this review section, presents the “two kingdom” view. That view does appeal to some who are theologically reformed.
We take the position that will be described below, that the kingdom, which predates the church, now has the church at the heart of the kingdom. The kingdom is one and the church is part of that kingdom with the special assignment to make disciples for the purpose of worshipping and serving God in his Kingdom. There is no dualism, no separation of nature and grace, faith and fact, science and religion in this view of the kingdom. You will also see how the different parts of the kingdom, including the church at the center, have their unique, assignments.
In teaching the one kingdom concept, we use the terminology the kingdom general and the kingdom special. The general refers to the kingdom in its totality where the Lord reigns over all things. There is nothing over which Christ has not said “Mine.” It all belongs to Him and whatever we do we must do to His glory as we serve out His calling and purpose for our lives. The kingdom special refers to the church, which is the heart of the kingdom with the special assignment to disciple and equip its covenant people to know how to live 24/7 with a God-centeredness in the kingdom.
As you see from the following diagram, there is a separation of the church and state and other areas of the kingdom but that does not mean that the church is exempt from teaching people how to think biblically regarding the state. The book by Wayne Grudem in the review section is a good example of that. The church is not assigned to make political statements, on the other hand, as it teaches the Word and disciples its people, it is responsible to teach the people to “observe all things Christ has commanded” and the Bible does have things to say regarding the political arena. The same is true for science, philosophy, religion in general, history, art, and the entire spectrum of God’s reality.
While the church’s role is not to transform culture or society as it disciples its people to live with a biblically reformed world and life view, their witness and influence will make an impact on the culture, not by embracing it, but by living a Christlike life in every area of life. This is where the church appears to be failing in its assignment today therefore, there are those who say the church is irrelevant, that it has nothing to do with daily life. But the church is responsible to teach Gods truth in a way that demonstrates the relevance of the Christian faith in every part of life. Being disciples, with the whole armor of God’s truth, is what the church’s mission is all about. It needs to teach God’s word in the most relevant and practical way possible in order to train people to live out the truth that everything belongs to the Lord.
In the book Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework, chapter three gives an overview of the church and the kingdom that would be helpful to read in connection to this. But to expand the diagram in that book, we offer the following as a visual of the one kingdom paradigm.
What we will develop in part two will be a further explanation of the one kingdom idea with the church at the heart of the kingdom with its unique role to make disciples. This keeps the church focused on its spiritual mission but in doing so, it equips the people to know how to live from day to day with a kingdom world and life view perspective of all things. And in conclusion, if the church is faithful to concentrate on its assignment, not only will people become more Christ-like in their spiritual growth, they will be better equipped to allow that spiritual education to enable them to think with a transformed mind, seeking to have a positive witness for Christ without the misunderstanding that our assignment is to transform culture. Such a transformation belongs to Christ and will only happen in its fullness when Christ returns and the kingdom is fully and completely established. In the meantime, kingdom minded Christians will be sensitive not only to the redemptive role of the church, there will be some redemptive influence seen in the broader kingdom.
Should the Church Separate, Identify, Transform, or Effectively be Salt and Light in the World?
I have had people ask why it is so important to think from a kingdom world and life view perspective. Why is it important to have a right kingdom paradigm? Jesus said, “Seek first my kingdom…” The kingdom is our priority, if we listen to, seek to please, and serve Him. Of course, that requires knowing something about the kingdom in both its diversity of activities and roles, as well as its unity of purpose. Keep in mind, we are not speaking of the kingdom of God or kingdom of Christ in geographic terms, but rather of the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus as King over His kingdom. Things will change with His final return.
First, I would say that having the right kingdom perspective keeps our focus on the sovereign Lord and King. Life is really about Him and his will in the ultimate sense. We are here at His pleasure, and if we are in His favor, it is by His grace and mercy.
Second, a right view of the kingdom helps remind us that as Christians our lives are whole, not fragmented or chaotic. It avoids the mistake of saying one part of life belongs to the Lord and another part belongs to us, as though there is a part of life and reality that does not belong to the Lord. Life cannot operate with such a dualistic nor even antithetical view between the spiritual and the natural. There is no sacred and secular dualistic approach to life from a biblically reformed position.
Third, being kingdom focused in the wholistic sense, enables us to see that the special and general kingdom are actually one. As one kingdom, it includes the kingdom of darkness (with a little “k”), which should help us remember the church’s mission, as delineated by Jesus in places such as the Great Commission, is the spiritual mission of making kingdom disciples that requires discipling in a way that helps Christians know how to be in the world but not of the world. That is critical.
In Making Kingdom Disciples, A New Framework, we pointed out something we have learned, especially from Ecclesiastes. You can be a Christian and think like a Christian, or you can be a Christian and not think like a Christian, or you can be a Christian and sometimes think like a Christian and sometimes not. The church’s assignment is to enable those in Christ to be like Him, to think His thoughts, as both David and Paul have reminded us (Ps. 139:17, Rom. 12:1 & 2), and know how to be a witness for Christ to the world, as salt and light Christians, in a manner that does not compromise His truth.
Kingdom discipleship focuses on the transformation of the mind, not simply in an abstract way, but in a manner that enables Christians to know what God would have them to do in life, as they move outside the special kingdom (the church) into the kingdom general to live with a Christian perspective (see illustration on page 8). The key is to have a kingdom focus that understands and knows what it means to acknowledge King Jesus as Lord of all. Of course, you do not have to be a Christian to live in the kingdom general because it encompasses all of life and reality, but to be a Christian living in the kingdom, you must have a Christian perspective and commitment as you live each day. No matter whether you are a school teacher, a technician, a historian, a scientist, an artist, a politician, etc., God requires that we bring His will and the mind of Christ into all those areas of life. If the church is following His instructions regarding the discipleship of all Christians, young and old, we will be better equipped to live in this world in a way that brings honor and glory to our God and does so in a way that demonstrates a Christian influence in all things. Paul said, “Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we are to do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
As Abraham Kuyper demonstrated in his Lectures on Calvinism, and as does Robert Munger in his popular allegorical booklet My Heart, Christ’s Home, all of life belongs to Him. There is not one square inch that does not belong to Christ, as Kuyper said.
At this point I want to plant this “seed” and continue to water it as we move forward. One of the main concerns preachers and teachers should have, whether formally or informally, teaching the Word to children, youth, and adults, is this: “Are my students or members getting the truth and understanding that being a Christian involves more than the basic and essential personal relation with Jesus? Do they understand that Christianity is a way of life, not only at church or even at home, but in the world as well?”
You may have read or at least heard at some point about a book by Reinhold Niebuhr entitled Christ and Culture. He presents differing thoughts and views on how Christians should relate to their cultural setting. In that book Neibuhr lays out three possible models as they relate to the Christian and culture. The first is called the separational model which refers to Christians withdrawing from the world. The second is the identificational model which refers to Christians living in the world and often identifying, even compromising, with culture. The third is the transformational model which suggests that Christians are responsible to try to transform culture, its structures, laws, etc., seeking to end up with a Christian culture. You recognize that third model in some of the more recent movements such as “reconstruction theonomy” or “the moral majority” or “the new religious right movement.”
All three models revolve around how to be a Christian, in Christ, and how to live in the world in a way that does not compromise the Christian faith nor keep Christians from failing to serve God’s purpose in their lives. As the late Robert Webber once wrote, the issue is, “How can I be a Christian in this dog-eat-dog world?”
We respond to those three paradigms like this (by the way, there is some truth in each of the three though they are ultimately flawed in light of God’s Word):
First, the separation model reminds us that we are not to be of the world, in the sense that our morals, values, lifestyles, and ideologies are not to be determined by the world’s philosophies. However, the Bible does teach that we are to go into the world, yet doing so in a way that enables us to have a holy influence, by not withdrawing our Christian witness.
Second, the identification model opens the door to be both in the world and of the world which usually translates that the world has more influence on us than we have on the world. Again, we can and should use much in our culture as a means of serving God and bearing witness to Christ, but not to the point of comprising any part of God’s truth. We live in a fallen world and our culture is not free from the kingdom of darkness influence. Actually, we live in daily spiritual warfare. A further point to remember about this second model is that the more we are like something, especially what we are speaking against, the less influence we will have in that circumstance to make a difference.
Third, the transformation model indicates that Christians have the responsibility to build a Christian society which is done not only by word and deed but by legislation as well.
As we understand the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Christ paradigm, we realize that while the kingdom is very present with us, there is also along with that now aspect, the not yet eschatological fulfillment that will happen only with the return of Christ. At that time everything will be transformed into the new heavens and new earth, but not until then will we see complete transformation.
If the above remarks are true, then what is the church’s collective and the Christian’s individual roles in the kingdom? In one sense, as many have said, the church is presently the most visible form of the kingdom; however, we must remember that while the church is that special part of God’s kingdom (see the diagram from the first article in Equip to Disciple, particularly in their roles of making disciples), it must do so in a way that enables Christians to live in the world, unspotted from the world, as “salt and light” Christians. And, we must realize, and not expect, the church, to move beyond its assignment into the general kingdom. For example, while the church must “teach us to observe all things that Christ has commanded,” including how to think from a Christian perspective regarding government or the state, the church does not make political statements that take it outside the kingdom’s special realm and task. Would that the kingdom general were more like the church but not the church like the kingdom general, in all the aspects of life and reality, at least not until Christ returns. However, I think we could say that if the church is faithful in carrying out its disciple-making role, there certainly should be a noticeable Christ-likeness in all areas of life from Christians.
We need to realize that while this approach will not end in cultural transformation, and God does not require that of us, it will enable Christians to be in the world but not of the world and to have, by God’s common grace, a godly influence on those around them without communicating a “holier than thou” attitude. That attitude may in fact give us an opportunity to speak prophetically to that situation or circumstance.
For example, in a certain high school mathematics class there appears to be cheating on tests and homework. It seems as though almost everyone is doing it. The Christian young person understands that he must live the truth, do his work, and trust the Lord for the results, even when his friends make it easy for him to follow their pattern. You see, that test or homework assignments are not about the student, they are about God whom the Christian represents in that class and what He expects from His students.
Or take the business man compiling his yearly taxes. He knows from some of his associates how to end run the system and violate some of the tax laws, but because his primary mission in his business is to serve Christ and seek to honor Him, he will not allow himself to follow their example.
Or think of all the wife or husband swapping going on in today’s world. Everybody does it and who cares, so what’s the big deal? Christians must care because God has clearly spoken His mind and will regarding sexual behavior and marriage. We do not participate in those activities that violate God’s revealed will. Why? To make us acceptable to God? No, because God, having already chosen us in Christ, desires that our motive be to please Him by living a godly and holy life.
Developing this world and life kingdom focus means that sermons and Bible studies must be presented in such a way that helps the people to be able to make that kind of world and life view connection. We must know that people in the pew and in our classes struggle to make that connection. They often need help in doing that. So, rather than saying or being tempted to think, “The only way I can survive in this life is to compromise the Christian faith in the marketplace,” we stand strongly and firmly in the Lord and say, “Because of Christ, I cannot compromise His truth even if I am the only one not participating.” That’s where the church’s role to equip Christians to think like a Christian and to live like one, no compromise, but rather to live in a way where all for Jesus comes into play.
While it is true that Christians live in or may come from different cultures, one being family, another church, another the marketplace, in public and in private, the kingdom disciple, equipped and trained by his church and his own personal studies and devotions, realizes that his life is all about King Jesus. Even as he is trapped in the tension and temptation to be like the world, he realizes giving in to temptation is not God’s will for his life. And remember, as the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12: 1, 2, as we think with a transformed mind, transformed by the Word and Spirit, we will know what God would have us to do.
That, my friends, is what kingdom education or discipleship is all about. Equipping Christians to live for Jesus in a way that serves His purpose through us to this generation. And the earlier we understand that in our Christian lives, the greater our desire will be to serve and please him and consequently experience His power within us. As He said to Pilate on the night of the trial, “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” Those words from Jesus, at that crucial moment in His life, have a message for us. From cradle to grave we are to be people of the truth. That’s what the church is all about-the truth. Paul calls the church the ground and pillar of truth. God’s truth in all of life, helps us through encouragement, instruction, and fellowship as we seek to live for him each day.
We must work and pray for the church to maintain its spiritual role of making kingdom disciples in order for those disciples to live as a Christian in today’s world. One depends on the other even as both the kingdom general and the kingdom special work to serve the same end or purpose which is “seeking to bring honor and glory to God in all things.”
(In part three we will attempt to describe and design the church’s role in discipling God’s covenant people.).
THE BODY OF CHRIST – SHAPING THE KINGDOM
In this third part, focusing on the church and kingdom, we seek to offer some suggestions that can be used by churches who desire to have a discipleship ministry following what we refer to as a kingdom model or framework for making disciples. In parts 1 and 2, we attempted to underscore the concept the church and kingdom are intimately related but are not synonymous. We set forth the concept the church is the heart, even the control center, of the kingdom and its told is to train, equip, and disciple the people to be actively involved in living the Christ in the broader and all-inclusive kingdom of God. Another way of saying this is the church’s role is to disciple its people, whether business men, housewives, youth, teachers, scientists, economists, or waste management people, etc., to live in their specific spheres, seeking to do all to the glory of God. To be in the church is to be involved in the kingdom and our desire is as you are in the kingdom, living for the Lord in all and in whatever you do, you will have a positive witness that would enable some in the kingdom, not yet in the church, to come to faith and repentance and see the Lordship of Christ over all things. After all, in Jesus’ definition of the Gospel in Mark 1, it is the good news of the kingdom requiring faith and repentance.
Having said that, and for a brief review of parts 1 and 2, lets begin to see what discipleship in the local church looks like in action. To help you understand the concept of making kingdom disciples in contrast to other types of discipleship, I will share with you some descriptive phrases from seminary students I had the privilege of teaching. Each time I taught the course in the Educational Ministry of the Local Church, I always asked this question, “What would a church committed to making kingdom disciples look like and how would it differ from another church that takes a different approach?”
I enjoyed reading and scoring those exams. Here are some of the things the students said in response to my question:
“A church committed to making kingdom disciples would have to first of all take the charge seriously The call is to raise up and train soldiers for the Lord’s army. To do this there has to be commitment from the church leadership to go all in and remain more committed to quality disciples than merely focusing on numbers. This task entails more than educating people on the basics of the Christian faith; it requires a discipleship which is life-on-life in passing on the Christian worldview to each member of the covenant community. Actually, it requires people in the program to know how to think God’s thoughts after him (2 Cor. 10: 5) and apply them to all of life.
To be effective the church has to be very intentional in what it does. For example, the teaching elder/s and the ruling elders and others who lead and teach must understand and possess a passion for teaching and implementing kingdom discipleship principles. This means teaching and preaching in a manner that will enable the people to know how to apply God’s word to all of life because each disciple must understand that no matter what his vocation, he is an image bearer of God who can move into their sphere of influence and seek to expand Gods kingdom.”
Another said, “A kingdom minded church will educate parents and train them to create a home environment where faith stands at the center of family life. Through devotions, family worship, walking through the tasks of daily life together, the children will not only learn about the kingdom from their parents but they will also see them living kingdom principles or having a kingdom focused lifestyle. And, there will be a definite and strategic involvement in the covenant family, the church.
Kingdom discipleship models how to understand and apply biblical teachings to all aspects of life.”
Another said, “The church following the kingdom model for making disciples will seek to understand and help its people understand more accurately and discerningly the world around them. It seeks to understand the culture and how influential that is in daily living and often works against the things of the Lord. Plus the church that centers on making kingdom disciples will be aware of the importance of understanding God’s word and how that impacts the necessity of developing relationships which require a good solid understanding of covenant theology.
Churches that use the kingdom model of discipling its people are more holistic and complete in the process. It doesn’t simply focus on formation or information but transformation. Paul refers in Romans 12:2 to the necessity of changing the way we think in order to know what God would have us do.”
Another student wrote, “The church is called to be the light of the nations, but if she is blinded by cultural darkness, how can she point the way? Making kingdom disciples, as opposed to merely doing traditional discipleship under a specific program, is redemptive, relational, and transformational, not just for oneself but for all of creation as well. The church following the kingdom model of making disciples will be outwardly focused.”
Seeing the difference described above, the local church interested in the challenge to make kingdom disciples, who in turn will live for the Lord in whatever they are doing and wherever they find themselves, will start by designing a strategy for adult discipleship. Therefore, we will focus on the adults in this article, not to shortchange the youth and children but to start where the covenant starts namely “I will establish my everlasting covenant and be God to you and your offspring after you…”(Gen. 17:7).
- Kingdom disciples need to be trained and equipped in a good working knowledge of the Bible. Bible teaching must be built into the very core of the discipleship process. In the Bible we come to know God, as he wants to be known, and we come to know who we are as his fallen yet redeemed image bearers. Studying the Bible helps kingdom disciples know the truth.
- We must learn the Christian doctrines taught in the Bible. Those doctrines form a clear statement as to what kingdom disciples believe. You can do #l without doing #2 but you cannot do #2 without studying the Bible (#1).
- Discipling, which includes all aspects of Christian living, will be included in the process. God intends for us to live and model what we profess to believe at home, at work, at church, and wherever we find ourselves. This requires living with a 24/7 concept of the Christian life. Christianity is a way of life 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
- To be a kingdom disciple requires not only knowing what we believe and why, but the Bible states that we need to know how to respond to anyone who asks us why we believe what we believe (1 Peter 3:15). To respond to that instruction effectively, we need to know something of what is happening in the world about us, first to keep us pursuing godliness and holiness of life, and second, in order not to be like the world, ideologically and in our lifestyle. Christianity is the truth and whatever is not in accord with that truth is in error and we must be equipped to discern the situation and the context in which we live. As has been said, we need to be bi-lingual, first speaking the language of the believing community and second knowing the language of the world around us and how to speak in the most meaningful way.
- Not to demean the importance of experience and lifestyle, Paul says that how we live will be based on how we think and what we believe. In Romans 12:2 he writes about transforming or changing the way we think. In I Corinthians 14:20 he instructs us to be adults in our thinking. Therefore, being a kingdom disciple and making kingdom disciples involves, even requires, transformation of our minds. And any kingdom disciple making process will include the emphasis on developing a Christian mind, which I and others like to describe as “thinking God’s thoughts after him,” a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 10:5. Our thoughts as kingdom disciples about God are strategically important. He reveals them to us in his Word that we might be able to know him as he wants to be known. That’s what David said in Psalm 139:17. This means that a kingdom disciple is always challenged to see things God’s way or from God’s vantage because, after all, it is about God and not primarily us. If our thoughts are wrong about God then everything else is out of focus. It is in his light we see light, as the psalmist reminds us. Our adult process will include knowing the Word in the context of the world and how to seek God’s perspective on things. I believe that is the church’s key assignment and if that happens, we will see Christians making a difference in the home and the marketplace, as well as the church.
Because those whom we have the opportunity to disciple are at different levels of spiritual maturity, one size does not always fit all. We offer the following three-year design, which is an approach that we have found helpful and effective in disciple making. We do not intend it to be the program but simply a way to begin to implement some of the basics in discipling adults with a kingdom perspective. You can use the format and have your input as to the particulars.
At this point we are going to direct you to our website. www.pcacep.org, for that three-year paradigm and conclude by highlighting its main points. As you refer to the website, you will notice that we have suggested designing your discipleship around three main areas—Bible, Doctrine, and Christian living. You will also observe suggested resources from which to choose your implementation. We encourage you to think wholistically about the process. This will include preaching and worship, Sunday school, small group Bible studies, and one on one emphasis. Before you implement your program it would be helpful for the leaders and teachers to go through, as a group, Making Kingdom Disciples, A New Framework. That will give you an idea of having a kingdom world and life view perspective. If you have that kingdom perspective and realize that your aim is transformation of the people being discipled you will need a fourth focus not reflected in the above schematic from our website and that will involve classes. studies, discussions, etc., dealing with issues and topics from a kingdom world and life view perspective. For example: apologetics, understanding the world and how to communicate the truth of the Gospel, bio-ethics, especially if you have medical people in your church. It could include all kinds of mercy ministry training, government from a biblical perspective, even a Christian view of sports and recreation. The challenge in the process is to encourage and help those you are discipling to think from a Christian perspective with the freedom to reach some different conclusions or applications if that is what is required.
I will list several resources we have used and recommended for use in Sunday school classes, home Bible studies, mens meetings, college students, etc., that focus on developing a Christian world view growing out of the all inclusive kingdom perspective that underscores the sovereignty of God and kingship of Christ over all things.
Five of the best books of the Bible to study focusing on a wholistic view of the kingdom are: Ecclesiastes, Job, Isaiah, Mark, and Revelation.
Four video series we have used and highly recommend are: The Truth Project – 12 parts but can be used effectively in 24 parts; Doing the Right Thing, a six part symposium dealing with today’s approach to ethics in all areas of life, especially business, bio-ethics, etc., and narrated by Britt Hume of Fox News, with six panelists including Chuck Colson and Robert George as the leaders; a video series based on Chuck Colson’s The Faith, Given Once for All is another worthwhile series, Politics and the Christian Faith, by Chuck Colson – four parts, all of which are video format.
Books (These have been reviewed in Equip to Disciple and reviews can be found online at equip.pcacep.org) Living at the Crossroads, An Introduction to Christian Worldview, Michael W Goheen and Craig G. Batholomew, nine chapters that can be read and discussed; Renewing Minds, David S. Dockery easily read and can generate rich discussion; Hidden Worldviews, Eight Cultural Stories that Shape Our Lives, Steve Wilkins and Mark Stanford; Politics According to the the Bible, Wayne Grudem, exhaustive but easy to read and discusses the topic of politics; a brief but challenging book on Abraham Kuyper, by Richard Mouw, and two books by Nancy Pearcey Total Truth and Saving Leonardo contain much food for thought and discussion regarding the world and life view kingdom perspective of life and reality We could go on and on but if you seriously seek to develop this fourth track which is vital to the process of making kingdom disciples, our CEP office and staff, including the bookstore, can assist you with numerous resources to meet your needs.
All the above thoughts and resources are to help you develop an approach or action plan to take your church from an effective body of Sunday believers to an effective army of ambassadors for Christ in everyday life. As Paul said, we cannot be effective in our task by using the ways of the world; however, we will be less effective we do not understand something of the ways of the world. But I close this third part with a well taken warning issued by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. in his powerful book, Engaging God’s World, (which would also be a powerful study for your list), who asks, “Suppose we get close enough to secular culture to understand it, to witness to it, to try in some way to reform it. How do we keep from being seduced by it?” That is where accountability, being iron sharpening iron, and coming alongside with others comes into play and that is where Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 10:2-6 also comes into play.
The Body of Christ: The Next Generations
In our Christian education and Publications training events, we use the phrase “the whole Gospel for the whole church.” We have been asked what we mean by that, to which we have responded: Kingdom discipleship focuses on the whole truth of scripture, and its audience is the entire church at all age levels.
In Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework, we point out that Calvin’s emphasis regarding making disciples begins at the earliest stages of a covenant person’s life. The sooner we begin to self-consciously disciple our covenant children, the easier it will be for them to see themselves as covenant children belonging to God’s kingdom and that being a Christian is not only about going to church, or personally believing in Jesus, or reading or hearing the Bible, but every day of the week in all things we are to live for Christ. He is Lord of all. As we have said many times, discipleship involves “teaching to observe all things that God has commanded” and that is connected with baptism. It involves helping our children understand who they are, as well as who God is. As we teach them by the Word and example, our prayer is that they will soon claim for themselves that reality.
In the three previous issues of Equip to Disciple we have focused on: What is the kingdom? What is the church? How do they relate, and what is their respective roles in God’s sovereign plan? As the covenant family, we must obey the Lord’s command expressed in both commissions referred to in previous articles.
I have asked Ms. sue Jakes, our Christian education specialist who focuses on children’s ministry, and our youth and family consultant, Danny Mitchell, to give us their ideas about how a local church can implement a plan of disciple-making with our families, children, and youth. You will recall in the previous issue of equip to Disciple, we made suggestions for the adult education or discipleship strategy.
If nothing else will bring you to the throne of grace begging for mercy and wisdom, the responsibility of discipling children will. And the whole body of Christ has that responsibility. Before we consider each portion of our duty, we must pray that we would never hinder, but always aid, our children’s journey into and through the Kingdom. We must also pray daily for the children in our home and church, that the spirit will work in their hearts that they might become true Jesus men and women.
The most strategic place for making Kingdom disciples in the local church is in the ministry to children. Not only are the children learning and growing, but also all who are teaching and leading are growing as disciples in the process. Most educators agree that one does not truly know anything until he teaches it, and as we teach the Word to young children we can expect it to be life-changing, not only for them, but for us. The foundation of our disciple making ministry for children should be the true teaching of the Word which conforms to what is being preached from the pulpit. Great Commission Publications’ Show Me Jesus curriculum teaches the whole counsel of God, seeing Christ in all of scripture, and trains the teachers to communicate the gospel story in every lesson. Whether this complete Bible curriculum is used in Sunday school or some other Bible instruction setting, it should be foundational in the training of the children in your church.
In conjunction with the knowledge of the Word which leads us to Christ, children must be indoctrinated, understanding what they believe and why. For centuries the church has catechized her children. We must not stop now, but if we have ceased this practice, we must begin again. Very few catechism programs in the church are successful without strong parental involvement. If you have a special program intended for catechism memory, parents should be guided in their home study and memory work with their children.
A kingdom disciple is not only one who knows King Jesus, but one who loves, serves, and thinks like King Jesus. How do we begin to take our children from the classical grammar stage of their faith into the logical and rhetorical living out of what they believe? A standard component of our ministry to children must be parental training. It is the serving, giving, loving, obedient parent who will most likely produce a serving, giving, loving, obedient child. Again, this is a heart issue, but no person can see a parent’s heart better than their own child. They are blessings in this way – always reminding us of our need of saving grace. As we know and see the needs of each individual child, the church’s ministry is to ask what we can do to aid the parent in bringing the child to Christ. This is the gospel message – Jesus came down to earth, becoming man, and we must meet every child and family where they are, while knowing that our God is faithful. He is most glorified when the most difficult circumstances are overcome each day by the work of his grace. True kingdom ministry is never trying to get around a special need, but looking for the power of God to work mightily in it.
As a child sees the gospel in everyday living, he must be given every opportunity to use his faith language. Children should be praying. They must watch us pray, pray with us, and then be encouraged to pray continually. serving the family, the Body, and the community is also using their faith language. As we find each child’s gifts by exploring what they love to do, we must then give them many occasions to serve others. Children should also have the opportunity to verbally communicate what has been imparted to them. Again, we tell them all that we know, but do they really know it until they have to teach it themselves? Often times we shy away from having older children teach younger, but this is still the best training ground if they are going to be disciple-makers themselves. And isn’t this the only true measure that we have made a disciple – that they become disciple-makers themselves?
Are we teaching our children to take every thought captive to Christ? Are we defining the culture through the Kingdom grid? The church and home must come together continually and ask these questions, holding one another accountable to the task of training our children by God’s Deuteronomy 6 method. We must talk of these things when we rise up.
Do our families begin the day with Kingdom talk, giving God’s purpose for the day that he has made? And when we sit down, are we reading the Word at home around the meal table, discussing truth and how we apply it to all of life? And when we walk along the way (or drive in the car), are we spending our time wisely preparing our hearts for Kingdom work, singing his songs, telling his stories? And when we lie down, do we remember his good deeds and pray for all those who we are called to remember and serve? Life is war and our children must be armed for it on every front.
It is time to raise our expectations for the next generation of Kingdom disciples. But as we raise our expectations we must also raise our commitment to the task to which God has called us. examine your home and church. Are we getting by with programs and ideas that we hope will work out in the end? Or do we have a clear vision about what we are to do and how we are to implement God’s plan for making Kingdom disciples? You can read this and be overwhelmed or overjoyed. We must be overjoyed that God would continually entrust us with his children and his promise. He will be God to our children and our children’s children. And as we obey him in his commission to make disciples by populating the world with the next generation of Christians, we must never be overwhelmed because he has all authority in heaven and on earth, and he is with us.
Most churches will at some point wrestle with the question of purpose for their ministry to the next generation. The answer to this foundational question becomes the destination point that the entirety of the youth program is moving toward. In the same way that a GPs needs the destination point in order to tell you how to get there, a youth ministry needs a desired outcome to be able to chart the best course of action. Without a well-thought out, biblically-informed, easily-understood purpose, your youth ministry will waste valuable time on programs that do little more than entertain the rising generation. For this reason, every church should not only do the work necessary to answer the question of purpose in ministry to youth, but it should regularly use that purpose as the lens with which the youth program is evaluated.
In youth ministry, our first inclination is to judge a program by numbers. Our second inclination is to try to decide the effectiveness of what we do by determining how much fun our students had at a particular event. unfortunately, we are often further down the list of ministry critiques before we start analyzing our program based on whether or not Kingdom disciples are being produced. It is a sad indictment for any church that would believe that their ministry to the next generation is doing its job because 100 youth went on the ski trip or they all had an awesome time at the lock-in. That is not to knock the value of these types of events in a youth program. Youth need places within the body of Christ to have fun. However, the call of the Church is to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. This is the basis and purpose of our ministry to rising generations. It is also the standard by which we should judge our youth programs. How does your annual trip to the slopes of Colorado help your church develop your youth as Kingdom disciples? Or, for that matter, how does helping with recreation at VBs help a teenager become a Kingdom disciple? By asking these kinds of questions, your church can more effectively use its resources to grow the next generation into a generation that seeks after the Lord.
Whether your church decides to continue, cancel or add a ski trip to Colorado is a decision that can be made at any point. There are any number of disciple-making reasons to decide to go, and any number of reasons that a church would decide not to. In other words, the methodology of disciple-making in youth ministry can vary from church to church. One example that several churches in our denomination are dealing with, concerning their youth programs, has to do with summer mission trips. Traditionally, youth ministries go on a summer mission trip. There was a time that many of us felt that that the more exotic the locale, the more effective the trip would be. Getting students out of their comfort zone; so we scoured the globe for just the right comfort-stretching location. In an attempt to be missional in our “Jerusalem,” the trend over the past few years has been to look closer to home for our summer youth mission experience. Both types of trips can be effective in helping grow your students into Kingdom disciples. Your youth ministry decision-makers can make that call. The kingdom disciple-making principle here is that the youth of your church need to be engaged in outreach ministries; ideally, both global and local, but the ministry context of a particular church and available resources will drive that decision.
There are several other kingdom disciple-making principles that should be part of any youth program. Before we go further, it may be helpful to give a working definition of a Kingdom disciple. A Kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after Him and applies them to all of life. That is what your church should be striving toward with its youth ministry. That is the answer to the question of purpose for next generation ministries. The next step is to think about the kingdom disciple-making principles that come from our purpose and should be part of your youth program. From these principles, your church should make its programmatic decisions.
- Knowing the Word: every church needs to work to effectively teach the Word of God to its teenagers. using biblically strong material like Great Commission and Publications’ So What? youth Bible studies is important. However, you also need teachers of the Word who know how to apply it to this generation of teenagers. This requires that adults be willing to spend adequate time in teaching preparation, time listening to the struggles and joys of their youth, and time learning what is going on in youth culture. At most, we will have three or four opportunities (sunday school, sermon, youth group and discipleship group) each week to teach the Word to the students in our church. That is maybe four hours out of each week. This is why we must take every opportunity to teach the next generation seriously. At the same time, we need to be equipping our youth with the resources to study, understand and apply the Word on their own. Neglecting this step can cost your students dearly as they move out into the world without the ability to understand and apply the Word without someone telling them how.
- Teaching the Word: students need opportunities within the safety of the Body of Christ to teach the word of God to younger children and youth. Teaching the Word not only forces the student to learn it but also moves them into the process of becoming a disciple-maker. This is a scary thought for some churches because teenagers are… well… teenagers, and they say and do teenage things. Relax. God has been using our weakness to perfect his power since… well… adults ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil and were cast out of the Garden of eden.
- Modeling the Word: This is so important that doing it justice in a few short sentences is not possible. The bottom line is that the next generation needs adults in their lives who will form meaningful relationships with them for extended periods of time. And here is the crazy part: youth desire relationships with adults who will listen and speak into their lives. This is not just a biblical mandate for God’s covenant people but modern-day research is saying the same thing. You can read researchers like George Barna, Christian smith, Walt Mueller, and Chap Clark to verify the claim that was just made. The youth in your church need…YOu.
- Living the Word: The youth in your church need to learn how to live and function in community. Youth group gatherings can be good places for this to happen. They can force students to deal with conflict, with other personalities and with the opposite sex within a structured environment. However, they need to learn to do this within the multi-generational Body of Christ as well. This means constantly isolating the youth from the rest of the church stunts their growth as functional members of the Body.
- Spreading the Word: Youth need to be trained and have opportunity to be engaged in outreach ministry.
- Praying the Word: studies show that Christians stink at praying. studies also show that we, adults, are reproducing ourselves in the next generation. If A + B = C in this case, then the next generation is not going to be known as a praying generation. Do your students know the value of praying? Have they seen it modeled within the youth program?
Any point when multiple kingdom disciple-making principles are happening at once is a special youth ministry moment. This is often one sign that a youth ministry is thinking in terms of Kingdom disciple-making. One example of how we do this at CEP is our YXL (Youth eXcelling in Leadership) conference where all six of these principles are happening in one conference. The website www.yxl.pcacep.org has information about all three YXL conferences. Youth Sunday school is a place in the local church to re-imagine by using the kingdom-disciple paradigm. It is a time that should be more than just about knowing the Word. How many other of the principles should come into play if we just ask the question “How effective is our youth Sunday school at producing Kingdom disciples?”
For a multitude of reasons, raising the next generation is not an easy call God has given to His people, but it is a critical call. At the same time, it is a call that we should delight in helping to fulfill. Perhaps the greatest delight is that the call comes to the whole Covenant Community, not just a handful of brave volunteers or paid staff in your church. It is only when we join together as God’s people that will we most effectively grow the next generation into Kingdom disciples. May God find us to be faithful stewards of this call!
THE CHURCH, THE KINGDOM, AND DISCIPLESHIP THE SPIRITUAL OFFENSIVE
Concluding our thoughts, or rather trying to think God’s thoughts about the church, the kingdom, and discipleship, as we have done in three previous issues, think of the church as the control or command center of the Kingdom, at least in this “now, not yet” framework of the kingdom. John Frame refers to the church as the headquarters of God’s Kingdom. I like that as well.
If we follow through with this military motif, I think we can easily see that the church’s task is to disciple or train the troops, equip the saints, to live, fight, and go forth into the world with the good news of the Kingdom, centered on the person and work of Christ, who not only redeems us from sin but chooses to use us to advance his kingdom among all the nations of the earth. We understand that God has given us the two great commissions, namely the cultural commission in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that lives on the earth,” and the discipling commission in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” For both to be effectively and strategically obeyed depends largely on the church focusing on its task of fulfilling its role of training and discipling its people, namely the body of Christ, to serve Him in all of life. Actually, we can say that the brightness and the effectiveness of the kingdom today will be determined by its energy source, which is the church. As the heart of the kingdom, as we have maintained, the church is the main power source for making Kingdom disciples. Of course, the church derives its power and energy from the King Himself.
This actually means that the church must focus on two critical assignments. One, the church is to set the pace for kingdom living, and two, the church must disciple its people to live for Christ and the kingdom in all of life. Both require us to know that kingdom living involves us in a spiritual warfare, and therefore the church is God’s instrument to train and equip the people for that warfare.
In one sense we could say that is the nuts and bolts of the kingdom paradigm. Understood in that light, the Gospel is not simply about the church, nor is it only about a person’s salvation. The Christian gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God, is a total way of life—”in all things Christ preeminent,” “in all things, give thanks,” and do all, no matter what we do, in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Think about what the Gospel is! In Mark 1:14 Jesus defines the Gospel as the good news of the coming of the kingdom. Yes, it is good news of the’ “announcement centered on the coming and the appearance of Jesus the King but also on the concept of realizing the Gospel is actually the coming of the Kingdom. Let’s say Mark 1:14 or Matthew 3 announce the first phase of the Kingdom, which should be no surprise if we have read the Old Testament promises regarding the coming of the King, and then the New Testament as we see the prophesies of the coming of the King being fulfilled as we enter the first phase (the now part of the kingdom). They remind us of the final fulfillment of the kingdom, as they conclude their gospel accounts of that final eschatological stage.
In the process of formulating my thoughts and understanding regarding the kingdom and the Church years ago, I was helped by reading Geerhardus Vos’s The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church. Among his teaching on the topic, Vos wrote, “To him (the King) the Kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings man to the willing recognition of the same” (page 50). He then goes on to state, “it (the Kingdom) is the state of things in which everything converges and tends toward God as the highest good”.
In seeking to flesh out these thoughts regarding the role of the church, the kingdom, and the wholeness of discipleship, I began to realize their connectedness, and since that realization have sought to develop this concept over the years in my ministry. As the church carries out its task of discipling its people with both commissions, we see Christ moving throughout the earth as the King with His law and gospel. From a kingdom perspective, I agree with John Frame that while the Bible clearly distinguishes the difference between salvation by works and salvation by faith, I do not believe that it makes such a sharp distinction between the law and Gospel (see Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life). I further began to realize that the law was never a means of salvation nor was it ever its intention to be. While it has a diversity of functions to show us our sinfulness and need of a savior by revealing the kind of life that befits a Christian or kingdom disciple, it was never intended as a means of earning our salvation, which has always been by grace through faith in the Lord.
From there I began to realize more and more that while God is sovereign over all the ways He has chosen to work out that sovereignty, He has chosen the concept of the kingdom, working itself out in history as we know it. To piggy back on Abraham Kuyper’s notion there is not one square inch of life over which Christ has not said “mine”, the way we come to see the reality of that statement is through the Holy Spirit’s opening our eyes to see the centrality of the person and work of Christ, whose death and resurrection bring triumph over Satan.
That being the truth, it means the church’s task is to train Christian soldiers, the army of the kingdom, to move out into the world, the broader kingdom, which encompasses all things, with His saving power, which defeats our enemy Satan, the Devil. This is where thinking of the church as God’s army, regularly gathered for worship, instruction, fellowship, to receive the kind of training that enables us to move out into the world, in all areas of life, in the name of King Jesus, seeking to be salt and light, and having a godly, holy, sanctifying influence in the world is what the Kingdom, the church, and discipleship are all about.
One way of saying this is while the church must carry out its task of helping the members grow in the likeness of Christ, thus demonstrating their creation in God’s image, it must also concentrate on training its people to do kingdom activities effectively and strategically beyond the church.
What this means is that the church’s assignment includes calling people to repentance, and to equip them to live as kingdom people. This must be done as the New Testament commission (Matthew 28) states, through preaching and teaching all things that Christ has commanded, but to do that in a way that encourages, instructs, and challenges the people to live Christianly in a secular type of world.
I believe we can go so far as to say, if the church is only training and discipling its people to live within the context of the church and not the kingdom, it is failing to carry out both of the Lord’s commissions of going into the world with the Gospel and subduing all things to and for the sake of Christ. Could that be why the church in our culture has become so marginalized and neutralized, not having the impact that salt and light is intended to have? Could that be why the culture has moved so far away from God’s truth in all areas?
This further means evangelism is an important part of God’s plan to proclaim His Kingship, and people must be trained to share the Gospel. That is an important ingredient
in obeying the whole counsel of God by going into the world as God’s ambassadors, seeking to do all to the glory of God, by living according to His rules so that no matter whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, as Paul said, we are to do all to the glory of and in the name of Jesus becomes a means of demonstrating the truth of gospel by our lifestyle.
I have heard people say that the primary task of the church is evangelism (outreach). I have heard others say that its role is taking care of the saints (inward). In reality if we have a kingdom perspective of the Gospel, we will see both commissions coming together into one grand commission to do all to the glory of God in the name of King Jesus. This means that while the church’s assignment is to teach to observe all things that Christ has commanded, it must not fail to disciple people with a Kingdom perspective which involves not only teaching the truth, such as John 3:16, but teaching that all truth is God’s truth, helping its people to develop a Christian mind that thinks from a consistently Christian perspective about every area of life. And while there are broader kingdom activities that can also help in that task, the stimulus, the encouragement, and the consistent teaching of the Word of God from the
church are critical in the carrying out of God’s commission(s). This perspective can help remind the church that evangelism is part of the discipleship training and implementation of it.
I have been challenged as one involved in the church’s discipleship assignments over the years, to realize that while there are many aspects of that training, part of it has to involve developing an apologetic approach for taking the good news into all the world. The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:15) instructed us “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” In this connection I agree with some who have said Christians need to learn to be bi-lingual. By that I mean, with Paul, we must realize that spiritual truth is spiritually discerned, (1 Cor. 2:14 & 9:19). We must know how to speak the truth to one another in order to encourage, build up, and share our common faith and beliefs. But this also means we must also know how to communicate that same truth to those in the broader kingdom who are not yet part of the church. We see this in passages such as 2 Kings 18 where Eliakim said to Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” (I am indebted to the insights of Walter Bruggemann on this point (Interpretation and Obedience, From Faithful Reading to Faithful Living, Fortress Press)).
Because the Gospel is not simply for the church (the special kingdom or the heart of the Kingdom), but for all the world, the whole kingdom, we must learn to speak clearly and articulately, the truth of God in the language of today’s people. Sometimes, simply speaking the truth to those not a part of the church as we would speak to those in the church, may not be the most effective way to communicate the good news of the kingdom. By that I mean that simply quoting Scripture alone may not be sufficient. However, part of the church’s assignment in training the people also entails teaching them healthy or sound doctrine in order not to compromise or alter the truth in the process, regardless of the language.
I think while we can say on the one hand the church’s task is to bring salvation to the whole world, we could more clearly follow Jesus explanation to Pilate when he responded as to who he was and why he was on earth. Remember what he said? My purpose in being here and coming into the world is to bear witness to the truth. And the truth is that neither life nor any area of life works as it should, if Christ is not the center and predicate of all knowledge. As we carry that message by word and deed into all areas of life, our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will use us and our witness, to bring to faith and repentance to those for God’s whom Jesus died on the cross, and that men seeing our good works, as Jesus said, will glorify our Father in heaven. This means that while we cannot isolate ourselves from the world in theory and in practice, we can and must be in the world but not of the world. Kingdom people are disciples who are in the process of becoming as much like Christ the King as is humanly possible. Only as we live with that kingdom perspective and wholistic framework, will we ever see Christianity impacting the marketplace of the world.