161. the Kingdom of God
This Sunday at the Home Church I attend (yeah, a church that meets at a home…more on this church in another blog), we had a guest speaker named Kawika. As far as I could tell, he’s a world-hopping, church planter dude (dude as in ex-pro-boarder-who-hits-surf-spots-worldwide dude) and he was talking (once he got to the point) about the Kingdom of God.
Funny thing, today I met up with my friend Blake who runs this Home Church and he told me that he and some others at church that night were asking about me because I dug out right after the guy got done speaking. They were wondering if the dude’s message had tweake me because they said I looked all intense while he was speaking. Funny thing is, I agreed with most of what the dude was saying (I’ll get to that in a bit). The thing that was tweaking me was how long he was taking to get to his point, and then once he got there, there wasn’t a lot of there there.
His whole message that night was a kind of buildup to the idea that as Christians we need to be about seeking the Kingdom of God. But I already kind of know that and so I was waiting for him to get into what exctly he thinks the Kingdom of God is. But he never gets there. So in a way (with all due respect to the dude), his whole message was, “we need to be looking for and building towards something he can’t fully define yet.” Which is not unlike saying, “the answer is we need to be looking for the answer because it’s the answer.”
To be fair, I’m kind of at where he’s at but in a different way. We’re both trying to reformulate our belifs about Christianity apart from the unnecessary baggage that church tradition and doctrine has laid upon it. And it’s not easy because we’re 2,000 years removed from the life of Jesus and there’s a ton of church culture that’s accumulated, some of it good, some not.
See here’sthe thing. So much of modern American Christianity has to do with the economics of salvation. The merit of any church program is usually based on either how many people can get saved through it, or how many people they can get to stay saved. And they’ll use any kind of bait and switch, hard sell tactic to weasel people into a confined space where they need to make a choice between praying this magical prayer or forsaking the grace of God and remaining an unrepentant bit of walking charcoal destined for the fires of hell. Of course they don’t put it that way, but sometimes that’s what’s motivating them to get people saved.
And there are different root causes as to why this is how Christianity gets played out in so many different churches. One root cause is the consumeristic culture we live in. In this culture, numbers mean a lot and the bigger the number, the more the worth. It doesn’t matter if the numbers relate to how much money you have or how much money you make or how many cars you have or how many square feet your house has or how high your (or your kids’) GPA is/was, etc. Numbers matter and the church has subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) adopted this numbers scheme. The more members on the mailing list, the more successful the church. The more people you’ve led to Christ, the more faith-filled and dovoted the believer.
Another root cause is this whole Left Behind, the end of the world is near, dispensationalist view of the world. I won’t go into it a lot here because I’m still making my way through a book about this called _The Rapture Exposed_ by Barbara R. Rossing. Basically, the doctrine of the rapture as outlined in books like the Left Behind series is a fabrication. Although it seems ubiquitous, especially in evangelical circles, the term “rapture” (and the system by which current events like the reformation of the nation of Isreal are placed on a end-times time line, aka dispensationalism) is a recent development. This way of thinking leads to just the kind of “just-get-them-saved” mentality that I mentioned above. It also allows for destructive environmental attitudes because if the world’s going up in smoke, why not exploit its resources while we can?
And then there’s the problem of the church itself – how many Christians seem to be more concerned with serving the church than with serving God (not necessarily the same thing). At the same time, some churches are more concerned with the needs of their congregation than they are with the needs of the community (and the world) around them.
I think Christianity in America has ended up with all of these problems because we’ve forgotten that Jesus was all about bringing about the Kingdom of God here on this earth. He wasn’t just talking about where we’re going after we die. The Lord’s prayer contains the line, “. . .thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” That means that the kingdom is something that’s for today for this earth. We’re not supposed to just wait to get to heaven, we’re supposed to be praying that heaven would be made manifest here and now.
So what is the Kingdom of God? What does it look like?
Some of you know the book _Blue Like Jazz_ by Donald Miller (and if you don’t know, stop reading this blog – go out and buy this book!). Well Miller attends a church called Imago Dei and if you go to their website you can download Rick Mckinley’s (pastor of Imago Dei) sermons. One of the message series archived at their site is called The Kingdom of God and it’s an amazing series, highly recommended. Anyway, he uses the sermon on the mount as a kind of launching point for discussing the kingdom, and it’s a strategy that makes sense because it was Jesus’ first sermon and it makes sense that he’d make his debut talking about what he’s going to be about for the next few years.
And one of the things he busts out is the beatitudes – a kind of ode to the uncool and the forgotten – the poor in spirit, the sad, the meek, the freedom fighters, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakres, the persecuted. He goes straight to the kinds of people religious systems let fall through the cracks and he tells them that theirs is the kingdom of heaven, that they will be comforted, they will inherit the earth, they will be filled, they will be shown mercy, they will see God, they shall be sons of God. Throughout the rest of the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes a world that’s upside down, that’s counterintuitive, that’s subversive and beautiful and driven by love.
It’s not the final word on what the Kingdom of God is, but it’s a great start.