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The church has been established as that place where the values of eternity operate in history. It is a place where weary people can go to find truth, acceptance, freedom, forgiveness and hope. Operating in the world while being a model for the world, it offers an alternative to the world. God has so positioned and postured this unique body of Christ as a community of individuals spiritually linked together with the primary purpose of reflecting and legislating the values of His...
The church has been established as that place where the values of eternity operate in history. It is a place where weary people can go to find truth, acceptance, freedom, forgiveness and hope. Operating in the world while being a model for the world, it offers an alternative to the world. God has so positioned and postured this unique body of Christ as a community of individuals spiritually linked together with the primary purpose of reflecting and legislating the values of His kingdom.
In One Church Under God, Dr. Tony Evans explores the purpose, Person, presence, people, power and proclamation of the church in order to equip believers to fully live out the great commission of Christ. This booklet is a part of the Life under God Series - a 5 book series adapted from the 5 sections found in The Kingdom Agenda, the legacy work of Dr. Tony Evans. This booklet is based on the "One Church under God" section.
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In every recognized country in the world there is an American embassy. An embassy is fundamentally a little bit of America a long way from home. Embassies are sovereign territories, meaning they do not belong to the countries they are in. They belong to the countries they came from.
If you get into trouble in a foreign land, make your way to the American embassy. Because once you cross the gate and enter the realm of its dominion, you are in America again. You are where the laws of America rule.
The church is supposed to be a little bit of heaven a long way from home. It is to be that place where the values of eternity operate in history. The church is a place where weary people can go to find truth, acceptance, equality, freedom, safety, forgiveness, justice, and hope.
Yet how is it possible for the number of churches in our nation to be ever increasing while the impact of the church only wanes? How can we have so much preaching, praising, and programs and yet so little demonstrated power? Why does the church merely react to society's agenda rather than offering a kingdom agenda to better society itself?
The answers to these questions lie in the reality that the church today bears little resemblance to the kingdom we came from. This is because we have failed to function from a kingdom perspective. The church has stopped being the biblical church it was designed to be, and as a result we have limited our impact on contemporary society—both inside and outside our walls.
THE KINGDOM-MINDED CHURCH
Before heading deeper into the kingdom-minded church, I want to take a moment to go over some things about the kingdom. This will serve as the backdrop for our discussion on the church. When you understand the values of God's kingdom, you will best understand His agenda. I am convicted the message of the kingdom and the values therein is misunderstood today. This has caused much of the confusion many people face.
I like to think of the kingdom of God as the alternative, because that word in particular states there is another way, another idea on the floor. As God's people we are not limited by the choices this world offers us. God has an alternative plan for us—His kingdom.
Throughout the Bible, the kingdom of God is His rule, His plan, and His program. Gods kingdom is all-embracing. It covers everything in the universe. We can define God's kingdom as His comprehensive rule over all creation.
If God's kingdom is comprehensive, so is His kingdom agenda. The kingdom agenda may be defined as the visible demonstration of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life.
The Greek word the Bible uses for kingdom is basileia, which basically means a "rule" or "authority." Included in this definition is the idea of power. When we talk about a kingdom, we're talking first about a king and a ruler.
If there's a ruler, there also have to be "rulees," or kingdom subjects. A kingdom also includes a realm: a sphere the king rules over. Finally, if you're going to have a ruler, rulees, and a realm, you also need kingdom regulations—guidelines that govern the relationship between the ruler and the subjects. These are necessary so the rulees will know whether they are doing what the ruler wants.
God's kingdom includes all these elements. He is the absolute Ruler of His domain, which encompasses all of creation. And His authority is total. Everything God rules, He runs—even when it doesn't look like He's running it. Even when life looks like it's out of control, God is running its "out-of-controlness."
The heart of the kingdom agenda philosophy is that there should never be a separation between the sacred and the secular. All of life is spiritual since all of life is to come under God's rule. Therefore, every issue—whether social, political, economic, educational, environmental, etc., is to mirror God's principles related to the specific area and thus reflect and promote His agenda in history.
God has made Jesus Christ the sovereign over all of mankind's kingdoms (Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:13–18). His rule is to be represented in history by those who are a part of His kingdom and who have been delegated the responsibility of dispensing His rule to the nations (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 1:22, 23).
Colossians 1:13 says that everybody who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your allegiance has been changed. You are no longer to follow the world's ways, but Christ's.
In case there's any doubt, there are no in-between kingdoms. There are only two realms in creation: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. You are subject to one or the other. And as a believer and member of the body of Christ, you are to be subject to Jesus Christ in His kingdom. This means you belong to another realm, your allegiance is in another order, and no matter where you live, work, or travel you are citizens of Gods kingdom.
THE SOCIO-POLITICAL DISTINCTION OF THE KINGDOM
The problem we face in the church today is we have misunderstood the kingdom, marginalizing its authority and influence not only in our own lives but also in our land. Many in the church have so spiritualized the kingdom that its sociopolitical rules have become little more than an ethereal ideology to be displayed at a later date. This has led to a reduction of the vast socio-ethical implications in the church, creating an organism whose function offers little power toward the transformation of society. However, the socio-political nature of the kingdom of God is very real, biblically substantiated, and relevant to the manifestation of the church's greatest and true potential.
We first witness the socio-political distinction of the kingdom in Satan's challenge to God's rule. This challenge, while spiritual, was also political in nature in that it involved an attempt to secure a throne only God held the right to possess (Ezekiel 28:11–19; Isaiah 14:13–17). Satan said, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly" (Isaiah 14:13). Satan's desire to "sit on the mount of assembly" was his attempt to hold the seat of divine government in the spiritual realm while getting Adam to surrender it in the physical realm. From the beginning, politics was an issue in the rule of God.
Other demonstrations of the socio-political nature of God's kingdom include the command God gave to Adam that he was to "subdue" the earth under him, revealing the combination of the spiritual and physical aspects of a theocratic kingdom (Genesis 1:26).
Next, the specific institution and creation of national government directly relates Gods kingdom program to the social and political aspects of man, especially since capital punishment is instituted in this period (Genesis 9:1–7). That capital punishment was predicated on the fact man is made in the image of God (v. 6) underscores the truth God's kingdom rule in the area of human justice has a spiritual basis.
Further, under the patriarchs, Abraham was a participant in a covenant that included both land and seed. This covenant became the basis for Israel's spiritual as well as socio-political existence (Genesis 12:1–30). Whether in the conflict of Moses with Pharaoh, or in the time of the judges, a theocratic role in governing the nation involved social, political, and economic forces as the means of expressing God's rule on earth.
Looking toward the millennial kingdom, Messiah's righteous rule, we also see a reflection of the social structure of the kingdom demonstrating the inseparability of the sociopolitical aspects from the spiritual. Christ's future rule will bring about changes within the structures of society. It will mean military warfare will cease (Psalm 46; Micah 4:3, Isaiah 9:6–7), political wrongs will be righted (Isaiah 2:4; Psalm 72:4), and physical disease will disappear (Isaiah 35:5–6; Isaiah 33:24).
AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL FOR THE WORLD
The contemporary purpose of the church, in light of the nature of the kingdom, is not only to reflect the spiritual but also the socio-political and socio-ethical aspects of the kingdom. It is to be a model for the world operating in the world while providing an alternative to the world. When the church functions as a community, not as a reaction to the world's social system, but rather as a divine structure operating the way God has ordained it to, the church sets itself apart as a haven, much like an embassy. This shows those who are in the kingdom of darkness a preview of what the kingdom of God is all about.
In the movies, previews advertise coming attractions. Designed to entice, the preview focuses on the hot clips of the movie such as the chase scenes, love scenes, and fight scenes. The point of the preview is to whet our appetites for the upcoming attraction.
Someday a big show is coming to town, and it's called the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the star, and it will be a worldwide production. But until then, God has left previews in the world. We are His hot clips. God has left His church here to provide clips of the major production to come.
Unfortunately, most of our clips have been so weak in demonstrating the power and wonder of the feature film, few people show interest in picking up a ticket. Instead of previewing an epic, we often reflect the sitcoms and soap operas around us. Until we, as God's people, intentionally embrace, apply, and reflect the Kingdom, the church has little to offer the world.
While there is war in the world, there ought to be the existence of peace in the church (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:14–15) and prayer for peace by the church (1 Timothy 2:1–2). While there is oppression in society, there ought to be liberation and justice in the church (James 2:1–9). While there is poverty in the world, there ought to be voluntary sharing with the goal of meeting existing needs in the church (Acts 2:44–45; 2 Corinthians 12:12–24). While there is racism, classism, and sexism in the world, there ought to be authentic oneness in the church (Colossians 3:11). Thus the world is presented with the option of Christ by being what the church is supposed to be in the world—an alternative model for the world—a community functioning under the rule of God in the mediatory kingdom on earth.
Members of the biblical church model this alternative on the basis that we are citizens of the kingdom (Colossians 1:13), having been designated as sons of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38), promised victory by the kingdom (Matthew 5:16), will be future participants in the kingdom (Daniel 9:5, 7; Nehemiah 1:6–7), as well as inheritors of the kingdom (Ephesians 4:32). Further, the fruit of the church reveals itself to others as the "good seed" sown during the period of the mysteries of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38). The church is uniquely positioned and authorized to carry out the mandates of the kingdom under the authority of Christ (Ephesians 1:22–23) when we seek the kingdom above all else (Matthew 6:33).
Since the church is to serve as a model partaking of this universal and eternal kingdom, and since this eternal kingdom is socio-political as well as spiritual in nature, the church, as a spiritual body, also partakes of the sociopolitical realm. The question is what is the picture of the biblical church and its role to our society?
THE BIBLICAL CHURCH
Let me begin by saying what the biblical church is not. First, the church in the New Testament—which serves as our picture for the church age—is not a social club. It is not a place to come and be entertained. Neither is it an outpost for an official political party. While functionally it has sociopolitical structures and intents, it is never commanded to impose itself governmentally on the world. The church functions as a model revealing the principles of the kingdom. The church is a community of individuals spiritually linked together with the purpose of reflecting and legislating the values of the kingdom of God.
The church is to function as an internally legislative and familial community with an emphasis on community. By the biblical church, I am referring to the church Jesus Christ established that is to be reflected or modeled through the local gathering of believers, a local assembly, as defined shortly before the end of His earthly ministry (Matthew 16).
Several key verses in this chapter are important for us to look at to understand who we are and what we do as a church. We begin by reading Jesus had asked His disciples an important question. He asked them to tell Him who people were saying He was. Everyone offered flattering answers in reply. Some said He was Elijah while others said Jeremiah or a prophet. While all were compliments, all were wrong. Then Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15).
It isn't evident in the English translation, but in the Greek text we discover when Jesus asks, "who do you say that I am," the "you" is plural. In Texas where I live, we'd say, "Who do y'all say that I am?" The plural form of the word "you" reveals to us Jesus is not just asking this question to Peter, who subsequently offered an answer. This is a question to the group as a whole.
When Peter answered, he answered representatively as a leader of the disciples. One way we know Peter is a leader is whenever we see a list of the names of the disciples in the gospels, Peter is always listed first. He is a natural spokesperson. While he may be one to slip up due to suffering from foot-in-mouth disease at times, he is also one who steps up when needed. He speaks his mind and offers Jesus the collective answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
Jesus responds by affirming him and changing his name, which had been Simon Barjona, to Peter—which means "a stone." Jesus continues by saying, "and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18).
THE INTERLINKING PIECES OF THE CHURCH
Several important principles are given to us in this passage. First, the biblical church is comprised of many interlinking pieces.
Once the disciples individually recognized and agreed upon who Jesus was, they were ready to come together and be the church. This is critical because Christ is both the foundation and the cornerstone. Once He saw they understood who He was, Jesus esteemed their commitment to His identity by empowering them to carry out His work. He did this because their reply showed Him they were a group of individuals who could jointly make an impact on society, which is exactly what they have done. Their impact has left a legacy that is still alive today.
What we sometimes do, when looking at this passage, is make the mistake of interpreting Christ s statement as meaning He is building His church on one man: Peter. However, the word Jesus used for Peter was not the Greek word petros. It indicated a single stone that can be easily thrown. That is not the word Jesus used for "rock."
Jesus used the Greek word petra indicative of a mass, or cliff, of rocks comprised of something much larger than any individual rock. This mass of rocks interlinks individual rocks together to create a stronger whole. While there are a multitude of rocks in petra, they do not function as individual rocks but are intimately joined together. The best exegete of the passage would have to be Peter himself. We see his interpretation in 1 Peter 2 where he says, "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5).
It is significant Christ described the church this way. A healthy, functioning church community—unity—is an essential element used by God to manifest His power and reveal His glory. If we, as the church, are going to be the church Jesus is building, we have no other choice but to embrace our call to unity.
Excerpted from One Church Under God by Anthony T. Evans. Copyright © 2014 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Chapter One: The Purpose
Chapter Two: The Person
Chapter Three: The Presence
Chapter Four: The People
Chapter Five: The Power
Chapter Six: The Proclaimers
Appendix: The Urban Alternative