What is the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God?
The Church is not the Kingdom
We first need to observe that the Church is not equated with “the Kingdom of God” in the New Testament. The early missionaries did not go out proclaiming “the Church” but the Kingdom of God. Philip “proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Paul spoke in synagogues “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8) and from house arrest explained about the kingdom of God and “tried to persuade them about Jesus” (Acts 28:23). In all these passages would be awkward to replace “kingdom” with “Church.” He is, more obviously, trying to persuade his hearers about the identity of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.
The Church is created by the Kingdom
Instead, we can say that the kingdom that creates the church. Like in the parable of the net (Matthew 13:47-50) the kingdom draws a community of people together as they respond to Gospel and submit to the reign of Jesus. The parable of the net also reveals to us that not everyone within the visible community is really part of the kingdom. In other words, as Ladd puts it, “entrance into the kingdom means participation in the church but participation in the church doesn’t necessarily mean participation in the kingdom.”
The Church witnesses to the Kingdom
Having been created by the kingdom, the Church now bears witnesses to the Kingdom. The Church bears witness through proclamation (see passages from Acts above) and by living as a people together under the rule of the kingdom. Again, quoting Ladd, “the church has a dual character, belonging to two ages.” Since the church lives in anticipation of God’s eschatological reign its ethics sometimes appear strange in this age. Concern of greatness is natural in this age but is a contradiction of life in the kingdom. The people of the kingdom forgive as they have been forgiven and love enemies, as they were loved by God. “The display of kingdom life is an essential element to the witness of the church to the kingdom of God.”
The Church is the instrument of the Kingdom
The Church is also the instrument of the Kingdom, doing the work of the Kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is intimately related to the reality of Pentecost and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. While it is imprecise to say the “the Church builds the kingdom” we can say that God “gives the kingdom through the Church” through the working of the Spirit of Christ.
The Church is the custodian of the Kingdom
Finally, the Church acts as the custodian of the kingdom. When Jesus says to Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) He is saying that Peter has been given the spiritual insight necessary to confess Jesus as Messiah. It is Peter’s confession, or perhaps the spiritual insight which enabled Peter to make that confession, that is the “keys to the kingdom.” The Church is God’s people “entrusted” with this gospel.
The Church then, is the congregation of people who have experienced and submitted themselves to the reign of God, who now enjoy its blessings (forgiveness of sins, presence of God, indwelling of the Spirit), and bear witness to God’s rule in Christ, and who look forward to the consummation of the kingdom of God.