The Kerygma of the Kingdom

By Andrew Sandlin / September 1, 2013

Series Jubilee 2013 Fall - Utopia

Topic Kingdom Of God

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Introduction

I am convinced that the leading defects of the contemporary church reside not in the details but in the essentials - not in secondary issues but in primary ones.

Let’s examine this contention in light of the apostolic message of the Kingdom of God – the center of the faith.

What is the Kerygma?

Kerygma – a Greek word meaning proclamation or preaching – refers to the initial apostolic preaching about Jesus Christ, immediately after his resurrection and ascension to heaven.[1] 

They taught that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, who died for the human race on the cross, rose from the dead, and will return from Heaven in glory; that whoever trusts in Him with a repentant, obedient faith will be granted eternal life by the grace of God.

This is the primitive apostolic message that we are called to perpetuate and preach today.

What is the Kingdom?

This kerygma must be set in the larger context of the Kingdom of God, the basilea, which literally denotes “rule” or “reign.”  This is not so much a realm over which a king reigns as it is the reign itself – the kingdom is wherever the king reigns.[2]

Jesus centered His earthly ministry on the Kingdom of God.  He claimed to fulfill the prophesy of Messiah, asserting His Father had bestowed a kingdom upon Him (Luke 22:29).  At the end of history Jesus will restore His kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:23-28).

 As we move through the New Testament we discover that this kingdom is not limited to the Jews.  In Acts 2 Peter says that the promise of the kingdom was to them and their children as well to those “afar off” referring to believing Gentiles.

The relationship between the kerygma and the basilea implies that the Gospel is not an end in itself but subsists in order to extend the reign of God on earth.  The Kingdom is the reign of God by Jesus Christ, and the kerygma is the message that re-orients sinners, restoring them to the proper relationship to the King.

Implications of the Kerygma of the Kingdom

Several implications spring from this understanding of kerygma and Kingdom.

First, soteriology is not the central theme of the Christian message.  As heirs of the Protestant Reformation we affirm that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, not in the church; that this salvation is solely by the grace of God, not through man’s merit; and that justification is by faith alone, not by works in conjunction with faith.[3]

It was critical for the Reformers to stress these Biblical truths to counter errors that had crept into the Western church but we must be careful not to allow the concerns of the Reformation to color our reading of the Bible.[4]  The Bible, not our distinctives and confessions of faith, is preeminent, and it does not hold individual soteriology to be the overarching theme of the faith. 

Within the last 150 years or so in the West, both the kerygma and the Kingdom have been reduced to “how to get to heaven when you die” – a man-centered faith.  But this was not the message of Jesus or the early apostles.[5]  Their message urged the extension of God’s earthly reign (“the Kingdom”) for His glory.

Doxology, not soteriology, predominates.

Second, sinners cannot be saved unless they surrender to the Lordship (Kingship) of Jesus Christ.  We are saved by grace but we are not saved without submission; there is no salvation without repentance.

Too many people act as though God is the great cosmic genie — existent to give them what they want, to make their life better, to assist in their self-improvement.  But Jesus saves repentant sinners, not sinners seeking an existential quick fix; we must come to God on His terms, not on ours. 

In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer writes, “The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.”[6]  If you refuse to lose your life for Jesus — if you insist on doing things your way and not God’s way — you cannot be saved.  Grace is free, but it is not cheap.

Third, the church is not God’s chief concern in the earth.  The fact that this assertion would be controversial shows how far the church has drifted from the Bible.[7]  Jesus spoke again and again about the Kingdom but only twice about the church[8]. In the Bible ‘church’ (ekklesia) does not denote an “invisible” church, or a human institution, or (worse yet) a denomination.  Rather, the ekklesia is God’s collective, localized body covenanted together under Jesus’ authority.

Tragically, in Christian history the church has often been used as a synonym for the Kingdom of God - this is the position of the Roman Catholic Church[9] and of the Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 25, no. 2).  But the New Testament makes clear that the Kingdom is the reign of God and the church is an aspect of that reign (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:24, 50).

This means that Christian schools and businesses, politics and music, pro-life, family, campus, cultural and mercy ministries, and so on, are within the Kingdom of God even though they are not specifically the church.[10] “The mission of the church is to herald the coming kingdom of God, but the church must never mistake itself for the kingdom . . . .”[11]

Fourth, no man or human institution may arrogate to itself the claims of Jesus as rightful King.  Man likes to play God.  This was the Original Sin of Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-6).  Because man is a sinner he cannot accept that God is God and he is not.

The “patriarchy” movement in contemporary Christian circles rightly stresses the father’s leadership in the family but too often makes the Christian father the final arbiter of family life - “God’s representative” in the home.

“High-church” public worship, whether of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglo-Catholicism, holds God to be our Father but the church our mother, a travesty nowhere taught in the Bible.  It is also asserted or implied that salvation is dispensed at the hands of priests or elders in baptism or the Eucharist.  Even some Protestants declare that organizational union with the church (in water baptism) effects saving union with Jesus Christ.[12]  All of these ecclesial views compromise the Creator-creature distinction but the church is not the extension of the incarnation of Jesus, and any ecclesiology that merges soteriology with it is on an idolatrous track.

Fifth, and finally, God’s objective is not merely to save elect sinners but to redeem all of life and society and culture — the entire world.  Paul writes that Jesus will rule in the present age until He subordinates all enemies except death itself (1 Cor. 15:20-28).  The goal of the Gospel is to bring the world under the authority of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:4-11); to redeem all that is sinful (Rom. 8:20-25). 

For too long the church has bought into a sacred-secular dualism that sees church and home life, Bible reading and evangelism (narrowly considered) as “spiritual,” but education and technology, science, politics and economics as “worldly.”  Ironically, many Christians complain about the condition of the culture yet their own dualistic dereliction has permitted this de-Christianization (secularization) of society.

God is interested in the whole world, not just the church and family.

This means we should encourage our young people to enter not just the full-time Christian ministries – pastors, missionaries and teachers - but also fields such as sales and medicine, technology and music, politics and business.  There are no “secular” occupations as long as they are surrendered to Jesus Christ.

If God’s objective is to bring the whole world under the authority of King Jesus then our commission must be to extend that Kingdom far beyond the four walls of the church.  The kerygma is the Gospel message at the center of the Kingdom but the Kingdom of God is God’s great work in the earth.

 

For a more detailed treatment of this subject refer to Jubilee 2013 Fall.

 

[1] U. Becker and D. Müller, “Proclamation, Preach, Kerygma,” in ed., Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1878, 1986), 3:44-48.

[2] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77-81.

[3] Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1997), 175-180.

[4] Ned B. Stonehouse, “The Infallibility of Scripture and Evangelical Progress,” in ed., Ronald Youngblood, Evangelicals and Inerrancy (Nashville: Nelson, 1984), 24.

[5] John G. Stackhouse, “A Bigger — and Smaller — View of Mission,” Books & Culture, May/June 2007, 26.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: MacMillan, 1937, 1959), 59.

[7] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 76-77.  

[8] Donald E. Gowan, “Church,” in ed., Gowan, The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 63.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Washington, D. C.: United States Catholic Conference [Libreria Editrice Vaticana], 1994, 2nd edition), 138-143.

[10] Donald E. Gowan, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” in ed., Gowan, The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, 274-278.

[11] Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ, 243.

[12] Douglas Wilson, “Union with Christ: An Overview of the Federal Vision,” in ed., E. Calvin Beisner, The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons (Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 5-6.