GCI Update

Live long and prosper!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachAbout 1900 years ago, the writer of the epistle known as Third John began with these words: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 1:2). Though this is not an absolute promise in the way “health and wealth” preachers often claim that it is, it certainly is more than a casual greeting like our familiar, “have a nice day.” For many, good health is a benefit of living a faithful, Christ-centered life.

We all know that regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep contribute to a long and healthy life. What is less well known is that church attendance also makes a positive contribution. This was demonstrated by careful analysis of the extensive data gathered by the National Health Interview Survey (www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm), which has been monitoring U.S. health since 1957. What researchers discovered in this data was that people who attend religious services regularly live up to 7.5 years longer than those who do not. Even when factoring in health status, socioeconomic status, social ties and other variables, researchers “still found a strong (1.5x) and significant (p<0.01) positive impact that attending religious services has on the life expectancy of attendees.”

The bottom line is this: regular church attendance apparently does increase the odds of living a longer life.

Historian Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, explored this phenomenon in a Christian History magazine article entitled, “Live Longer, Healthier, & Better: the untold benefits of becoming a Christian in the ancient world,” Stark explained that Christianity spread not through elaborate campaigns or glitzy evangelism, but through the generosity, self-sacrifice and concern for the poor and downtrodden shown by Jesus’ early followers. These Christians demonstrated to the harsh world of the Roman Empire that there was a better, more compassionate way to live. Many pagans were attracted to Christianity when they saw how membership provided tangible benefits as well as eternal, spiritual ones.

Stark noted that in a world entirely lacking social services, Christians were their “brothers’ keepers.” At the end of the second century, Tertullian wrote that while pagan temples spent their donations “on feasts and drinking bouts,” Christians spent theirs “to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined to the house.” This commitment to care for less fortunate people tended to tear down barriers of social class at a time when the gap between rich and poor was growing.

As Stark points out, the Christian message was not that “everyone could or should be socially or politically equal,” but that all are “equal in the eyes of God” and, therefore, the more fortunate have a responsibility to help those in need. Because Christians did so, they could expect to be helped when they were in need. Because they nursed the sick and dying, they would receive such nursing. Because they loved others, they in turn would be loved. This gave them a health-inducing sense of security and provided them with care that tended to prolong life.

Today, at least in the developed world, the contrast between believers and non-believers may not be as striking as it was then. But contemporary research shows that active participation in religious activities continues to yield many physical benefits, including better health and longer life. Such benefits, of course, are not the main reasons we gather for worship. We do so to hear again and to enjoy the truth and reality of the gospel and so be rooted and built up in our communion together with Christ. As the author of Hebrews put it, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

“Health and wealth” should not be dangled out as bait. Doing so seriously distorts the gospel message. But peace of mind and a life of service in communion with God, with the fellowship and friendship of like-minded people, does seem to lead to health and long life. It is another of God’s blessings, for which we give thanks.

In conclusion, I sign off with the phrase made famous by Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Actor Leonard Nimoy borrowed the phrase and its accompanying hand gesture from the synagogue he attended where the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-26 regularly was recited. Here it is:

Live long and prosper!

Joseph Tkach signature




Todd Woods

Todd teaching at the GenMin camp that he directs.

Todd’s parents began attending the WCG church in Peoria, Illinois in 1965 when Todd was three months old. They had been listening to Herbert Armstrong on radio and reading The Plain Truth magazine for years.

Todd and his family lived in Davenport when he was young. He grew up a “south paw” when teachers were still trying to turn left-handed kids into a right-handed kids. “Because my parents were ‘enlightened,’ and also because I finally got a sympathetic teacher in the second grade, they failed to change me into a righty.”

Todd said he drifted around a lot regarding his beliefs during high school. “About a year after I graduated from high school I decided that I had drifted around long enough. Though I had never stopped attending church, I hadn’t really committed myself. In that brief period after high school, I witnessed several people who were close to me abandoning church altogether as they spiraled out of control. It was a wake-up call to follow God’s path and not man’s. I was baptized at my parents’ house as they looked on, greatly relieved.”

It was shortly after this that Todd moved to Southern California. “I spent five years in San Diego trying to pursue an education, hoping eventually to attend Ambassador College in Pasadena. I got pretty thoroughly sidetracked just trying to earn a living. Eventually I moved back to Davenport and paid off all my California debts before finally getting accepted at Ambassador in Big Sandy. After completing my degree there and becoming a staff member for two years, the University closed in 1997. I looked for work in east Texas and Dallas but eventually moved back to Davenport to care for my father who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Todd was attending the GCI congregation in Davenport when he became part of its pastoral team. “I was commissioned along with  John Anderson and Dana Loter in 2008 by Karl Reinagel. Our pastor John Bailey retired that year and moved from the area.”

Todd said being a pastor fits in with his natural gifts. “I’m a fairly open, friendly, straightforward kind of guy. Most people get to know me quickly.” He loves that being a pastor keeps him in God’s word. “I’m constantly on a learning curve. I know that I’ll never know it all; there will always be a new revelation just around the corner.” What he loves about GCI is that it’s “an organization that is also learning constantly. We are not afraid to make changes when they become clear to us.”

When asked about his most memorable moment as a pastor, Todd said, “Thus far, the most memorable moment was baptizing my nephew. It was an absolutely clear and beautiful day and I couldn’t see a thing for the tears in my eyes.”

Todd said he feels closest to God, “when I’m alone and have shut off all the media around me and can begin a serious conversation with the Father. Usually after spending time in the Word.”

Converge West

This update is from GCI Generations Ministries (GenMin) director Anthony Mullins.

The first weekend of March, 80 members of GCI’s GenMin family gathered in Encino, California for Converge West (see the group pictured below). Converge West is one of two GenMin Converge conferences being held this year. Converge East will be held in Ohio later this month (for information, click here). These Converge conferences bring together our GenMin camp and missions staffers together with pastors and ministry leaders from GCI congregations and denominational ministries for a time of spiritual renewal, vision-casting and equipping. Our theme this year is, Let’s build something together!

Converge West group

Converge West began Friday night with learning the Converge theme song: Build Your Kingdom Here. This was followed by small group discernment prayer, camp introductions, updates and a time of fellowship.

Converge westOn Saturday, we heard from guest speakers Meredith Macy and Heber Ticas. Meredith challenged us to honor parents and family as we minister to teenagers while Heber helped us consider practical ways to live on mission with God. Camp directors then met with camp coaches Jeff Broadnax and Mark & Anne Stapleton to share best practices, ask questions and get assistance with camp planning processes and to encourage one another.

Also on Saturday, Greg Williams updated us on the GCI Pastoral Internship Program. Several young people later met with Greg to explore the possibility of becoming GCI pastoral interns. On Saturday evening we celebrated the commissioning of two new camp directors: Susan McKie of SEP Tahoe and Susan McNutt of Base Camp NW. We then shared a moving communion service with several young adults/teens leading. It was a beautiful and fitting end to a great day.

converge west1On Sunday I was privileged to share a sermon message entitled “Building the Church.” It was a joy to point to the Builder, Jesus Christ, and to invite the young people to participate and celebrate with him through their local church. During the service, a call was placed to our friend, Dallas area pastor and camp leader Arnold Clauson, who has been very ill. We all shouted, “We love you, Arnold!” As we said our goodbyes on Sunday, people seemed to be encouraged, uplifted and ready to go where the Holy Spirit is leading.

converge west8

Black History Month celebration

This update is from Sandra Hamilton, a ministry leader in Christ Community Church, one of GCI’s congregations in the Cincinnati, Ohio area.

Cincy speaker
Dr. Fankhauser

Our congregation conducted its 18th annual Black History Month celebration this February. Our month-long celebration included several events. In one, the featured speaker was Dr. David Fankhauser, one of the 1960s Freedom Rider. Because of his work for racial equality, he was placed for 40 days on death row in a Mississippi jail. Dr. Fankhauser is now a professor at the University of Cincinnati. His lecture to the congregation and guests was informative and the Q&A that followed ignited thoughtful discussion.

The celebration also featured music from Ebony Strings, a group of African-American classically trained musicians from the Cincinnati Consortium of Music. Their performance was an extraordinary gift to everyone who attended. Other highlights were the sacred music of Duke Ellington, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and a tribute to civil rights leader Nelson Mandela of South Africa. The congregation also held its 9th-annual Black History Month dinner dance.Members invited friends, family and the local community to all of these events.

Philippine relief mission

Feeding_programAs a denomination, GCI is providing financial and manpower assistance to aid the relief efforts in the Philippines as the nation recovers from the severe earthquake and the devastating super-typhoon that hit there last year.

Thanks to the generosity of GCI’s U.S. congregations, we have sent to the Philippines $53,000 in aid from the GCI Disaster Relief Fund. In addition to this financial assistance, two GCI mission groups have traveled to the Philippines to assist in the recovery work by providing counseling support, rebuilding, distributing supplies, etc. One of the groups helped feed children at a ministry outreach center (pictured at right) and at the Tacloban Astrodome where about 2000 evacuees were housed following the typhoon.

One of the GCI groups that traveled to the Philippines was sent by Grace Missions–a GCI Generations Ministries mission organization headquartered in Ohio. Leading the group was Joel Clevenger, director of Grace Missions. Also in the group was David Botha, the pastor of GCI’s congregations in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio and a leader in Grace Missions. In the picture below, pastor David is sharing the message of the gospel with Filipinos in the Tacloban area (where the typhoon hit hardest).

Grace Missions Philippines

The other GCI mission group that traveled to the Philippines came from Australia. That group is pictured below upon arrival in Tacloban. Standing with them is Eugene Guzon (third from left). Eugene is GCI’s national director in the Philippines The missionaries included Daphne Sidney, wife of Bill Sidney who formerly served as GCI’s regional director in the Philippines.

Austrailian group

Big Sandy church outreach

New Beginnings, GCI’s church in Big Sandy, Texas is known for its service to the community. That service has been recognized formally over the years by the Big Sandy Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Pictured below are members (with their children, some who have received awards of their own) who have received community service awards in recent years.

Honorees for cc 2014
Row one: Sarah Strub (2012 woman of the year) & George Strub (2012 man of the year) with their two children; Marilyn Canup (2014 woman of the year); Dwayne Canup (2009 man of the year); Helen Ellard (2013 woman of the year), Jane Parsons (2005-07 first lady of Big Sandy); Sonny Parsons (2002 and 2006 man of the year, 1993 fire fighter of the year). Row two: James Jackson (1993 and 2004 senior citizen of the year), Lois Peterson (2010 woman of the year), Anna Peterson (2012 Miss Big Sandy), James Peterson, Josette Peterson (2014 Miss Big Sandy), Rick Peterson (2010 man of the year), Jerome Ellard (2013 man of the year). Not shown, Melven Allen (2012 fire fighter of the year and 2004 senior citizen of the year).

Recently, the congregation honored several couples who have been married for more than 25 years, and some for more than 50. As noted in an article in the local newspaper (pictured below, click to enlarge), the congregation is utilizing this substantial marital experience to provide within the community small groups that will serve premarital and recently married couples.

Big Sandy paper

The kingdom of God, part 6

In this concluding article in a six-part series on the kingdom of God, Gary Deddo examines the relationship of the church and the kingdom. This is an important topic because this relationship is often misunderstood. For the other articles in this series, click on the corresponding number: 12345.

The church and the kingdom

Broadly speaking, three views have been suggested regarding the relationship of the church and the kingdom of God. The view that fits with the biblical revelation and with a theology that takes the person and work of Christ and the Spirit into full account aligns well with what George Ladd laid out in his Theology of the New Testament. Thomas F. Torrance has helpfully brought out some important implications for such a view.

Some have thought of the church and the kingdom of God as being essentially identical. Others have regarded them as distinct, if not entirely separate. [1] Grasping the complete biblical account requires a comprehensive survey of the New Testament involving many passages and subtopics, which Ladd has done. On that basis, he offers a third alternative, namely, that the church and the kingdom are not identical but that they cannot be separated. They overlap. Perhaps the simplest way to indicate the relationship is to note that the church is the people of God. These people are the subjects of the kingdom, but they cannot be equated with the kingdom that is identical with the full rule and reign of God through Christ in the Spirit. The kingdom is perfect, but the church is not. The subjects are subjects of the King, but they are not the King himself and should not be confused with him.

The church is not the kingdom of God

In the New Testament the church (ekklesia in Greek) is identified as the people of God gathered or assembled into a fellowship in this current age (the time since Christ’s first advent). They gather in response to the proclamation of the gospel taught by the first apostles—those who were authorized and sent by Jesus himself. The people of God receive the message of the biblical revelation preserved for us and who, by repentance and faith, respond to the reality of who God is as disclosed in that revelation. As described in the book of Acts, they are the ones who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

At first, the church was made up of faithful remnants of ancient Israel who believed that Jesus fulfilled the promises made to them as God’s Messiah and Redeemer. But almost immediately, beginning with Pentecost, the people of God expanded to include all nations, tongues and ethnicities (ethnoi). The people of God thus became international, fulfilling God’s promises to bless all nations through Israel (Genesis 12:2-3) and to pour out the Spirit upon all people (Joel 2:28).

According to Peter, the church is an international priesthood for the sake of all the nations (1 Peter 2:9-10). God’s intention for this reconfiguration of his people was demonstrated at Pentecost by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon representatives of a host of the nations of the earth who had been drawn together in one place (Acts 2). There is one church, one multinational people, meeting or gathering in numerous local congregations. Together they are the church or the body of Christ. The church gathers around Christ and his Word, being drawn by his Spirit as God works through those called to preach and teach. They then pass on the good news of Christ and his present and coming kingdom. This much is clear in Paul’s writings regarding the nature of the church (see, for example, Ephesians 4:4-6).

God’s people under grace, not the ideal people

However, the New Testament indicates that this people will not be ideal, will not be perfect. This comes out especially in the parable of the gathering of fish in the net (Matthew 13:47-49). The church community gathered around Jesus and his word will eventually need to be sorted out. There will come a time when it will become clear that some who have been associated with this community have not been receptive and responsive to Christ and the Spirit, but have actually resisted and rejected them. That is, some who have been a part of the community will not have come under Christ’s rule and reign but rather have refused to repent and receive the grace of God’s forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. Others will be inconsistent in their response and receptivity to the working of Christ in submission to his word. All will have to fight the fight of faith every day. All will be addressed and compassionately confronted by the Spirit’s work of sharing with us the sanctification Christ himself worked out in his humanity—a sanctification that calls for daily dying to our old, false selves. So the life of this church community will be mixed, not ideal, not pure. The church, then, will continually live in God’s grace. It will be the first to repent—and be continually renewed and restored.

Much of the instruction given to the church throughout the New Testament indicates an ongoing process of renewal that includes repentance, faith, growth in understanding, prayer, resisting temptation, correction and restoration. None of this would be needed if the church were expected to manifest the ideal now. The shape of this dynamic life of growth fits well with the idea that the kingdom of God is not manifested in its fullness in this age. The people of God are those who wait in hope—their lives are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3), often looking now like ordinary earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). We too are waiting to enter into our full and complete salvation.

The kingdom preached, not the church

It should be noted, as does Ladd, that the first apostles did not preach the church, rather they preached the kingdom of God. Those who responded positively to their message then drew together as the church, as Christ’s ekklesia. This means that the church, the people of God, is not an object of faith or worship. Only the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are objects/subjects of faith and worship.

The preaching and teaching of the church should not make itself the object of faith, should not be preoccupied with itself. This is why Paul points out that “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 ESV). The message and ministry of the church should point away from itself to the reign of the Triune God, the source of its hope—because God will establish his reign throughout creation, a reign inaugurated by Christ in his earthly ministry and in the coming of the Spirit, but yet to be consummated. The church gathered around Christ looks back to his finished work and forward to the completion of his continuing work. Those are the proper objects of its focus.

The kingdom of God is not the product of the church

The distinction between the kingdom and the church is also apparent in that the kingdom is strictly spoken of as the work and gift of God. It cannot be erected or built by humans, not even those who are part of God’s new fellowship. In the New Testament, persons can receive, enter and inherit the kingdom, but they cannot destroy it or bring it to earth. They can do things for the sake of the kingdom, but the kingdom is never subject to human agency. Ladd is especially emphatic on this point.

The kingdom of God: inaugurated but not yet consummated

The kingdom has been inaugurated, but is not yet fully manifested and consummated. As Ladd likes to say, it is “already, but not yet.” The kingdom on earth is not yet fully realized. All people, whether joined to the fellowship of the people of God or not, live in this as-yet-to-be-consummated epoch of time.

The church itself, the fellowship of people gathered around Jesus Christ with his gospel and mission, does not escape the problems and limits of still living under fallen conditions subject to sin and death. Thus the church needs continual renewal and refreshment. It needs continuously to abide or remain in fellowship with Christ, living under his Word, being continually nourished, renewed and restored by his gracious Spirit.

Ladd summarized the relationship of the church and the kingdom in these five points: [2]
1) The church is not the kingdom.
2) The kingdom creates the church—the church does not create the kingdom.
3) The church witnesses to the kingdom.
4) The church is the instrument of the kingdom.
5) The church is the custodian of the kingdom.

In sum, we can say that the kingdom of God includes the people of God, but not all those who gather with the church at any given time are necessarily submitting to the kingdom-reign of Christ. The people of God are those who have entered the kingdom and are submitting to the rule and reign of Christ, but some of those associated with the church at any given time may not manifest very much of the character of the present and coming kingdom. Some may still be resisting God’s grace offered to them by Christ in and through the church’s ministry.

So we see that the kingdom and the church are inseparable, though not identical. When the kingdom comes in its fullness with Christ’s return, the people of God will all come fully under his rule and reign, and their lives together will perfectly manifest that truth.

Implications of the distinction yet inseparability of the church and the kingdom of God

There are many implications related to the distinction between the church and the kingdom of God. We can only touch here on a few here.

Embodying concrete witness to the coming kingdom

An important implication of both the distinction and the inseparability of the church and kingdom is that the church is to be the concrete and visible manifestation of the coming kingdom. Thomas F. Torrance was especially emphatic about this in his teaching. Although the kingdom of God is not yet fully manifest, the church in its common life is to embody a witness here and now in the present fallen age to what is not yet fully present. That is, the church is not simply a spiritual reality that cannot be grasped or experienced here and now, just because the kingdom is not yet fully present. By the Word and Spirit and in union with Christ, the people of God can give concrete evidence in time and space, in flesh and blood, to the watching world of the character of the coming kingdom.

The church will not do this completely or perfectly or permanently. However, since Christ has been victorious over sin, evil and death itself, and since we can have real hope in the coming kingdom, then by the power of the Spirit in union with Christ, the blessing of the coming kingdom can be given form and shape by the people of God. And the primary sign of that coming kingdom is summed up by love—love that mirrors the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit and the Father’s love for us and his entire creation through the Son and in the Spirit. The church can bear witness to the lordship of Christ in its worship and in its common life as well as in its service to bring about the common good of those not a part of the Christian community.

The single and central evidence the church can give to this reality is its offering of communion at the Lord’s Table as interpreted by the preaching of the Word in its worship. Here, in the church gathered, we have the most concrete, simple, real, direct and effective witness to the grace of God in Christ. At his table we experience the already-and-not-yet reign of Christ in person by the Spirit. At the Lord’s Table we look back to his cross and forward to his kingdom as we share in fellowship with him, as he is present by the Spirit. At his table we get a foretaste of his coming kingdom. We come forward to the Lord’s Table to receive Christ, just as he is proclaimed, as our Lord and Savior.

God is not finished with any of us

Living between the times of Christ’s first advent and his second advent has another important implication. It means that everyone is on a spiritual pilgrimage—in an on-going “becoming” relationship with God. God is not finished with anyone in drawing them to himself and in transforming them to trust him more and more and receive his grace and new life every moment of every day. The church’s mission is to continue to proclaim and live out as best it can the truth of who God in Christ is and to continually bear witness in word and deed to the nature and character of Christ and his coming kingdom. Yet, we cannot know ahead of time who will turn out to be weeds or bad fish (to use Jesus’ imagery). God has to do the final sorting himself, in his own time. It is not up to us to speed up (or slow down) the process. We are not the final judges here and now. Rather, we are to remain faithful and patiently discerning while hopeful of God’s work in everyone by his Word and Spirit. Staying “on message” and keeping first things first, majoring in the majors and minoring in the minors is important in this time between the times. And of course, we must discern which is major and which is minor.

Second, the church provides a fellowship of love. The church’s primary “job” is not to insure an ideal or absolutely pure church by making its priority keeping out or rooting out those people who join in the fellowship of God’s people but who are not yet believing or whose lives do not yet manifest much of the life of Christ. It is impossible to do so in this present age. As Jesus taught, attempting to dig out the tares (Matthew 13:29-30) or separate the fish (verse 48) in this age will not bring about an ideal fellowship, but will instead damage the body of Christ and its witness. It will always amount to some “lording it over” others in the church. It will add up to a severe and judgmental legalism that will not represent Christ’s own ministry, nor faith and hope in Christ’s coming kingdom.

Third, the mixed nature of the church assembly also does not mean that just anyone can serve in its leadership. The church is not at root a popular democracy, even if some of its practical deliberations are conducted in that manner. There are clear criteria for church leadership noted in various places in the New Testament and practiced in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts, for example. Leadership is a matter of spiritual maturity and wisdom. Leadership must be prepared, and exhibit maturity in their relationship with God through Christ according to Scripture. Their lives will come to exhibit a genuine, joyful and free desire to serve Jesus Christ above all by participating in his ongoing mission and ministry out of faith, hope and love.

But finally and most importantly, leadership in the church is a matter of Christ’s calling by the Spirit and the confirmation by others to the Spirit’s calling or appointing individuals to serve in particular ways. Exactly why some are called and others are not will not always be known. So some, who by grace have great spiritual maturity, still might not be called to formal or ordained leadership! God’s calling to leadership or not has nothing to do with God’s approval of them or not. It has to do with the often hidden wisdom of God. However, given the criteria laid out in the New Testament, confirmation of their calling will include the matter of character, reputation and weighing evidence of their willingness and ability to equip, encourage and enable the members of the local congregation to trust in Christ and to join in his mission as best they can at any given moment.

Hopeful discipline and discernment

Living between Christ’s advents does not rule out the need for appropriate church discipline, but it will be a discerning, patient, compassionate and even longsuffering discipline in hope for every individual because of God’s love for all. It will not, however, allow members to trample fellow sheep (Ezekiel 34) but will take measures to protect them. It will give hospitality, fellowship, time and space for people to seek God and his kingdom ways, and time to repent, receive and grow towards Christ. But there will be limits as to what is allowed, so as to monitor and limit harm done to other members.

We see this dynamic at work in the early life of the church in the New Testament. The book of Acts and the epistles bear witness to this internal ministry of discipline within the church. It calls for wise and compassionate leadership. However, it will not be possible to attain perfection in church discipline. Nevertheless, it must be pursued because the alternatives, either no discipline at all or harsh, judgmental and self-righteous idealism, are both wrong ways to go, and unfaithful to Christ.

Christ accepted all those who came to him, but he never left them where they were. Rather, he directed them to follow him. Some did and some didn’t. Christ accepts us all where we are, but in order to take us where he is going. The church’s ministry is one of receiving and welcoming, but also of directing and disciplining those who remain to repent and trust in Christ and to follow in his ways. Although, as a last resort, dis-fellowshipping may be necessary, it should be done in the hope of future restoration, as we have example in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-7; Galatians 6:1).

The church’s message of hope in Christ’s continuing ministry

Another implication of the distinction and connection between the church and kingdom is that the message of the church must include speaking about the continuing work of Christ, not just the completed work of the cross. That is, our message should indicate that all the effects of what Christ has accomplished through his saving work have not yet been worked out in history. His earthly ministry did not bring about and was not intended to bring about an ideal world here and now.

The church is not the realization of God’s ideal. The gospel we preach should not lead people to believe that the church is the kingdom, God’s ideal. Our message and example should include a word of hope about Christ’s coming kingdom. It should be clear that the church is made up of a mixed people, people who are on the way, people who are repenting and being renewed and restored to faith, hope and love. The church, then, is a herald of that coming kingdom, of the fruit guaranteed by Christ himself, crucified and resurrected. The church is the people who live in the presence of the kingdom by the grace of God each day and in hope of the consummation of Christ’s rule and reign in the future.

Repenting of idealism to take up hope in the coming kingdom

Too many have gotten the idea that Jesus came to set up here and now an ideal people or to establish an ideal world. The church itself may have given this impression, perhaps thinking that is what Jesus intended. It may be that much of the unbelieving world rejects the gospel because the church has failed to achieve the ideal community or world. Many seem to believe that Christianity offers a form of idealism—but then notice that such idealism has failed to be realized. Consequently, some reject Christ and his gospel because they’re looking for an established ideal, or at least one that can be realized soon, and find that the church doesn’t have this to offer. Some will want the ideal now, instantly or nothing at all. Others may reject Christ and his gospel because they have given up altogether and have already lost hope in everyone and everything, including the church. Perhaps some have left the community of faith because the church did not realize an ideal they thought God was going to help his people accomplish. Those making this assumption—which amounts to identifying the church with the kingdom—will conclude that either God failed (perhaps by not helping his people enough), or that his people failed (possibly by not trying hard enough). In either case, the ideal wasn’t realized, so for many there seems to be no reason for continuing to be a part of this community.

But Christianity is not about becoming ideal people who realize an ideal community or world with God’s help. This Christianized form of idealism insists that if we would just be pure enough, sincere enough, committed enough, radical enough, or clever enough with our strategies, we would make real the ideal that God desires for his people. Since this has never happened in the entire history of the church, the idealists know just where to place the blame—on other, “so-called Christians.” In the end, the finger of blame often points back on the idealists who find that they too are unable to meet the ideal. When this happens, idealism collapses into a heap of hopelessness and self-accusation.

The gospel truth is that by God’s grace, the blessings of a future kingdom already have broken into this present evil age. Because this is so, we can share now in the benefits of what Christ has done before his kingdom is fully manifested and established. The primary evidence of the certainty of this coming kingdom is the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the living Lord. He promised the arrival of his future kingdom and taught us to only expect now in this current evil age a foretaste, a down payment, the first fruits, an inheritance of that kingdom to come. We must preach hope in Christ and his finished and continuing work, not Christian idealism. We do so by distinguishing the church and the kingdom while also noting its connection in Christ by the Spirit and our participation as witnesses—living signs and parables of the coming kingdom.

In summary, the distinction yet connection between the church and kingdom means that the church is not to be an object of worship or of faith, for that would be idolatry. Rather, the church points away from itself to Christ and his mission. It does have a share in that mission: to point away from itself, by word and deed, to Christ, who leads us in our worship and who makes us new creatures in him in hope of a new heaven and earth that can only be realized when Christ himself, the Lord and Savior of the universe, returns.

Christ’s ascension and return

A final element that ought to contribute to our understanding the kingdom of God and our relationship to Christ’s rule is Christ’s ascension. Jesus’ earthly ministry came to a close not with his resurrection, but with his ascension. Jesus left the earthly realm and the present age to relate to and interact with us in a different way. That way is through the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, he is not absent. He is present in a certain way. Yet he is also absent in a certain way.

John Calvin used to say that Christ was “in a manner absent and in a manner present.” [3] Jesus indicates his being in some way absent by telling his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place where they cannot now follow him. He is going to be with the Father in a way he wasn’t while on earth (John 8:21; 14:28). He knows his disciples may regard this as a disadvantage, but instructs them rather to regard it as a step of progress and so of benefit to them, even though it does not represent the final and full benefit to come. The Spirit that was with them will now be able to be in them, indwell them (John 14:17).

However, Jesus also promises that he will return—and return in the same way that he left—in human form, bodily, visibly (Acts 1:11). His being away for now corresponds to the kingdom not yet being consummated and so being, in a way, absent. The present evil age is in a state of passing away, ceasing to be present (see 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:8; 1 John 2:1).

All things are now in the process of being put under the authority of the reigning King. When Jesus completes that phase of his ongoing ministry, he will return, and the extent of his universal rule and reign will be in full effect—all of who he is and what he has done will then be evident to everyone. Every knee will bow and everyone acknowledge the truth and reality of who he is (Philippians 2:10). Only then will the totality of his work be manifested.

So his absence indicates something important that corresponds with other teaching. While he is away, the kingdom will not be universally acknowledged. The extent of Christ’s reign will not be fully manifested, but remain to a significant degree hidden. Many aspects of the current fallen age will continue to express themselves and do so even at the expense of those who identify with Christ and acknowledge his kingdom and his kingship. Suffering, persecution, evil, both moral (enacted by human agents) and natural (the result of the fallenness of nature itself), will continue. Evil will continue to the extent that it will appear to some as if Christ was not victorious and his reign not preeminent.

Jesus’ own parables about the kingdom indicate that our present experience will involve a mixture of responses to the Word, living, written and preached. Some soils to one degree or another will resist the Word being sown, while others will receive it. The field of the world will contain both wheat and tares. The nets will catch fish both good and bad. The church will be persecuted, and those blessed in it will hunger for righteousness and peace and a clear vision of God. Jesus does not envision the appearance of an ideal world once he has departed. Rather, he takes measures to prepare his followers to expect that his victory and redemption will only be fully apparent some time in the future.

This means that living in hope is essential to the life of the church, but not with the misguided hope (idealism really) that, with just a little more effort (or a lot) from a few more people (or a lot), we will realize the ideal, bring in the kingdom or gradually build the kingdom. Rather, the good news is that in God’s good time—at just the right time—Christ will return in full glory and power, vindicating our hope and regenerating heaven and earth, making everything new. The ascension then reminds us that we should not expect Christ and his rule and reign to be entirely manifested, but remain hidden at some distance. His ascension signals to us the need to continue to hope in Christ and the future outworking of what he accomplished in his earthly ministry. It reminds us to wait and live now confidently and expectantly for Christ to return, bringing with him the fullness of all his redemption as Lord of lords and King of kings, the Savior of all creation.

Conclusion to this series

With these words of hope we bring to a close our series on the kingdom of God. As incomplete as it is, I trust the God of all grace may find a way to edify you with it.


[1] For much of what follows I am indebted to Ladd’s discussion, A Theology of the New Testament, pp. 105-119.

[2] Ladd, pp. 111-119.

[3] See Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:5.


Here is a video that illustrates some of the concepts in this article concerning the kingdom of God and the church.

This video is posted at http://youtu.be/gVHz34eiSPE.

More about science vs religion

scientistRecently in GCI Weekly Update, we’ve looked at the related topics of creation vs. evolution and science vs. religion. These topics are being widely discussed and debated in the media.

A recent article in Christianity Today reported on a study of scientists in the United States initiated by the NAE. Whereas the media often portray scientists and Christians as incapable of peaceful coexistence, the NAE study suggests that the two are not as incompatible as one might think. In fact, 2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. Were you to bring together all the evangelical scientists, they could populate Houston!

You can read the CT article at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/study-2-million-scientists-identify-as-evangelical.html.

Jackie King

Jackie King, wife of elder Dan King in the Joplin, Missouri church is suffering from a severe spinal problem that has led to much pain and the loss of most of the use of both arms. An operation to alleviate the condition is scheduled for March 12. There are other health conditions that Jackie is battling that may effect whether or not the surgery can be conducted.

Please pray about this situation with Jackie, Dan and their congregation.

Cards can be sent to:

Jackie King
PO Box 66
Webb City, MO 64870

Lexie Ellis

Last week we requested prayer for Lexie Ellis concerning forthcoming surgery to remove a regrowth of melanoma from her brain. We’re happy to report that the surgery was successful and the doctors are pleased with her progress. Lexie is now recovering at home.

Lexie and Mark thank everyone for their expressions of love and support and the continuing prayers.

Cards can be sent to:

Mark and Lexie Ellis
Unit 15
Oscar on Main
1 Hughes Avenue
Main Beach
Queensland 4217

Jan Flynn: Teacher of the Year!

Jan and Ross Flynn
Jan and Ross Flynn

Congratulations to Jan Flynn, wife of GCI pastor Ross Flynn. Recently Jan was named twice as state-wide “Teacher of the Year”—first by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), then by the American Legion and U.S. Department of Education. One award included a $500 grant to be used for an educational project.

Jan teaches choir at Oxford Middle School in the Detroit area where she is well known for her devotion to teaching students to love music. Her philosophy that “Music is a way to know the world, as a part of our daily lives and heritage” is evident in all that she does—in the classroom, directing choirs and leading drum groups. Jan founded the Oxford Americana Concert in her community more than a decade ago. This annual performance has become an eagerly anticipated community event.