Is The Kingdom of God Identical With The Institutional Church?

“It always astounds me when I hear Protestants cite John 18:36 in order to defend a narrow definition of God’s kingdom in history. Four centuries ago, this narrow definition was the Roman Catholic view of the kingdom. Roman Catholics equated the kingdom with the church, meaning the church of Rome. The world is outside the church, they said, and it is therefore doomed. The institutional church is all that matters as far as eternity is concerned, they argued. The world was contrasted with the kingdom (“church”), and the church could never encompass the world.

In sharp contrast, the Protestant Reformation was based on the idea that the institutional church must be defined much more narrowly than God’s world-encompassing kingdom. Protestants always argued that God’s kingdom is far wider in scope than the institutional church. So, from the Protestant viewpoint:

1. The kingdom is more than the church.
2. The church is less than the kingdom.

The Protestant doctrine, “every man a priest” – as Protestant an idea as there is – rests on the assumption that each Christian’s service is a holy calling, not just the ordained priest’s calling. Each Christian is supposed to serve as a full-time worker in God’s kingdom (Romans 12:1). What is this kingdom? It is the whole world of Christian service, and not just the institutional church.

What we find today is that fundamentalist Protestants have unknowingly adopted the older Roman Catholic view of church and kingdom. Writes Peter Masters of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle: “Reconstructionist writers all scorn the attitude of traditional evangelicals who see the church as something so completely distinct and separate from the world that they seek no ‘authority’ over the affairs of the world.”We do not argue, as this critic argues to defend his own position of cultural isolation, that “The kingdom of God is the church, small as it may sometimes appear, not the world….”

This definition of the kingdom of God as the institutional church is the traditional Roman Catholic definition of the kingdom, and it has led in the past to ecclesiocracy. It places everything under the institutional church. The church in principle absorbs everything.

This same definition of the church can also lead to the ghetto mentality and cultural isolation: it places nothing under Christianity, because the kingdom is narrowly defined as merely the institutional church. Because the institutional church is not authorized to control the State (correct), and because the kingdom is said to be identical to the church (incorrect), the kingdom of God is then redefined as having nothing to do with anything that is not strictly ecclesiastical. This is our critic’s view of the kingdom.

So, pietists have sharply separated the kingdom of God (narrowly defined) from the world. Separating the institutional church from the world is necessary, but separating God’s kingdom from this world leads to the surrender of the world to Satan’s kingdom. Thus, it is never a question of “earthly kingdom vs. no earthly kingdom”; it is always a question of whose earthly kingdom, God’s or Satan’s? To deny that God’s kingdom extends to the earth in history – the here and now – is necessarily to assert that Satan’s kingdom is legitimate, at least until Jesus comes again. But Satan’s kingdom is not legitimate, and Christians should do whatever they can to roll it back. Rolling back Satan’s earthly kingdom means rolling forward Christ’s earthly kingdom.

What Christian Reconstructionists argue is that this originally Protestant view of the kingdom of God in history has been steadily abandoned by Protestants since at least 1660, to the detriment of the gospel in general and Protestantism specifically. They call for the recovery and implementation of the older Protestant view of God’s kingdom. This is what has made Christian Reconstructionists so controversial. Today’s Protestants do not want to give up their medieval Roman Catholic definition of the kingdom of God, and they deeply resent anyone who asks them to adopt the original Protestant view. Their followers are totally unaware of the origins of what they are being taught by their leaders.” (Gary North, pp. 28-30)

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