Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament studies at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, author or editor of 50 books and well-known speaker and blogger. During New Horizon 2016, he is leading the morning Bible Teaching (10am Monday – Friday). Here, the NH Media Team brings you a summary of what he had to say on Wednesday 10 August.

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Reading from Revelation 1: 5-6

The apostle John sees Christians, churches and the churches of Asia Minor to be the kingdom. This is a very important emphasis in our themes of the kingdom we have been thinking about.

For there to be a kingdom, there must be a king who rules by governing and redeeming. That king must rule over a people. There must we a law expressed by the king to show how the people of the king should live. And finally there should be a place where those people live.

I love the church. I love the church as the body of Christ. I love the church as the plce where God is doing his work in His world. I do not believe that God’s mission in the world is in the USA, in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. God’s work in the world for Christians is in the church. I acknowleged the limitations of the church and sometimes I celebrate the limitations of the church. The church is messy.

The church is a hospital for sinners not a country club for saints.

There is a contemporary problem grieves me when it comes to the church. I would call this one of the most serious problems that the church is facing today. I want to read something that I read on the internet and every time I read it, I get a little bit more irritated by it…

Quoting a pastor: “Though the church and its activities can fit into the kingdom, you cannot squeeze the kingdom of into our church box, we create church people rather than kingdom people. Church people have reduced ministry vision and cannot see past church-bound categories for ministry. Kingdom people have kingdom vision to think and dream and act outside the box. They want to heal the wounds in their neighbourhood, workplace and community. Church people see the gospel as good news about the afterlife. Kingdom people see the gospel in terms of good news about kingdom life. About life in God and with God both now and forever… The Kingdom is not a means to a bigger church, the church is a means to demonstrating the kingdom.”

When we make kingdom the opposite of church, we are countering the body of Christ. Christ came for the church. To save people and bring people into the church. How can we talk about the church like this and be pastors? When you find the perfect church, you will be dead. Until then we have to deal with the reality of the church as it is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,  “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial…”

The bright day of Christian community dawns whenever the early morning mist of dreamy wishes is lifting. We need to expect less of the church and when that happens we can discover the more that the church really is.

Church is not where you go to hear a sermon. Church is a fellowship of people who are doing life together. It is not fantastic. We should not be criticising the church because it fails to be perfect.

When I hear people compare kingdom and church I get really nervous because I’m a theologian. What Jesus meant by kingdom is what Paul meant by church. They are not identical but they are the same.

The core of it is this: the church is a people. The kingdom is a people!

When Jesus said, “The time has come, the kingdom of heaven has drawn near…” He did not mean only that we could be saved. It is not simple that salvation was available, the people of God were now going to realise the vision that God had for them.

We have to look at what the word kingdom means in the Old Testament to understand kingdom in the New Testament. There are about 200 OT references including Deuteronomy 17:20, Isaiah 19:2, Jeremiah 18:7, 2 Chronicles 13:8, etc…

The most common synonym for the word kingdom is the word “nation”. It is very important for us to understand “kingdom” we must be people of scripture. The word kingdom in the Old Testament always refers to a people governed by a king. It never once means salvation. For many people in the NT the word kingdom only means the saving reign of God but this is counter to what everything is said in the Bible. When we are called to kingdom, we are drawn into a story that God began with Abraham and he continued with Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Malachi… our story is the story of Israel. It is our privilege to be drawn into this story.

There is something profoundly unpredictable about the kingdom as explained by Jesus.

Reading from Matthew 5: 1 – 12.

If you start hanging around churches, you are going to discover that there are a lot of odd people in the church. Notice what Jesus says here. It is typical to read the Beatitudes and look at them as a list of virtues that we should imitate. In fact, Jesus was saying things that shocked his audience.

Jesus is clarifying what the law of Moses is all about. This is a list of all the wrong people. There are no powerful people here. There are no rich people or highly educated people. It is not who you think are in the kingdom of God, it is who God thinks are in His kingdom that matters.

We are privileged to join the kingdom and you don’t know whom God might choose to work with. You might think it is the person who is the least likely to deserve God’s grace.

If you look at the five things: king, rule, people, law and land and you compare Israel to the church, you realise that everything said about Israel and the kingdom is said about the church in the NT. There is no kingdom work done outside the church people doing that work.

The calling of the kingdom people in the church is:

  1. To lead people to Jesus as the Lord and King
  2. To promote redemption in Christ that leads to the Lordship of Christ
  3. To understand ourselves in the church as God’s dwelling place and centre of mission in this world – if you are in the church in a local community, you are in the middle of what God is doing in this world. Never forget that we are part of the Body of Christ.
  4. To draw people to obey the teachings of Jesus
  5. To expand the work of God in Jesus to new places in this world.

If you say the word kingdom and cannot substitute the word church, you are probably not using the word kingdom correctly.