Friday, October 21, 2011

God Rules

George Eldon Ladd, in his “A Theology of the New Testament”, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Revised Edition © 1993, pgs 109 ff.), supporting the “dynamic concept of the Kingdom” that France writes about, says “the Kingdom” is “never to be identified with the church”. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them, but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men.”

Ladd goes on to cite five different ways in which “the church is not the Kingdom”, and he does so exegetically:
1. “The New Testament does not equate believers with the Kingdom”. Directly contradicting the point of the Cross/Brown citation the Gospel of John above, Ladd notes “The first missionaries preached the Kingdom of God, not the church (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). It is impossible to substitute “church” for “kingdom” in such sayings. … There is never the slightest hint that the visible church can either be or produce the Kingdom of God. The church is the people of the Kingdom, but never that Kingdom itself. Therefore it is not helpful even to say that the church is a “part of the Kingdom,” or that in the eschatological consummation the church and Kingdom become synonymous.”

2. “The Kingdom Creates the Church”. “The dynamic rule of God, present in the mission of Jesus, challenged men and women to response, bringing them into a new fellowship. The presence of [the Rule of God] meant the fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic hope promised to Israel; but when the nation as a whole rejected the offer, those who accepted it were constituted the new people of God, the children of the Kingdom, the true Israel, the incipient church.

The parable of the draw net (and see John 21 - contra the Cross/Brown interpretation given in my last post) is instructive as to the character of the church and its relation to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is an action that is likened to the drawing a net through the sea. It catches in its movement not only good fish but also bad; and when the net is brought to shore, the fish must be sorted out. Such is the action of God’s kingdom among humankind. It is not now creating a pure fellowship; in Jesus’ retinue could even be a traitor. While this parable must be interpreted in terms of Jesus’ ministry, the principles deduced apply to the church. The action of God’s Kingdom among human beings created a mixed fellowship, first in Jesus’ disciples and then in the church. The eschatological coming of the Kingdom will mean judgment both for human society in general (tares) and for the church in particular (draw net). Until then, the fellowship created by the present acting of God’s Kingdom will include those who are not true children of the Kingdom. Thus the empirical church has a twofold character. It is the people of the Kingdom, and yet it is not the ideal people, for it includes some who are actually not children of the Kingdom. Thus entrance into the Kingdom means participation in the church; but entrance into the church is not necessarily synonymous with entrance into the Kingdom.

3. “The Church Witnesses to the Kingdom”. It is the church’s mission to witness to the kingdom. The church cannot build the Kingdom or become the Kingdom, but the church witnesses to the Kingdom—to God’s redeeming acts in Christ both past and future. This is illustrated by the commission Jesus gave to the twelve (Matt 10) and to the seventy (Luke 10); and it is reinforced by the proclamation of the apostles in the book of Acts. … It is part of God’s eschatological purpose that before the end, all nations should have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Here we find an extension of the theology of discipleship, that it will be the mission of the church to witness to the gospel of the Kingdom in the world. Israel is no longer the witness to God’s kingdom; the church has taken her place. …

If Jesus’ disciples are those who have received the life and fellowship of the Kingdom, and if this life is in fact an anticipation of the eschatological Kingdom, then it follows that one of the main tasks of the church is to display in this present evil age the life and fellowship of the Age to Come. The church has a dual character, belonging to two ages. It is the people of the Age to Come, but it still lives in this age, being constituted of sinful mortal persons. This means that while the church in this age will never attain perfection, it must nevertheless display the life of the perfect order, the eschatological Kingdom of God.

Implicit exegetical support for this view is to be found in the great emphasis Jesus placed on forgiveness and humility among his disciples. Concern over greatness, while natural in this age [and a hallmark of the way Rome conducts itself] is a contradiction of the life of the Kingdom (Mark 10:35 ff.). Those who have experienced the Kingdom of God are to display its life by a humble willingness to serve rather than by self-seeking.

Another evidence of the life of the Kingdom is a fellowship undisturbed by ill-will and animosity. This is why Jesus had so much to say about forgiveness, for perfect forgiveness is an evidence of love. Jesus even taught that human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are inseparable (Matt 6:12, 14). The parable on forgiveness makes it clear that human forgiveness is conditioned by divine forgiveness (Matt 18:23-35). The point of this parable is that when people claimed to have received the unconditioned and unmerited forgiveness of God, which is one of the gifts of the Kingdom, and then are unwilling to forgive relatively trivial offenses against themselves, they deny the reality of their very profession of divine forgiveness and by their conduct contradict the life and character of the Kingdom. Such people have not really experienced the forgiveness of God. It is therefore the church’s duty to display in an evil age of self-seeking, pride, and animosity the life and fellowship of the kingdom of God and the Age to Come. This display of Kingdom life is an essential element in the witness of the church to the Kingdom of God.
Note what is not being said here. No one is suggesting that “to be a part of the Kingdom you have to be perfect”. However, acts of humility and forgiveness are true manifestations of the Rule of God in the world. These are “the pillar and support of the Truth” (1 Tim 3:15) – and this is yet another place where Rome completely misses what Christ was trying to say, what God is trying to do in the world – and instead, this profound truth (1 Tim 3:15) is used to make the nonsensical claim that “the Roman Catholic Church cannot err.”

If committed Roman apologists cannot see this, they are truly lost.

Continuing with Ladd:
4. “The Church is the Instrument of the Kingdom.” The disciples of Jesus not only proclaimed the good news about the presence of the Kingdom; they were also instruments of the Kingdom in that the works of the Kingdom were performed through them as through Jesus himself. As they were preaching the Kingdom, they too healed the sick and cast out demons (Matt 10:8; Luke 10:17). Although theirs was a delegated power, the same power of the Kingdom worked through them that worked through Jesus. Their awareness that these miracles were wrought by no power resident in themselves accounts for the fact that they never performed miracles in a competitive or boastful spirit. …

This truth is implicit in the statement that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church. (Matt 16:18). This image of the gates of the realm of the dead is a familiar Semitic concept. … As instruments of the Kingdom, [Jesus’ disciples] had seen people delivered from bondage to sickness and death (Matt 10:8). This messianic struggle with the powers of death, which had been raging in Jesus’ ministry and had been shared by his disciples, will be continued in the future, and the church will be the instrument of God’s kingdom in this struggle.

5. The Church is the Custodian of the Kingdom”. The rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of God conceived of Israel as the custodian of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was the rule of God that began on earth in Abraham, and was committed to Israel through the Law. Since the rule of God could be experienced only through the Law, and since Israel was the custodian of the Law, Israel was in effect the custodian of the Kingdom of God. When Gentiles became Jewish proselytes and adopted the Law, they thereby took upon themselves the sovereignty of heaven, the Kingdom of God. God’s rule was mediated to the Gentiles through Israel; they alone were the “sons of the kingdom.”

In Jesus, the reign of God manifested itself in a new redemptive event, displaying in an unexpected way within history the powers of the eschatological Kingdom. The nation as a whole rejected the proclamation of this divine event, but those who accepted it became the true children of the Kingdom and entered into the enjoyment of its blessings and powers. These disciples of Jesus, his ekklesia, now became the custodians of the Kingdom rather than the nation Israel. The Kingdom is taken from Israel and given to others – Jesus’ ekklesia (Mk 12:9). Jesus’ disciples not only witness to the Kingdom and are the instruments of the Kingdom as it manifests its powers in this age; they are also its custodians.

This fact is expressed in the saying about the keys [of the Kingdom, and Rome’s interpretation that] whatever they bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19). Since the idiom of binding and loosing in rabbinical usage often refers to prohibiting or permitting certain actions, this saying has frequently been interpreted to refer to administrative control over the church. Background for this concept is found in Isaiah 22:22 where God entrusted to Eliakim the key to the house of David, an act that included administration of the entire house. According to this interpretation, Jesus gave Peter the authority to make decisions for conduct in the church over which he is to exercise supervision. When Peter set aside Jewish ritual practices that there might be free fellowship with the gentiles, he exercised administrative authority.

… another interpretation lies nearer at hand. Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees because they had taken away the key of knowledge, refusing to enter the Kingdom of God themselves or to permit others t enter (Luke 11:52). The same though appears in the first Gospel. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt 23:13). In biblical idiom, knowledge is more than intellectual perception. It is “a spiritual possession resting on revelation.” The authority entrusted to Peter is grounded upon revelation, that is, spiritual knowledge, which he shared with the twelve. The keys of the Kingdom are therefore “the spiritual insight which will enable Peter to lead others in through the door of revelation through which he has passed himself.”

The authority to bind and loose involves the admission or exclusion of people from the realm of the Kingdom of God. Christ will build his ekklesia upon Peter and upon those who share the divine revelation of Jesus’ messiahship. To them also is committed by virtue of this same revelation the means of permitting people to enter the realm of the blessings of the Kingdom or of excluding them from such participation (cf Acts 10).

This interpretation receives support from rabbinic usage, for binding or loosing can also refer to putting under ban or to acquitting. This meaning is patent in Matthew 18:18 where a member of the congregation who is unrepentant of sin against his brother is to be excluded from the fellowship; for “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The same truth is found in a Johannine saying where the resurrected jesus performs the acted parable of breathing on his disciples, thus promising them the Holy Spirit as equipment for their future mission. Then Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). This cannot be understood as the exercise of an arbitrary authority. It is the inevitable issue of witnessing to the Kingdom of God. It is furthermore an authority exercised not by Peter but by all the disciples – the church.

As a matter of fact, the disciples had already exercised this authority of binding and loosing when they visited the cities of Israel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Wherever they and their message were accepted, peace rested upon that house; but wherever they and their message were rejected, the judgment of God was sealed to that house (Matt 10:14, 15). They were indeed instruments of the Kingdom in effecting the forgiveness of sins; and by virtue of that very fact, they were also custodians of the Kingdom. Their ministry had the actual result either of opening the door of the Kingdom to men and women or of shutting it to those who spurned their message.

This truth is expressed in other sayings. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt 10:40; see Mark 9:37).

I have much more to say about the notion that God put Peter in charge and that the “government” of the church would have the same government in place for all of history. In truth, God is the “government” and if Peter had the keys, they were for a specific task, a specific purpose. There is no concept that keys would be handed on. There is no sense that “thrones” would be handed on. Roman (and other bishops) made that assumption. But God is the Authority. God is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.

God rules. That is the message implicit and explicit in ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεο, “the Kingdom of God”.

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