Scot McKnight's book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, is a much needed corrective to much current understanding of the kingdom of God as it relates (or for all too many, doesn't relate) to the church. In a post that he writes over at his blog, Jesus Creed, Scot speaks of what he calls "the biggest mistake in kingdom talk." He writes,
The most common mistake I hear when people are talking about kingdom is comparison talk. It goes like this or this or this or this:
"So you think kingdom and church are the same (but not identical), then you need to come to my church because that will show you the difference."
"Kingdom is the ideal, church is the reality."
"Kingdom is justice, but church is injustice."
"The church is but an approximation of the kingdom, a manifestation of the kingdom, but it is not the kingdom because the kingdom will be a utopian, perfect, just, reconciled, loving society."
"The church is now but the kingdom is not yet."
Scot observes that this kind of comparison language fails to understand how the New Testament speaks of kingdom. The mistake, as Scot rightly notes, is to compare the incomparable:
To compare present church to future kingdom is to compare the incomparable. (Kingdom wins.)
To compare the present kingdom with the future church is to compare the incomparable. (Church wins.)
To compare present church with present kingdom is to compare the comparable. (The same.)
To compare future church with future kingdom is to compare the comparable. (The same.)
At this point we need to make an observation: because so much of "church" thinking focuses on the Church Now without examining the Church Not Yet, any comparison of church with kingdom, which tends (as I have said already) to focus on the church now over against the Kingdom Not Yet, tends to conclude that they cannot be the same. Yet, if we compare Kingdom Now and Church Now we arrive at the same place, and as we are about to see, if we compare Kingdom Not Yet with Church Not Yet, we will discover once again a full overlap.
Kingdom describes the people governed by King Jesus. All we see of that kingdom now is an inauguration creating a tension between Kingdom Now and Kingdom Not Yet.
But church describes the very same realities: the People of God, Israel Expanded to be sure, is an eschatological reality, a People of God that has a Now and a Not Yet. C.K. Barrett, a leading New Testament scholar of the former generation, called the church an "eschatological monster, a prodigy." And he defines the church as "the people of the interim." He's right: the church is now and not yet, partially redeemed on its way to full redemption. So, what is said of the kingdom in the New Testament is said of the church in the same New Testament.
If we want to make comparison, we need to compare Kingdom Now and Church Now or Kingdom Not Yet and Church Not Yet. To compare, as so many do, Church Now with Kingdom Not Yet is not fair to the church (or the kingdom).
Let's not diss the church in the name of the kingdom. The church is the Body of Christ and Jesus is the king of the kingdom. You can't have one without the other.
Scot is spot on. His entire post is worth a read here.