Many of you who follow this blog may recognize that I have made this distinction between the “church” and the kingdom in the past. You may also notice that is one of the reasons I typically avoid using the word “church” in my articles, not because I don’t believe in it, just because I think that word has evolved over time to take on non-biblical meaning.
What do I mean by that? Well, when we drive down the road and see a building with a steeple, we may call that a “church.” This building may technically be where a “church” (that is, a group of called-out people) meets, but it is only a building, not an actual church. In reality, the church is the group of people that meet in that location, the building is just a building.
The word that we translate as church in our bibles is actually from the Greek word ekklesia, which simply means an assembly of people. In Greek usage, it doesn’t even really have any religious overtones; it could be an assembly of people at a rally, or a political event. This is why instead of using the word church, I will typically employ the word congregation, as I think that conveys more of an accurate meaning.
Why is this kind of semantic difference important? It is because I think in today’s culture, just like the confusion between the building and the people who meet in the building, the lines between church and kingdom have become blurred, to the point of the terms being used interchangeably. This has no biblical precedent and was never intended by any of the biblical writers, or even by Yeshua himself.
I believe Yeshua defined how the term ekklesia should be used when he introduced the concept to his disciples in Matthew 16.
Matthew 16:15-18 – “…who do you say that I am? ” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Yeshua responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my ekklesia, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Yeshua said this his ekklesia would be built on the “rock” of the declaration of Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is all that is required to be a “member” of the local assembly: faith in Yeshua as Messiah. Based on that statement, assemblies would be formed to live out his teachings in their local communities. Neither the death of Yeshua nor the death of any of the believers (i.e., the “gates of Hades”) would be able to stop the number of local congregations from continuing to grow.
However, the ekklesia is not the kingdom, it is simply the local outpost of where the kingdom principles are being exhibited in the lives of the believers. The kingdom is the everlasting reign of God over all the earth; the congregation is the local gathering of believers in Messiah who are living out the kingdom values in that community.
In an excerpt from his article titled “The Church vs. the Kingdom,” a church-planting minister by the name of Jim Botts provided how he views some of the following differences between the church and the kingdom.
“KINGDOM PEOPLE OR CHURCH PEOPLE?
Though the church and its activities can fit into the Kingdom, you cannot squeeze the Kingdom into the Church. When we try to fit the Kingdom into our church-box, we create church people, instead of Kingdom people! And there is a huge difference between the two:
Church people – have reduced ministry vision and can’t see past church-bound categories for ministry (i.e., usher, greeter, children’s worker, inviter-of-lost-friends, etc.).
Kingdom people – have Kingdom vision to think/dream/act outside the box (read church here). They want to heal the wounds in their neighborhood, workplace, and community (fatherlessness, addictions, marriages).
Church people – see the gospel in terms of good news about the afterlife (it’s how you can be sure you’re going to heaven after you die).
Kingdom people – see the gospel in terms of good news about Kingdom life (it’s about life in God and with God, both now and forever).
Church people – understand discipleship as primarily about enjoying a closer relationship with God that grows me to spiritual maturity.
Kingdom people – understand discipleship as the call to lose their life for Christ’s sake so they can participate in His family for His mission.
The Kingdom is not a means to a bigger church; the church is a means to demonstrating the Kingdom!”
I think these are some healthy distinctions, and help us understand that Yeshua’s primary mission was to usher in the kingdom, not to start a new religion which would become called “the Christian Church.” This is a primary misunderstanding of all that he came to accomplish.
Instead, as we work through our local congregations (i.e., “churches”) to live out the overarching principles of the kingdom, we will find that the kingdom itself will continue to grow on the earth with each succeeding generation, just as the Bible prophesied it would.
Daniel 7:14 – “He [one like a Son of Man] was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.”
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