THE CENTRALITY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

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1 Lloyd s Leadership LETTER THE CENTRALITY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD By Vineyard national director Lloyd Rankin Hi Vineyard leaders. I hope you have been finding these Leadership Letters helpful for expanding your leadership skills, and inspiring as we get to partner with Jesus in His mission. This month we are looking at the centrality of the Kingdom of God in our leadership, discipleship and church life. Of course Jesus is the centre of all we are and all we do, yet when it comes to what we build corporately we see and focus on the Kingdom. My first conscious exposure to the concept of the Kingdom of God was with a couple of Jehovah s Witnesses when I was a university student in Auckland and it wasn t convincing! Since that time, as a new and growing Christian, and then as a pastor, I read and heard about the Kingdom many times, but I found most Christians were focused on the church more than the Kingdom of God. My second encounter with the Kingdom of God, that had a profound impact on me, was at the Signs, Wonders and Church Growth Conference" with Vineyard founder John Wimber in Auckland in It felt like the lights came on for me as John taught about the Kingdom. Up to this time, even as a successful church planter, the advancing of Jesus cause had always seemed to revolve around anointed people. The more anointed a person was, the more they saw God move in people s lives. The two nagging questions were always, How do you get anointed enough for God to work through you? and How anointed do you need to be before God can use you? So, when I heard John talking about things like "healing is in the Kingdom, rather than in the atonement" and "Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing" (Jn 5:19), it caught my attention. This meant God was the central character in the advancing Kingdom, not anointed people. The authority and power was in the Kingdom, not primarily in us God invited us to partner with Him, in what He was doing, not the other way around. This was an invitation into an adventure of following a God who was on mission (missio dei), rather than a self-improvement mission. It began a fabulous journey that I am completely captivated with still seeking His Kingdom. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt 6:33). Seeing through the lens of Kingdom theology in particular what we now affectionately call the eschatological tension of living between two ages, this present evil age and the age to come, or the now and the not yet brought clarity and a framework to understand why some people were healed and others weren't, why sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, how and why churches grow as they do. And it freed me from fruitless and ultimately frustrating and endless attempts to become more anointed and becoming addicted to spiritual experiences. It has also been a wonderful guide to keep me from the extremes of Kingdom Now (everything should happen right now for everyone if we just had enough faith) and Kingdom Not Yet (don't expect anything to happen now because we are going to be healed and finally happy in heaven). Good theology is known by its ability to interpret reality, and conversely bad theology requires us to deny reality in order to believe the theology. So in this letter I want to do a very brief overview of the Kingdom and then look at a few implications of the Kingdom of God, which is the central motif of Vineyard teaching, worship, training and church expressions.

2 Lloyd s LeadershipLETTER A short overview of the theology of the Kingdom of God One thing that defines us as a particular type of church is our understanding of the Kingdom. It shapes how we worship, how we teach, how we pray for people, how we disciple and how we see the Kingdom expanding. In the Vineyard, we believe the expansion of the Kingdom of God is God s chief objective, rather than the expansion of the church. Church is a subset of the Kingdom. We are a Presence-focused movement (see letter #1) and we understand the King is present in His Kingdom. His Presence and His Power are the same thing, and He invites us to seek first His Kingdom. Vineyard is committed to the theology and practice of the Kingdom of God, rooted in the vision of the Hebrew prophets and fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. We have been commissioned to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, bearing witness to the already and not yet of the Kingdom in words and deeds. The Kingdom of God is the over-arching and integrating theme of the Bible. From our beginnings, Vineyard has been committed to the proclamation of the Kingdom and to bearing witness to the deeds of the Kingdom through healing (physical, emotional and social), doing justice and delivering those held captive by evil. Since the Kingdom of God is the future reign of God breaking into the present through the life and ministry of Jesus, we are a forward-leaning movement emphasising the ever-reforming nature of the church engaging the world in love. God of wrath. We hold the truth in tension, and the challenge is not to break the tension and go with either extreme. b. Quick summary of time 1. The Kingdom of God was rejected and lost by humans in the Fall (Gen 3:15), which gave rulership to Satan. John 12:31, Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 2 Corinthians 4:4, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2. Illegitimate rule was offered to Jesus by Satan in the wilderness (Lk 4:5-8). 3. Rule was taken by conquest by Jesus at Calvary. Colossians 2:15, And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 4. Jesus now offers each person the Kingdom (Luke 12:22-32). c. Living between two ages The Age to come (The Kingdom of the Heavens) 1. What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is the benevolent rule of God the realm where God s influence is felt. The church is a subset of the Kingdom of God. Calvary This Present Evil Age We live between the ages New/recreated heavens and earth - Heaven comes to earth End of the Age 2. The Kingdom of God is, at present, experienced as life lived between two ages a. The Bible clearly teaches that the Kingdom has both come and is yet to come! Kingdom Now Matthew 9:35, Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. Kingdom Yet to Come Hebrews 2:8,... and put everything under their feet. In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. Note: Remember the Bible often teaches two seemingly contradictory truths. For example, He is a God of mercy and a d. Oscar Cullman's explanation (Christ and Time). The Second World War was essentially won on D-Day (June 6, 1944), when the Allies landed in Normandy and began to push back the Axis forces; yet there were many more battles fought and lives lost before VE (Victory in Europe) Day (May 7-8, 1945). They were living between the times of having won and enforcing the victory. 3. The key to healthy theology is to not break the tension a. We are living in the presence of the future! Jesus taught in the Lord s Prayer (Lk 11:3), Give us each day our daily bread

3 Lloyd s SAILING LeadershipLETTER literally to give us tomorrow s bread today; give us what exists in Heaven and let it come to earth. This age to come is invading this present age. When the Kingdom comes and breaks in, we receive the benefits of the age to come (eg, healing, forgiveness, freedom from sin s hold and power, release from demonic oppression). In this age, the devil is still around, and still has influence, though his power is greatly restricted. b. It is not easy living in this tension. The temptation is to break the tension and end up at one or other pole. But it will always lead to error and end in tears. Biblical truth is truth held in tension. We must live with tension. It is like using night vision glasses! Just because we can t see, it doesn t mean it isn t real or substantial. Just as you can t see electricity, but can see what it does, we need to expect to see the Kingdom breaking in. We have a theology for healing AND a theology for dying. I once talked with a hospice nurse about how she had seen some Christians die horribly because they had no dying theology. We are all going to die! At this point in history, death is not a victory for Satan, so we should not live like it is for us or for other believers. We should teach people to live well and to die well! c. Look for the breaking in of the Kingdom. Heaven will continue to break into this age until it does so permanently and completely. The job of the church is to continually confront the works of Satan sin, sickness and disease, suffering, injustice, poverty and marginalisation etc. We are to bring a loving revolution by partnering with God. Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does (John 5:19). 4. How the Kingdom of God advances a. The Kingdom is dynamic We need to get our heads around the reality that it is God who is making things happen, not humans. We get to partner with Him if we wish, or simply get caught up in what He is doing, or even resist and oppose what He is doing but God is on the move! The Kingdom is not passive it is dynamic. We get to join God in His work. John 5:17, In his defence Jesus said to them, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. Matthew 11:12, Since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing with force. And forceful people are taking hold of it. b. Advancing edge of the Kingdom Present Evil Age Present Evil Age Kingdom of God Present Evil Age All around the advancing edge of the Kingdom there is a swirl of Kingdom activity as the future age invades the present age. It brings the benefits of the future age forgiveness and freedom from sin, healing of sickness, healing of relationships, peace, joy, salvation, being free from demonic interference etc. c. Signs, wonders and miracles Acts 2:22, People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. Acts 10:38,... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. Signs are there to point to something; wonders are designed to make you wonder; and miracles are always simply miraculous. When we look for the breaking in of the Kingdom in this world, we are to expect signs, wonders and miracles. But they are not the goal in themselves. We can get sidetracked and enamoured with gifts and power. But they are signs. You don't sit down to eat under a restaurant sign it is there to take you in to the meal. You don t stop at the sign to Queenstown you keep driving and following the sign till you get to your destination. In the same way, signs are to point people to Jesus. 5. Who attracts the attention of the Kingdom? Present Evil Age a. Some people and situations seem to attract God s attention more than others Luke 4:18, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord s favour.

4 Lloyd s SAILING LeadershipLETTER God draws close to the broken-hearted, the poor, the sick, the marginalised (Centurion, Syro-Phoenician woman, women in general which was not done in those times, outcasts lepers, tax gather, Roman soldiers etc). Experience also tells us that God/the Kingdom draws near to those in transition geographic, life stage, relational, vocational etc. b. This doesn t mean He doesn't do things for other kinds of people/situations He loves everyone the same but it seems like the Kingdom is more effective where it is most welcomed and needed. As disciples of Jesus, we have already seen the signs and have responded to God. We have already received the greatest gift of all our names are in His Book and He has taken up residence in our lives through the Holy Spirit. But God is so generous that He will continue to give signs, wonders and miracles to those already in church. Church is meant to be more like a Discipleship Training School we learn to see and act on Sunday so when we go back to work on Monday we have eyes and ears and hearts trained to spot what the Father is doing. c. Where should we be looking in 21st-century New Zealand? Try to spend time around those who are sick, in pain, in transition (life transitions, geographic transitions etc); whose hearts have been broken; those who can t find justice or mercy; those who have tried everything else to fill the gap in their lives. This understanding of the times we find ourselves helps us discover why some people get healed and why some don t, why some people get sick and die and others seem to be resistant to sickness. It empowers us to have a robust theology for healing, and an equally robust theology for suffering and dying. The key question is how does the Kingdom advance? The Evangelical Continuum and How the Kingdom advances: Extreme Fundamentalists Reconstructionists Kingdom Not Yet Personal conversions Conservative evangelicals Evangelical Mainstream Evangelical Acts of obedience Vineyard Pentecostal Extreme Faith Movement Restoration Movement Kingdom Now Anointed individuals Pentecostals Vineyard's theological centre is that the Kingdom advances through ordinary everyday believers doing acts of obedience to the promptings and invitations of the Holy Spirit. John Wimber was able to move in a very wide diversity of church movements and denominations. However, he never changed his theological centre. We can have spiritual unity with all Christians but we can t have organisational unity when we have differing direction, vision, practices etc. For example, some people would interpret renewal or revival experiences as the next thing and part of God s restoration. John, however, saw it as another breaking in of the Kingdom. The key issue is how the Kingdom advances. Either I need to get more anointing to make progress; or I do acts of obedience an empowered vision seeing the advancing edge of the Kingdom. You can be a great salesman selling a mediocre product or a mediocre salesman with a great product.

5 SAILING Lloyd s LeadershipLETTER Some implications of Kingdom theology in our practices 1. The Kingdom is present because the King is present. So we focus on seeking the King and recognising that when we sense His presence His power is also present. 2. Healing comes because the Kingdom comes, rather than us having inherent authority and power to heal on the basis of healing being in the atonement. This means we are looking for signs of the Kingdom drawing near a person or people, rather than looking for some internal feeling. See last month's letter for some very observable signs of the Kingdom drawing near to a person. Galatians 5:25, Keep in step with the Spirit. 3. We need to look and see what Father is doing rather than do what we want to see done. Watch for who He draws near to. God is always the initiator and we are always the responder. But this doesn't mean we should be passive. We can ask God to draw near, to bring His Kingdom, for the Holy Spirit to come etc. We are looking to see any little sign of the Kingdom. Notice what you notice, and act on what you see. 4. Because He is always the initiator and we are always the responder, it profoundly impacts how we "do ministry". To some people and some traditions it may seem like passivitiy but it is an outflow of our Quaker roots in looking to only do what we see the Father doing and avoiding "creaturely activities". This is why we pray for people the way we do. We look to see what the Father is doing, and seek to agree and co-operate with what He is doing. This is why we worship the way we do we seek to follow His wooing of us, rather than trying to stir up the congregation. We want to give Him what He is looking for rather than seek to have a personal religious experience. This is why we evangelise the way we do power evangelism is looking to see what the Father is doing and who He is doing it to, and responding to that. That is why our leadership practices are focused around fulfilling the King s rule rather than trying to establish our own. We are servant leaders servants who lead rather than leaders who serve. That is why we plant churches the way we do not just with a cognitive strategic plan, but looking for where God is moving and leading. Fasting and praying is focused not on us trying to move the hand of God, but looking for what the hand of God is blessing and getting ourselves involved in that. Our focus is on joining the King s ministry, not developing our ministry. 5. We are opposed to all spiritual manipulation eg, If the Spirit isn t moving we move the Spirit. There is no sense of striving but receiving tomorrow s bread today. We believe strongly in the sovereignty of God, which allows us to trust His ability to cause us to bear fruit because we are in relationship with a mighty God rather than trying to become a mighty man or woman of God. We are looking for the breaking in of the Kingdom rather than the development of personal power and position. 6. Ministries are initiated by the Father rather than need-driven. We build in the areas God is blessing. Give yourself, your church more to that area, rather than worrying about what you are not doing. 7. We are able to give ministry away to others and train others because we are serving His plan and rule, not our own. We are joining Him in His plan, rather than asking Him to join ours. 8. Because of Kingdom theology, we can live in eschatalogical tension with integrity, holding a theology of healing as well as a theology of suffering. We can have a theology of living as well as a theology of dying. Recommended reading: Breakthrough, Derek Morphew Christ and Time, Oscar Cullman Empowered Evangelicals, Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson

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