The Kingdom of God is Within
Karl Marx in his well-known saying called religion “the opium of the people”. The growth of opinion that agrees with him is not surprising if an intelligent examination of the behaviour of adherents to religious faiths is made. People certainly have used religion in some strange ways over the past three millennia. Barbarism, cruelty and acts of such ferocity that are beyond imagination have been committed in the name of religion.
Even to this day humankind still continues with attitudes of fanatical blindness that in many cases sets aside the very teachings they are supposed to support. The lust for power runs rampant in our contemporary society dressed up in the garb of religious belief. It is little wonder that in the minds of humankind there is growing an attitude that sees religious belief as a drug that dulls the sensibilities and is destructive to the growth of a peaceful and worthwhile society.
The Christian believers are not free from this lamentable corrosion of their teaching. A way of life that could give to all the peace and beauty that most are seeking has also been tainted. Christians are also being caught up in the greed for power and control. A great bulk of those who profess to serve Jesus are deceived into serving a religion intent upon building organisations. From very large to quite small these structures are in the final analysis serving human ambition and a human desire for headship.
Humankind’s belief that they can design, organise and bring into being a human organisation fit to be called the Body of Christ is incredible egotism. Yet we still go on trying and deck the structures we build with titled officials, incredible buildings, human rules and regulations, stored up wealth and a veritable panoply of art, music and totally irrelevant endeavours.
It would perhaps be very good thing if all those who are followers of the Way stopped and asked the question, “What are we doing?” and examine more carefully the question, “Is this really what we have been told to do?” Is our goal a religion, a building, an organisation, a meeting or . . .?
If the disciples of Jesus are unable to get this answer correct and fail to understand and obey the simple Bible teachings the result of all their endeavours will be just another man made creation like all the other fruit of humankind’s’ traditions.
Jesus told each and all of His followers to do something profoundly simple. Go and tell everybody about the good news of the kingdom of God. Those who believed the good news would be changed into children of God and collectively become God’s dwelling place. As an act of good faith the believers were asked to turn away from the ways that displeased God and be baptised.
Jesus said quite simply, “The kingdom of God is within you”.
It would be fair comment to suggest that all the rest of the hive of activity that goes on is for the most part humankind’s’ efforts to build a “kingdom” for God outside the disciple rather than inside.
When we consider the world and the society of today it is clear that the growth of communication between people, the advent of mass education, the reduction of distance/time and the general pace of modern society has resulted in a great stirring among the established norms and standards of most of the societies of the earth.
People are questioning the old standards, uprooting the traditional ways and seeking a greater satisfaction, a more equitable share in the bounties of the earth and a better answer to the where did we come from, where are we going and why we are here questions.
The Ecclesia is under scrutiny also and for good reason. There is much to question. The church both local and worldwide must re-examine its base and structure to be sure that all it does and all that it stands for, is in fact, the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Ecclesia Jesus said He would build must be the vision, desire and goal of all the saints. We also are to be watchful and not try to add other ideas and organisations to His Ecclesia out of a desire to “do good”.
The church structures which sincere men have built as the result of their association with governments, philosophies and traditions, denominations, cultures in various societies, doctrines and values, social works, may all be works of the flesh. Following traditions and principles of an attractive religious teaching and using human skills in management has been a proven method for success in building powerful organisations. And they are many.
However without the controlling framework of obedience to the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit much of what is being done, successful as it appears to be, has as the guiding force the exercise of soul power driven by the minds and personality of humankind.
Are all these activities Jesus building “His Ecclesia”? Or are they humankind’s idea of how to get control of the situation?
THE PARA-CHURCH MOVEMENT
On every hand it is possible to see the result of ideas that have been developed from isolated portions of Scripture and then built into a structure which seeks to exist in its own right as a “work” to the glory of God. The point is that these are not necessarily “the Ecclesia” that Jesus said He would build.
They could be part of it; they could be a practical part of the church’s ministry, but are they THE CHURCH? Can we point to any such structure and ask are these the called out ones? Is this the Ecclesia? If the answer is we are not sure; how does this structure we are examining fit into the pattern God has laid down for His people? This is an important question for above all we are here to fulfil the will and purpose of God according to His pattern, not our own ideas.
Consider for example the following organisations …
i. Independent Bible Colleges, Bible Seminaries
ii. Small Groups; meeting as interest groups.
iii. Special Clubs, e.g. Full Gospel Business Men’s,
iv. Missionary Communes,
v Shop Front Missions,
vi Special moves to the Poor.
vii. Hospitals, Medical Clinics, Leper Colonies, Respite Centres.
viii. Orphanages, Fostering Homes.
ix. Schools and Educational Structures.
These are but a few of the activities of sincere people who seek to follow Christ in the world today. No one would deny that such service provides good and faithful service to those in need of these provisions BUT it is possible to have all these things and not have a New Testament Church.
It is important to realise that all these things can and may well be swept away. Only the church is the unshakeable and eternal body (it is the ecclesia, PEOPLE.). Jesus is building the Ecclesia of the kingdom of God and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
He did not at any time teach us to build any of the above organisations. His ministry was a personal relationship. The great structures humankind build aimed at fulfilling the great commission depersonalise the disciples’ mission. Help the poor and the widow becomes “give a donation to the Salvos”. Study to make yourselves a workman in the Word of God becomes “build a bible school”. Care for the sick becomes “give a donation or tax to build a hospital”. Minister as a Son/daughter of God becomes “Build huge buildings and pay a professional to do it for you”.
The present day Ecclesia is becoming lost in a “football Match” mentality. Building giant arenas, watching the game, paying for entertainment, following the star players, being passive supporters not active participants typifies much of today’s church activities.
Economics will propose that we do this in order to consider the distribution of scarce means among abundant ends. We must be careful our enthusiasm for spectacular good works doesn’t lead our stewardship into using our resources in a manner not set out in God’s pattern for the called out ones.
It can be a sobering thought to consider how much wealth is tied up in material assets that are owned by “the church”. More seriously; how many more souls would be saved into the kingdom if all this wealth was devoted to/and spent on the task of salvation and nothing else. Jesus and the disciples did not corporately own anything yet they changed society and spread the Gospel throughout the known world. We may well have invented a football team (the clergy) and built football fields for them so that we can watch the game. Is all this activity really what Jesus really had in mind?
It is possible that in our human enthusiasm we have swept aside the simple solution and continually try to do it our way.
If all are Royal Priests; and we are, it is relevant to ask of every disciple, “How many people have entered the kingdom of God as the result of your personal witness and ministry?”
This question and its answer embrace the critical essence of the question about how the Ecclesia could/should answer the call of the Great Commission.
Unfortunately the English word “church” has lost its New Testament meaning. It is no longer applied uniquely to the holy, righteous, called out saints of the living God. Today it may well be applied to Muslims, sects, buildings, strange teachings such as Scientology, and in general any semi-religious or religious group. To say we are members of the church in this day and age may mean any of a hundred different definitions. Perhaps we should begin to say, ” I am a disciple of Jesus Christ”? “I am a follower of the Way” or perhaps “I am a member of the body of Christ”
The call to change humankind has also been led astray by the contemporary idea that church is a building. The English word “church” is derived from a Greek adjective “kyriakos“. This was used in phrases such as “kyriakon doma” meaning the Lord’s house or a place of worship. The heathen temples in Act19:37 has been similarly translated “churches” by Tyndale in the AV.
(Acts 19:37 NIV) You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.
Essentially the word church is used in Greek to describe a God’s temple. (any God)
Unfortunately Scriptural translators also rendered the Greek “ecclesia” as church when in most cases it means the gathering of Christian believers not a building. Jesus spoke of such a gathering when He said, “I will build my “ecclesia”. Both Paul & Peter spoke of this spiritual house and how the children of God were to become one. This spiritual house was a heavenly reality not an organisational goal for humankind purposed to build and to establish structures on the earth.
(Eph 2:20-22 NIV) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
(1 Pet 2:4-5 NIV) As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
More importantly New Testament writers never used ekklesis as a collective term as we tend to do when using the term “New Testament Church: An ecclesia was a singular meeting or an assembly. Most commonly a gathering of citizens summoned together. Discussion and decisions on matters of community order were the usual subjects. Locality was essential to its character and it certainly implied “meeting” rather than “organisation” or “society.”