Steven writes to ask whether the Kingdom of God is synonymous with the visible church or whether it is broader than the visible church? These questions have been particularly a matter of discussion since the rise of the Dutch neo-Calvinist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This episode was first broadcast in 2010. Since then I’ve learned to be clearer about the fact that the Kingdom of God (KOG) is fundamentally eschatological, i.e., the Kingdom of God is manifested on the earth but it is, in the first instance a heavenly kingdom. Second, the question that Steven asks is really about, then, how the KOG manifests itself in history. So, when he asks about whether it is “synonymous” or “broader” we’re assuming that the KOG is an eschatological kingdom of Christ that manifests itself in history. In that light we can ask where the Kingdom is to be manifested institutionally (narrowly) and whether the KOG is manifested more broadly? In the narrow sense, we may speak of the visible church as the principal institutional manifestation of the KOG. More broadly, of course, believers manifest the KOG by manifesting their citizenship in the KOG in their daily life and work. Christ is sovereign over all things. He administers that sovereignty in distinct ways, in distinct spheres but there is not one square inch over which Christ has not said: “Mine” (Kuyper). Amen.
There some historical factors (always!) to remember. First, where the older (16th and 17th century) writers tended to assume a very close relation between the earthly manifestation of the KOG and the visible church, neo-Calvinist writers since the late 19th century have tended to speak of the KOG more broadly and the following generations have even written more broadly yet about the KOG. As a result, where the older writers, including the Reformed confessions don’t speak about the KOG the way modern writers do, many today simply accept as the standard of orthodoxy, those ways of speaking about the KOG that have developed, in reaction to Modernity, since the rise of neo-Calvinism. One result of this assumption is that the attempt to return to the older way of speaking has been interpreted by some as a retreat from the unwavering assertion of Christ’s lordship over all things. This interpretation is as unfortunate as it is incorrect. The question is not and has never been whether Christ is Lord over all things. Scripture is clear: Christ is Lord. We do make him Lord nor does he become more or less Lord depending upon what we say. He rules the nations with a rod of iron. Under his sovereignty nations rise and they fall. He dashes them as a potter dashes clay. The questions are where we are to look, in this life, where for the earthly manifestation of the KOG and how we should speak about life in the kingdom relative to our daily life. Here is the episode:
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Here are HB resources on the KOG.