July 30, 2012

The Least of These II: The Kingdom and A Poor Facsimile

The Kingdom

Since the Fall (of humanity), God has been slowly and patiently working to get humanity “back to the Garden” so to speak and to the point of holiness before Original Sin through Adam. Part of this idea of getting things back to the way they were is to (at some point) bring the Kingdom of God to earth in full. This will be when Jesus Christ returns to reign (Kuzmic 63).

Therefore, the Kingdom of God should be defined as anywhere that God’s will reigns fully in a believer(s) life. Kingdom is where the King is. If a believer is truly aligned with the will of God and God’s will controls or dictates a believers motives and action, this person will in all probability also be saved or have salvation as outlined in the Bible. This would’ve at least been the general mindset of the first century which would’ve heavily affected their writings in the Bible. Jews or newly converted Jews from Judaism to Christianity would’ve viewed the Kingdom of God as a future or coming period of salvation (Ridderbos 18).

Consequently, for a Christian, the Kingdom came in force with the arrival of God incarnate: Jesus Christ in a form of inaugurated eschatology (Kuzmic 63, Moore et al 70). Subsequently, anyone that believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are true Christians then become the manifestation of the Kingdom now as we are indwelt by the Spirit of God and have the Spirit of Christ in us (Moore et al 76). If we’re truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit we will also have the heart of God so there should be a manifestation of the Kingdom through us just as there was through Jesus when He walked this earth. As we will see later after Christ’s Ascension the disciples do the same as Jesus since they too are indwelt by the Spirit of God (therefore they also had His heart for the poor).

We are indeed called by Jesus in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to go out and evangelize and teach all the things Jesus taught the disciples. A big part of Jesus' teachings were in His actions in helping the marginalized of society. Jesus presence on this earth and his teachings were the Kingdom breaking through into earth when he was here. So any disciple that does the same with the heart of Christ or indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are therefore allowing the presence of the Kingdom  to manifest in this world/realm through their actions previous to Jesus coming back to reign in power and glory at his second-coming (or Realized Eschatology).

Signposts to Kingdom, Not Liberation Theology

The idea of the Kingdom arriving in part through humanity because of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit must not be confused with the liberal/socialist ideas of Liberation Theology and philosophies of people like Gustavo Gutierrez and Jurgen Moltmann’s “Theology of Hope” (Enns 634). These are theories and philosophies that generally state that it is solely man-centered efforts to help the oppressed that speeds the arrival of the Kingdom and brings it into fruition so when Jesus arrives he can just take His rightful place on His throne (Enns 631-623). These types of errant philosophies assert that man can achieve some semblance of Kingdom without God’s direct full-on intervention through what amounts to unbiblical methods when they are scrutinized with a Biblical hermeneutic. They believe that social and political justice for the poor and downtrodden are God’s ultimate concern and this is where humanity should focus all its efforts. This philosophy is partially true in that the poor are indeed the heart of God but they also say that Jesus came not to bring spiritual liberation but rather to liberate the physically oppressed, therefore the historic significance of the resurrection as a release from sin is therefore ignored. The adherents of the “Theology of Hope” generally (but not always) disregard the need of a spiritual Savior to atone for sin (Enns 634). It is at this point where Liberation theology goes completely on a tangent outside Scripture. Some theologians of this persuasion actually advocate liberating believers or the downtrodden including the poor by overthrowing world powers and authorities because to them the greatest sin against God is social injustice (Enns 634-635). This runs in direct violation of Romans 13:1-6 and Mark 12:13-17 and it is not the example Jesus gave us to instigate change in society. Although Jesus’ message and ministry eventually overcame the Roman Empire that He was born into, the overcoming of the empire was not done through insurrection or open social rebellion. The change was effected slowly through the dissemination of the Gospel one person at a time until it transformed the moral undercurrent of society as a whole. Therefore transforming society and turning it towards the Kingdom of God (Batey 21).

This path for rectification of social issues like the poor and poverty through social unrest is therefore not biblical in its premise and should be avoided. Because Liberation Theology does not focus on Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross (the Gospel) and dwells too much on what man can do to shape the future and usher in the Kingdom it stands opposite Scripture. What Liberation Theology fails to grasp is that the doctrine of the church begins not with the Church itself but with the Kingdom of God (Kuzmic 63-64). The Church owes its existence to the Kingdom of God and not the other way around (Moore et al 71). Both conceptions belong tightly together but it is the fact that the Kingdom of God is predominately manifested (or should be manifested) through the Church as a community of the Spirit. In this way this new community of the Spirit is a witnessing, missionary oriented movement or effect of the Kingdom itself (Christian 185; Kuzmic 63). The Church is the side-effect of the Kingdom “breaking through” or the initial manifestation of the Kingdom (Moore et al 71). The Church in reality is a fruit of the Kingdom so to speak, it is not the cause of the social change. Liberation Theology believes the Church is the agent or the cause of change. This is untenable from a biblical perspective. Contrary to what Liberation Theology believes, the Church is not the Kingdom per se but rather the Church is the direct result of the coming of the King Himself in some shape or form (therefore the Kingdom) (Kuzmic 63). Jesus is the very basis on which the Church is founded and aligned to. He is thus the very foundation of the Kingdom. If we miss this point, we miss the entire point of not only social compassion, but we also miss the entire message of the Gospel/Bible that centers on humility and selflessness. I believe this is exactly why we see a reversal of the effect of the Fall and sin wherever Jesus or His followers are as His “agents of change” are found. It is not we as Christians in isolation helping the poor in the strictest sense, it is still Jesus (God) helping the poor and the marginalized of society through us.

Overall Liberation Theology is misleading and disingenuous at its core. It assumes that affluence and improved social status will make people respond to the Gospel and the message of God in a more positive manner and this is a false assumption (Enns 634). If anything I believe the Bible speaks abundantly to the fact that just the opposite may be true when it comes to affluence and money (David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, etc.). The change in a person’s social status does not guarantee improvement of the condition one’s life or position with God (salvation)…it just makes a rich sinner. Jesus most certainly came to give us spiritual liberation from sin and inevitably His return will cause a social inversion or reversal but that is in the future (eschatological), not now (Batey 18). The things that oppress humanity in society are the direct result of sin either moral or natural. Man is definitely at fault for many of the injustices in society, especially to the poor. This can never be viewed without seeing these actions as a warping or twisting of God’s original intent. These failures in the world or in humanity find their origin in the Fall of Genesis 3 or in imputed sin and/or original sin. This is sin that only Christ can overcome, not humanity. Humanity can only depend on Jesus to remove and halt the effects of this sin. The power to overcome sin and bring the Kingdom in full comes from God alone. It is in the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Word of the Cross (λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ~1 Cor. 1:18) that salvation is found, not in humanity’s misguided man-centered works (Kuzmic 60, Nestle et al 441-442).

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