Whenever we think about the kingdom of God, and as we pray the Lord’s prayer, asking for that kingdom to “come,” a host of theological questions cluster around. What do we mean by this? And how is it brought about?
The kingdom refers to the rule and realm of Jesus Christ, which of course encompasses all things. And as good as this sounds on paper, the potential applications can start making us a little nervous. Those who talk about some kind of actualized kingdom sometimes frighten their Christian brothers and sisters with visions of evangelical ayatollahs trying to find a witch with a ouija board to burn. But the opposite of this is no better. To claim that the authority of Jesus Christ is always invisible and “heavenly,” or that it is somehow mystically, vaporously, mysteriously “within” is little more than refried gnosticism. Jesus Christ is Lord, not only of spiritual things, but also of kings, presidents, art galleries, roly-poly bugs, seraphim, buttercups, schools, and all things between.
The neo-gnostic option wants to assert that Jesus Christ is technically Lord of all things, but that this does not make any visible difference in the “earthly” realm, the realm of matter. And our activist brethren want to storm city hall, and send lobbyists down to the fair District of Columbia in order to “make a difference.” And when they all get there they employ the same methods that are used by Big Tobacco, with about the same results.
There is another way, and that is to recover an understanding of the centrality (and potency) of true worship. The worship of the church, rightly understood, is warfare, and it is a mode of battle which unbelief has no effective means of resisting. This is because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. They cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). This is what our weapons do. But what are those weapons?
When the history of redemption is finally and completely written, we will find that the world was conquered in the name of Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit empowering words, water, bread and wine. The Church, functioning as the Church, in her identity as the Church, will in her meekness inherit the earth. This does not happen through law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13). God put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:22-23). God receives all glory through Christ Jesus throughout all human history, world without end, and He does so “in the church” (Eph. 3:21). Everything belongs to us, the Church, and this includes the world, life, death, the present, and the future (1 Cor. 3:21-23). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Therefore we are to disciple the nations. The title deed to the world is in the hand of Jesus Christ. But the hand of Jesus Christ is part of His body — and we are that body.
God gave Canaan to Abraham, but the sons of Abraham had to go in and take it. In the same way, God has given all the nations of men to Christ as His inheritance (Ps. 2), and Christians are called to manifest the reality of that reign in the world. This process of conquest does not make the world Christ’s. This conquest is accomplished by declaring that the world already is Christ’s. The nations are discipled through being told that the authority of Jesus Christ already includes them. They are then baptized and instructed in obedience in terms of that baptism.
So the world is not conquered with a sword. The instruments of conquest, the weapons of our warfare, are Word and Sacrament. The worship of the Church is not a religious meeting in a room, with the assembled seeking to escape from the world outside. Nor is the church an army organized along the same lines used by the benefactors of the Gentiles. We have a battering ram about which the lords and princes of this world know nothing, and every Lord’s Day we take another swing at their gates with it.
We do this as we sit down at the Table which He has prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. The Church hearing the Word preached is the Church hearing the terms of conquest. The Church at the Lord’s Table is the church ruling. “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30; Matt. 19:28).
This is because He has made us kings and priests to His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). We are not kings and priests in the same way that a middle aged businessman is the poobah of some fraternal order or other. Nor are we kings and priests in the way that earthly rulers with what we call real physical power are kings and priests. We are kings and priests by virtue of our identity with Jesus Christ, the great king and the only priest.
This is why our weapons are not carnal. And this is why there are no countermeasures.