It is a wonderful sounding term, and it is associated with several important scriptural doctrines.
- There are two spiritual kingdoms. One is the kingdom of this world run by “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The whole world is under his sway (1 Jn. 5:19). The other is the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Christians live as citizens, servants, and ambassadors of God’s kingdom (Php. 3:20; 2 Cor. 5:20).
- The Gospel is the good news of a King, Jesus the Son of God, and the opportunity to enter his kingdom by repentance, faith, and baptism. (Many benefits are of course associated with entering God’s kingdom.)
- Obedience to Jesus is an “of course” response to the Gospel because Jesus is King.
As wonderful as these things are, in many cases Kingdom Christianity has been associated with modern Anabaptist movements such as the Mennonites and Amish. This has resulted in an overemphasis on doctrines unique to that movement. Those are:
- Modest dress (for both men and women)
- No divorce and remarriage
- Wearing head coverings (for women)
It is not wrong to address these issues. The complete disregard for these issues in most evangelical churches does call for reform, and thus for those who are willing to be bold reformers.
On the other hand, an overboard focus on these issues can lead to a problem Jesus talked about in Matthew 23:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23, NASB)
Divorce and remarriage is a much more important subject than making sure one’s tithe includes the spices on the spice rack. Nonetheless, it is still wrong to exalt the strict wording of a teaching above “the weightier provisions of the law.” Justice and mercy and faithfulness trump strict, legal adherence to even valid teachings of Scripture.
As an example, the adulterous woman in John 8:3-11 should have been stoned to death according to the Law of Moses (Lev. 20:10). The man should have been brought to be stoned as well, but that is irrelevant to the current point. Jesus did not condone the stoning of the woman, but with wise words (“Let him who has no sin cast the first stone”) he saved her life and sent her away without condemnation and with a command to repent.
Strict, unbending adherence to the Law of Moses or even the commands of Jesus is highly commendable … until people show up.
As an example, I met a family–this is a true story–with ten children. The father and mother had been married for twenty years. The mother, however, had married as a teen on a whim. The marriage lasted seven days before the couple divorced.
Here they were, more than twenty years later, and the family was rejected in Anabaptist circles because of their teaching on divorce and remarriage. That rejection was based on a rigorous, but not righteous, adherence to the teachings of Jesus, it was based on a pharisaical rejection of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
In dealing with the adulteress woman, Jesus was showing a principle I call “… and then there are people.”
In fact, a better word than people is persons. Real, live persons with real, live, and unusual experiences, such as the family mentioned above. Rigorous application of the words of Jesus sometimes mows such people under, leaving them to be trampled and ignored. Jesus was not like this. If he had to choose between people and the Law–” living oracles” (Acts 7:38)–he chose people.
We like to exegete (expound upon or interpret) the Scriptures. They are letters on a page. They endure from generation to generation, and the curve balls thrown to us in certain odd verses do not bother us much. Generations before us have taken care of that for us, exploring them, and writing dozens of commentaries on them.
Jesus, however, exegeted God (Jn. 1:18). Our infinite God is not so easy to exegete as a 1200-page book; so Jesus came down and showed us his exegesis. He lived it out in front of us (Jn. 14:9ff). That exegesis of God ought to affect our exegesis of the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39-40).
Jesus’s exegesis of God was that he cares more about people than he does the Law of Moses. It was better for the women who had a flow of blood, and was thus unclean, to touch Jesus and be made whole than to obey the Law and stay away from him (and those she must pushed past in order to touch him).
Innocence, Impurity, Repentance, and Purity
It is a very cool principle that Jesus changed the flow of impurity. When the Law of Moses is applied, impurity flows from impure things and defiles pure ones. When Jesus arrives, however, purity flows from pure things and purifies impure ones. Even in the Old Testament, where we find pre-incarnate Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, sitting on the throne in heaven (Jn. 12:40-41), Isaiah’s unclean lips do not make the coal from the altar impure. Rather, the coal purifies Isaiah’s lips. (Thank you, Bible Project, for pointing this out.)
Jesus explained with his life that God does not pitilessly reject the impure. He lovingly accepts the repentant, and lovingly and boldly rejects the self-righteous until they too repent.
If Jesus wanted innocent people in his Church, he would have seen to it that Adam and Eve were never tempted. He would never have allowed us to become sinners. He wants purified people in his Church. Purity is different than innocence, which is why the entrance requirement into his kingdom and his Church is repentance rather than righteousness.