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After a weeks hiatus we are trucking along with our journey through the Baptist Faith & Message. This week we are in the ninth article, focusing on what Scripture tells us and we confess as Southern Baptists in regards to the Kingdom (of God):
IX. The Kingdom
The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.
Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Matthew 3:2; 4:8-10,23; 12:25-28; 13:1-52; 25:31-46; 26:29; Mark 1:14-15; 9:1; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 12:31-32; 17:20-21; 23:42; John 3:3; 18:36; Acts 1:6-7; 17:22-31; Romans 5:17; 8:19; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 11:10,16; 12:28; 1 Peter 2:4-10; 4:13; Revelation 1:6,9; 5:10; 11:15; 21-22.
I will be honest, this is an awkward article to me. As I look back at the confessions which I would say have a Baptist flavor to them I am unable to find any that pay particular attention to the idea of the Kingdom of God the way that the BF&M does. Even the forebearer of the BF&M, the New Hampshire confession, makes no separate article for discussing the Kingdom. Yet, all the way back in the first BF&M there it is, though I am baffled as to why?
Now, I say that it began in the first BF&M, but really, if you read that version you will find that it is quite dissimilar from the article on the tabel today (see here for a comparison). For instance, the 1925 version seems to picture the Kingdom of God in a highly personal manner, expressing it as “the reign of God in the heart and life of the individual in every human relationship, and in every form and institution of organized human society,” whereas the 1963 and 2000 versions take on a much more corporate vision: “The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King.” This again begs the question of why we are even talking about the Kingdom of God if we have so radically changed what seems to be the focus of it?
All that said, I do not disagree with most of what is said here (other than the emphasis on the word “willfully” in discussing the acknowledgment of God’s kingship). I do not however find it very interesting or illuminating. The big thing I wish it would do is to more clearly connect the way in which the church and the Kingdom interact/overlap. Here is a statement from elsewhere which I find informative on this matter:
The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness. The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The church makes its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life. [The Reformation Study Bible, p.1489]
John the Baptist declared that “the kingdom of heaven [was] at hand” as he looked towards Jesus (Matthew 3.2). Jesus declared that “the kingdom of God [was] in the midst of [the Pharisees]” (Luke 17.20-21). Today, Christ is seated at the right hand of God, with all things placed in dominion under him and with him as the head of the church (Ephesians 1.20-23). So, as the church we are under Christ’s reign, and therefore, being strangers and exiles still on this earth, we should live as the citizens of heaven that we are, paying respects to our king and making his glory known all throughout the land of our sojourning (Philippians 3.20, 1 Peter 1.1, 2.9).
This idea is simply omitted from the BF&M’s discussion on the Kingdom, due in no small part I would imagine both to a lingering fear of declaring the church to be the Kingdom of God (a la Roman Catholicism) and the modern influence of dispensational theology upon Baptist thought. It is unfortunate, however, that this occurs, since otherwise we are left with the Kingdom of God appearing to be some abstract eschatalogical idea and not what it really should be to us: a daily reality of the sovereign reign of Christ demonstrated through the church, which will one day be fully consumated in a visible, earthly Kingdom.