Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 20, 1967
NUMBER 49, PAGE 6b-8a

The Reign Of Heaven

Bryan Vinson, Sr.

(Third Article in a Series)

The love one is to have for his neighbor isn't comparable to that he is to have for God; one is to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, whereas he is to love his neighbor as himself. This certainly implies that one is to love himself, for otherwise he could not love his neighbor since he is to love him as he loves himself. Essentially it means to be as considerate and assist in protecting and promoting the true and proper interests of his neighbor as he does his own, as resting on the prudent recognition of the true worth of a human being and his just rights and well-being. Respecting God, however, our love for Him knows no limitation within the capabilities of our being, laying tribute on all our powers of mind and heart, our intellect and affections, out-going in the strength, actively, of our lives in service to Him. When God is so loved He becomes to those so loving Him "above all, through all, and in you all".

It is on these two commandments that not only hang all the law and the prophets, but the gospel of Christ. Every duty the king imposes on His subjects is related to either God or to one another, and to mankind. If these two commandments were not so fundamentally related to the whole economy of grace they would not be supremely great or important. Being of this transcendent character it is in their exemplification in the lives of the citizens in the kingdom of heaven which makes it truly heavenly in contradistinction to all other kingdoms known to man. Jesus taught that His kingdom was to come without observation, when questioned, or demanded by the Pharisees to tell when the kingdom should come. It was not coming with pageantry and outward show and pomp, but unobtrusively working inwardly as it seized upon the minds and affections of those who thereby became its subjects. Further, in the same connection Jesus said the "kingdom is within you", most likely this being an allusion to Himself the King as being among them. However, the very fact that the new covenant is identified with His reign, and that His law as therein spoken of was to be put in their minds and written in their hearts, there is this sense in which the kingdom is within those who are in it.

The principles enunciated in the sermon on the mount as governing the lives, affections and conduct of men, is but a preview of the character of this kingdom as exemplified in the lives of those thus governed by them. In this address He urged His audience, and so also us, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, "and all these (other) things shall be added unto you." This is simply a statement of the comparative worth of things material and things spiritual, with the former being recognized as meriting priority in their quest. It constitutes no assurance that material possessions are promised on the condition that we seek the kingdom first; rather it simply places them in a secondary position to God's kingdom and righteousness. If this be the meaning, that is, that Material prosperity is promised on this condition, then all who seek the kingdom first would never suffer any lack of the needs of this life. This, however, would be in conflict with known facts. The apostle Paul, perhaps the most eminent of all the citizens of this kingdom, and one "who suffered the loss of all things and counted them but refuse" in his efforts to be found in Him having not his own righteousness, but God's righteousness knew what it was to be hungry. Too, Jesus taught that those who sought to save their lives should lose them, and whosoever lost his life for His sake should find it. This yields to but one meaning, and that is circumstances might be such that a choice between one's physical life and spiritual life would confront him, and the loss of one would be the saving of the other. These challenges of one's fidelity to the Lord but lends emphasis to the truth that His kingdom is not of this world; it is in truth the kingdom of heaven. If it were of this world, He tells us, its citizens would fight to protect their king, whereas in fact He died at the hands of an unlawful mob that He might be king! This is more than merely a curious thought, it is a sublimely significant one.

No kingdom of this world could extend its domain beyond this earth and embrace within its subjects the angels of heaven; and certainly a kingdom not of this world needs not to employ physical force to either defend or promote its interests. History but confirms the observation that earthly kingdoms do employ force, or the threat of force, to defend themselves. This statement of Jesus constitutes no indictment of them doing so, and, in fact, is strongly supportive of the right of such defiance by earthly kingdoms. He says that if His kingdom were of this world then would His servants fight that He be not delivered, therefore He had taught them nothing contrary to so acting. But the point of real significance is the primary proposition concerning His kingdom to the effect that it is not of this world. Being not of this world means that neither in origin, character nor destiny is it earthly; it has to do with the heavenly and incorporates within it those who, though presently bearing the image of the first man Adam, which is earthly, shall bear the likeness of the second man, the Lord from heaven. Now, conceive if you can, of an earthly kingdom the citizens of which do or ever shall as citizens thereof have immortal and glorified bodies. Such is impossible. But viewing the ultimate condition of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as having such heavenly bodies, what manner of citizens should we be pending this and in anticipation of it? Our citizenship is in heaven, Paul tells us, and thus from heaven we look for the Lord who shall change our vile bodies and fashion them like unto His glorious body by the working of the power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself. This shall constitute the climax of His reign, and thus bring it to its glorious consummation when He shall deliver it, the kingdom, up to the Father. While living in anticipation of the glorious consummation of the Divine purpose, we must also live lives directed in preparation for it. These lives must be lived in the flesh though not of the flesh. While being raised up together to sit together in heavenly places, or in relation to heavenly things or matters, we are still in the body of flesh and are subject to the impulses of human nature with its weaknesses and errancies. How, then, as God's people in the kingdom of heaven are we to be directed? This involves the subject of the orderly functioning of the body of Christ.

The body of Christ is the church of Christ, and there is one body as there is one church. But when considered in its congregational character there are as many bodies as there are churches. The church in its universal sense is constituted of redeemed persons, and not of congregations. We can read of a plurality of congregations identified in relation to geographical location, as "the churches of Galatia" and "the churches of Judea", but no such expression of "the churches of the Church" is found. So, therefore, the thought that the Church is constituted of churches or congregation is without foundation. This then is a strong force against any organic relation between congregations. Denominations, as have been often described by gospel preachers, are religious bodies "larger than a local body and smaller than the aggregate of the redeemed, and therefore in between and thus separate and distinct from the church as identified in the scriptures." This has been a potent distinction made between the church of the New Testament and human denominations. Why so? Because of the radical difference in the character of the two as thereby revealed. But let a segment of God's people depart from the law of Christ and they will in time inevitably form themselves into a denomination and come to be recognized by others and regarded by themselves to be such.

When a person is translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, he then sustains a relation to Christ in consequence thereof. The Ethiopian on being baptized went on his way rejoicing. Was he in the church? Certainly so, by reason of having been added to it by Christ as and when he was saved from his sins. Was he a member of a local congregation at that time and by reason thereof? No one could be led to so think. His identification with a local body of disciples was a matter of subsequent determination and of personal choice. Of this we have no record. But when and as he did so establish this relation, did it alter his relation with Christ? If so, in what way? It did not establish a relationship with Christ, but simply expressed a becoming recognition and fruitful utility of this relationship. Jesus taught that where two or three are gathered together in His name there He will be. Thus there is the expected association of His disciples together, and the assurance of His presence and therefore blessing of them by Him in such, when it is in His name.

Is Christ head of the church only in its universal sense, or is He also head of the local body? I am persuaded that He is the head of the local congregation, and every member is subject to Him both in their individual capacity and in the collective capacity. Remember "he is the head of all things to the church. TOO, "he is the head of every man." (1 Cor. 11:3) There is, then, no area in which the child of God operates but that he is supremely subject to Christ. But in the spiritual sphere one is severely restricted to a thus saith the Lord in his faith and obedience to Him.

The language of a people reflects the faith and ideals which give character and reflects the direction of such a group, be it political or religious. Alexander Campbell, in his efforts to effect a restoration of primitive Christianity, urged with great logic and persuasiveness a restoration of pure speech, a speaking as the oracles of God. It would be a most salutary course for us to re-examine our speech today, particularly with regard to such language we use in relation to the church, and our relation to it. While we have often confronted the expressed thought that the church belongs to Christ, and it is therefore wrong to use the term, "my church", such is not necessarily true. When a member of a family uses the expression "my family" does it necessarily convey the thought that the family is his by virtue of ownership of simply membership; or the similar expression "my country"? Surely the church belongs to Christ, and therefore is His when ownership is meant; but then we often act as though it belongs to us despite our disclaimers to the contrary. Are we trying to "run" the church, and if so, isn't it in such instances being directed by human wisdom and its course determined by human judgment? To me there can be conceived no more of a pronounced incongruity than that of the human will and wisdom controlling and directing a divine and spiritual creation identified with the eternal design and purpose of God.

When the church is being viewed governmentally it must be accepted as a kingdom, with Christ recognized as the king. When viewed as a body He is to be recognized and acknowledged as its head. Thus from either of these it is altogether obvious that it is the Christ who rules. Truly, the "government shall be on his shoulders, to order it and to establish it". A denomination must have its machinery to operate, but there is no need of such in the kingdom of Christ, nor is it allowable. Some preachers write of what they style as "the power structure" in the Church of Christ. To whatever degree their charges are true to that extent it is wrong; there can be no defense of such a structure within the family of God constituted of its members here on earth. I have had occasion to observe manifestations of an attitude and reflection of a spirit which is wholly indefensible among us. It isn't a mere fantasy even though it be fantastic, for it actually occurs wherein some brother or brethren affect to speak for the "brotherhood" as to who shall be received and used by the churches, and the terms on which some alleged defector may be restored to the grace of the church! When a brother so speaks, by what authority does he do so? Have the churches commissioned him to voice their mind? Does he have a legation from heaven? The fact of the matter, in all such instances, he is but displaying an arrogance by the arrogant assumption of a right to speak for others which he doesn't have.