We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.
Fourth, kingdom mission as church mission means forming and indwelling a local church fellowship. The most political thing you and I as followers of Jesus can do, the most political thing we as kingdom citizens can do, the most political thing we as the church of King Jesus can do is to gather together in order to do things the church is called to do.
(p. 104). Scot now sounds very neo-Anabaptist, that is, like Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. But there is more here than neo-Anabaptist theology.
So where do we go to find what the church — as church — is supposed to do? Well, Scot takes us to Acts 2, to read Luke’s description of the Jerusalem congregation as an ideal (very Church of Christ, if you ask me).
- A fellowship formed by the apostolic gospel
- A family formed by fellowship with one another
- A fellowship formed by table fellowship, Eucharist, and prayer
- A family formed by the presence of God through the Spirit
- A fellowship formed by economic sharing
- A family formed by evangelism
(p. 106). So there’s a First Century pattern of church life for you!
In other words, we don’t just stand for justice in the public realm; we embody justice in God’s grand experiment, the church. We mock peace in the world if we don’t first form a peaceful fellowship. We mock justice when the poor suffer in our midst and may choose, because of their discomfort among us, not to participate in our “kingdom” fellowship. We mock our defense of love when our own fellowships are marred by divorces and fractured relationships and lack of love for other kingdom citizens who don’t have our theology.
(pp. 106-107). I love how Scot turns yet again and again back to the text to find his answers. So many theologians start with a really good idea or two and then either founder as they seek to get to get practical or else find no answers in the text itself — but the text speaks to those who will listen.
In Church of Christ terms, it’s not so much about getting the forms of assembly and church organization right as getting the substance of the kingdom right — the outpoured Spirit, the Messiah as Lord, a community shaped by the Spirit into a cross, justice lived out among the faithful.
It’s easy to go to the legislature to force others to be be just and righteous. It’s so much harder for your church to become just and righteous — showing the world the face of God.
Fifth, kingdom mission as church mission means learning to live in the world as a free people. …
So we begin right here: those who live under King Jesus in the kingdom fellowship called the church are free from the dominating stories of their culture and free to do what God calls them to do — even if it means rejection, repudiation, and suffering.
(p. 107). This is a tough one, because most American Christians do not consider themselves to be under any dominating stories. After all, we Americans fought for freedom and liberty back in the Revolutionary War. Why would be anything but free now?
Here we can see a radical exemption for Jesus’ followers: kingdom citizens are set free from the world’s ordering system, but they are to live an orderly life because they live under King Jesus and because in so ordering themselves they can witness to a new kingdom order.
(p. 108). Okay. This sound biblical, but I still don’t quite get it. What is “the world’s ordering system”? Hopefully, Scot will return to this theme.
Sixth, kingdom mission as church mission means an ordered life under King Jesus in the context of local church fellowship. Kingdom mission means we don’t listen to the world’s stories but to the kingdom story, and part of that kingdom story is that Jesus is King and has appointed some under-leaders. We are summoned to do two things at the same time: we both serve Jesus alongside the under-leaders, and we listen to the under-leaders as those appointed by Jesus.
(pp. 108-109). In the Churches of Christ, this is a problematic claim. On the one hand, traditionally, we’ve ceded considerable authority to our elders. Elders in Churches of Christ have a level of authority not found in most denominations with American roots — because most American denominations provide a certain level of democracy, but the Churches of Christ have correctly perceived that the scriptures say nothing of democracy or majority rule.
On the other hand, we often do a really bad job of selecting and training elders. We’re just dreadful at this in most places. And even when we do select good, Spirit-filled men, we struggle to submit to their authority because we’re Americans, and therefore have a very strong sense of individualism and autonomy. We just don’t naturally commit to someone else’s authority.
And so our theology and tradition do not line up well with our practices. And it’s a very serious problem.
McKnight concedes that some leaders are so abusive that the right thing for a Christian to do is to refuse to submit. But this cannot be the rule. Rather,
Jesus created a church where leaders would be under King Jesus, and disciples are created by Jesus to live in that kind of ordered church.
Our individualism leads us to think that to “listen to Jesus” means we can add “alone” or “and to no one else.” But this means we are actually not listening to Jesus, because Jesus — in calling the Twelve (Mark 3: 13–19; 6: 7), then informing them that they would govern the kingdom (Matt. 19: 28), then sending them out to disciple others (28: 16– 20), and then through the Spirit commissioning more and more leaders (elders, deacons, teachers) to serve both under King Jesus and under the original under-leaders — made it clear (not to put too blunt a point on it) that he uses leaders. That means your pastor and your elders and deacons.
(p. 109). Nor does this mean that our leaders must achieve near-impossible standards of perfection before we submit to them. After all, a cheap and easy way to rebel is to constantly insist that the leaders be just so and do just so before we will submit to their leadership.
There’s always something less than ideal about any leader. We can’t use the imperfection common to all humanity as an excuse to be autonomous.
But leaders are not infallible, nor were the apostles. But Jesus was, and the Infallible One told us to listen to the fallible ones because through them we would hear from Jesus. I don’t know any other way to put it. God sets up local churches with leaders so we will hear from Jesus as our leaders listen to Jesus and we listen to Jesus.
(p. 110). This brings to what is, to me, one of the more difficult concepts in the book: how do we distinguish between “doing good” and “kingdom work.” Why isn’t any good that we do in fulfillment of the kingdom mission?