Christ the King. Emmanuel. The Christ Child. Jesus, which means “God saves”. The Son of God. The Savior. The Word made flesh. Wonderful Counselor. Immanuel (Hebrew) and Emmanuel (Greek). Mighty God. The Prince of Peace. The Light of the World. The Lord of lords. The King of kings.
Coming to worship over the past six weeks, from Christ the King Sunday, through Advent and Christmas, and now into Epiphany, you would have heard all these titles and names for Jesus, and even more. Of them all, I cannot get past the first and the last – standing as royal bookends of the list. Jesus is a King. Better, Jesus is THE King. Closely, Jesus is my King. Widely, Jesus is King over us all.
Kings have kingdoms. Jesus’ Kingdom, called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, was established within our hearts and throughout the universe upon His mighty incarnation, death, and resurrection. Our love for Him, our baptisms, and our calling upon His Holy Name, are among the means by which we have become His disciples and thusly subjects of His Kingdom. We may be temporarily citizens of an earthly country, but we are permanently, eternally and simultaneously citizens of the Kingdom of God. Like a traveler visiting a foreign country, we respect and deeply care about our earthly host nation and its people, but our identities, hearts, and loyalties are of our Kingdom of origin. Our earthly citizenship is subordinate to our Kingdom citizenship. We are Jesus’ people and subjects. He is our Ruler above all.
Time and again I have vocalized that All Saints must strive to be a Kingdom church. But aren’t all churches Kingdom churches? Sadly, no. Many churches speak of and include the Kingdom, but operate more politically and culturally as they seek to serve the values and zeal of the world around them. All too many churches are affected by well-meaning political or cultural ideologues who honestly believe that their worldly interests and views need to be given priority in the church, instead of the reverse. A brilliant young member of the clergy recently wrote that churches go wrong when they quietly harbor a spectrum of divergent teachings or opinions and instead find their common bonds in some societal concern. Finding our commonality and passion in anything other than Jesus is wrong, but it happens on both the conservative and liberal ends of the societal spectrum.
The concerns of God’s children throughout the world are of enormous importance and matter to God more than we think. The Gospel of Jesus is focused on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and eternal needs of us all. However, instead of taking the Gospel out into the world, the world is often taken into the Gospel. Instead of filtering the world through the Gospel, the Gospel is too often filtered through the values of the world. Instead of the Bible informing the church’s view of the world, the church often is called upon to subordinate the Bible to the views of the world. Churches pick and choose Bible teachings to suit themselves. And thusly enters the contaminating and Gospel choking conservative/liberal polarization that plagues us. No doubt Kingdom churches sometimes slip into the same cultural trappings, but if healthy, they quickly recognize the error and return to their true identity.
This week the Washington Post featured a piece titled “Liberal Churches are Dying. But Conservative Churches are Thriving.” Several parishioners spotted it and one even asked if All Saints is being blessed because it is a conservative church. Let us be perfectly clear that All Saints is not a conservative church. Nor is All Saints a liberal church. Both designations are cultural impositions and not biblically birthed. Our identity and hearts are to be of a “Kingdom Church” – the only proper self-image for any congregation of disciples of Jesus. While the article’s author undoubtedly exceeds my own academic standing, I know what I know. And what I know is that, while recent research may be correct that “conservative” churches thrive while “liberal” churches die, the true determinant is whether a church is Kingdom focused or culturally focused. Without denigrating the accomplished writer a bit, the article could have been more aptly titled “Cultural Churches are Dying. But Kingdom Churches are Thriving.”
So called conservative and liberal churches BOTH will wane soon enough unless each submits to being a Kingdom church devotedly walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings churches to thrive, not conservative or liberal viewpoints. Churches identifying as conservative or liberal will often illegitimately and fallaciously marry some part of the culture with the Gospel and then lift up that improper union. Syncretizing the Gospel with any part of the liberal-conservative cultural continuum is simply not the Gospel and not what the Holy Spirit blesses. We see that all too often in the Old Testament as Israel repeatedly flirted with and appropriated the pagan world around it. If we want to be like Jesus, we must be Kingdom oriented, identified, and purposed. And if some people utterly insist that they must be like Jesus in some wrongly imposed liberal/conservative sense, they are challenging themselves to be at once the most liberal social people who ever lived and the most conservative moral people who ever lived. Because that is who Jesus is when He without exception lovingly accepts every person who comes to Him, while steadfastly maintaining and never compromising the holiness of the Father. One cannot have one of those sides of Jesus’ beauty without having the other.
By branding, styling and contorting a church to accommodate any cultural affection, we dilute the power of the Holy Spirit and diffuse and corrupt the Gospel message. Identifying a congregation culturally or politically instantly limits the demographic possibilities of membership by narrowing the roster of people who would be willing to be a part. Unwitting counter-evangelism at its best. But when a church is Kingdom based, it provides a place to unite together in Christ for ALL people, no matter their political and cultural stripes.
All Saints is among the more diverse congregations one might find anywhere. Although we often mess up and get things wrong, such across the board harmony and accord are only possible when a Kingdom identity is claimed in the power of the Holy Spirit under the banner of Christ our King. God’s will can be done on Earth as it is in Heaven only when the children of God surrender their own self chosen agendas, call upon the Holy Spirit, and single mindedly focus on Jesus, His Gospel, and His Kingdom.