Is the church the same thing as the kingdom?

Not exactly.

Often I hear brothers and sisters identifying the kingdom with the church. Some even teach that "Seek first the kingdom" (Matt 6:33) means to prioritize commitment to the church of Christ above all else. Yet kingdom and church are not identical. The distinction may be easier to grasp if we substitute the word church for kingdom here and in other familiar passages:

  • "Seek first his church"? No. Matt 6:33 is equivalent with seeking his will (see 7:21). We are to seek God's will and to obey it -- to live under his rule. That's seeking the kingdom! Fellowship of course is an important part of seeking the kingdom, but only one part.
  • "Repent, for the church of heaven is near"? Matt 3:2 is speaking of the coming kingdom. Yet John the Baptist is announcing the coming King. In short, when the King comes, the kingdom is present.
  • "Thy church come, thy will be done"? Hardly. Matt 6:9 refers to the spread of the sphere of God's influence, as more and more embrace his will.
  • "For Thine is the church, and the power, and the glory"? Actually, "glory in the church" is a biblical motif (Eph 3:21). Yet the point is that God Almighty reigns -- and his kingdom (unlike our churches) is perfect.
  • “We must go through many hardships to enter the church of God"? Acts 14:22 refers to the kingdom of heaven, the ultimate fulfillment of all God's kingdom promises. The apostle Paul is encouraging people to remain faithful as Christians. He is not saying they must endure many hardships in order to become church members,
  • The apostles did not preach the church, but the kingdom. Nowhere in the N.T. is there an explicit passage stating that the kingdom is the church.

For clarity, it might be more helpful to say that the church is part of the kingdom, or that it reflects the kingdom. In one sense the church is the kingdom -- just as Jesus is God -- yet to leave it at that is to invite confusion, since we don't mean that the church is the entire kingdom, any more than we mean that Jesus is the Father.

Let's be careful how we phrase things. It's always better to use biblical terminology, even though this may require us to unlearn some of our traditions -- including some favorite expressions.

See also the 3-part miniseries on Kingdom (30 Mar, 6 Apr, and 13 Apr 2016 newsletters).