The local church is a political outpost of God’s kingdom designed for the spread of God’s gospel and the display of God’s glory. That is a loaded statement, so let’s unpack it. In the New Testament Letters, we see not just a description of the church, but a multifaceted theological definition of the church.
Who We Are
The church is a gathering of kingdom citizens.
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
The church is an earthly assembly of a heavenly reality.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22–24)
The church is a royal nation under God.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10).
This sounds very similar to the language used in Exodus 19; the church is described as a new nation of God’s people.
The church is a congregation of sojourners, exiles, and aliens in this world.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they [desiring] a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)
That’s what I mean by “political outpost of a heavenly kingdom”—the church is part of a kingdom not of this world, but in this world, designed for the spread of God’s gospel.
Members of the church are ambassadors of the King.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–6:1)
Christians represent Jesus as King on earth proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.
“To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18b–20)
The church is a political outpost of God’s kingdom designed for the spread of the gospel and the display of God’s glory. So how is this accomplished?
How This is Accomplished
As we’ll see in the passages below, God established his kingdom as the gospel is spread through a diversity of members brought together as one body.
Through a Diversity of Members
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4–5)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
That’s not to say that these differences are not real. There were Jewish members and Gentile members in the early church. There were men, women, slave, and free, but the point is that they were all one in Christ. With their identity in Christ, members of the church come together in a beautiful unity amidst their diversity.
Brought Together as One Body
This is what Ephesians 2 and much of the book of Ephesians is about.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11–22)
The church is a powerful picture of a unique community that is not defined by ethnicity, color, age, preference, tradition, or opinion. The local church is a political outpost of God’s kingdom designed for the spread of God’s gospel and the display of God’s glory.
–This adapted excerpt is from Secret Church 20, “God, Government, and the Gospel.”