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The Kingdom Of God: A Social Vision

July 13, 2011

Not even the whole world itself could contain the books
that might be written in relations to such parables.

Origen (third century)

On October 8, 1995, I unlocked an office door and stepped into the room from which I would practice ministry for the next fifteen years. My very first act was to hang two  photos on the wall. The first was a portrait of Walter Rauschenbusch, the German Evangelical preacher who founded the Social Gospel movement at the end of the 19th century. Rasuchenbusch took seriously Jesus’ annoucement that the “Kingdom of God” was at hand, and he went on to make the message of the kingdom central to Christian social thought and doctrine.  The second photo I hung on my office wall was of Martin Luther King, Jr.   The preacher King was deeply influenced by Rauschenbusch’s writings, which shaped King’s moral vision of church and society. 

Here, for example, is how Walter described the mission of the church in is influential A Theology for the Social Gospel.

“The saving power of the Church does not rest on its institutional character, on its ordination, its ministry, or its doctrine. It rests on the presence of the Kingdom of God within her [sic]. . .  It is the community of those who are experiencing the presence of the kingdom and actively awaiting its final fulfillment. . . . The church is therefore called to live as that force within humanity through which God’s will for the renewal, justice, community and salvation of all people is witnessed to. . . . in all this the church participates in the paradoxes and dynamic of the kingdom . . . which is active in the flow of history; not only in the doings of the church.”

These two photos, of Rauschenbusch and of King, still hang near my desk, and their writings fill my shelves. These two men remind me that to be a member of the church is to bear witness to a kingdom that is present, mysterious, yet very real and demanding a response.

Jesus compares the Message of the Kingdom to a mustard seed; it is like the salt of the earth, light in darkness, and leaven in bread. We play our part, for the good of the whole. We are not the whole. We do not aspire to be the whole. But we are God’s people in a world God loves, here to provide spice, flavor, vision, and fullness of purpose.

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