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 What (Where?) Is the Kingdom of God? Part 2

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PostSubject: What (Where?) Is the Kingdom of God? Part 2   Fri Sep 05, 2008 11:05 pm

Church Is Not Equal to the Kingdom

It is one thing to insist, as we have, that the Church is the servant or instrument of the Kingdom of God. It is another matter entirely to suggest that the Church is itself the Kingdom of God.

Before Vatican II many Catholics said precisely that. We automatically assumed that whenever the New Testament speaks of the Kingdom of God, as in the many parables of the Kingdom (the net cast into the sea, the mustard seed that grows into a large tree, and so forth), the New Testament was flatly identifying it with the Church. Actually, it was not.

The Kingdom is larger than the Church. After all, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Or, in the words of St. Augustine as adapted by Karl Rahner, S.J., "Many whom God has, the Church does not have. And many whom the Church has, God does not have."

When the Church identifies or equates itself with the Kingdom, the Church is declaring that it is the saving presence of God on earth and at least implying that God is not present as a saving God anywhere else except in the Church. This is what some of the Council fathers called "triumphalism."

"What's the harm in it?" one might ask. Apart from the danger of idolatry, i.e., of confusing something finite with the Infinite, the identification of Church and Kingdom makes any meaningful renewal and reform of the Church almost impossible. If the Church is regarded as the Kingdom, then a person who criticizes the Church and calls for institutional and structural change is, in effect, criticizing God and calling for change in the way God chooses to deal with us and be with us.

The Church Strains Toward the Kingdom

But everything, including the Church, is subject to the Kingdom. In other words, the Church is answerable to the Kingdom, and gets its credibility by manifesting the Kingdom and not vice versa. It was to make this exact point that the Second Vatican Council added the material contained in article 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Because many of the bishops still seemed to be making the equation between Church and Kingdom even after two or three sessions of the Council, it was decided that some further clarification was needed.

The Council document makes it clear that the Church is at most "the initial budding forth" of the Kingdom. In the meantime, "the Church strains toward the consummation of the Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King" (#5). The completion of that union between Church and Kingdom is yet to be realized.

If the Church is not itself the Kingdom, then at least three things follow: (1) the Church as a community and as an institution is not above criticism and reform; (2) the primary mission of the Church is not precisely to bring people into the Church but to bring them into the Kingdom; and (3) God also works outside the Church and even in other religions.

This third item is particularly jarring to a Catholic whose religious formation occurred long before Vatican II and who has not had the advantage of an explanation of how and why this change in perspective took place.

"Whatever happened to the 'one true Church' formula?" First, we understand now that Church applies to the whole Body of Christ, to all Christians, and not just to Catholics alone. As the Decree on Ecumenism declares: ". . . all those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers and sisters in the Lord by the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church" (#3).

All Are Called to the Kingdom

But ecumenism requires even greater breadth of vision than seeing the Church as including all Christians. Ecumenism demands also that we see the Kingdom of God as including, at least in principle, all human beings. Humankind has responded in various ways to God's universal call to salvation and to the Kingdom. "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions" for they "often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men and women" (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, #2).

Again, it is not the one who says, "Lord, Lord," who shall necessarily enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21). The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates our point. God's Kingdom, or redemptive presence, was not revealed in the priest or Levite (representatives of the institutional religion) who ignored the wounded traveler, but in the Samaritan, the outsider, who was a good neighbor to the person in need. The Good Samaritan was part of the Kingdom even though he was not part of what was considered the one true religion. We know that everyone is called to the Kingdom even if we can't say for certain who has been called to the Church.

If the Church can bring many to confess that Jesus is their Lord and their God, so much the better. But another real measure of the Church's missionary effectiveness is its capacity to bring the world closer to the Kingdom. The Church is doing God's work if it brings men and women to the point where they are being good neighbors—where they are doing God's will and manifesting his saving presence—even if they never say, "Lord, Lord" (see also Matthew 25:31-46). If other religions serve this same purpose and seem to be authentic instruments of the Kingdom, we Christians can only rejoice in the triumph of God's grace and power wherever God is at work.

The Kingdom's Worldly Dimension

The Kingdom is meant to have a worldly, fleshly, social, even political dimension. Some of us who grew up before Vatican II are familiar with a theological outlook that stressed the "future" or "other worldly" aspect of God's Kingdom. We may have been taught to accept the suffering and oppression and injustices of this life because in the next life—in God's Kingdom—we would have our reward and be set free of our afflictions. It didn't matter so much whether our earthly community flourished or not, because our true home was in heaven.

The Church today is not telling us to reject this vision of a final Kingdom, but to broaden it. God's Kingdom is not simply something to be sought in the future. We are called to help bring it about now. By removing oppression, poverty, disease, discrimination from the world, we are allowing God's Kingdom and redemptive presence to be manifested now. When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," we are praying that the human family be transformed into a more just and loving community now as well as in the world to come.

Recent Church teachings have stressed the Christian mission of liberating the world and humankind from all that keeps it from its full flowering as intended by the Creator. These teachings underscore the connection between the Kingdom of God and the political order. The 1971 World Synod of Bishops emphasized this very point when it declared that the pursuit of justice and transformation of this world are essential to the preaching of the Gospel. In his apostolic exhortation On Evangelization in the Modern World, Pope Paul affirmed that teaching, saying, "The Church .. . has the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, . . . the duty of assisting the birth of this liberation, of giving witness to it, of assuring that it is complete" (#30).

The Kingdom Is God

The Kingdom of God is brought about by God and is God's gift. But it does not come about without human collaboration. It is proclaimed by the Church in word and in sacrament. It is signified by the Church in its very life. And it is enabled to break into the world more fully through the various efforts of the Church on behalf of justice, peace and human reconciliation.

When all is said and done, the Kingdom of God is God: God insofar as God is present to us and to our world as a power that heals, that renews, that recreates, that gives life. To recognize that abiding presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst and to work always to remove obstacles to its inbreaking are our fundamental missionary responsibilities. God's gift is our task.

Rev. Richard P. McBrien is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and chairman of its department of theology. He was formerly professor of theology at Boston College and director of its Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. Past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Father McBrien is also a prize-winning syndicated columnist in the Catholic press and is the author of 12 books, the latest of which is a two-volume work entitled Catholicism (Winston Press). A longer version of his article appeared in St. Anthony Messenger (June 1980).



Kingdom's Coming Depends on an Attitude of Heart

This Kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ's evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy. And yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force—they belong to the violent, says the Lord (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the Cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart.

Pope Paul VI

On Evangelization in the Modern World (#10)[/size]
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PostSubject: Re: What (Where?) Is the Kingdom of God? Part 2   Fri Sep 05, 2008 11:15 pm

I am begging for a summarization. maybe I can get cliffnotes for this beastly novel you call an answer.
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PostSubject: Re: What (Where?) Is the Kingdom of God? Part 2   Fri Sep 05, 2008 11:21 pm

47.5 wrote:
I am begging for a summarization. maybe I can get cliffnotes for this beastly novel you call an answer.


Well, I'm going out for a little while tonight,
and when I get back, I'll spend some time around here.


Later, dude.


And thanks again for all the work on this site.
You rock.

sunny
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PostSubject: Re: What (Where?) Is the Kingdom of God? Part 2   Fri Sep 05, 2008 11:24 pm

BeMyIcon wrote:
sunny
yay I get a sunshine :]


cherry

what the hell is that? a bomb? an ornament?
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