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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Column: Sine Qua Non by David Garner

Missions: The Kingdom of Christ or the Church?

August 8, 2014 •

This article is the fourth in a series on the Insider Movement. The first article is titled “Stay in or Come Out?” the second part is “Old Trumps New or New Trumps Old,” and the third is called "Who am I and Who Says?"

Jesus or the Apostles?

Understanding the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church has proven to be a perennial interpretive challenge.  Jesus infrequently speaks of the “Church” and instead preaches the Kingdom of God/Heaven. The epistles, on the other hand, dwell on the Church.

Why the difference? Did Jesus and the apostles go in disparate ways, opposing one another in their theological emphases? Did the apostles create a doctrine of the church and abandon the focus of Jesus’ ministry? Not hardly!

To find incompatibility or even alienation between the gospels and the epistles misses the fertile terrain of biblical revelation. Church and Kingdom are distinct but never separate concerns. In fact, there would be no Kingdom without the people of God—the Church. Correspondingly, there would be no Church without the King Jesus Christ.

The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom obtained the Church; Christ’s messianic work saved and secured the (eschatological) people of God’s Kingdom. Never at odds with the King, the apostles preached about the Church because the Church is the redeemed people of the King, the family of God, the citizens of his Kingdom.

Paul speaks with terse yet penetrating theological insight: “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Jesus’ headship over all things occurs in reference to “the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”  (Eph. 1:23). The head of the Church is the King of the Kingdom. The King reigns absolutely and universally, and does so in reference to his Church.

We will let Herman Ridderbos put it in theological shorthand:

“The eschatological, the Christological, and the ecclesiological point of view are never separable in the preaching of the Kingdom. There is no Kingdom without the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord. And there is no Messiah without the ekklēsia [church] which He represents in His subjection to the curse and in His exaltation, in His death, and in His resurrection. That is why Jesus speaks of my ekklēsia (Matt. 16:18), that is why He can ‘give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45), that is why He can also appoint the Kingdom to His ekklēsia, as the Father has appointed it unto Him.”[1]

Nuances of the relationship between Church and Kingdom are surely complex, but the interdependence of these themes gleams on the pages of Scripture. Dangerous errors of all sorts accrue whenever, and for whatever reasons, we try to eclipse that interrelationship. Such dangers are not imaginary. In fact dividing the Kingdom and the Church has served as theological justification for the IM (Insider Movement) approach to missions.

IM advocate and author Rick Brown appears to affirm the relationship of the two entities, calling kingdom communities ecclesiae (“churches”). However, Brown’s seemingly acceptable treatment of Church and Kingdom gets comprehensively compromised by his theology of religions, in which he equalizes Christian and non-Christian “religions” and pits church polity against the Kingdom of God. [2]

By imposing tension and separating the visible and invisible church, IM advocates like Brown insist God’s kingdom includes Orthodox, Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Buddhists, Muslims, Samaritans, Jews, and others.[3] How can such divergent and religiously antithetical groups get merged? Not without serious cost to both the Kingdom and the Church.

Blurring the antithesis between belief and unbelief, many in IM have sought to justify such vast socio-religious diversity under “Kingdom” rubric. Violently driving a wedge between the Kingdom of God and the Church of Jesus Christ has forced an IM redefinition of these biblically interrelated and inseparable themes.

Building upon the prior considerations, this fourth article about IM concerns the Church and the Kingdom. IM extricates the Church from the Kingdom of God. God’s Word integrates the Church and the Kingdom of God.

A Different Kind of Extrication

IM advocates have no tolerance for extrication. For followers of Christ to identify with a new community and to remove themselves or even distance themselves from their existing network is anathematized.[4] The problem, according to IM, is that in such a model of missions, evangelism and “salt and light” impact are removed. To be sure, we could find examples of inappropriate extrication, when for comfort sake or other illegitimate reasons, new believers have abandoned homes and relationships.

But IM advocates are guilty of a more sinister form of extrication—their systematic rending of the Church from the Kingdom of God. Let me explain a bit further. Taking on an imaginative reading of Scripture, IM insists that what God is doing around the world extends beyond the Church. Jesus does not turn people to Christianity, so to speak, but to an invisible Kingdom. The Kingdom of God delivers internal change rather than relational, cultural, and religious change.[5]

In other words, God does not call all to become Christians or to become members of a church; he simply wants their hearts. IM faith is personal and local, not corporate and universal. IM faith is invisible, not visible. The Kingdom of Christ, so configured, “reigns” in my socio-religious context and the organized, visible Church becomes optional and unnecessary.

Though IM insists on invisible faith, its dividing of Kingdom and Church is plain to see. IM opens wide its indiscriminate Churchless doors, as it extricates the Church from the Kingdom.

Missions and the Visible Church

Because Christ’s kingship is so tied to the Church, there is no gospel or Kingdom work of God that is not also churchly work. There is no true faith and no faithful work of missions that separates the believer from the visible Church. There is no biblical salvation that excludes the Church and its means of grace (preaching, sacraments, and prayer); or to put it in theological language, soteriology and ecclesiology function indivisibly. Jesus came and died for his Church. Jesus reigns over and through his Church.

As Paul states in Col 1:13, “we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” This transfer moves us from unbelief and disobedience to redeeming faith and obedience; this transfer moves us from the realm of darkness to the realm of light and grace. What is that realm? The body of Christ, the kingdom of Christ, the Church of Christ. Jesus’ kingdom is exhaustively churchly.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 26.3 reads, “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;(1) and of their children:(2) and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, (3) the house and family of God,(4) out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (emphasis added)

Jesus is King “over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). To call him Lord requires that we love his Church. The Church manifests his Kingdom. Kingdom ministry is visible Church ministry. Despite IM attempts otherwise, there is no other kind.

[1] Herman N. Ridderbos, When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology (Jordan Station, Ont.: Paideia Press, 1982), 23.

[2] His lack of clarity on the visible Church is equally troubling and further fortifies his Kingdom v. Church paradigm. See SCIM Part 2:2216–2220. 

[3] Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 1,” IJFM 28:1 (Spring 2011): 11. (

[4] See David B. Garner, “Stay In Or Come Out,” Sine Qua Non (July 17, 2014),

[5] For IM argument on kingdom, see, for example, Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26:1 (Spring 2009): 19 (; Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 1,” 5–12 (; Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 2,” IJFM 28:2 (Summer 2011): 49–59 ( For popular level resources, encouraging “Muslim followers of Jesus,” see Kingdom Circles ( and Jesus and the Quran ( 

For Further Reading: “Stay in or Come Out?”, “Old Trumps New or New Trumps Old”, "Who am I and Who Says?"

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