I regularly receive a couple alumni journals from two Christian colleges, both of which I attended – neither of which I graduated from. Does that make me an alumnus?

Anyway, a recent journal from one of the schools has a great article on “The Church in a Missional Age.” Though they are a little late in bringing this to the table, it is a really well-thought out, thorough survey of what missional means.

However, there is still a good deal of language in the article that – though it is subtle – rubs me the wrong way. For instance, in speaking about “missional” in terms of the Church and the kingdom of God, the perfectly orthodox statement is made:

It is the Holy Spirit working through us as Christians – as the church – that bridges the gap between the kingdom and the world.

What bothers me about this statement is not the bottom-line truth or falsity of it. It is harder to define than that. I do not necessarily disagree with the basic idea that the Spirit works in the world through believers. What does bother me is the perceived tone and emphasis in the exact chosen words and sentence structure. It gives away an underlying bias.

What bothers me is that “Christians” are positioned as simply the new Israel. We (the Church) are the (only) hope for the world. Sure, the concession is made at the start that it is the Holy Spirit “working through” his followers. But, the idea that it is solely the Church, specifically “Christians” that “bridge the gap” between the world and the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, seems incomplete. To me, it smacks of unnecessary arrogance.

The language used here indicates that the Church is some kind of exclusive club that must save the world. It implies that the world is helpless to behold the kingdom without the Church. I think this is incorrect.

I remember attending a seminar on worship and healing at Anaheim Vineyard back in the late 1990’s. It was before John Wimber died and he gave an impressive talk, even though his throat was dry, ravaged from the cancer battle he was losing. One of the themes of the conference was the idea of the “kingdom breaking through.” We discussed how Christians often pray for healing and find that sometimes, actually often, God does not heal. The kingdom fails to “break through” at the whim of the praying believer. Conversely, its “breaking through” is unpredictable and uncontrollable.

I was impressed by this idea that the kingdom breaks through as it will – as God wills it – sometimes very erratically and definitely not as we expect or will it. How much control do Christians really have over who and which parts of the world “see” or “don’t see” the kingdom? Must the world really walk across our backs as the only pathway to apprehending the kingdom? I think not.

The kingdom breaks through as God’s wills it, often independent of the work or works of the Church. In fact, I would argue that more often than not – throughout history – it is the Church which has hindered that breaking through.

Let me clarify, I DO think that believers can live out kingdom values that display this “invisible” kingdom. And, of course, I am very interested in how works of art can depict the kingdom of God, presenting opportunities for the Spirit to reveal as she will. It is this idea that Christians corner the market on the kingdom that I have a problem with.

Ask yourself this: Is it possible that certain non-Christians may say and do things – as those made in Imago Dei – which reveal the kingdom in powerful ways? To answer “no” is to claim that some sort of particular religious flavor is what saves, rather than God himself.

The kingdom breaks through as it (God) wills.

The title of this post is a version of a phrase attributed to Leonardo Boff.

These ideas ©2009 Eric Herron unless otherwise noted.