Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
“My Father’s Kingdom”, the “Kingdom of Heaven”, or the “Kingdom of God” are oft mentioned by Jesus throughout his teachings in the New Testament. Yet, after his ascension the concept of a Kingdom was almost immediately forgotten about by Christ followers as churches began to take shape. Many of us grew up being taught that the kingdom of God is in us, or the church, or creation, but its more than that. Jesus preached about a kingdom that brought together Israel, the newly defined Church or body of Christ, and the earthly creation to live together in God’s presence. But as Christianity spread after Jesus’s death the focus on God’s Kingdom disappeared all together while the Church rose to power throughout a growing world.
According to Walter Rauschenbusch, the historical tendency for Christian theology to leave the Kingdom of God as Jesus preaches out of their studies explains why many Christians shy away from any involvement in social justice. Without the concept of the Kingdom of God to teach that God places intrinsic value on all life, what theological motivation is there to fight inequalities among people? In the essay The Kingdom of God Rauschenbusch states that “The Kingdom of God is humanity organized according to the will of God.” Unfortunately for humanity, God’s will for creation as revealed in the myths of Genesis places humans in a position of responsibility for and to the rest of creation.
There seems to be a sort of default for Christians to turn solely to prayer when it comes to the problems of the world. To pray in the face of struggle or when presented with a difficult issue is something we are taught to do, but too often that is where action halts. This is the type of inaction identified by H. Richard Niebuhr as being held by those who believe in a God who is ultimately in control of the universe, so there is no human responsibility to act. Just because a person is not being constructive does not mean something constructive is not being done (see The Grace of Doing Nothing, 1932). However, this worldview is challenged when paired with Rauschenbusch’s assessment of the Kingdom of God and the social responsibilities it calls Christians to.
Ultimately, when Christendom rose to become a political power it lost sight of the inclusive vision Jesus preached to the masses. The elitism of the church remains as prevalent now as it was then. Can the Kingdom of God be reclaimed by Christians? Yes. Rauschenbusch gives eight propositions to be considered by the church for reinstituting a focus on God’ Kingdom, but I think this one summarizes them all.
The Kingdom of God is not confined within the limits of the Church and its activities. It embraces the whole of human life. It is the Christian transfiguration of the social order.
Walter Rauschenbusch, The Kingdom of God