Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Kingdom of God Still Stands

by Edward O Bragwell

I once heard someone that that he knew that the church was a divine institution - if it had not been the brethren would have destroyed it long ago. He may have been close to right.

In my judgment, one of the most damaging things to the church is our own pessimism. To hear a lot of us talk, one would think that the Lord's church - His kingdom - is on the verse of collapse. It is one thing to be concerned about any threat to the church, but it is another thing to think and act like because of these threats that the Lord's cause is on the verse of going down the drain. It is not so! As the song says, "The kingdom of God shall stand."

I am not calling for that Pollyannaish optimism, observed in some, that ignores problems and treat threats as trivial matters. On the other hand, I believe that, in the face of our problems, our mood often becomes too negative. Our outlook, in many cases, becomes too fearful and doubtful. Our speech becomes too problem-oriented. Let two informed brethren talk about the church for long and see if the conversation is not dominated by problems and fears tied to the problems. We seem to lose sight of the promises and power of God. Maybe we should, as the politicians sometimes say, look at the record.

The word of God is still with us, as promised (1 Pet. 1:23-25). The kingdom of God is still with us, as promised (Dan. 2:44; Luke 1:33; Matt. 16:18-19). If, after nearly 2000 years, this is so - in spite of all the problems and threats of the past -why should we not be optimistic about the future of the church? Why should we not be more up-beat than down-beat about the kingdom of God? Even if I am just a natural pessimist, I will have to admit that so far the kingdom of God has survived.

So far, no power on earth has been able to destroy it. The combined power of the Roman Empire and the Jewish leader-ship did not keep the church from being established nor could they destroy it after its establishment. That is a matter of record. They tried to prevent its establishment by killing the prospective King. It was still established. They tried to wipe it out by official persecution. It survived and flourished under their persecution.

So far, false doctrine and deception have not destroyed it. This has done more damage that all the persecuting powers combined, but it has not destroyed the church. Brethren are warned in advance that false teachers will find their way into their midst and draw away disciples after them (2 Pet. 2:1- ff). Brethren are warned against encouraging such in any way, (2 John 9) and to faithfully preach the word to pre-vent such teachers gaining a foot-hold (2 Tim 4:1-4). Paul even warned of a great apostasy (1 Tim. 4). But, in spite of that major apostasy, which we believe resulted in Catholicism, and other departures from the faith after false and deceptive teachers - the church is still with us. The kingdom of God still stands. There are still people who are working and worshipping together just like they did before that apostasy ever happened - just like you read about in the New Testament when the church was under the personal direction of the apostles.

So far, internal problems have not destroyed it. One of the marks of the New Testament church was not that it was problem-free. We seem to think that church problems were in-vented in recent years. In fact, nearly any problem that comes up in any congregation today has been faced, in principle, by brethren many times in the past - and the kingdom of God is still here!
The very first congregation - ever - had internal problems. Two of its members conspired to perpetrate a fraud upon the brethren (Acts 5). They were struck dead for their sin -for all the world to see. This church had a problem that caused quite a stir over neglected widows. Those problems were solved and the church survived.

There was a big dispute in Antioch and Jerusalem between brethren over a doctrinal matter (Acts 15:1-2, 7). After that, two leading men who were on the same side in that dispute (Paul and Barnabas) got into such an argument over a matter of judgment that they would up "parting from one another" as they went out to preach the gospel (Acts 15:36-41). Another leading brother, the one given the keys of the kingdom, let some racism show through, acted hypocritically and had to be publicly rebuked (Gal. 2:14-ff), But, all of these problems were overcome and the kingdom of God still stands. A big portion of the New Testament was written to point out and deal with internal problems among brethren in the early church. Especially note, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, the epistles to the Thessalonians, and the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation. They tell of problems among brethren such as open fornication, lawsuits between brethren, confusion over spiritual gifts, corrupting the Lord's supper, brethren who would not work but were evidently free-loading off others, lukewarmness, teaching lewdness as a matter of doctrine, etc. Yet, so far, the kingdom of God still stands.

Brethren, let us recognize any problems we may have. Let us work on them. Let us try to solve and overcome them. But, let us get out this pessimistic mood that I see so much of among us and remember that we are indeed in "kingdom that can not be moved" (Heb. 12:25). Let us not let preoccupation with problems and threats to blind us to the great good that is being done by brethren all over the world - not keep us from rejoicing in that good to the fullest.

Yes, there are problems among brethren - almost everywhere. This has been so from almost the very beginning. But, so far, the kingdom of God is still with it - and will be. It has survived all the problems and threats of the past 19 centuries - it will survive the problems of today, and tomorrow - if the Lord lets there be a tomorrow. If not, then the kingdom will delivered up to the Father. If we will just "be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" our "labor will not be in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58). How can we be so pessimistic, in view of all of this?

If we will "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" - everything is going to be alright. There is just no reason to be pessimistic or overly apologetic about the state of the kingdom of God!

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