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Go Ask the Kingdom

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The Kingdom of God

There is hardly a more powerful phrase or image in all of scripture. It stirs me, stretches my imagination, fills me with hope. I was once told that we should hear “Kingdom of God” as a verb, not a noun, and definitely not a place. And then Jesus’ sharpens our understanding of how the Kingdom comes near, how God moves among us—seeds, yeast, fishing nets, farmers, pearl merchants, even closet reorganizers. I know it’s preferable to use “Reign of God.” I hope future generations do so.  But for me Kingdom is so potent and captivating, I can’t let it go. 

I am an institutionalist, a loyalist. I go to meetings. I serve on committees—not always with great delight, but with a sense of duty, responsibility, that someone has to make the sausage. Someone has to do the tedious but necessary tasks that churches and schools, and even blogs and journals, require.

“It’s for the Kingdom.” “It’s Kingdom work!” I hear these sorts of phrases increasingly at my various committees. It is basically shorthand for, “Can we bend the rules here? Can you make an exception here? Can you speed things up? Will you share some of your money or credentials?” In other words, this won’t help the Reformed Church or your classis (our regional church governing body), or your institution, but it will advance the Kingdom of God. Would you suspend your rules and accept this person’s ordination credentials, even though he has no commitment to the Reformed Church? Can we use your organization’s good name and trust to help us open doors? You won’t see any benefit, except that the Kingdom will be furthered.

Why would you stand in the way? It’s hard to argue against this. Who doesn’t want the Kingdom to advance? To question or resist seems so parochial, petty, turfish. We all know that in the church and certainly in the Kingdom, we don’t work on a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours basis. There are different gifts and different parts of the body. Not all are institutionalists. Not all are committee members.

So I was surprised, relieved, and also supportive, when at a recent committee meeting, after receiving about three consecutive requests “for the Kingdom,” a colleague spoke up and said, “Go ask the Kingdom!” Tell those making this request, that if this is Kingdom-work, then they should ask the Kingdom to take care of it. Her words cleared the air. They popped the blister. They roused a great discussion. And I sided with that colleague.

Her point was that “It’s Kingdom work” has become cover for too many takers—people too cool, too lazy, far beyond committees, institutions, balance sheets, and minutes. If there was a good faith effort toward relationships, toward mutuality, it would be different. But too much of the time there is a sort of subtle sneer, insolent eye-rolling from the impatient one doing Kingdom-work. “It’s for the Kingdom” has often become an excuse for smash-and-grab, parasitic behavior.

Sorry if I sound envious and resentful of those who don’t have to do institutional work because they are too busy working for the Kingdom. My colleague’s statement, “Go ask the Kingdom” gave voice to a feeling that had been growing in me. The church, but also the Kingdom, needs money. We need structure and accountability. We need wise and careful leadership. Kingdom-work can’t always be done with no-strings-attached, surviving on ether, intangible in the clouds. Or if it can, then perhaps those doing Kingdom-work should “Go ask the Kingdom.”

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

2 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Wow, Steve. This was really interesting. I don't think we have that as much in the East, unless we do and I miss it, this "taking the Kingdom's name in vain," using it as an excuse for good ol' American whisky-rebellioning. The way you describe it, it's obviously code. And it's ironic, for kingdoms are known for their laws and institutions. The first job of the kings of Israel was to keep all the statutes and ordinances in the Torah. It's code for: "we will not accept the discipline." Because isn't it really not so much about institutions and committees as it is about church discipline as something thick and good? Corpus Disciplinorum is what the London Dutch Reformed Church called its constitution, including the liturgy and doctrinal standards as well as church order. And isn't discipline a particularly mature form of discipleship?

  • Jim Bratt says:

    In the Kuyperian tradition, 'Kingdom work' connoted something you had to sacrifice for, a loss leader, a broad-visioned investment for a payoff sometime (way) down the road. Thickly institutional, financial, committeed-up probably, but the rationale was typically big vision above petty immediacy. In any case, from one institutionalist to another, well said Steve!

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