The fireworks have been swept up from the driveway. The Fourth of July is behind us, and Americans have returned to their daily lives walking divided, polarized, and disunified, stuck to their screens only to be more disillusioned by the enemies of their public and private lives. Think of the new hotshot hire vying for your job or the new kid who switched schools striving after your crush’s attention. What about the political pundit driving your best points? Our fellow American citizens, day in and day out, pose as our most significant threats.
In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist was at the top of his game, prophesying to the masses as a trim carpenter, John’s cousin, marched onto the scene. When the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, established his earthly ministry before the resounding voice of John the Baptist, what did the nomadic prophet declare? Step off my turf. I need to secure long-term buy-in from these people. No, because this was the man whom he prepared the way. He understood his position. What about, “Hey! Look, this guy is going to be crucified in three years for the sins of the world!” No, again, because no one prefers the guy who spoils everything, right? So, what did John say exactly?
“Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
Why is that important? Because the Kingdom of God is present and manifested through Jesus. Through his ministry on earth and his ongoing ministry as our advocate (1 Jn 2:1-2), Christ enables humans to enter into a union, fellowship, and relationship with the God of the Universe by his blood alone. John can’t offer that, only Jesus. Going back to the original quote from our bug-eating buddy, that union, fellowship, and relationship with God can be summed up as citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
In this age, it’s challenging to comprehend a future where city and suburb, Liberal and Conservative, gay and straight, White and Black, can come together. Much less recognize each other as authentic, actual people with shared life experiences instead of eyeing them as the enemies they allege to be. Those shared life experiences should brush back the surface disagreements and dive into meaningful dialogue about the world instead of ripping each other limb from limb, post by post, text by text.
Worse, though, is that the church, in many ways, has established itself as the driver of the tribalism seen in social media circles, newscasts, and political affiliation. In the country that prides itself on its innate ability and identity to bring people from all over the world searching for a better life, the American church has separated itself as an institution that becomes more and more exclusive, rather than opening up more and more doors. Tribalism was not what this country was built on. Nor was it what the Kingdom of God intended. So how can we fix it?
I could simply toss a little, “What would Jesus do?” and call this post quits, but life in the Kingdom of God is not that easy, not that simple. While, as Christians, we claim titles like sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ, we are also clueless, prone-to-wander sheep that require guidance by the Good Shepherd. In the same breath, kingdom citizens must recognize they are, in fact, citizens, neither rulers nor lords. We are not the solution to every problem. The world does not revolve around our every waking need. If that was the case, then all the jokes I tell, both hilarious and subpar, would get the laughs of millions, and if you know me and my lack of consistent humor, that is far from the truth.
Christianity is all for the glory of one name, Jesus. If we treat our faith like an on/off switch flipping constantly or wear it like an oversized sweatshirt, thrown around for a twice-a-week community gathering, that name will not be glorified. If our life was a pie, Jesus is barely getting the crust, crumbs even. A heavy percentage of our time will be spent on our pursuits, our relationships, our goals, regardless of how “good” we may believe they are. Kingdom citizens cannot and should not get that luxury.
Living in an individualistic culture like the United States, it has become far too easy to delve into a comfortable life. We take religious freedom for granted. Religious liberty is celebrated within the church walls but rarely outside of the stain-glassed resorts. And yet, a single court case challenge throws the American church’s potential loss of unchecked power, tax exemptions, and cultural lordship into a tailspin. We treat Roe v. Wade, as disruptive as it is, as the spawn of Satan and an unspoken requirement of resentment for the American faith. We eye the Sexual Revolution as the reason for this nation edging closer and closer to “Babylon” status. When, in reality, we landed there through the isolation of the Evangelical voting bloc, the isolated racism toward our minority brothers and sisters, and Q-Anon conspiracy theories promoted by manipulative, secular tough guys who claim to follow Jesus. The current state of the church bears no resemblance to the Kingdom of God, and we’re kidding ourselves if Jesus would approve of us.
So, where do we go from here? How do we solve the problem? Where is our solution? It’s the question that’s been running through my mind for months now. My rants, easy to see, journey headfirst into all of the problems I have seen in American Evangelicalism, and all hope looks lost from jaded, Gen-Z attitudes like this one. But journey no further than a quote I heard from Pastor X of Sheep Among Wolves about discipleship and the state of the church in the Middle East. It’s not a three-point, thirty-five-minute talk. It’s not a new, cutting-edge strategy taking the world by storm. It’s a simple truth the American Church has heard for years but barely applied.
“Converts know that Jesus is Savior. Disciples know that Jesus is King.”
We exist in a nation of converts, not disciples. We reside in a country with 330 million kingdoms, even though this world is under the sovereign rule of One. The most significant difference between the East and West, Pastor X said, was that there is a family atmosphere and dynamic requiring the church to rely and depend on each other. At the same time, the West’s individualistic, personal sovereignty philosophy pushes the exact opposite mindset, and it shows.
Try to not think about Kanye West’s most recent album when you read the above quote. Think deeply about your walk with God. Where there is a kingdom, there is a king. Who rules your heart? Who leads your life? Actual citizens will take the king at his word. They will hear his word, follow his word, and act according to his word because they anxiously await every word that comes to them. When was the last time we took our King at his word and followed through in it? When was the last time our lives modeled the description of a disciple? When was the last time we bypassed the multi-million-dollar buildings, the smoke-filled stages, and embraced Jesus with outstretched arms in the everyday silence of our lives?
My hope, as should be your hope, is that we lived that kind of life today. Why? Because when we live like Jesus is our King, the rest of the world rests on the same level as us. No longer are we chained to the political discourse. We don’t see people as numbers, checked boxes, or God-forsaken tweets. No. We see people as people, and that should change everything. Quite frankly, in most situations, the people of God should see people as lost needing to be found, not to be mere converts but lifelong disciples. Our former enemies can become our fellow citizens, brothers, and sisters if we’re willing to lay down our pride and give them a chance at an abundant life. Once we get over ourselves, doors to the Kingdom of God swing open wide.
This article was originally published on Noah Sanders’ personal blog. To access it, click here