Christ, the Kingdom and the Church
Some followers of Christ wonder about the relationship between Christ, His Church and the Kingdom. There is a direct relationship between the three which is not essentially complicated, but it is easy to see how confusion could creep in. One reason is that in Scripture the Good News is variously referred to as:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 3:2; 4:17)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; John 3:5)
The Gospel of the Kingdom: The Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 3:2; 4:17) and the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; John 3:5) is exactly the same Kingdom. No distinction should be made. The reason for the difference in terminology is Jewish people of Jesus' day didn't believe it was right to speak the name of God (therefore didn't use the term "Kingdom of God") using the euphemism "Kingdom of Heaven," referring to where God lives, instead.
The Kingdom of God/Heaven refers to God's intention to restore His original gift of what Genesis calls paradise. (The question of whether paradise (Luke 23:43) exists in heaven or on a restored earth is not central. The essence of the Kingdom rather is where God lives, loves and rules - in heaven or on earth.)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ: The Good News is that Jesus Christ has opened for us the way into God's Kingdom by removing the barrier which our sin created. Humanity's rebellion against God caused us to be expelled from the garden of paradise into the dark and dangerous world of our sin (Genesis 3:22-24).
Paul's letter to the Colossians explains how Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection restored access to paradise, qualifying us to return to the Kingdom of God through the forgiveness of our sin (Col. 1:12-14) by "cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Col. 2:14, ESV)
The Church: What then is the role of the church in God's work of salvation? First it should be noted that the Bible doesn't speak of the "Gospel of the Church." This is because the Church is not God's means of salvation in the same way as Christ is God's means of access to the Kingdom. Yet Christ's church is related to the Kingdom in several unique ways:
Everyone who enters the Kingdom of God's grace becomes part of Christian disciple-making community, known as church. Church, in the original language of the Bible, means "the community of those called out" of the world for God's gracious purposes. While the church is never depicted as perfect in the Bible, the New Testament also knows nothing of a Christian individual who is not also a part of a church community.
It is important to note that historically two forms of church have existed: a "state church" and a "believers' church." The state church, initiated by Constantine and existing in some countries today, is one in which everyone in a "parish" is assumed to be a Christian (unless they explicitly opt out) and called to participate in that church. Obviously, many included in such an assumption may not in fact be followers of Christ and the behaviour of such persons may seriously harm the honour of the Gospel. The believers' church attempts to correct this problem by forming churches of purposeful Christians and by inviting those who are not yet Christians to become disciples of Christ. The quality of this expression of church tends to be higher but it must be clear that broken, wounded and unbelieving people participate in the life of every church community.
The primary purpose of the church in relation to the Kingdom is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ by inviting those who are not yet His disciples to follow Him, to equip those who respond for worship and service through scripture and prayer, and to reflect, demonstrate and advance the Kingdom, as disciples, through love, obedience and sacrificial ministry in the world. The church, gathered for equipping and scattered for service, is God's primary pointer to Christ and His gift of access to the Kingdom and tool in advancing Christ's Kingdom.
The Fullness of the Kingdom: Ultimately the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be known when the Gospel of the Kingdom has been proclaimed to all peoples (Matt. 24:14) and Christ returns. In His return Christ will remove all evil from where it has polluted and distorted the goodness of God's creation (Matt. 13:30).
The Gospel refers to the Kingdom as the realm where God reigns and rules with love and righteousness.
The death and resurrection of Christ is God's means of bringing those who could not enter it due to our sin into His Kingdom.
The Church are those who have responded to, proclaim and demonstrate the presence of God's Kingdom; making in turn more disciples to follow Christ into the Kingdom.
The Kingdom will be complete when Christ returns and removes all that choose not to participate in His Kingdom.
"Jesus didn't come to build a kingdom - He brought one with Him. He is the kingdom. He's the entry point to it." - Carl Medearis