This article is an adaptation of a video I made for the Sound Faith YouTube Channel. You can watch it here (though I recommend reading the article; yours truly is not a dynamic speaker).
What Is Kingdom Christianity?
“Kingdom Christianity” is a term that was coined to describe a number of historical church movements that have a common theme—they tried to center their beliefs and practices around what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God.
These individuals and churches have tried to read the New Testament literally, without looking at Scripture through the eyes of previous theological frameworks that would influence our interpretation of it. As they read the Scriptures, they realized that the teachings of Jesus are rather different from the gospel that most of us have been taught.
We’re often told that we need to believe something about Jesus so that we can be saved and go to heaven. But Jesus rarely talks about his mission in terms of “salvation,” though of course that’s one thing he talks about sometimes. For example, in Luke 19:10, he says that he “came to seek and to save the lost” (ESV). But Jesus’ main message, which will be very apparent if you read through the Gospels, was about the Kingdom of God. For a fuller explanation, see my article on the two-kingdom concept.
Kingdom Christians focus on Jesus’ main message and interpret the rest of the New Testament through Jesus’ words, though many theologians have seemed to do it the other way around. Kingdom Christians choose to live as God’s nation on the earth. They follow the peaceful teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) rather than the intrigues and politics of this world. The movement that I’m discussing includes the Christian church prior to the Council of Nicaea, as well as many later Christians, such as the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Amish, and even a growing number of evangelicals and high-church Protestants today.
In the Reformation, this doctrine became a major issue, because the Anabaptists, of whom I’m a member, realized that the Kingdom of God meant that we would need to separate ourselves from the unholy alliance of church and state.
We found more and more places where the established churches were interested in the traditions of man instead of the Word of God. For example, the Roman church taught that you were saved by being baptized as a baby and taking part in the sacraments. But though both baptism and communion are crucial for our faith, if people don’t also live as Jesus taught, these will become dead rituals. On the other hand, Protestants taught that you were saved by faith alone, even though the Bible explicitly contradicts this. In other words, most Christians placed their theological systems above the words of Jesus that we find in scripture. But Christianity isn’t a formula; it’s a relationship of love, obedience, and faith with our Lord and King, Jesus.
In history, whenever matters came down to a choice between serving earthly powers or obeying the Sermon on the Mount, most Christians have seemed to choose human methods over God’s methods. Christians have regularly gone to war and sworn oaths. And whenever matters came down to a choice between serving earthly powers or obeying scripture, these people always seemed to choose human methods, like going to war and swearing oaths. But we realized that if we were serious about obeying scripture, we needed to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God rather than to tie ourselves to human government and its positions of power, like the Reformers did. So we Anabaptists chose
- To love our enemies and do good to them, rather than to defend ourselves (Matt 5:39, 44),
- To tell the truth and not to swear oaths (Matt 5:34),
- To obey the other commands of Jesus and his apostles, like his instructions on divorce, sexual relations, and so on.
- In all this, we tried not to be caught up in the thought processes or governments of the world, but kept our full loyalty to God rather than to man (Rom 12:2).
Unfortunately, throughout most of Anabaptist history, the rulers of this age saw us as a threat, because we gave our loyalty to God and wouldn’t define ourselves by the world’s paradigm. This led to persecution.
But how are we being saved, if we are living persecuted and uncomfortable lives now? (Although Anabaptists have been blessed with peace in the U.S. recently, for which we are thankful.) We were never promised happiness now, but when Jesus returns, and when the faithful who have died are raised from the dead as he was, we can live in peace with him in his Kingdom which is returning to the world. Until then, we work for the Kingdom, spreading its boundaries peacefully and in love for both our friends and enemies. God has called us to proclaim the good news and to bring the Kingdom to all the corners of the earth (Matt 28:19). Jesus calls us to take up our crosses, to lay down our lives for others (Matt 16:24,25).
The Historic Faith
In more recent years, Anabaptists found that, for the most part, our interpretation of scripture was truly the historic faith—we discovered that we were in accord with the teachings of the Church that the apostles founded. The Church had always practiced the biblical doctrines of nonresistance and separation from the world, until in the mid-300s the church began to merge itself with the pagan Roman empire. This encourages us to continue practicing our faith as the apostolic church practiced it.
But sadly, today, many who call themselves Anabaptist, Mennonite, Amish, etc., have lost their first love. Love and obedience to God has sometimes, though not always, been replaced by obedience to human standards, like dressing a certain way or driving certain kinds of vehicles. Of course, these practices aren’t wrong, and some of them are actually really good ways of obeying scripture. But I’m concerned that many Anabaptists are putting their emphasis on the wrong things, and are falling into the very trap that the Reformers and the Catholics fell into—they are defining themselves by human institutions rather than by the call of Christ.
But I praise God that these people are still practicing many of the teachings of Jesus. Furthermore, there are many non-Anabaptists who also see that allegiance to Jesus as our King is the essence of Christianity. They see that God calls people to be a part of a Kingdom governed by the principles of Heaven. These are the people who are called “Kingdom Christians.”