Reducing the Difference Between the Church and God’s Kingdom
By Fredrik Sidenvall
Kyrka och Folk Nr. 38, 17th Sept 2015
Translated by Bror Erickson
“…And he rose up and went to his father. While he was still a long way off he heard music and dancing. His older brother saw him and said: ‘There you are you old reveler, welcome home. I just finished gathering together your old friends from the city, the drunks and whores. They were telling me what a rake you are. Cheer up and let loose.’ The younger brother answered: ‘but this is precisely what I want to leave behind me. Where is my father and were is our home?’ The older brother said: ‘Our father is dead and our home has been remodeled so that you can thrive. But if it doesn’t suit you there are some pigs out there that need tending.’”
An alternative ending such as this to the beloved parable of the Prodigal Son would of course be blasphemous. The point is to show how painful and heartbreaking it is when the difference between the Kingdom of God and the visible church is so great.
Let us then imagine a sinner, a man of the world who has suffered the power of God’s word and has been driven by the Spirit of God straight home to the Father’s house. A man who did not himself seek, but was sought by God and wants to break with his past life and longs for the joy, peace and righteousness of God’s kingdom. In order to find God’s kingdom, this man searches out some of the church’s congregations and is welcomed there. But it doesn’t take long before this hungry and thirsty soul notices that the Father is not at home. His name is no longer mentioned, and his word is hidden. Soon this man, longing for salvation, notices that the community is not at all characterized by the joy of salvation or the desire for salvation. Instead the community is stamped not only by tolerance for the unrepentant life the prodigal son broke with, but it is precisely such a life in undisturbed sin and turning away from God that sets its seal on their life together.
Naturally, the point here is not that people should expect to find anything but sinners in the visible church, (God’s kingdom is for sinners,) but that if these sinners are not able to encounter the power of God’s word in this congregation of the visible church that should be the earthly entrance into the Father’s home has been converted into whorehouse, into a bottomless pit where the spiritually blind lead the blind.
Now, as we all know, people have power over the visible church, and here in the North political powers have not hesitated to use that power to lead the church’s life and teaching further and further away from God’s kingdom and closer to the unrepentant kingdom of the world. Men can take control over the church because it has a visible earthly side, it is men of flesh and blood that are to proclaim God’s word and administer the sacraments, the congregation needs a house in which to gather to celebrated the divine service, there must be arrangements for how decisions are to be made. And for this reason the visible church can take on radical transformation.
Such changes can make men feel great and powerful. But men will never in all eternity have power over God’s kingdom over which the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, alone has power. God’s kingdom is not changed, it is the most powerful kingdom ever established and it will remain when all others have passed away. Today it can still happen that a powerful man of the world, precisely the one who would make the church, the Father’s house, a den of thieves, suffers the power of the kingdom of God. When such a man begins to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and is not able to hear the righteous making gospel preached in the church, then this man can feel crushed, powerless, and wretched.
It is the bound duty of every pastor, bishop, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study leader and deacon or deaconess, for every parish councilman and member of the voters assembly to unconditionally first seek God’s kingdom and the righteousness of God, and then faithfully stand in the service of God’s kingdom and form the life of the church in harmony with God’s kingdom. Every success of human will in the church is a ridiculous sham of success, for God’s kingdom bow to no human power. Those who are awakened to seek the kingdom of God will either be disappointed, yes perhaps even fatally wounded in the church, or seek other paths if the church is not fully formed by the essence of the kingdom of God that is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is in openness to, and faithfulness to God’s word that the church remains an open door to the Father’s home for all prodigal sons and daughters.