Brief Notes on the Kingdom – You Are Not Advancing It

fiery eyeReference was made in a recent comment to “advancing the Kingdom of God.” This is a short note with some basic theology on the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is a Divine reality. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, of the created and the uncreated. It is the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of all things. It is the apokatastasis. It is solely and completely the gift of God and subject to no human effort.

The Kingdom of God and a perfect human world are not the same things. The Kingdom of God is not theological shorthand for human improvement. If all disease disappeared tomorrow and all poverty and inequality went the way of the Dodo Bird, the Kingdom of God would be nowhere nearer or further. There is no social agenda that has any relationship with the Kingdom of God.

Human response to the Kingdom does not make it come nor make it go away. Rejection of the Kingdom can only affect the one who rejects it. Rejection of the Kingdom is hell.

Christ said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He did not say, “Help me build a Kingdom.” He did not say, “Let’s work towards the advancing of the Kingdom.” The Kingdom of God is a reality that was in-breaking in the coming of Jesus Christ. Everywhere He went, the Kingdom was at hand. Everything He did was the advent of the Kingdom of God.

This remains the nature of the Kingdom. It is both “already here” and yet “still coming.” We speak of its coming in the past tense at one point in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy. We can do so because the Liturgy itself is the Mystical Supper, that meal which we eat with Christ in the Kingdom. It is for this reason that all of the Sacraments of the Church begin with the invocation: “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The phrase, “advancing the Kingdom,” and similar expressions is a 19th-century invention, something never(!) uttered in Christianity prior to that. None of the Reformers, nor Catholic nor Orthodox teachers prior to that century ever used such a phrase or similar expressions. It is deeply problematic. It easily becomes a slogan that transforms the Kingdom into a secular, historical project towards which human society is supposedly evolving.

The Kingdom of God does not evolve. It undergoes no development. It is utterly Divine in its origin and transformative in its coming. It cannot be brought about through political or economic efforts. Instead, the language of “advancing the Kingdom,” or “building up the Kingdom,” etc., has frequently been the excuse to abandon the teaching of the faith and trust in the secular works of man.

 

The work of the Church is not progressive in nature. Whatever we do, preaching the gospel, serving the poor, reconciling enemies, etc., are not a movement in history working towards or bringing about a desired end or result. We are in no way the cause of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is solely the work of God. We are called to keep the commandments in light of the Kingdom of God and its coming into the world.

The danger involved in our less-than-careful use of terms such as “advancing” and “building,” is the transformation of God’s work into man’s work. In a world dominated by the philosophy of modernity, in which man without God is seen as moving history towards some utopian or “better” state, the “Kingdom” easily becomes only a slogan for a religious project, something we do for God.

From the beginning, the proclamation of the gospel has been: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

 

76 comments:

  1. The idea of “advancing the Kingdom” goes together well with some notions of change within God, i.e. in process theology and western forms of panentheism. This along the lines that God is (or has by necessity) to undergo change by reason of the world’s response to His love. This appeals to the political and cultural left. On the right however the advancement of the Kingdom is envisaged in the culture wars, the “taking dominion” in the name of the Lord.

  2. I’m not Orthodox, but ELCA Lutheran. One of my favorite Protestant theologians, N.T. Wright’s work, would probably agree with the Orthodox belief about the Kingdom of God. He would say liberal Christianity has it wrong in thinking the Church and/or the faithful can bring about the Kingdom, but we are called to live as if it already exists through works of mercy, peace, justice, etc. How would Orthodox Christianity respond to that?

  3. Mike,
    We would agree. Because, the Kingdom of God has indeed already come in Christ. The entire ethic of the New Testament is predicated on the Kingdom of God having come. As my old professor, Stanley Hauerwas, says, “In Jesus Christ the outcome of history has already been determined. We therefore have nothing better to do than to have children and tell them about Jesus.” He holds, accurately, that to take charge of the outcome of history is idolatry. And adds that whenever Christians agree to take charge of the outcome of history, they agree to do violence.

    Hauerwas, of course, is not Orthodox and lacks a proper ontological understanding of all this (he tends to be most ethical in his approach). But the Kingdom of God is already ontologically here. It heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses lepers, etc. We eat and drink the Kingdom at the Lord’s table. We crown husband and wife in the Kingdom with the crowns of victorious martyrs. We Baptize into the death and resurrection of the Kingdom. These are present realities. And we are told:

    Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Col 3:5-10 NKJ)

    Those who think they are building the Kingdom or working towards its fulfillment, etc., are utilitarians. They think they are useful (when at the most they are unprofitable servants). And worse, still, they are always able to justify their evil deeds because they imagine they are working towards some greater end (therefore their willingness to use violence towards their goals). The antichrist will not call people to do evil. He will convince them that they are doing a greater good. In the name of a greater good, Christ was crucified (“better that one man should die…”).

    This is why we must do “right action.” We cannot serve Christ by doing evil, no matter how we think it may be justified.

    NT Wright is a fairly solid guy in his reading of St. Paul. He takes a pretty Orthodox view.

  4. Mike,
    If I may, in response, I would say that the Kingdom does already exist. We are called to live in the Glory of the Eighth Day not in the shadow of the Cross. The resurrection is the inauguration of the Kingdom as Death has been trampled down, but like much of the things of God, it is already and not yet. God is outside of, transcendent, of time, space and what we call existence. Therefore, what He does is outside of time as well as touching time.
    As I said, we are called to live in the Eight Day which means that we participate by our Good Works, which are not just external as in mercy, peace and justice, but also internal as in repentance and works through asceticism. We must live into the Faith even though we are broken and fallen and will never improve on our own.
    N.T. Wright is correct in saying that the Social Gospel is incorrect and that we must live in the Truth. My only concern with what he has written is the expression “we are called to live as if it already exists,” for the reasons stated above.

  5. Nicholas,
    Indeed. I hadn’t noticed that little caveat. It’s not “as if,” because it is.

    Orthodoxy bears witness to the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God. It is already the life of the Church, and it is constantly made manifest in the lives of her saints.

    I have seen it.

  6. How true Father, the Saints are alive today among us. I am looking at my Icon of Saint Paisios as I write this. His story is amazing and it is recent history. It is an example of living in the Glory of the Eighth Day

  7. “The idea of “advancing the Kingdom” goes together well with some notions of change within God, i.e. in process theology and western forms of panentheism. This along the lines that God is (or has by necessity) to undergo change by reason of the world’s response to His love”

    Robert, you are correct here. When I was reading this post of Father Stephens I thought of the early Trinitarian disputes and the Fathers (and heretics) involved, and of the Patristic period in general. I thought of how I am often taken aback at how Platonic not just the terms, but the framing of the questions. This is not surprising, given the culture. However, a Platonic awareness and mode of thinking has the advantage of giving a person more insight into “change” and “motion” and “perfection” and “corruptibility” and “necessity” and similar fundamental ideas, and what they mean for both man and God, for heaven and earth.

    The modern person however has a different mode of thinking (I almost want to say “being”). He simply *assumes* and presupposes a certain understanding of the world AND God – one that *assumes* constant motion and change. So Father, when you say this:

    “The Kingdom of God does not evolve. It undergoes no development. It is utterly Divine in its origin and transformative in its coming.”

    I think it is really quite impenetrable the modern mindset. To say that anything, even God, does not “evolve” or “undergo development” is meaningless to a modern person, because they have never considered, and nothing in their past prepares them for an idea of absolute completeness, stillness, changelessness, etc. I would suggest that to a modern person, the idea that something (even God) does not “evolve” is impossible to consider because they have no way of considering it – an “evolutionary imagination” undergirds everything they have ever been taught, thought, and experienced in their life.

    What this means I think, is the modern mindset then reverses “transformative” into something that has it’s origin and essence in them, and what they do (and think and believe). To be transformed by that which does not “transform” is not possible because such a thing does not actually exist (and can not).

    I say all this to simply say that perhaps Father you might talk more about the *nature* of God, and how different He is from an “evolutionary imagination”.

  8. Father,

    I apologize that I always ask about tangential questions on your blog, but you mentioned Hauerwas and it raised this question for me. Plus, you usually post on things that are somehow relevant to what I’m chewing on lately.

    To what extent will the coming kingdom be identifiable, like a real kingdom? Like the sort we read about in fairy stories, like the sort the apostles were hoping for when they asked if the Lord was at this time to restore the kingdom of Israel, and his reply was not “What a silly idea that is,” but “It’s not for you to know when these things will take place”? (Acts 1:6-7).

    And could that have something to do with why we can’t advance it?

    In Christ,
    David

  9. A fine article, Fr. Stephen.

    We humans are such complex creatures in how we can twist things around. Of course, we cannot advance the Kingdom! To think that we can brings us right back to the sin of Adam where we imagine ourselves being in charge and knowing the Way. Absurd.

    On the other hand, we must be careful, IMHO, what we throw out when we are cleaning up that twisted and messy concept. Because we certainly don’t want to conclude, as we cast off the so-called “social Gospel”, that it doesn’t matter how we respond to the suffering of others.

    While I see that you are not advocating your former professor’s words in toto, I find it similarly scary that someone could say we “have nothing better to do than to have children and tell them about Jesus.”

    We are to live the life of Christ, a life which He has given us. If we consider that notion with humility and simplicity, it is not so confusing. Jesus did not try to relieve the suffering of others through political action. But neither was He indifferent to suffering – quite to the contrary.

    In the life of Christ, we are called to personal and loving encounter with our suffering brothers and sisters. We empty ourselves, unconcerned with accumulating possessions for ourselves, sharing the gifts we have been given to share (whether the gift of healing or a pot of soup). We enter Christ’s love, by His grace, which means we may suffer as we love. But never do we do violence for we love our enemy as much as we love our friend.

    While this message is very simple, it is not always simple to know how to live it. What do we do when we cannot reach the poor and suffering because armed tyrants block the way? I do not know.

    But the Lord Jesus fasted and prayed and told us that some of the worst evil could only be cast out in this way. This too is part of the life He gave us. Thus it seems the best place to start when we see no other recourse. It is far better than justifying our passions and convincing ourselves that the Gospel permits them.

    (I am not writing to contradict anything you have said. Just elaborating. Please correct me, if needed.)

  10. How does Orthodoxy bear witness to the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God?

    “The Eighth Day”, where can I learn more about that?

  11. ‘Pleasant’ though it may be, worldly progress (in the name of the Kingdom or not) is misleading for another reason too: it would want to make man yearn for the Kingdom of God a great deal less.

  12. Mary,
    Hauerwas could easily be heard as a Quietist in that statement. Actually, he’s a pacifist, and certainly committed to the poor, etc. I recommend reading the book Resident Aliens as an easy read and reflection on some of his thought. One thing I learned from him was to think about doing the right things without needing to fix people.

    I served an Anglican parish after I finished Duke. We were next door to the local High School. The School approached me about doing a joint program to help the young mothers on campus. I agreed and we set up a day care center for their children. There were several other aspects as well. But I constantly had to push back against do-gooder members of our board who wanted to “fix” the girls. Some wanted policies that would punish them if they got pregnant again, etc. I said, we are only practicing hospitality here. Taking care of their children allows them to finish high school and that is good. But it’s not our job to fix them, or control them. It was a constant battle. They would have put rules in place that “rewarded” an abortion. Thank God I had veto power in the program. We helped a lot of girls, even saved some lives. I think without Hauerwas, I would have gotten caught up in the power to fix as well.

    Hauerwas’ “nothing better to do,” doesn’t mean that we do nothing else, only that telling our children about Jesus is the best thing. It means that we are not in charge of the outcome of history.

    My experience over the years in writing and teaching about this is that the critique of modernity and its temptations are easily the most difficult things for “moderns” to get. The assumptions of modernity (which are only about 200 years old) are extremely deep and tenacious and we find it hard to think in any other manner, even though Christians never thought this way until quite recently.

    It tells me much about us. The time I was at Duke with Hauerwas, interestingly, was marked mostly with me arguing and pushing back against him. It wasn’t until I was out for a while and writing my thesis that the “coin dropped” and I “got it.” It was a deep revelation for me. It’s interesting that he’s not Orthodox, though I find certain elements of his thought to be quite Orthodox, even if expressed in a different manner. He has been deeply influenced by Mennonite thought, particularly from John Howard Yoder. Yoder is also a very good read. Yoder’s The Peaceable Kingdom is one of the best non-Orthodox books I’ve ever read. I think it is almost essential reading to get at certain elements of the gospel.

    Many times, I find, it’s useful reading outside of Orthodox writings if someone is well-grounded. The primary reason is that the bulk of the Tradition never had to confront the ideas of modernity. So, it’s good, I think, to find good critiques of modernity and then “run them through the Tradition,” if you will.

  13. This is so timely. Being in the Protestant world for many years, the do-goodism is quite oppressive. So many think they have to travel and do “good deeds” in foreign lands and fail to offer a smiling welcome to strangers within their own church. I want to re-read all of this and hope you will carry on this conversation. It is a great relief to know that we do not need to/have to fix the world and we are not in charge of history. Thank you.

  14. Jesus did not try to relieve the suffering of others through political action. But neither was He indifferent to suffering – quite to the contrary.

    I think the real issue here is that “modern” people tend to think the “most effective” means of relieving suffering is through a “process” that is developed. Something efficient and noble, as the general mindset goes.

    This eventually boils down to “politics” as it is the standard process through which modern humanity seeks to work. How often do we hear people lamenting that governments/agencies/other people won’t try (or continue to try) to work within the political (or “diplomatic”) process? Democracy, as opposed to conciliar thinking, is deeply rooted in our modern outlook.

  15. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Clarification: when I look up “The Peaceable Kingdom”, I am finding the author as Hauerwas, not Yoder. Am I looking at the wrong book or did you mean to type Hauerwas?

  16. “Some off-blog conversations have made me reflect and edit the article. I’ve toned it down a bit and expanded a little.”

    Aw shucks, I don’t like it when you go all George Lucas on us. Han Solo shot first and no amount of historical revision will ever change this FACT. 😉

  17. Father, I loved your comments about doing the day care for the HS girls. You wrote: “But it’s not our job to fix them, or control them.”

    I’m sorry to go off topic here, but I have to ask you a question. I loved that comment of yours that I included. As I read it though, It occured to me that this might also apply to my own children. Would you mind speaking to this? I’m going to assume that it does apply to me, as I deal with my own children, but I’m hoping you might comment on that. Lately I’ve felt convicted that I’m trying to hard to program my kids, or fix them, or however you want to word it. I’m thinking that I just need to live a righteous life, obey the commandments, and love them.

  18. Alan,
    It’s an art (child-rearing). First, we are never able to fix them. They will grow up and do what they want regardless of what we do. To a large extent, they will most likely grow up to be like us. That is both promise and threat. If you want your children to “turn out well,” then be an example of what “well” looks like.

    More than anything (and this is very, very hard), be concerned to pray for their salvation. What is so hard about it is that we really don’t know what they need for their salvation. When my son was young, he was diagnosed with ADD. I was sad that day, and was musing in myself about my disappointments, etc. It’s funny, because at that time I did not know that I was ADD myself. But as I was sort of being sad and such, I had a very profound rebuke from Christ. He said (almost audibly), “This is for his salvation!”

    I realized that I actually had no idea what my son needed for his salvation and that it wasn’t given to me to know such a mystery. What I can know is the good God who loves mankind. I can say now that my son is nearing 30, that I clearly see how God has used this in his life. He’s a wonderful young man and a great believer. I think that had I been allowed to “fix” him, he would be an absolute mess.

    So, we love our children, and try not to be guided by our fears, but by our love for God. Don’t try to do what has not been given to you by God to do. Above all things, pray for their salvation. And always pray that God will save our children from us!

  19. “Some off-blog conversations have made me reflect and edit the article. I’ve toned it down a bit and expanded a little.”

    Dang! What have I missed? I went back and read it but I don’t remember enough details to see what was changed…(and the only comments I could find were on FB, dealing with a very humanistic viewpoint of “justice”).

  20. Xenia,
    I think part of that problem of an emphasis on overseas work comes from translation issues when they translated into English from Greek. In Matthew 28:19 they tend to emphasize the “go” as an Imperative mood verb (generally a command) when in the Greek it is an Aorist Passive Participle. The Imperative Mood verb is to make disciples. The making of a true disciple is much more time consuming and labor intensive than merely getting a person to an “altar call.” I have always been frustrated that we ignore our own issues at home, in our communities and in our nation in our rush to go.

  21. Byron,
    Off-blog, as in my private email… I toned it down a little. No substance altered, per se. But my pilot light was beginning to burn like a welding torch.

    Oddly, recent events in the news (not just nationally, but some local stuff as well), have been very disturbing and difficult to ignore (though I cannot change them). It’s times like that when we should say less rather than more, and pray far more. So, I was working a toning down a little..

  22. NIcholas,
    The evangelism imperative of the 19th century (primarily beginning in America and Britain), also coincided with the rise of Whig political movements. Evangelism became as much driven by the myth of changing the world as it was anything else. Orthodoxy, historically, was the truly great proclaimer of the gospel. The evangelical imperative has not struck Orthodoxy the same way (and should not). We are currently evangelizing America, even though it looks like we’re barely surviving.

    This happens by being something like a tree. It happens by allowing ourselves to be planted and to grow. And it may take many centuries. If the tree becomes a forest is known only to God. You and I cannot be a forest, only a tree. I’ve had a hand in planting 5 Churches. That’s a lot. I know a man who planted over 90 in Albania. That was truly an Apostolic work. But the land had been tilled many centuries ago.

    But the evangelical imperative also coincided with colonialism and capitalist expansionism and had as much to do with spreading American and British civilization and politics as it did with the gospel. Indeed, ultimately it had less. It’s complex. If we “evangelize” someone but have not integrated them into the Eucharist assembly of the Church, then we haven’t made a disciple.

    “Winning the world for Christ” and other such slogans are deeply modern and theologically flawed – like “advancing the Kingdom.”

  23. A wonderful blog post followed by enlightening discussion. Your comments about “trying to fix the High School girls” reminded me of many discussions with Church Board members about “fixing” their kids in our Campus Ministry. I certainly did not “win” those discussions, but I did remain flawed but faithful to those kids. Your words are a really encouragement to an 81 year old who is attempting to live out his somewhat new Orthodox life with his wife of 61 years who has severe dementia. Lord have mercy on me.

  24. Father, you are correct. I believe that translation I was speaking of was driven by that same agenda. True evangelism requires making disciples which is really a life long process of being integrated into the faith and community. I think one of the greatest misconceptions of the modern world of faith is the idea of the “personal” relationship with the Lord excluding the rest of the Body of Christ. Communion, community, communication etc all share a common root, the act of union into a greater whole. I prefer the way the Orthodox Church does its evangelism as it seems more in line with what the Lord commanded.

  25. It is a great article Father. It is a very concise discussion of the scene in American Evangelism. It’s a must read for us all to truly grasp the thrust of your latest blogs. It is the back story so to speak of why you are writing. and what you are writing about.
    One comment seemed to jump out at me more than the others (it was a first among the greats). Most modern Christians have very little acquaintance with Christian history – and strangely – even less with modern Christian history. I was in a friendly discussion with some Pro Life fellow workers who self identify as Presbyterian (The Conservative Branch). We were discussing salvation and the doctrines of the Orthodox Church versus their beliefs. I had given them the article: “The Original Gospel” as a precursor to our discussion.
    When I began to contrast the Reformed doctrine of salvation with the Original/ Orthodox version, they stopped me and said their church didn’t believe the Reformed position. I asked if they were really Presbyterian because the Presbyterian church is Reformed. They were unaware that the Presbyterian church had ever held such a position and denied all five points of Calvinism. I have dealt with one point, two point, three point etc. Baptists but I had no idea that the modern Presbyterians had left their founding doctrines behind. I still cannot understand how they got so far from their founders belief structures.
    It certainly makes discussions difficult when each one has their own doctrines. Later, I made a joke about a church that I had once encountered; The United Metaphysical church. Their doctrinal statement of belief simply states that each believer is to make up their own beliefs and to not question others. They thought that was very funny. Little did they realize…..

  26. Dick…God bless you and save you through your struggle. As I write this, I am here with my wife who is having a chemo treatment, battling lymphoma. Father recently commented on his son and his alliction, and how Christ has used it in very unexpected ways. We simply do not know why we or our lived ones suffer, nor how God might turn the struggle to our salvation. So I pray, Lord have mercy, and I glorify you for all things. Father Stephen, as a former Mennonite, thank you for your good words about Mennonite author John Howard Yoder. He too influenced me during my formative college years.

  27. Father, it appears the comments here are posting out of order. For example, Nicolas’ 3:30pm comment is posted above my 8:35am comment (and all comments following).

  28. It certainly makes discussions difficult when each one has their own doctrines.

    I find that most of the people in any given denomination (and I speak very generally here as I do not claim to have universal experience) do not know what their denomination teaches or has taught in the past. And it is my impression that churches as a whole no longer teach their denominational doctrine. American churches are only as doctrinal as their pastors (who can be hired and fired according to the views of their congregations).

  29. Byron,
    American history, I think, is completely misleading when it is not read alongside the history of Christianity in America. Oftentimes, they are one and the same thing. George Marsden has a very fine, even brief, treatment of American Church history that is quite readable. The very same social movements that produce political movements also produced religious movements. Americans, more than most, I think, sort of vote their religion and pray their politics, and actually have very little distinction between the two.

    American Protestant religion is, for the most part, American culture at prayer. It is almost never counter-cultural. It is inherently modern (even in its conservative forms). It is difficult for American Catholics and Orthodox not to be affected by this as well. I suspect that the version of Orthodoxy believed by George Stephanopoulos or Michael Dukakis would not differ much from the Catholicism of the Kennedys, or the Anglicanism of George Bush.

    I also think that the politics of those individuals predicts far more about their religious belief than their religion predicts about their politics.

    But this is not meant to cast stones, only to make an observation about how American culture handles both its religion and its politics. I suppose one of the things I’m trying to do in my modernity articles is to drive a wedge – to help people see clearly and think clearly. I particularly want Orthodox Christians to wake up from the American dream and think according to an Orthodox phronema.

    That, unfortunately, makes me sometimes sound strident, or even anti-American culture. I happen to think that the ideas of modernity (by which I do not mean technology) are inimical to Christianity and that modernized Christianity is largely false in many of its beliefs. So, I write.

  30. “I particularly want Orthodox Christians to wake up from the American dream and think according to an Orthodox phronema. ”

    Yes, a thousand times yes. Grant this O Lord.

  31. Father while I agree with you in general about the separation of technology from the critique of modernity in practice it becomes difficult because the modern narrative drives the use of technology particularly when in comes to the drive to make humans cyborgs. Or do it seems to me.

    Plus modern computer tech actually changes the way in which we perceive and think.

  32. Hi Father, I have a couple questions. First, if the work of authentic Christians (feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etc.) is not advancing the Kingdom, how are we to view such work vis-a-vis the Kingdom? Should we view this work more as manifesting a Kingdom already present?

    Also, how are we to view mankind’s experience of the Kingdom prior (historically) to the Incarnation? Thank you!

  33. Byron,
    Unfortunately, you are very much on target with your remarks. As a former Evangelical Pastor it was a very big part of why I converted. My point was more aimed at the difficulties in dialogue and evangelism with individuals, but the phenomenon that you correctly identify is a big part of why it is difficult to work with these folks. I am still looking for a way to counter it.

  34. Nicholas made reference to “The Original Gospel”. I have found on some Orthodox websites, “The Original Christian Gospel” by Fr. James Bernstein. Is this what Nicholas was making reference to? Thanks.

  35. Chris,
    Think of the Kingdom as a supernatural reality – which is much closer to what is being described in the Scriptures.

    The Kingdom is the complete, finished redemption of heaven and earth. What is difficult for us to understand is that this completed, finished union of heaven and earth can also be present before the “End.” The Kingdom is the End of all things, but is also present now, and perceived in a variety of ways, and even entered in a variety of ways.

    But it cannot be “advanced” etc., because it’s not advancing. It’s not going anywhere, or getting better, bigger, more completely here, etc. At some end point in history, there will only be the Kingdom, the history of what we know will have come to its end. But history as we know it is not evolving towards the Kingdom or improving towards the Kingdom.

    When we feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc., we are acting in accordance with the Kingdom. Our action therefore points to the Kingdom as being true (and thus we behave in a manner that serves, feeds, etc.). But the feeding, clothing, etc. is not itself the Kingdom.

    Before the coming of Christ, the Kingdom also existed (Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and wherever He is, the Kingdom is). But just as Christ was hidden and foreshadowed before His manifestation in the world, so the Kingdom was hidden and foreshadowed in the world before Christ revealed it.

  36. Brian

    I find it a good way to introduce the differences in a non confrontational manner to people who ask what we believe.

  37. Thank you Fr. Stephen,

    Clarifying this is so important that the Kingdom of God is present among us. Also, that ‘The Kingdom is within you” brings into stark contrast that we must WORK to advance it. What we need to do is to recognize it and not to pretend that we can do anything except be thankful.

  38. Great article, Nicholas. It struck me as a somewhat abbreviated version of The River of Fire (with a kinder approach). Glory be to God!

  39. I love your comments about helping pregnant teens and how it was and wasn’t implemented.

    I spent a year at a well known missions organization facility as a teen/young adult. The message we received was that if we weren’t specifically called by God to stay home we were commanded to go overseas to preach the gospel. I could never discern what my calling was and I cannot tell you the inner anguish that I experienced as a result.

    I have not done foreign missions aside from helping in short term ways or assisting others. And yet I know some who are incredible examples of laying down their lives for others in this way: i.e. Working with traumatized refugees and such. My own life seems so small by comparison but I am trying with God’s help to discern need around me and work out my salvation.

    Thank you so much for a thought provoking series.

  40. “But it cannot be “advanced” etc., because it’s not advancing.”

    Right, like attempts to making a prefect circle “more round”.

  41. I am finding that the imminent Kingdom of God is not what I want most of the time. Abiding in the imminent Kingdom requires an obedience I have yet to learn. At times it is as wonderful as the Psalmist describes in Psalm 139 – most of the time, however, I experience it as a very short leash. Pray for me!

  42. I have read the article again since you commented that you did some revision after my first “Thank you!” comment was posted. I will say now that I am very appreciative that you took the time to write and post this article on your blog! And I have enjoyed the comments very much. I agree with your advice and encouragement with child rearing, too, found here in these comments and would only add that St. Porphyrios when he was still Elder Porphyrios, wrote some very encouraging words about praying for children, older children and adult children and not trying to “fix” them. There is even a good quote from him concerning parenthood on the Wikipedia site! Also God has been very good in allowing me to pray for my children than worry about them and He continually helps me to mind my own Christian life while praying for others. Glory to God for All Things!

  43. Father
    I find your views on modernity fascinating and they give voice to so much of what I feel is wrong with the modernist weltanschauung but can’t find words for.

    However, I frequently find myself wondering what is the meaning of the ostensible progress that we do see. Why did the West rise, providing undreamed of standards of living for individuals? I mean we enjoy the fruits of sanitation, antibiotics, printing press, rule of law, limited government, internet, transportation, social mobility, heating/cooling, civil rights, decline of violence, instant access to information, and on and on.

    I suspect any explanation at least borders on speculation, but still all of this stuff begs explanation. I personally don’t believe that man is or can be consciously in control of the future (obviously). It almost seems like humanity on earth is liken to a flower blooming, but blooming into what? In your view should such things not be thought or speculated on?

  44. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    Have you heard of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? It is a Catholic, Montessori-based method of Christian Education, growing in popularity within Orthodox parishes. It is inherently Orthodox in it’s spirituality, even though it’s Catholic. Unfortunately, I believe certain lessons in it are tainted with this advancing the Kingdom idea, but I’m not totally sure. I wish I could run one of the lessons by you in order to be certain. I am the Director of this program at St John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River Alaska, soon to be a certified Formation Leader, or trainer, in this method. Together with my pastors, we are wrestling with some of the most advanced lessons in the older grades, trying to translate them from Catholic to Orthodox. Thank you for your concise and clear statement regarding “progressive” theology about the Kingdom. I will share this with my pastors and we will discuss the theology some more. I think your essay above might be the definitive statement that catechists can rely on when looking for theological information as they translate the program for their own use in parishes. People you may know who can tell you more are Fr. John and Kh. Lara Oliver in Murfreesboro, TN, St Ignatius Orthodox Church in Franklin, TN, me and Fr. Marc Dunaway in Eagle River, Alaska, Gayla Easley in Leander, TX (her pastor has taken training)

    Finally, what is the Orthodox understanding of synergy? Is is simply cooperation with God? How are we to understand synergy in contrast to the western ideology of evolution of the Kingdom?

  45. Shelley,
    The literal translation of synergy is “cooperation.” I think it has been misused by many modern Orthodox and taken to mean that we ourselves contribute something to our salvation. This is not the case. It is, in fact, impossible for us to contribute to our salvation (or anyone else’s). Here’s the simple reasoning. Salvation means “theosis,” to become divine. How could I possibly do anything to make myself divine?

    We cooperate with God (synergy), in that He does not save us without our cooperation, without our free acceptance of His working in our lives. But that is what our cooperation is: free acceptance of His working.

    The notion of the Kingdom evolving is very, very flawed. Christ Himself is the Kingdom, and He certainly does not evolve. Nothing Divine even changes. The Kingdom has been the fullness of the Kingdom always and forever. God never exists in any way other than His fullness.

    The notion of an advancing Kingdom was not invented until the 19th century and was simply a change from a doctrine of the Kingdom, to the idea of a politically achieved social utopia. It’s been a mixed-up thing since then, but popular thought, even taken into very serious theological work, has gotten an idea of a development Kingdom. It is very wrong, and creates a false spirituality of progress and improvement, when our salvation is through self-emptying and humility. We cannot achieve the Kingdom. We never achieve anything spiritual. All spiritual good is a gift, which is why we give thanks for all things.

    My son-in-law, Fr. Philip Rogers (Fr. John Rogers’ brother, whom you might know), has recently joined the staff of St. John’s Orthodox in Memphis, where they also have the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I’m very interested in it.

  46. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses the word ‘collaboration’ rather than ‘cooperation’. In my mind, collaboration has overtones of equals working together whereas cooperation is more about us falling into step with something/someone bigger than ourselves. Perhaps we Orthodox should change what word we use in CGS.

  47. Father,
    You have hit upon a very important point – how pervasive the “mainstream theology” is and how it can penetrate even Orthodox theology if we are not careful. I would love to see a whole series on this. It would be very useful to us. Many times we hear something that ‘just doesn’t sound right’ but we don’t know why. This is extremely helpful.

  48. DougieFranklin,

    One answer:

    Late Results
    BY SCOTT CAIRNS

    We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
    —Milosz

    And the few willing to listen demanded that we confess on television.
    So we kept our sins to ourselves, and they became less troubling.

    The halt and the lame arranged to have their hips replaced.
    Lepers coated their sores with a neutral foundation, avoided strong light.

    The hungry ate at grand buffets and grew huge, though they remained hungry.
    Prisoners became indistinguishable from the few who visited them.

    Widows remarried and became strangers to their kin.
    The orphans finally grew up and learned to fend for themselves.

    Even the prophets suspected they were mad, and kept their mouths shut.
    Only the poor—who are with us always—only they continued in the hope.

  49. Because sometimes I cannot help but be contrarian (and because I believe you will have an insightful reply to this if you have the time and inclination) …

    I think when most people say something like “building the Kingdom” they are essentially mixing metaphors with concepts in which we are living stones being built up into a spiritual house. When they say something like “advancing the Kingdom” they essentially mean acquainting more people with the Kingdom, or with the King, spreading the faith so that more souls may be delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the beloved Son. In the sense of Athanasius’ “Behold how the Saviour’s doctrine is everywhere increasing, while all idolatry and everything opposed to the faith of Christ is daily dwindling, and losing power, and falling.”

    Is it not possible that there is a sense in which the Kingdom “advances” when it increases its “territory” in the sense of human hearts that cease, little by little, to resist its rule and rather become instruments of the Spirit? Of course, the Kingdom is not something that it wasn’t, it hasn’t changed, but it becomes manifest where it hadn’t previously been seen, and, like the morning star dispelling the night, it advances.

  50. William,
    Of course, it is possible to say such things. St. Athanasius certainly did, as you note in the quote. However, he was not making that statement in the context of a culture dominated by modernity and the metaphor of progress. I’m certain people can mean many things when they say something. However, given the fact that the progressive metaphor utterly governs our minds and thoughts, it is either very unwise to say such things, or, in fact, precisely what I have described – a distortion of the gospel.

    It is deeply important to remain fixed in the understanding of what we cannot know. The Churches could be filled, and yet the Kingdom itself have place in very few hearts. That’s certainly been the case many times in the past. Given the rate of apostasy at present, it seems to be quite true now.

    People should not speak so lightly of the Kingdom. I think they do so because they have very little experience or knowledge of it. It’s just a slogan for an idea, not an indwelling reality in their lives.

    I’ve been a confessor for over 35 years. It is exceedingly hard to read what is in someone’s heart, much less to ever make generalizations. The more we truly seek first the Kingdom, the more reluctant we will be to speak glibly about it.

    The Kingdom is that buried treasure, the lost coin. It has about it, always, this character of hiddenness. Instead, some have begun to speak of it as though it were oxygen, or some other permeating, easily accessible presence. It’s just not like that. It’s hidden on purpose – so that we will seek. And the greater we seek, the more likely we are to find. A merchant sold everything he had in order to buy the Pearl of Great Price. This is just not at all consonant with the usages you reference.

  51. I don’t disagree at all Fr. Stephen, but I was wondering if you could comment on how what you’ve said here gels with this (equally important and dangerous to forget) side of things:

    “When we enter into Him, when our body is broken and our blood is shed, in love with Him, then we destroy [death] and co-redeem the world in Him. We’re called to be co-redeemers in Him, co-sanctifiers in Him, by the power which He gives us which is the power of the Cross. Now, all of this has to take place in our life. If it doesn’t take place in our life, we are still dead … we are not human yet. We are still ‘sub-human’. Because we’re made in the image and likeness of love, and this is the way it’s done.”

    (That’s from Fr. Tom Hopko’s great set of talks on “The Word of the Cross”).

    Fr. Tom would agree that we don’t “build” the Kingdom or “advance” of ourselves at all, but we certainly do play a role in manifesting it and making it present on Earth, right? Isn’t that the whole idea of the “spiritual priesthood” to which we were all ordained?

  52. Samuel,
    Good question and important. What happens as “co-redeemers” or “co-sanctifiers” is the instantiation of Christ’s redemption of the world, or sanctification of the world within us, but not our sanctification of the world “together with Him.”

    The strange thing in all of this is learning to understand all of this in its true paradox. I think it is, ultimately, a noetic perception (which is why we necessarily struggle with it).

    How does Christ sanctify? He does this not by power, or, rather, His power is the Cross, which is deeply contrary to everything we consider as “power.” The “making” of things by God is an “unmaking” rather than what we think of as making. When, for example, the Scriptures say that God creates saying, “Let there be,” it is not a transitive verb (or its Hebrew equivalent). He doesn’t “make” things like we would make them.

    Even so, our sanctifying or redeeming of things is not in the “transitive” sense (a verb that takes a direct object). This is so very hard to describe, by the way.

    To use an example that I’ve not yet included in an article (but will be soon), when we “behold Christ face to face,” it must be read in the context of bearing shame. The face is where we experience shame and is profoundly the language of shame and dealing with shame in Scripture. “I did not turn my face away from the spitting and the shame” we hear in Isaiah, speaking of Christ. Christ does what we could not do and faces our shame (without turning away). When we see Him face to face, we necessarily also have to behold our shame (and bear it). This is part of entering into the Cross, and the life of self-emptying. It indeed “sanctifies and redeems” but in a sense so different than those verbs when they are used in a transitive manner.

    I am sanctified as I behold Him “face to face” going from “glory to glory.” But this, again, means entering into the communion of His self-emptying and death. You can only reach heaven through Hades.

    We all use words without caution sometimes. I writing in a manner on a topic that Fr. Tom never addressed. For all I know, he never thought about it. As far as I can tell, not many have. But, what I’m saying is correct. It might even make some things Fr. Tom (or others) have said incorrect, if it were understood in the light of what is being observed about modernity. After all, modernity is the idiom in which we all speak. I am helping us “unspeak” some stuff, because it is necessary.

    We recently marked a huge milestone in a cultural revolution (this summer’s Supreme Court decision). It’s ripples of extreme modernity are growing towards becoming small waves. We must heighten our sense of discernment along with the times. We will need to speak ever more carefully.

  53. We do, indeed, need to speak carefully. However, even that is becoming increasingly harder, as we come to live more and more in Wonderland: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'”

  54. ” It is the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of all things. ”

    The difficulty for me is in inderstanding why, if nature is not evil, “all” things must be transformed. Or, if salvation through Christ is in some sense a process of deification, and there is no advancement to the Kingdom, how can St Paul describe those who are new to the faith as being spiritually immature. Maturity itself is the end result of an advancement, whether in age, or in wisdom.

  55. Bud, all creation is created “good”; humanity is created “very good”. Our transformation is not from “evil” to “good” but from sin (turning away from God) to communion (returning to the fullness of communion with God). The process of deification is not necessarily a movement (or “advancement”) to a location, but rather a change in communal status. It is a humbling of ourselves so that we may be filled with God.

    Maturity is a recognition of these needs in our lives so we may be, as St. Paul put it, “filled with Christ” (in full communion with God). Those new to the faith will not always recognize and live what is necessary.

    If I have misunderstood your question(s) or replied poorly please correct me.

  56. Bud, yes. All things are made new by the glory of God. In a sense all of creation becomes His temple with we humans being the priests. We continue to offer all up in thanksgiving.

  57. So then, it is the “change in communal status” that results in the transformation of “all” nature?

    Yes, the “transformation” is the change that brings us into communion; into our proper life as priests, offering thanksgiving to God for all things and all creation(wonderfully said, Michael!). It’s helpful, I think, to remember that we are also in communion with all of Creation; we do exist separately from the universe around us. As Creation was subject to us in the Fall, so it can be redeemed in our role as priests, offering thanks to God.

    I wish it were as simple as it sounds but true thanksgiving is very difficult. The more i try to pray constantly and give thanks, the more I realize it will take a lifetime for me to learn to do so, if I ever do…. May God have mercy on us.

  58. Woops! Forgive me. My statement above should read: “we do not exist separately from the universe around us.”

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