People to Heaven or Heaven to Earth?

rapture-art-designOn Monday morning I posted this question on my Facebook page:

Quick survey: Would you say the PRIMARY mission of the church (not the only mission, but the primary one) is to:

A: Get people to heaven
B: Bring heaven to earth

I invited respondents to type “A” or “B” into the comments box without further comment (while acknowledging that on Facebook that was unlikely to happen).  Still, many of them did just that, and when I counted them up on Wednesday morning the “B’s” had it: 149 out of 181 responses.

I recognize that these people are my Facebook friends, and I’m sure they’ve heard me talk about my church’s mission as “bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.” They’re used to that kind of language.  Still, that’s a solid 82% who think the primary mission of the church is not getting people to heaven but bringing heaven to earth, which is not what I’ve always heard.

In my youth and childhood I often heard that our job, as Christians, was to “save sinners,” which in those days meant I needed to tell my non-Christians friends that they were going to hell.  That was the bad news.  But then I got to tell them the Good News: that God loved them so much he sent his only Son to die for them, and if they would simply accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior then when they died, instead of going to hell, they would go to heaven.

Good news, right?

But what do you do after you “get saved”?  Do you sit on a church pew until Jesus comes back, or until you die, whichever comes first?  No, of course not.  You go out and share the good news with others, who share it with others, who share it with others until the Gospel spreads around the globe like candlelight at the Christmas Eve service—from one wick to another.

That’s a beautiful image, and it reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples at the end of Mark’s Gospel: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the good news to every creature” (Mark 16:15).  But the good news of Mark’s Gospel is proclaimed in the first chapter, by Jesus himself.  In Mark 1:15 he says, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near.”  These are the first words out of his mouth.  And what strikes me about them is that Jesus does not say, “If you accept me as your personal Lord and Savior then when you die, instead of going to hell, you will go to heaven.”

Instead he talks about the kingdom.

Read the gospels carefully and you will find that Jesus refers to the kingdom some 120 times, more than anything else, and certainly more than heaven and hell.  The kingdom is his primary concern, and when his disciples ask him to teach them to pray he says, “Pray that God’s kingdom would come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  But that’s not all he does.  Jesus demonstrates the work of the kingdom by healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out demons, preaching the good news, and then sending his disciples out to do the same (Matt. 10:7-8) because that’s what disciples do.

That’s what I want to do.

I don’t want to be a convert to Christianity; I want to be a disciple of Jesus.  I answered his call a long time ago.  I’ve been following him ever since.  Through my regular study of the Gospels I’ve been listening to him teach and preach, I’ve been watching him help and heal, I’ve been studying his moves and learning his craft and then I’ve been getting out there and trying to do what I’ve learned from him, just like those first disciples.  Because I don’t only want to pray that God’s kingdom would come I want to work to make it so: I want to help Jesus bring heaven to earth.

And that’s the kind of church I want to belong to.

I don’t spend a lot of time preaching about heaven and hell.  I invite people into a life of discipleship.  I invite them to follow Jesus.  I believe that if they follow him faithfully wherever he goes they will end up where he did–in heaven.  I believe that I will.  And when that day comes I don’t want him to have to send some angel to see if he can find my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27); I want him to recognize me at once, because we’ve been working together for years.  I want him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

“Enter into the joy of your master!”

One thought on “People to Heaven or Heaven to Earth?

  1. This seems a way to reject decisional regeneration. Or maybe it is a somewhat lesser form of *Jesus’s Words Only* and a deemphasis/lowering of confidence in Paul. If responding to people thinking of salvation as more or less a ticket punched and that is it, then they certainly demonstrate an incomplete/erroneous view of salvation. Those that are saved/born again from Jesus’ words, will act as saved ones because they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and reflect what Paul spoke about: ‘Christ in you, the hope of Glory’’ Col 1:27. They will be recognizable as disciples of Jesus Christ and also embrace what the apostles taught, believe the gospel (Man is sinful, God is holy, Christ died to save sinners to bring us to God), show a faith that works itself out as a living faith a la James, etc.

    Your use of scare quotes around terms related to orthodox concepts i.e getting saved, saving sinners, etc is troubling if for no other reason than shifting the focus almost completely away from them. If not rejection. You did complain about a woman passing out tracts while visiting a neighborhood with you and a team so understand it can cause some to wonder (How would either of us truly know her greatest need in that moment for example?). Jesus did speak of the kingdom however we also have to do with the apostles that were with Him and what they taught as they went out and explained the kingdom, and explained the gospel. They further explained the kingdom work Jesus began e.g. God saving a people to Himself out of the world and the work of the Trinity in that mission. I know you said you don’t speak much of heaven and hell however as you know Jesus spoke a lot on hell so I don’t really see what value there is in deciding that because the Kingdom is spoken of 120 times that means we move so far off speaking about eternal things such as heaven and the wicked. It certainly wasn’t deemphasized by the apostles. Here are some rather strong words from the book of Ephesians with which saints should be fine with:

    children of wrath, prince of the power of the air,
    1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
    2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
    3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
    4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
    5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
    6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
    7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
    9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, NASB)

    If these words are true, then simply deciding to become a disciple of Jesus will not reconcile us to God. In fact, if I take what you wrote at face value I am wondering what value the cross of Christ is. Just follow the precepts, follow the Golden Rule, adopt his sayings, do good works and you’ll be fine. Why do I need Jesus to feed the homeless, volunteer at a shelter, help the less unfortunate? I’m hearing another gospel here. I am in no way suggesting God’s people not go and make disciples, but rather what does the entirety of God’s Word teach about discipleship and all it encompasses in terms of life and doctrine.

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