Over the past several years I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach a course on the History of Christianity at a small college in Wichita. Just this last Saturday we dealt with “The Christian Middle Ages” which covers the time period from 590-1517. I was once again forced to struggle with the atrocities of this time period in the life of the church: the deep corruption within the church, the power grab between pope and emperor, and between pope and pope, the inquisition, and especially abhorrent the seven crusades. While in the past I usually tried to understand the misguided motivation behind the crusades by focusing on the corruption and power struggles that occurred as a result of the melding together of church and state, this time I reflected more on the misunderstanding that they (and we) sometimes have concerning the Kingdom of God.

There is no doubt that the reign, or Kingdom, of God was the central theme of Jesus’ preaching but this theme has been absent from the missionary message of the church for a very long time. There have been, and continue to be, many distortions and dilutions of this theme.  The most obvious, and applicable to the problems of the Middle Ages, was the idea that Christianized Western civilization from Constantine onward was, in fact, God’s Kingdom on earth. Therefore, to “extend” or “expand” the Kingdom by what ever means, made perfect sense to many. If the Kingdom is about physical, geographical reign then by all means “expand the borders.”

But has not that distortion of the Kingdom been replaced by more recent versions? Do we not sometimes understand the reign of God as a particular program of social or economic justice, which we are to “build” as God’s agents? But instead are we not called to “enter” and “receive” the Kingdom of God? (Those are the verbs that are used by Jesus when speaking about the Kingdom; never does He use “expand” or “build.”) We are called to enter into what God is doing in the world. We are called to participate in His activities. We are called to participate in God’s mission of setting things right in a broken, sinful world, and to restore it to what God has always intended for the world.