The Kingdom of God and the Church of GodThe Church – The Body of Christ
Until recently, it has been generally accepted in evangelical circles that the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ, the Church, are one in the same. These two terms are generally used interchangeably – both describing and being spoken of as the Body of Christ, or the Church. Most Christians understand or use this terminology to refer to the whole of Christendom, the Church at large, thus meaning that the Church is comprised of all the saved people of the earth. However, does the Bible support such thinking? Are the Kingdom of God and the Church of God the same thing? The truth is that they are not the same; rather, they are two separate and distinct entities.
There are several basic difference between the Kingdom and the Church. The contrasts are being made in the following areas: the nature of their visibility, the entrance into each, the purity of each, the aspect of God's sheep in each, and the business aspect of each. These five areas are certainly not the only differences but serve to show that there are major differences and why each of these differences are important to all the children of God.
The Nature of Their Visibility
Regarding the Kingdom of God, Jesus spoke in Luke 17: 20-21, "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." These verses of Scripture show that the Kingdom of God is invisible – it is a spiritual kingdom within the heart of a person. Writing to the Romans, Paul said, "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). When speaking to His disciples, who were the nucleus of the Church, Jesus told them in Matthew 5:14 that "Ye are the light of the world. A city [meaning the Church] that is set on an hill cannot be hid." Additional references to the Church being a city can be found in Revelation 21.
Entrance into the Kingdom and the Church
When Nicodemus came to the Lord by night to inquire of Him, Jesus told him, "...Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Also in Mark 1:15 Jesus preached the kingdom of God by stating that "...The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." We can see by these verses that entrance into the kingdom of God is by way of the new birth and all born again believers are members of the Kingdom of God. The only way a person can get into the kingdom of God is by being born of the Spirit of God. It is implanted in the hearts of men when they obey the message of repentance.
Concerning entrance into the Church, the Prophets spoke of a covenant relationship. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of this covenant aspect of entrance into the Church. Isaiah likened the Church covenant to the marriage covenant when he wrote, "For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridgegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Isaiah 62:5). Concerning the covenant, Jeremiah wrote, "They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten" (Jeremiah 50:5).
The apostle Paul confirmed this covenant relationship when he wrote, "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his farther and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:30-32). These, and other scriptural references, confirm that a covenant similar to the marriage covenant is required for a person to become a member of the Church. The marriage vow (covenant), between the man and the woman to whom Paul was referring, was used to show that the same relationship would exist between Christ and those who were joined to His body on Earth – the Church.
The Purity of Each Entity
"Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). This, and numerous other verses, speak of the sinless purity of those within the Kingdom of God. To become a part of this kingdom, one must repent and forsake sin. Contrarily, concerning the Church, the apostle Jude tells of some ungodly men, sinners, who had managed to become members of the Church. "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). In dealing with these erring men, Matthew 18:15-18 advises that they should be taken before the Church. The Church was given the authority to deal with such matters by Christ when He established His Church recorded in Matthew 16: 18-19, "And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This further substantiates that the Church is visible and the Kingdom is invisible. If the Church and Kingdom were the same, how could an erring member be taken before an invisible body? Scriptural admonition was also given in 1 Corinthians 5:13, "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Those spoken of as being "without" are those who are not in the Church. Since there is no sin in the spiritual kingdom, the "wicked person...among yourselves" in this reference refers to a member of the Church who has fallen into sin. This person must be restored to the Kingdom of God or disfellowshipped if restitution is unsuccessful.
God's Sheep in the Kingdom and the Church
The psalmist writes, "Know ye the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3). There are many scriptural reference made concerning the sheep of God. For example, Matthew 25:32 refers to the sheep and goats being separated at the judgment. In John 10:7 Christ is said to be the door of the sheep, and in John 21:15-17 Christ instructs Peter to feed His sheep.
John records the words of Christ, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16). The sheep of God are all born again people of the earth – whomever and wherever they may be. The Fold of which He was making reference is the Church which contains some of His sheep and will soon contain all of His sheep. This will happen as soon as the sheep hear His voice through the Holy Spirit and through His Church. Revelation 22:17 records, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." The "one fold" and "one shepherd" is a reference to the "one Church" that the "one Christ" has. The pasture refers to the Kingdom. All saved persons are a part of the Kingdom by virtue of their new birth; however, all Church members are not necessarily born again believers – although they should be and will be when the Church is perfected prior to the Rapture.
Another scriptural reference which differentiates The Church of God from the Kingdom of God is found in Luke 12:32, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The "little flock" referred to in this passage is the Church which receives its membership from the Kingdom. However, the fuller meaning of this verse is substantiated by the previous statement of Jesus from John 10:16, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring...." These verses show that all of God's precious sheep will be gathered together into one fold, or church, prior to the Rapture of the saints. The purpose of this gathering is for the unity of the faith and the perfection of all the saints. The Church of God is destined to reach perfection but cannot do so until all of God's sheep are gathered into the Body of Christ. The following passage verifies this truth, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17:20-23).
The Business Aspect of Each Entity
In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, Christ gave certain authority ot His Church, and She used this authority on many occasions. In Acts 1:15-26 there is an account of the Church choosing a successor to Judas, the disciple who had betrayed Christ. Also, according to the sixth chapter of Acts, the Church appointed deacons for the first time. Yet another example is Acts 15 where it is recorded that the Church held a general business meeting. Each of these references show that the early Church did indeed carry on meetings to conduct its needed business affairs. Nowhere is it found business being conducted in the realm of the kingdom of God.
Not only must God's sheep look into the holy Scriptures for the Church, but they must also look here on Earth because She is a visible Church composed of flesh and blood members who have accepted by covenant the obligation to obey God in everything and work together to fulfill all the commandments of Christ. There are many misconceptions about the Church; however, the Scripture gives a clear definition and image of who She is.
This resource contains information adapted from The Kingdom and the Church: Are They the Same?, which can be obtained via the online store. The Kingdom and the Church: Are They the Same? is an Outreach Literature tract produced by The Church of God and outlines the basic difference between these entities.
The Kingdom of God and The Church of God: Two Distinct Entities is an in-depth study of this topic and is a good resource for anyone desiring to learn more about this subject. The Kingdom of God and The Church of God: Two Distinct Entities considers the similarities and differences of these entities which are often confused.