The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Five: What The Kingdom Of Christ Is, And What Is Necessary For Its Restoration
12 min read
12 min read
The Kingdom of our Savior Jesus Christ is that administration and care of the eternal life of God’s elect, by which this very Lord and King of Heaven by his doctrine and discipline, administered by suitable ministers chosen for this very purpose, gathers to himself his elect, those dispersed throughout the world who are his but whom he nonetheless wills to be subject to the powers of the world. He incorporates them into himself and his Church and so governs them in it that purged more fully day by day from sins, they live well and happily both here and in the time to come. But perhaps it would be helpful for this definition of the Kingdom of Christ to be elaborated on at a little greater length and more clearly, once it has been comprehended in these few words. A More Elaborate Definition of the Kingdom It is, therefore, the administration and care of the eternal life of the elect of God in this world, by which the only-begotten Son of God, after sending them his gospel through ministers chosen by him for this purpose and the breathing forth of his Spirit, gathers them to himself from the world (although he wishes them to be subject for good to the powers of the world, indeed, to all men in the world, to whom he himself has made them neighbors [I Peter 2:13]); those so gathered he incorporates into himself and his holy Church which is his body by most holy Baptism and the compact and sanction of the solemn divine covenant, that is, adoption into sonship. And thus he rules and governs those who have been incorporated into himself and his Church, purging them daily more and more from sins and establishing them in all piety and righteousness and hence eternal life. He also shapes and perfects them, using for this purpose the ministry of his word and sacraments through fitting ministers, in public, at home, and in private, and also by the vigilant administration of his discipline, not only of penance, but also of ceremonies and of the entire life. From this definition, then, let us itemize and, if you please, propose for consideration what things are proper to the Kingdom of Christ and must be required and recovered by all those who really want the Kingdom of Christ to be restored among them.
The first of these is that whatever is done in the churches should pertain to the ministry and contribute to the gaining of men’s salvation in such a way that, cleansed from sins and reconciled to God through Christ, they may worship and glorify God in Christ the Lord in all piety and righteousness.
Whatever does not contribute to this end, and nothing can do so which has not been ordained for this purpose by the Son of God and so commended to us, should be rejected and abolished by those who wish the Kingdom of Christ restored among them: such as, for example, all dogmas of religion not derived from Holy Scriptures. Likewise, that men so impure and profane should control the priesthood in the churches; that sacred rites should be performed for the people in a foreign language; a corrupt and perverse use of the sacraments of Christ; the addition of sacraments of human invention; invocation of the saints who have completed their pilgrimage; idolatry, and the like. Hence it is also a valid conclusion that those who do not subject themselves in all things to the Kingdom of Christ and devote all their labors for it to be restored among them will not be partakers of eternal life.
Another property of the Kingdom of Christ is that the elect are gathered from the world into this Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel, ministered by fit ministers chosen and sent for this very purpose by the Lord himself, with the simultaneous breathing forth of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of faith, through whom it is given to men to have a real faith in the gospel. In this way, certainly, both the Lord Christ himself and his apostles restored the sovereignty of God in the world.
And so it is necessary that those who wish the Kingdom of God to be restored among them pray to God, as a matter of first importance, that he send true and faithful preachers of the gospel to his people and to the churches.
“For how shall they preach unless they are sent” (Rom. 10:15) by our High Priest and King himself, Jesus Christ? For it is his alone to give to the Church “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11-12) to choose and gather his elect in his body. For on this account our King Christ “descended to the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9), “dead for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3), and again ascended into heaven, to the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34), “for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25).
The Lord himself declared this very thing when he said to his disciples, after his resurrection, “As the father has sent me, I send you, and when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). It is, therefore, only for the Son of God to send suitable and effective preachers of his gospel, and to instruct them by his Holy Spirit to discharge their duty in a saving way. Further, whoever pray sincerely to this Lord of the harvest “that he send laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38) and give many evangelists once more to his wretchedly oppressed and divided churches, evangelists instructed in heavenly virtue, such persons cannot fail to work and struggle diligently to seek out those whom the Lord has designated for this task, of whatever age or condition of life, and having found them, to help them in every way, so that they may be most thoroughly prepared, proved, and sanctified to meet this most holy calling redemptively.
On this account, as it is a principal function of kings and of governors to search and explore what function of life has been designed by God for each citizen, and to take care that each one is initiated, prepared, and helped toward this end from childhood, so certainly the same persons ought to exercise utmost interest and a primary concern among their subjects, and, wherever possible, to seek and find those whom the Lord seems to have appointed to this supremely salutary work, necessary before all others, of preaching the gospel. So Paul glories that he had been “separated for this work from his mother’s womb” (Gal. 1:15). They should take care that such of these as they can discover be initiated and trained from childhood for this most holy office, and that those who have been duly tested and proved be used in their good time for this function. This is certainly necessary before all things else, to be realized with utmost zeal by all kings and princes of the people of God who pray from their hearts, “Thy Kingdom come” (Matt. 6 : 1 0 ) .
A third property of the Kingdom of Christ, which we have already mentioned, is that, although this Kingdom is heavenly and governed only by Christ the Lord and not by this world, nevertheless, all its citizens, and all their pastors and teachers, ought to be subject to the world’s authorities to whom the Lord has entrusted the administration of the sword, and, according to their capacity, they ought to strive to be of benefit to all men. We shall speak later about the duties in the state from which it is fitting for true ministers of the churches to be exempted, when we explain by what manner and means the Kingdom of Christ is to be restored among us.
A fourth property of the Kingdom of Christ is that adults should not be received into the Kingdom of Christ, i.e., his Church, unless they are first sufficiently instructed in the gospel of Christ, acknowledge and deplore their sins, renounce Satan and the world, profess complete submission to the gospel, and do not manifest a way of life and manners repugnant to this profession. Then, after this, the Kingdom of Christ should be bestowed upon them, and as their sins are forgiven and washed away in the most holy sacrament of Baptism, the covenant of salvation, their adoption as sons of God, should be confirmed and sealed. In this way we read that John and the apostles conferred Baptism and received men into the Kingdom of Christ (Matt. 3:11 ft.; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:16-21; Acts 2:38-41, 16:15, and 19:4-5); the ancient churches religiously observed this way of doing things, so that, when the gospel had been preached to a group before all things else, individuals confessed their own belief in it, and the churches grounded them in the catechism of Christ and every doctrine of piety, and made them disciples of the Lord, and then finally came Baptism, when, having confessed their sins, they renounced the world and Satan and professed obedience to Christ.
This is the precise procedure which the Lord commanded, when after his resurrection he sent his apostles to preach the gospel of his Kingdom and to gather the churches. For he said to them: Go therefore, and teach the nations ”baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), i.e., teach all nations, and make them disciples to me by teaching, and this no one can be unless he has been taught the doctrine of Christ and has professed it.
Saint Peter has a similar teaching, when he writes, “We are saved by baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation 80 of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). In these words he clearly admonishes that adults who are to be baptized ought to be interrogated about their faith and profess it openly in the church.
But since our infants also ought to be baptized according to the promise of the Lord, “I will be your God, and the God of your seed” (Gen. 17:7), both the parents of the baptized infants and the ministers of the Church must take the responsibility that, as soon as they have matured, they will be diligently catechized and instructed in the doctrine of Christ, so that they may make for themselves publicly in church the profession of their faith which they were unable to do when they were baptized, confessing their sins, and embracing with a most grateful heart the grace of Baptism conferred on them in infancy, renouncing the world and Satan, and pledging themselves to the obedience of Christ. For although human beings, whatever they promise, are unable to manifest anything of piety which Christ the Lord does not effect in them and they necessarily manifest all things which he does effect in them, nevertheless this same Lord makes it his gift that it is a sharp spur to his elect if they have promised anything solemnly.
For this reason, it pleased the Lord that the people of the Old Testament should confirm the covenant of salvation so often by the public profession of their obedience, as we read in Ex. 24:7, Deut. 29:10 ff., and 31:10 ff., and the last chapter of Joshua (24:16 ff.). These texts should be diligently read and pondered by all who wish the Kingdom of Christ to prevail among them. And in the texts of Deut., chs. 29 and 31, it must be most especially observed that the Lord wished the covenant to be renewed with his people every seventh year, and in the presence of the women and children.
But God has also instilled it in the nature of man, that although we see very many men not keeping their promises, not even oaths, except for their own gain (which they reckon falsely), nevertheless no citizen is received into the commonwealth, nor into any legitimate partnership, unless he swears and promises with his own lips the things that pertain to a good citizen or partner.
Since, then, whatever matters with regard to arousing men to a true obedience of Christ is to be taken advantage of with utmost zeal by all who seek Christ’s Kingdom, who would doubt that this applies particularly to the churches of Christ? They should require of individual Christians their personal profession of faith and Christian obedience: of adults, before they are baptized; and of those who are baptized as infants, when they have been catechized and instructed in the gospel of Christ; and if any do not permit themselves to be catechized and taught and refuse to follow all the precepts of Christ and to make a legitimate profession of faith and of the obedience to be rendered to Christ and his Church, they ought to be rejected from the company of the saints and the communion of the sacraments, because those who are of this kind openly repudiate the grace of Baptism and altogether separate themselves from the Kingdom of Christ. For the precept of the Lord is manifest in the last chapter of Matthew: that the baptized must be taught to observe whatever he himself has commanded.
A fifth property of the Kingdom of Christ is that all its true citizens offer themselves to Christ the King to be ruled and governed throughout life, i.e., to be purged from sins unto all piety and righteousness, i.e., to be instructed, trained, and perfected unto eternal life, and this through the sacred ministry of the Church. Hence it is necessary for every church of Christ to have this ministry duly constituted, i.e., to have priests and ministers who both can and will, with utmost zeal and perseverance, instruct and advance toward eternal salvation, each and every member of the congregation in their care, by the administration both of the doctrine and of the sacraments and discipline of Christ and make this attractive to them by holy examples of life, both on their own part and on the part of those of whom they have charge at home.
We know what the Holy Spirit requires concerning the qualifications and duties of the ministers of the Church, as expressed and explained in the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus, especially m the third chapter of the first letter to Timothy (vs. 1-13) and in the first chapter of the letter to Titus (vs. 5-9) . This canon is obviously to be observed reverently, and realized. For where the words of the Lord “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16) do not apply to those who are in charge of the churches, the administration of the Kingdom of Christ cannot be rightly preserved. And since no private person is to be put up with in the Church if he denies by his deeds what he professes with his lips, how much the less should anyone be tolerated in the care and governance of the churches if he is discovered not really to love Christ (I Cor. 16:22) and to be neither fit for nor interested in introducing men to Christ’s Kingdom, and establishing those introduced in all righteousness (II Tim. 2:2).
How much effort must be expended in this, that suitable and faithful shepherds be put in charge of individual churches, the Holy Spirit clearly teaches by the examples of Paul and Barnabas, who ordained elders with prayer and fasting for the individual churches which they had gained for Christ (Acts 14:23). For this same reason Paul also left Titus in Crete, to ordain elders for individual towns (Titus 1:5).
Here, however, it must be observed that it is not necessary for all elders to be trained in letters and languages, or even in the ability of public teaching. This office, although it is also that of elders, pertains especially to the one who holds the first place among the elders, to whom the name bishop is uniquely given. As proof that one is fit to preside over a church it is sufficient that he fulfills the ministry of Christ acceptably and faithfully, even if in a mediocre way, that he can teach others, and that he have spiritual prudence and zeal for governing the church, and that he is on his guard lest anyone falls from the grace he has received.
Such persons are evidently able with their fellow ministers of the doctrine and sacraments of Christ to exercise discipline, to admonish brethren of their duty both privately and in their own homes, and when anyone has to be admonished in the name of the Church or corrected or bound over to penance or excommunicated, to be present, and to pronounce sentence wholesomely, and truly to manifest themselves to these as apt teachers (I Tim. 3:2), i.e., fit and eager to teach and tenacious and faithful of expression in teaching, and strong in exhorting through sound doctrine, and also in reclaiming those who deny the truth (Titus 1:9). Saint Ambrose testifies that there was this kind of elder both in the synagogue and in the early Church, and that this office was abolished not without a vitiation of doctrine and disadvantage to the churches. Commenting on the first part of the fifth chapter of the first letter to Timothy he writes: “Do not slander an elder. Hence both the synagogue and afterward the Church had elders, without whose counsel nothing was done in the Church. What negligence abolished this I do not know, unless perhaps the sloth of teachers, or more likely the pride, when they wanted only themselves to seem to be something.”
For clearly nothing should be watched out for with greater care than that none of the sheep of Christ should perish, and if any of them have strayed from the fold, they should be sought and brought back as soon as possible. And if they have broken any precept, i.e., if they have fallen into any grave sin, although they remain in the association of the Church, they may be healed by being charged with the obligation and the care of salutary penance. And those who begin to grow weak in the faith should be strengthened in time. And the healthy sheep which remain in the fold with their good shepherd should feed willingly, i.e., advance in all piety (Ezek. 34:16).
But what single individual would be able to fulfill for many such offices of the good shepherd? It has therefore pleased the Holy Spirit from the beginning of the Church to join to the ministers of the word and the sacraments, namely, the presiding elders and bishops, other men also from the body of the Church, serious men endowed with a gift for governing, to assist them in exercising a concern for individuals and in keeping and strengthening the discipline of Christ (I Cor. 12:28).
It is intolerable that, whereas in civil administration, even in tiny hamlets, some counselors and assistants are attached to the prefects, the administration of eternal salvation is committed only to one or two men, and for the most part to the kind of men who enjoy very little favor and authority in the Lord among the people of Christ, inasmuch as it is a matter of experience that men do not easily take correction, except from those whom they believe to be their friends, surpassing them in wisdom and justice.
The duties of this sacred ministry include the teaching of Christ, the dispensation of his sacraments, and the administration of his discipline.