Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV)
Immovable. Unshaken. “A kingdom that cannot be shaken.” “We are receiving a kingdom.” This present participle in the Greek emphasizes that followers of Jesus Christ are now in the process of receiving this gift and that this process will continue into the future. This unshakeable kingdom is not the gift of a constitution, or government or any other human institution or process—it is the gift of God. It is a continuing gift of God, who is “a consuming fire” —literally, one whose glory would consume us as he warned Moses and others if we ever looked upon him directly. This continuing gift of an unshakable kingdom, whose giver is God himself, and whose incarnation is Jesus Christ, is a gift that comes with power. It is a power and a glory that sends us to our knees in thanksgiving and worship, with reverence and awe. That’s the only posture appropriate to such a gift.
The unshakable kingdom we are receiving as followers of Jesus Christ, as Anglicans, is not a movement or a church. It is literally the reign of God. Dallas Willard captured the Biblical essence of this “kingdom” as “the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done is done.” Therefore, it is defined by the clarity, authority and inspiration of God’s revealed word, the Bible. The unshakable kingdom is summed up in the person, reign, and ministry of Jesus Christ, in whom “all things hold together,” “all the fullness of God dwells” and through whom “all things in heaven and on earth” are reconciled to God (Col. 1:17-20). In other words, wherever Jesus Christ reigns as Savior and Lord—in our lives, our friends, our workplaces, our neighborhoods and our communities—now, and with increasing reign, there you and I will find and receive the unshakable kingdom.
A dear brother in Christ reminded me of these verses as together we have faced this question:
What is at stake for followers of Jesus Christ as we face a culture that is increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority (however repressive it may need to be)?
The ongoing gift of the unshakable, kingdom-reign of God is what we stand to lose if we compromise with the culture. In the coming weeks and months, the American Anglican Council will be developing resources to show how these forces have invaded and shaped our culture and the Church with a non-Biblical, secular utopian world view that can only lead to oppression.
But before we go there, I want to share about an Anglican church that called me in 1992 to serve as an Associate Rector—Church of the Apostles in Fairfax VA. For seven years I was blessed to serve with the Rev. David Harper, Rector, under whose tutelage I learned so much about leading the local church. Among the most important and effective things he did as a leader was to continually cast a clear vision, something we teach as an essential for church health and growth in our ReVive! weekends. And while I was there, this was the vision of the Church of the Apostles:
A people with a Kingdom focus, called to be an instrument for the healing of the nations.
If you dwell on that as I did—with the whole church—you realize this is a BIG picture. It is a GLOBAL ministry reach. And, indeed, during the time I was there, Apostles and Truro together fielded more overseas missionaries than the entire Episcopal Church! We had a constant stream of Anglican leaders and preachers, from the Global South, who shared about the living word and power of the gospel to heal and set free. We had a constant stream of reports from mission teams returning from short-term missions, and missionaries on leave from long-term missions, of the reign of God and his unshakable Kingdom from South America to Eastern Europe to the Middle East to South Asia.
In truth, sometimes this emphasis on “healing of the nations” distracted us from the needs of our local community. But today the nations are now living among us! I see this multi-cultural diversity in my own neighborhood every morning I walk. Reaching our local communities with the reign of God through the love of Jesus—the people and nations among whom God has planted our church—is another essential we teach in our REVIVE! Weekends. It’s a joy to see how the relocated Church of the Apostles has embraced this facet of a Kingdom focus to the nations in their own local community.
Jesus said, “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20). The ‘finger of God’ is a phrase that is also used in Exodus 8:16-20 by Egyptian priests referring to the plagues that God sent upon their nation. In Deuteronomy 9:10 it refers to the method by which God himself inscribed the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. During my years at Apostles, we welcomed “the finger of God” every Sunday in our healing ministries to the whole person (body, soul and spirit), in deliverance ministries (following Jesus’ example) and in many patient, caring, quiet counseling and small group venues where we saw people changed by the power of God. Human dignity restored—in the image of God.
You see, a people who are receiving that unshakable kingdom, who have that kingdom focus, will welcome and invite that power beyond ourselves to change ourselves—through the Holy Spirit. This Biblical world view is a stark alternative to the materialism that omits God entirely in the secular utopian (even culturally Marxist) world views dominating our North American culture.
Frankly, a people with this kingdom focus will be the only ones who can offer true hope to people in need. In Romans 14:17, Paul hints at this when he says “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In keeping with such joy and peace, he then prays “May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13). While I was at Apostles, this kingdom focus created a culture that was overflowing with hope precisely because of our confidence in the power of God—and not in ourselves. It was contagious. I heard so many testimonies of people who walked off the street because of a personal invitation into our worship. ALPHA meetings and small groups were overcome by the love of God, overflowing with hope, and led into the gentle and redeeming reign of Jesus Christ in their lives!
Fifty years ago, in Death in the City (1969, IVP), Francis Schaeffer wrote prophetically of our own culture today: “The place to begin is to understand that you and I live in a post-Christian world. Because [humankind] has turned from God, there is death in the polis, there is death in the city!” The bitter fruit of this is the malice, madness, mayhem and murder that erupt in a culture where people have no hope.
But we have such hope to offer in and through the reign of Jesus Christ and the unshakable kingdom of God. Even as we diagnose the problems and engage our dying culture, we must do so with Good News. There is an alternative, a world-view where Jesus Christ reigns as Lord and Savior, where the poor are lifted up, prisoners set free, people healed, the oppressed released, human dignity restored and God’s favor poured out in abundance (Luke 4:16-21).
A people with a Kingdom focus, called to be an instrument for the healing of the nations. Could that too be our call as Anglican followers of Jesus Christ in North America?
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.