Is the church the same thing as the kingdom? Is the church Christ’s kingly realm? One of the interesting points of interest in George Eldon Ladd’s work is his distinction between the Kingdom and the church. Ladd acknowledged his position was different than Augustine (New Testament Theology, 103), Augustin (104), and Vos (110). Ladd argued “None of the sayings in the Gospels equates Jesus’ disciples with the Kingdom” (109). He also said, “The many sayings about entering into the Kingdom are not equivalent to entering the church” (110). The Kingdom and church, for Ladd, are not unrelated. He said, “the Kingdom creates the church” and “The church is but the result of the coming of God’s Kingdom into the world by the mission of Jesus Christ” (111). This hard distinction may, perhaps, be shaped by Ladd’s premillennial presuppositions.
The Kingdom is definitely a concept which crosses the OT and NT. However, one could argue the concept of the church, at least incipiently, could be found across the entire Canon as well (Acts 7:38). The kingdom refers to those over whom God reigns. The church has a more limited scope. The church is the people over whom Christ reigns in the Christian age. There is a distinction, but the distinction is not as great as Ladd has argued.
The New Testament often places the church and the Kingdom very close together. Jesus said to Peter “on this rock I will build my church” and just a few words later said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:18-19). Jonathan Leeman has argued extensively for congregationalism and the authority of church leaders based upon the relationship between Jesus’ promise to build his church and the keys of the kingdom (i.e. Political Church). Prophecies of the church in the OT are often presented with kingdom language. Daniel 2:44 promised the Kingdom would be established during the Roman Empire. This eschatological age would also be the commencement of the kingdom age (Is. 2:2-4; Joel 2:28; 1 Tim. 3:15). Jesus seemed to make a distinction between OT saints and those in the churchly kingdom he ushered into the world. John, Jesus said, was not as great as “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28).
The NT refers to the church and kingdom as, fundamentally, the same concept. Philip preached the good news of the kingdom and people were baptized which Ladd himself said was initiation into the church (387). Christians have been “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his Son he loves” (Col. 1:13). Paul was thankful for his “coworkers for the kingdom of God” (Col. 4:10). God “calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:5). Paul challenged Timothy to faithful preaching “because of his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1). Quoting Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:8 teaches that righteousness is “the scepter” of Christ’s kingdom. Christians “are receiving a kingdom” (Heb. 12:28). John described Christians as “a kingdom” (Rev. 1: 6). John said he was a partner with the ancient Christians “in the tribulation and the kingdom” (Rev. 1:9). Because of Christ’s work, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). At “the end” Christ will hand over the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24).
Ladd argued “The church cannot build the Kingdom or become the Kingdom, but the church witnesses to the Kingdom—to God’s redeeming acts in Christ both past and future” (111). If Christians are members of the church and the kingdom, then to build the church is to build the kingdom. Ladd’s distinction is too great it seems. Perhaps it would be better to see the church as part of the kingdom just as Israel was part of the kingdom.
The church is a part of the kingdom. The church is the Messianic kingdom. If Jesus is King of kings, then he must have a kingdom over which he currently reigns. That kingdom must be the church. Jesus is head of his body which is the church. Jesus is the Provider and Protector and Sovereign of the church. The church is the NT expression of God’s kingdom.