The Kingdom, the Gospel and Gospel Order
I facilitate a Bible study on Sunday mornings that has been slowly working through the Gospel of Matthew. What we've seen is that Jesus spoke about one particular thing more than any other: The Kingdom. Matthew's Gospel generally calls it the Kingdom of Heaven, while the other Gospels call it the Kingdom of God. (Matthew's Gospel was written for a Jewish audience who were averse to saying "God" because of the 5th commandment, so "Heaven" was used as a circumlocution.) Sometimes Jesus called it "My Father's Kingdom" or simply, "the Kingdom."
Jesus spoke over and over about the Kingdom of God. He said "The Kingdom is like ..."
"A mustard seed"
"Yeast in a lump of dough"
"A pearl of enormous value"
"A net that goes under the water and brings up massive amounts of fish"
He said the Kingdom is near.
The Kingdom is at hand.
The Kingdom is within you.
Jesus described the Kingdom as something that begins small or hidden. It is often overlooked, except by those who have eyes to see it. But it can grow and spread and increase quickly. It changes lives. It changes the world.
Jesus prayed "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
The Greek word translated as "kingdom" is basilea. It means "the rule and reign." The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God--God’s will being done.
The Kingdom is here. Right here, right now--if we have the eyes to see it and the willingness to participate in it.
What Jesus was speaking of was not an earthly geographical political Kingdom--though that's what the Jews of His day were hoping for.
He was not speaking about Heaven either.
And He was not speaking about the Church.
He was speaking about God ruling and reigning; God's will being done--right here, right now--on earth, through His followers.
And so, when the hungry are fed, that is the Kingdom. When injustices are made right, that is the Kingdom. When people are healed, or loved, or cared for, or forgiven, that is the Kingdom. When oppression is non-violently confronted, that is the Kingdom. When those in bondage are set free, that is the Kingdom. When compassion, mercy and grace are extended, that is the Kingdom. When a grieving widow is comforted, that is the Kingdom. When we walk in the rule and reign of God--here and now--feeling His heart and doing His will as He leads us, and as He enables us--that is the Kingdom.
George Fox wrote this: "...the Kingdom of God, which most people talk of at a distance, and refer altogether to another life, is in some measure to be known and entered into in this life..."
Fox also believed that we could be transformed and empowered by God to live holy lives. He believed this so strongly that he came to equate the Gospel with the indwelling presence and power of God.
I’ve heard lots of different explanations of what the Gospel is. If you go onto Youtube and search on "What is the gospel", you'll get hours and hours worth of explanations. Mostly what they boil down to is that Jesus saved us from our sin, which I agree with. But George Fox had a very unique way of describing the Gospel:
He said, "The Gospel is the power of God."
And he didn't just say that once or twice--he said it over and over. A Quaker scholar named Lisa Kuenning has counted at least 373 times where Fox explicitly equates "the Gospel" with "the power of God". He wasn't speaking of the Gospel as a set of propositions that we proclaim or saying that the Gospel message is powerful or that there's power in the message of the Gospel. Fox used the word "Gospel" to describe being empowered by God to live a holy life and to experience the Kingdom--right here, right now.
Jesus saved us, but Jesus is also saving us, by His power working in us.
Here are some examples of how Fox equated "the Gospel" with "the power of God":
"For whosoever receiveth the Gospel, which is called the 'power of God,' it is immediate, and by immediate revelation from God."
"The Gospel is the power of God which turns against that which brings bondage...and so gives liberty and freedom to the captives; and this, which is the power of God, is glad tidings..."
So to Fox, and to the early Quakers, the Gospel was much, much more than a message one proclaimed or a set of theological propositions. It was a powerful and ongoing encounter with God. At its very core, to be a Quaker is to encounter and experience God. And by experiencing God, we are empowered to overcome sin and to co-labor with God in the expansion of His Kingdom--right here, right now.
There is another interesting Quaker term which Fox coined and that is "Gospel Order." When we, as a community, are empowered by God to hear, to discern and to follow together, we are experiencing "Gospel Order." "Gospel Order" is the Quaker term for when the church is firing on all cylinders.
"So, as I was first moved of the Lord God, to go up and down the nation to preach the Gospel, then afterwards the Lord moved me to go up and down to exhort and unite, that all people might come into the possession of the Gospel, and the Order of it, which is the Power of God...by which all things are upheld and ordered to the glory of God...It is said in Psalm 37:23, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; that is, by his Power and Spirit."
Lloyd Lee Wilson defines Gospel Order as the order and harmony that characterizes every part of creation when that part is functioning according to God's will. Wilson goes on to say, “As one comes more closely into harmony with the gospel order, one’s life is filled with the peace that passes understanding and one’s relationships reflect this peace and harmony.” We seek, as a community, to experience this Gospel Order--this harmony and peace and fullness of function--not by our own striving, but by God's power working in us.
The idea is this: There is an open invitation to men, women and children to participate with God in the reconciliation and restoration of His creation. In the Book of Genesis, after God completed creation, He said it was very good. Quakers believe that by the power of the Living Christ that goodness is being restored. We can experience it, together--right here, right now. But this is a journey—it’s a process. It begins by accepting and opening ourselves to the inward grace of God, as individuals and as a community.
As we continue in the journey, we experience the Gospel--the quiet power of God in our lives bringing salvation, healing, restoration, reconciliation, purpose. We see the Kingdom of God in our midst, as it is in Heaven—right here, right now--oftentimes in small, subtle, hidden ways—-because the Kingdom is like that.
And someday, we will see the Kingdom in its fullness.
But for now…
We are called.
To live in the Kingdom.
And to experience the harmony of “Gospel Order” as a community.
Right here, right now.