What is our inspiring vision when we again set our minds to evangelize the world in our generation? It is that this troubled earth finally will see the Kingdom of God.

But what exactly do we mean if we speak of the Kingdom of God as the goal of evangelism? Do we think mainly of a spiritual event which takes place hiddenly in the hearts of men, or do we refer to a new order of the world? Would such a new world order become realized here and now, or do we see it as a future event, which we only can hope for? In which way can our evangelistic action contribute to the establishment of God’s Kingdom?

The purpose of this paper is first, in a number of propositions, to redefine on biblical grounds the nature of evangelism in relation to the Kingdom of God; second, to clarify this biblical concept over against its present-day distortions; and third, to indicate the practical consequences which follow for our evangelistic actions in the present situation.

1. The gospel which Jesus preached to the Jews was the “glad tidings” to them as it announced the fulfillment of Israel’s central hope, the final establishment of God’s messianic rule.

The proclamation of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven) forms the heart of the evangelistic ministry of Jesus (Matt. 4:17) and his apostles. Jesus points to the Kingdom as the very reason for his coming: “I must evangelize about the Kingdom of God in the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Why did Jesus choose this idea of God’s Kingdom as his favorite theme? The German scholar Wilhelm Bousset has rightly stated: “The sum total of everything which Israel expected of the future was the Kingdom of God.” Jesus, therefore, did not introduce a new idea when speaking about the Kingdom. Rather, he referred to the most important concept of Israel’s belief and hope. The Old Testament had left the Jews with one basic problem. On the one hand, Israel had always believed and confessed that her God is already the sovereign ruler over his whole creation. More especially he had chosen Israel to participate in his lordship by becoming a kingdom of priests among all nations (Exod. 19:5–6). On the other hand, Israel also experienced that the nations did not recognize God’s rule. At times God did not even seem to be able to protect his own people from the attacks of its heathen enemies. Was God a king without a kingdom?

The answer which was given to Israel through the prophets was this: It is on account of Israel’s own disobedience against God’s holy commandments that the special Covenant was broken. Therefore God has delivered the Israelites into the hands of the Gentile nations. But God does not give up his intention to make the whole earth the place of his glory and to use Israel to establish his rulership over all nations. The day will come when God again will demonstrate his power and manifest himself as the supreme king of the earth. He will interfere into the course of history and change the lot of his people. This will be on the so-called Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord stands for the great series of eschatological events, where God finally will restore his people Israel both spiritually and physically. God will pour out his spirit on his people to bring about a spiritual regeneration (Ezek. 37:9–10; 39:29; Joel 2:28–29; Zech. 12:10). He will send the Messiah to be the agent of salvation. Through him God will establish his reign of peace on Mount Zion. This rule will extend to all nations on earth (Isa. 2:1–5; 9:1–7; 11:1–16). Voluntarily the kings will come to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel and to accept his laws. And thus they will live in peace, justice, and prosperity. This is what the word “Malkut Jaweh,” i.e., the Kingdom of the Lord, meant to the Israelites.

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And now we make two important observations:

The first observation is that it is exactly in connection with the prophetic announcement of the “Day of the Lord” where the concept of evangelism is born already in Old Testament times. The word “evangelize” is used for the first time in its typically biblical meaning in the fifty-second and the sixty-first chapters of Isaiah. The prophet receives a vision which he is urged to proclaim to his people. He sees the Lord return to Zion and take up his universal reign (Isa. 52:7–8). The office of the evangelist himself assumes messianic character. He becomes spiritually identified with the expected Messiah, whose ministry again is described as a prophetic function. It is a marvelous message of eschatological salvation which forms the content of this evangelism: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to evangelize [i.e. to bring good tidings to] the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the day of vengeance of our Lord; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61:1–2).

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Our second observation is this: The same prophetic understanding of evangelism as announcing the Kingdom of God breaking in liberatingly into history is taken up in the New Testament Gospels again. But there are some new elements in the New Testament understanding of the kingdom. Jesus himself called the new elements the mysteries (or secrets) of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11), which he unfolded in his own teaching.

2. The Kingdom which is proclaimed in New Testament evangelism is centered in Jesus Christ.

In the first sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus identifies himself with the messianic prophet of Isaiah 61:1. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord anointed me to evangelize the afflicted.” His startling comment on this famous text is: “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!”

This does not mean that the Kingdom as it was expected so anxiously by the Jews is already totally established by the work of Jesus (realized eschatology). There is not that drastic change in history and nature yet which will mark the shalom, the peace, of the messianic kingdom. But his proclamation and his works demonstrate vital elements of it. They are not the Kingdom in full, but they are signs which point to Jesus himself as the bringer of this kingdom. In fact, he is the most important and central element of the kingdom. All the gifts of the messianic Kingdom are contained in the person of Jesus Christ and mediated through his messianic ministry. It is a ministry rather different from the spectacular political expectations of the contemporary Jews, especially of the Pharisees and the Zealots, for it culminates in the vicarious death of the Messiah (Matt. 16:21–27). This appears scandalous even to his own disciples, although it was already predicted in the Servant Songs of Isaiah (especially chapter 53). But this is the peculiar way in which the Kingdom of God was to be ushered in according to the plan of God.

Therefore all evangelism which is carried out by the apostles and the early Church is Christ-centered. In fact, it has rightly been observed that in the writings of Paul and John, the very place which Jesus in his evangelism gave to the kingdom is now filled by Jesus himself (2 Cor. 1:20). It is Christ’s coming, his atoning death, his victorious resurrection, and his glorious return which now form the main pillar of evangelistic preaching to both the Jews and the Gentiles. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22).

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Christ must, therefore, remain the center of our evangelism as well. And it must be the authentic Christ, as he is proclaimed and taught in the apostolic writings of the New Testament.

The great danger in the churches’ mission today is that they reverse God’s way from the Old to the New Testament. The Old Testament descriptions of the gifts of the Kingdom, liberation and eschatological “shalom,” are rediscovered. But often they are isolated from Christ as the bringer and the Lord of the Kingdom and from the way in which he accomplished the restoration of God’s rule over men. This is the nature of a post-Christian ideology. It is shocking to discover how today some theologians and church leaders even draw parallels between New Testament salvation and that salvation which is brought or promised by present-day ideologies and religions. Jesus, as far as he still is referred to by them, is reduced to the type of liberator who from Cyrus to Mao Tse-tung has many important parallels. This is a terrible distortion of the biblical Gospel of the kingdom. For even if the Kingdom as promised by the prophets were already realized visibly, it would be of no avail to us, if Jesus were not to be found in it (Ps. 73:25).

3. Christian evangelism preaches a kingdom that is realized now by spiritual regeneration.

The second distinct mark in the New Testament understanding of the Kingdom is that its deepest nature is spiritual. This does not renounce the expectation that it one day also will come with visible force, “with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30), and that it will reshape the whole physical world as well. But its basic structure is not physical (Rom. 14:17). We may define the New Testament understanding of the Kingdom as follows: The Kingdom of God is God’s redeeming Lordship successively winning such liberating power over the hearts of men that their lives and thereby finally the whole creation (Rom. 8:21) become transformed into childlike harmony with his divine will.

This is the reason why the Kingdom of God could never be established by political action. And since sinful man by nature is opposed to the will of God, it cannot even be brought about by moral education. The acknowledgment of God’s rule presupposes a miraculous change of heart which can be achieved only by an intervention of God himself.

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At the cross of Jesus Christ, God has made peace between the sinful world and himself. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost and henceforth bestowed on each repentant believer (Acts 2:38), God makes it possible for men to accept his offer of reconciliation and to live a victorious new life in childlike communion with God (Rom. 8:1–27).

The invitation to receive this wonderful offer is the basic function of Christian evangelism. The evangelist on the commission of Christ himself offers God’s grace to a mankind whose essential misery is its righteous condemnation by God (2 Cor. 5:17–21). And those who aided by the Holy Spirit accept the message of reconciliation are already entering the Kingdom of God (Matt. 10:15; 21:31). Having become members of the invisible Kingdom of grace now, they will, if they endure, most surely be partakers in the messianic rule when the Kingdom comes in power and glory.

This spiritual nature of the Kingdom has always been stressed by evangelicals, even in view of the demands for its social realization. The suffering under the injustice and oppression in the present state of world affairs and the cry for liberation and peace are needs which burn in the hearts of conscientious people at all times and in all cultures. In response to this, new religions and ideologies have emerged, and social and political movements for drastic changes in society have been founded. Today the quest for total renewal is resounding with even greater vigor than before. Some churches are responding to it through so-called church-renewal movements. But the crucial question is: “Renewal which way?” Is it through a return to the word of God or through group dynamics and ideological indoctrination?

More and more influential Christians today are inclined to side with the Marxists, who believe that the reason for all oppression and violence is to be found in the economic laws inherent in our present capitalistic system and the wrong distribution of power in the established world society, especially in Europe and North America. Revolutionary change of all social and political structures would then be the answer. In Bangkok 1973 even the churches were called upon to become “renewed” by ridding themselves of the “captivity of power in the North Atlantic Community.”

Evangelicals will agree that the concentration of executive power and finances can corrupt. Far too often they have not been aware of the social and political side of moral evil and its institutional perpetuation. But the basic fallacy of Marxism and any other kind of humanistic ideology of salvation is that it believes in the inherent goodness of human nature. Therefore the results accomplished by such types of revolutionary renewal are very often the appearance of the same selfish and heartless oppression now shifted into the hands of the revolutionaries of yesterday.

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The “renewal” which God has to offer is a far more radical one. It is the renewal of our mind by being regenerated and transformed to the mind of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:2). This offer by far exceeds all other human solutions. This offer is made in evangelism. The total ministry of Jesus consisted in teaching, evangelizing, and healing (Matt. 5:23; 9:35; 10:7–8). Evangelism has one specific function in this total missionary ministry: it is decisively to ignite the desire for new life in Christ. But as soon as this life is born, it will express itself in the works of love (Gal. 5:6). We should never allow ourselves to distrust the worth of God’s offer through our evangelistic ministry, and secretly exchange our birthright for an ideological pottage of lentils.

Neither should it be argued that such spiritual renewal remains merely internal or individualistic. Perhaps sometimes evangelicals have been tempted to reduce the gifts of renewal to this dimension. But this is a caricature of the true evangelical understanding of the gifts of the Kingdom. If a man is really renewed in Christ, this renewal will start internally in him. But if this new spiritual life develops in a healthy way, it will make itself felt in all spheres of a man’s life and social involvement. The inter-human relations of the Christians are the links between personal regeneration and the transformation of society through the forces of the Kingdom (Matt. 5:13–16). Truly regenerated Christians are better citizens. For their Christian life also generates in them a new spontaneousness and creativity in moral action, a new responsibility in public positions entrusted to them, and the desire to bring about reconciliation, solidarity, and mutual participation. This has already been proved many times in history. I am thinking of the evangelical contribution to the abolition of slavery and the social reforms for the protection of widows and orphans, or the institution of the diaconate of charity.

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What practical conclusions should we draw from this insight? There are two:

First, the offer of regenerating spiritual power is to be authenticated by the messenger’s own spiritual life. The whole Christian community needs a new awakening and strengthening of its life by the Holy Spirit. Only then can we be joyful witnesses of the good news of salvation. The Holy Spirit came into our hearts when we were born again, but often we block his working by disobeying God and by neglecting to foster our spiritual lives. Such an inner blockage is broken when the word of God preached to us drives us to repentance and new dedication. Let us, therefore, conduct “missions to missions.” Small cells and regular gatherings like the Keswick Conferences which concentrate on the task of reviving the worker’s inner life by Bible messages, counseling, and prayer should be encouraged.

Secondly, evangelical missions ought to develop convincing models of social and political involvement which are generated and directed by Christ’s redeeming love. The personal contact with the people with whom we share the new life will unveil both their spiritual and their bodily needs. If we approach the latter ones, we should show that the physical, social, economic and political problems, too, are rooted in fallen man’s thirst for God as the fountain of life. On the other hand, true evangelism will show that no single aspect of human life and suffering lies outside the concern of Christ and his Church. Here the doctrine of the different gifts and assignments of the members of Christ’s body should be developed practically. This leads us to our next biblical proposition:

4. Evangelism leads into the Church as the new messianic community of the Kingdom.

One of the intricate questions of New Testament theology is the relation between the Kingdom of God and the Church. There are two extremes in answering this question. The high-church tradition on the one side has tended to equate the Kingdom with the Church. Everything a mission does should contribute to establishing and developing the Church. On the other side there are those liberal theologians who with Loisy maintain that Jesus was so obsessed by the belief in the imminent coming of the Kingdom that he never intended to establish a church.

The biblical answer refutes both of these views. The message of the Kingdom of God is not identical with the doctrine of the Church, nor does it exclude it. The truth is that the messianic Kingdom presupposes a messianic community. It is the specific people of God, destined to exercise the messianic ministry to the rest of the nations.

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The Church is not identical with the Kingdom of God. But she is the transitory communal form of it in the present age, and through his Church Christ exercises a most important ministry towards the visible coming of the Kingdom. She is the new Israel, the messianic community of the New Covenant: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

This is of tremendous importance for our understanding of evangelism. The goal of evangelism is not only to make individual believers. The goal of evangelism is to persuade these believers to be incorporated as responsible members into the Church as God’s messianic community. In the total task of mission, the work of evangelism is continued by the planting of local churches in each nation. Even as a small minority, such a church is to be regarded as the first fruit of Christ’s saving love for the whole people and shall, therefore, be established on a self-multiplying basis (church growth).

This brings us to the task of church education. The task of mission is not only to gather new converts into the churches but to help these churches to grow into their full maturity. This means both to develop the internal life of the church by deepening their spiritual knowledge and fellowship, and to relate the church to the needs of the environment. Bible classes, Bible schools, Christian academies and leadership training centers will have to fulfill a decisive role in educating Christians to become responsible members of their churches rather than sheep who simply are attended to.

New insistence on the role of the priesthood of all believers must not divert our concern for improving theological education for the ministry of the younger churches. Within the next ten years the process of complete nationalization of the ordinary ministry of Third World churches will have to be concluded. This means that they must have a fully indigenous leadership on all levels, shepherds and teachers, who are able to uphold, defend, and spread the Christian faith both in genuine continuity with the historic tradition and in relevant relation to the specific environment of these churches.

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