The people wanted a king. Or, to be more exact, the people wanted a different king. That’s the story of 1 Samuel 8. The Lord formed Israel to be a kingdom under his rule and reign. He was their king, but the nation demanded to have a ruler like all of the other nations. Rather than having the sovereign Lord of the universe as their King, the people would settle for a finite ruler that they could see and touch.
The prophet Samuel was enraged, but the Lord allowed the people to bow down to Saul, knowing that it would only bring disappointment and dissatisfaction.
The shout for a king like the other nations still reverberates through churches today. The cry is not so much verbalized from the pulpit, as it is demonstrated through a church’s approach to ministry and their undergirding values. The effect is the same that the nation of Israel experienced: churches become less of a distinct kingdom on earth and more of a mirror of the broader culture.
Some churches have opted to parrot secular culture by replacing the gospel message with a message of self-actualization. Rather than addressing sin and encouraging folks to grow in Christlikeness through faith and repentance, categories like sin remain ignored or explained away with secular psychology. This leads to a message that is focused on finding fulfillment in your self rather than repenting and finding your identity in Jesus.
Likewise, consider the political fervor that occupies so many churches over the last few years. The Christian hope is not in Caesar (or any modern ruler), but many brothers and sisters in my own theological circles more passionately preach the politics of the American Right than the universe-encompassing gospel of Jesus Christ. Can we not hear echoes of “We want a king like the other nations” in our flurry of political Facebook posts or our worship services that honor earthly kingdoms instead of the risen King of kings? Does our tone on social media not sound more like the proud, chest-beating that you see on cable news than the humble, cross-bearing attitude we have in Jesus?
Organizationally speaking, many churches are tailored to run like corporations trying to build an empire. The driving force behind many churches has been to feed on the consumerism of our day. Jesus, having just gotten on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet, told them, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:15). A lot of congregations today build worship services and church life around having one’s own needs and wants met instead of being called to sacrificially serve one another.
Like Israel, congregations today are tempted to cast off the distinct and timeless nature of our church’s message and community in order to reflect the values of our milieu. Pastors feel the pull to make worship services more like TED Talks or concert venues than family gatherings where a clear, simple gospel is celebrated through song, sermon, and the sacraments.
Hear Charles Spurgeon’s words on the importance of preaching a pure gospel:
The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else. Rely implicitly upon the old, old gospel. You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes, and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones. Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfillment of His Word, “I will make you fishers of men” (The Soul Winner).
A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
In Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar dreams that the earthly kingdoms are crushed by “a stone [that was] cut from a mountain by no human hand” (Dan. 2:45). The prophet Daniel goes on to tell the Babylonian king that this was none other than the kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters, we stand as those who have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28).
Let our land be filled with churches who feel the confidence and weight of this truth. We are members of a kingdom that will crush the kingdoms of this world, not through political maneuvering or through entertaining, but through the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.
Our churches may be hated and rejected. They may feel the financial struggle of rejection. They may experience humiliation and scorn from outsiders. But our hope is not in earthly success. Our hope is in a King and a kingdom that has broken through the clouds and will be fully established when Jesus returns. We faithfully labor now, knowing that the kingdom is not ours. We are merely stewards serving at the command of our King.
This is life in the kingdom of heaven, and it’s a picture of church life worth reclaiming for the glory of Christ.