“According to the Word of God, the congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth.” Think about that statement and what it means. First of all, is it correct? And if it is correct, what implications would it have for us?
This statement is the first (and primary) fundamental principle of our church body, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC). There are other church bodies that may have similar statements, but none (at least that I’m aware of) who put it in these terms. So, is it correct? Whenever we have a belief that isn’t shared with other Christians, or at least expressed in the same way, it is critical to examine the belief and see if it is actually correct. Is the congregation really the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth?
Various Scriptural proofs have been given to validate our belief, but I’ll give you the one I understand best. Scripture doesn’t describe the Kingdom of God so much in terms of location, but of activity. This is, perhaps, most clearly seen in Jesus’ “Kingdom Parables.” He often says something like, “The Kingdom of God is like …” And then he describes what God does. So the Kingdom of God on earth isn’t so much a fixed location, as it is the sphere of God’s presence and activity. So where does God promise to be? And where does he promise to be active? God promises to be present and active when his people are gathered around his Word and Sacraments.
We hear Jesus say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). It is right after he institutes Christian baptizing and teaching that he says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And when he says, “This is my body. … This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28), we have the promise of his presence with us in the Sacrament of the Altar. And we could go on with many other similar passages.
Certainly, we know that God is omnipresent, and capable of being present anywhere and everywhere, but it is specifically in his Word and Sacraments that we have the promise that he is present for the forgiveness of our sins. In short, the congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God, because that is where God has promised to reign in grace through his Word and Sacraments. This is one proof that “The congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth.”
So what are the implications of this belief? Often in the AFLC this principle has been understood to mean that if the congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth, then congregations recognize no church government over themselves. And this is the way the AFLC is structured. Congregations are independent. For the purposes of theological training, mission work, publications, etc., we have a larger church body that is capable of doing things individual congregations cannot, but this body does not actually exercise authority over congregations. Instead, congregations are subject to the Word and Spirit of God.
And since this is what most clearly distinguishes the AFLC from other church bodies, this has tended to be the most popular implication of our claim that “The congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth.” But, of even greater importance, is the recognition of the gracious gifts God gives us in the congregation. It is when we gather around his Word and Sacraments that he has promised to be present with his grace. And he has given each of us gifts that are beneficial to the other members of the congregation.
From the outside, it may not look like the congregation is the right form of the most powerful kingdom on earth, but this is where God looses sins from burdened sinners, grants everlasting salvation, and brings us into fellowship with himself and others. So we rejoice that the congregation is, in fact, the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth.
The peace of Christ be with you all,