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Kingdom, power and glory

13 May 2009

A number of things have come together in my mind over the last week that seem to be related to each other, and to call for some more thought.

One was the conference on John 17 (see preceding post) and the discussion on “glory”.

Then there was a post on Urban Ministry Live And Unplugged: Kingdom/Reign of God:

“kingdom of God” tends to correlate with premillennialism, while “reign of God” tends to correlate with postmillennialism. These views tend to be typical either of evangelicalism or of postliberalism. Another way of putting it, very simply, is that the ‘kingdom’ is a place that saved souls enter, while the ‘reign’ is a people who are moving towards ‘shalom’.

I was a bit puzzled by that one, because I could not conceive how the one related to premillennialism, and the other to postmillennialism at all. Even after the blogger, Thomas Scarborough, explained it to me, it seemed a little farfetched. Perhaps that is because Orthodox and Western Christians understand “kingdom” or “reign” in very different ways.

And I suspect that there are a lot of other things that Orthodox and Western Christians understand in different ways as well, including the word “Orthodoxy” itself.

At the conference on The church Jesus prayed for several people spoke about “glory”, and the possible meanings of the word.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the looking glass and what Alice found there Humpty Dumpty says to Alice that there is only one day in the year when one can receive birthday presents, and says “There’s glory for you.” Alice says she doesn’t understand what he means by “glory”. Humpty Dumpty replies that he means “a nice knock-down argument.” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argmument'” objects Alice. Humpty Dumpty replies that words mean just what he wants them to mean, and the question is which is to be master.

So when we speak about words like “glory” we can play word games about their meanings, and we can make them mean just what we want them to mean.

I noted (in the previous post) that in interpreting Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, evangelical Protestants tend to put the emphasis on the first part, to show the universality of sin, that all have sinned and that there are no exceptions. Orthodox Christians, however, put as much emphasis on the second half. To sin (amartia in Greek) means “to fall short” — the image is of an arrow that falls short of its target. So we have fallen short, and what we have fallen short of is the glory of God.

Salvation is when God picks us up and sets us on our way again, on the straight path to glory. And that is what “Orthodoxy” means — the straight (orthos) path to glory (doxa).

And, interestingly enough, among the evangelical choruses we used to sing at evening services at my Methodist school there was one that expressed precisely this idea:

He took me out of the pit and from the miry clay
he set my feet on a rock, establishing my way
he put a song in my mouth, my God to glorify
(and he’ll take me some day to his home on high)

The first three lines are a paraphrase of Psalm 39/40:2-3. The last line is a rather dubious addition, perhaps for the sake of something to rhyme.

For Western Christians, “orthodoxy” means primarily right teaching, correctly formulated. It can mean that for Orthodox Christians too, but it means far more. The main meaning is right praise, worship, or glory. This can be seen in the Slavic translation of “orthodoxy”, which is Pravoslavie, from “pravda”, which means both truth and justice, and “slava”, meaning “praise”.

There are, of course, many references to “glory” and “glorify” in John 17, and twice Jesus speaks of this glory as being his before the world was made (v5 and v24). Thus this glory is uncreated. It is the glory that his disciples saw at the Transfiguration, when they saw him glorified with the uncreated light. Jesus prays that those who believe through the disciples who have have seen his glory will likewise see his glory, and this is the testimony of the whole gospel of St John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

Orthodox theologians have pointed out that many English translations of the New Testament have mistranslated I Cor 12:26, which should read: “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is glorified all rejoice together.” And to be glorified is to see the King of Glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father.

In the same way, translating vasileia as “kingdom” can imply that it is a creation of God, rather than the uncreated ruling power of God, which is better expressed by “reign”.

Whether one translates it as “kingdom” or “reign”, however, the meaning is the same. At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, when the priest says “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages” and the congregation respond “Amen” we are not blessing something created in time, that will come before or after some “millennium”. We are blessing the reign, the uncreated ruling power of God, manifested in his uncreated glory.

This is why to Orthodox Christians it makes no sense to say that “kingdom” is associated with “premillenialism” and “reign” with “postmillennialism”. Whether you call it kingdom, or reign, it is “now, and ever, and unto ages of ages”. It has no beginning and no end.

As I noted in another post, Notes from underground: Glocal Christianity: Rapture Ready? Questioning the Celestial Panic Room, the Orthodox Church regards chiliasm (millennarianism) as a heresy, and it was precisely to counter chiliast ideas that the fathers of the Ecumenical Councils included the phrase “and his kingdom (reign) shall have no end” in the Symbol of Faith.

Synchroblog

This post is part of a synchroblog on the theme of The Kingdom of God. You may see other posts on this theme at:

16 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 May 2009 7:51 am

    Steve,

    Great post.

    I’ve always found the rapture focused theology and groups subscribing to it quite annoying and unbalanced. Discovering the message of the kingdom as central to Jesus and the apostles (and by extension central for us) really freed me up from that initial bunch.

    I like the way you express the ‘kingdom of Godde’ within the history before Christ returns and the ‘reign of Godde’ with the history after Christ returns.

    • 21 May 2009 12:02 pm

      Steve,
      I agree with Tim.

      I’m remindered of the Lord’s Prayer:

      ….your kingdom come,
      your will be done
      on earth as it is in heaven. ….

      Here there is a longing to the future in the first line and a declaration of intent with a understanding that the Kingdom already exsists in a realm not of this earth… in heaven… A place where God’s will is done.

      Be blessed

  2. 20 May 2009 5:56 am

    Steve–
    Really appreciated your deconstruction of orthodoxy as right praise, worship, glory. This leaves lots of room for not-quite-right other things, as secondarily important.

    This was a helpful post, as always, Steve–

    • 20 May 2009 11:24 am

      I agree with Beth here, Steve. Your definition of orthodoxy has been a sustaining thought for me since I read it.

      Thanks too for organising the syncroblog.

  3. 20 May 2009 3:16 pm

    To be honest I’ve never heard of people distinguishing between “reign” and “kingdom” like that before. I’ve always seen them as synonymous. Yet we don’t have those pre- and post- millenialism debates so much in the spotlight in Australia.

  4. 20 May 2009 5:52 pm

    Steve, I loved the post. I was immersed in the evangelical culture for a very long time and although I subscribed to their beliefs about the Kingdom/rapture/millenialism at the time I really never got the explanations. Now that I have broken free (I wrote a poem about it here http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2009/04/12/it-was-almost-enough-to-make-me-stop-believing/) their explanations don’t make sense to me either.

    Like Beth and Nic, I am so excited to take away this new idea (for me) of orthodoxy meaning right praise, worship or glory.

    I am also glad that you have given me something to chew on regarding the word glory.

    Oh – and I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your exerpt from Alice In Wonderland….it really illustrated your point well and in a fun way. It made me chuckle.

    • 21 May 2009 12:19 pm

      The link to the poem was broken, but I’ll go and look for it on your blog.

      I must say I find the various countdown theologies very confusing, with pre-this and post-that and mid-the-other-thing, and people argue about them and get quite excited about them too, and yet it’s all based on misreading the Bible, or reading things into it that aren’t there.

  5. 20 May 2009 6:02 pm

    I like this a lot Steve, the now and not yet, but eternal nature of the reign of God that has no beginning and no end- makes sense to me!

  6. John permalink
    21 May 2009 3:40 am

    Speaking of the relationship between the church and its drive to worldly power and conquest, this image speaks the truth in very stark terms.

    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html

  7. 21 May 2009 11:31 pm

    Interesting. Eternity breaking into time.

    Kingdom, power and glory are also the lowest three of the Sephiroth (spheres) on the Kabbalistic tree of life, where they symbolise Divine power descending into the realm of the manifest.

    • 22 May 2009 6:34 am

      Yvonne,

      I’d have to look at the whole thing to remind myself of what the other sefirot are, but in Orthodoxy theology those three (kingdom, power and glory) are among the uncreated energies of God by which God makes himself known in the created world.

  8. 26 May 2009 4:32 pm

    Yes, but energies are distinct from essence, aren’t they.

    All the Sephiroth would correspond to God’s energies because the essence would be the Ain Sof, or perhaps the Ain Sof Aur.

    I’ve replied to your comment on The republic of heaven on earth

  9. 26 May 2009 9:46 pm

    Thank you for this – it is a breath of fresh air.

Trackbacks

  1. CHARIS SHALOM » Synchroblog (Multiple Bloggers Writing at the Same Time) on the Kingdom of God
  2. The Kingdom of God is…. « F E O T U
  3. Beth Patterson : What it's like...rather than what it is

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