When denominational leadership starts advising by the use of unnatural dichotomies such as “We must remember that we don’t serve the church — we serve the kingdom,” deep and painful theological problems lie ahead. According to the Presbyterian News Service, the unnatural dichotomy was uttered by Rev. Herbert J. Nelson, Director of the PC (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. In an article, Elasticity of spirit, written by Bethany Daily, one learns that the advice was given during the Presbyterian Moderator’s Conference.
Nelson was undoubtedly speaking of the Kingdom of God—so we should explore the Kingdom in relationship to the Church. But first some other thoughts. Nelson was speaking of the problems the PC (U.S.A.) is having as church after church leaves. He offers an analysis and a solution. I agree with the words of his analysis but not his meaning. And I am horrified at his callous disregard for empty churches, undoubtedly left so by congregations who were not allowed to take their property with them as they exited the denomination.
What I see as Nelson’s analysis is:
The PC(USA) has fallen to the temptations of outside pressure and needs to answer the call to engage in kingdom thinking.
Yes, the PC (USA) has fallen to the temptations of outside pressure. If one lingers on the More Light Presbyterian site, reading and then following the links they often end up at secular sites such as The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and The National Gay and Lesbian TaskForce. The secular organizations are pouring money and resources into denominational groups seeking to further the LGBT agenda.
Nelson’s ideas about the outside pressure fits with his praise of one particular presbytery executive he spoke with, as the PNS author states:
He [Nelson] spoke about a recent conversation he had with a presbytery executive about churches that have left the PC(USA). That pastor looked at the possibilities that that situation brings and told Nelson how the empty church buildings are now being used to distribute school supplies to children in need.
“They had a vision for restoring the integrity of God’s work on behalf of the PC(USA),” he said.
What might happen if other empty church buildings were used for tutoring centers, medical clinics or social service agencies?
This sounds good and charitable but it is about a building which once held a congregation that lost their church property. The empty church has been turned into a school supply distribution center. It is appalling that one should hear praise that houses of worship are becoming social service centers instead of places where the word of God is preached. But this is the problem that I began with, Nelson’s insistence that Presbyterian moderators do not serve the Church but instead the kingdom of God.
In George Eldon Ladd’s book The Gospel of the Kingdom, he uses the parable that Jesus told of the nobleman who after leaving his vineyard with caretakers went away to obtain a kingdom. Ladd writes:
We read in Luke 19: 11-12, “As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a basileia and then return.’” The nobleman did not go away to get a realm, an area over which to rule. The realm over which he wanted to reign was at hand. The territory over which he was to rule was this place he left. The problem was that he was no king. He needed authority, the right to rule. He went off to get to get a “kingdom,” i.e., kingship, authority. The Revised Standard Version has therefore translated the word “kingly power.” 
Ladd explains that the kingdom of God is defined as God’s power, his will, his authority. The kingdom of God is also the kingdom of Christ. His authority, power and rule, occurs in the midst of humanity because of his redemptive work. The church, of which Christ is Lord, proclaims Jesus’ redemptive work, which is the good news. Proclaiming the kingdom-God’s rule and redemption in Christ is the work of the Church. The two are intertwined. While the kingdom is not the church, one cannot serve the kingdom of God unless one serves the Church, because there God’s power, rule and authority are proclaimed and made known to the world.
The kingdom is present now in the Church—and the Church’s existence and message in the world is why the enemy rages so harshly—that is why the saints do battle. In our union with Jesus Christ we are a part of his kingdom—we share in his death, suffering and resurrection. The kingdom will be complete at the coming of the King.
“For he rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14.
 For more information see, “From Madison Avenue to Out of a Far Country: From Darkness to Light”
George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, reprint, (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans 1973) 20-21.