Book Review by Pastor Luke Iwunze
he greatest threat to civil society is mankind. Every day the flood of images on our television screens tells the sad story. Blood, death, diplomacy, conflict, hatred, fear, poverty, starvation, rape, genocide, refugees and human migration, natural disasters, daily bombings, economic uncertainty, immigration, corporate corruption, moral decay, sexual revolution, and clash of counter cultures-all of these testify to the undeniable fact that we are our own worst enemy.
All of our universities, cyber-space technology, blackberries, think tanks, G-8 meetings, fiscal and immigration policies, medical advancements, social experiments, religious conferences, peace marches, and declarations of cease-fire and peace on earth all seem to collapse at the mercy of our own self-imposed destructive spirit. We build buildings and then bomb them; we make weapons and then use them on ourselves; we invent medicines that heal and then withhold them from the sick; we improve the World Wide Web to enhance global communication and then use it to destroy the moral fibre of our children. We are our own greatest enemy.
THE SOURCE OF RELIGION
All of this is compounded by our establishment of sophisticated religions into which we retreat to escape the social chaos we have created. Religion is the most powerful force on earth. Despite the claims of many to the contrary, everyone on earth is religious. Religion is defined as the adherence to a set of beliefs that regulate the moral, social, and ritualistic behaviour of the individual. This definition would include the so-called atheist, secularist, communist, socialist, humanist or agnostic, for they all adhere to a belief system of some kind, even if it is the belief that there is no providential component in creation or life as we know it, or a belief in the power of the human as the supreme measure of truth and right.
Virtually every major problem in history and in our contemporary world can be traced to some religious foundation. Religion has motivated the massacre of millions over the years in such horrific events as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and wars related to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, segregation, racial discrimination, and other oppressive practices all have been justified by some religious code or system.
Even this new millennium commenced with definitive acts of religious terrorism. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 sent shock waves through the global nervous system of mankind and continues today to fuel the fires of conflict, hatred, fear, and murder throughout the world. How ironic it is that religion, the very thing that by its nature is supposed to provide the solution to mankind's problems and provide hope and faith for life, has itself created more problems throughout history than it has solved.
Perhaps this is one reason so many millions have turned away from all forms of institutionalized religions and opted to embrace such philosophies as humanism, communism, and agnosticism. Some have simply given up and lost all hope in humanity. I myself have struggled long to come to grips with this dichotomy of human nature-our desire to worship and serve some deity that we claim to be benevolent and loving, while at the same time demonstrating a destructive zeal motivated by our "allegiance" to this same deity. Along the way I too lost faith in the concept of religion and in a real sense had to seek for something beyond and superior to these defective practices created by man.
Yet religion is a natural phenomenon that exists in some form in every human culture-and always has. Primitive and modern human societies alike manifest religious rituals that define their culture and communal life. This raises the natural question: What is the source of religion, and why is it such a natural, inherent characteristic of the human spirit?
Thirty-five years of research and personal exploration of this question have led me to the conclusion that religion is the result of an inherent hunger in the human spirit that man cannot define yet must seek to satisfy. This indefinable hunger, arising from a vacuum created by the loss of something man used to possess, drives him to pursue answers beyond his own realm. Generations of humans have attempted to satisfy this hunger through superstitions, sophisticated rituals, customs, and practices that often seem to defy human logic and reason. Most human religious activities attempt to deal with the questions of mankind's existence and purpose as well as life after death and the unknown spiritual world. Many of these religions are attractive because they promise their adherents power to control the circumstances of their daily lives. Whether or not they can deliver on this promise is another matter.
The purpose of this book is to help you address these questions and to present to you a proposition that goes beyond religion straight to the heart of mankind's greatest need and offers a solution to this universal human search. I am convinced that every person on earth ultimately is searching for two things in life: power and purpose. All of us look for meaning for our existence and the power to control our lives and our circumstances; power to determine the future and predict the unknown; power over death and life. We seek this purpose and power in many ways: religion, politics, money, fame, notoriety, recognition, influence. Our pursuit of purpose and power is the primary source and motivation for the development of religion.
ALL RELIGIONS ARE THE SAME
All religions are the same in the sense that they attempt to answer the questions of power and meaning. They all promise power to control life and circumstances and to explain life and death. They all claim to have the truth. They all claim superiority over each other. They all compare and compete with each other. They all demand adherence to their particular belief system while denying the others. They all are motivated by contention and usually thrive in an isolated culture that excludes other segments of humanity. In fact, all religions seem to glory in a spirit of segregation and separatism. Rather than uniting humanity with common power and knowledge of purpose, religion has proven itself instead to be the great divider of mankind.
THE NONRELIGIOUS ANSWER
This is not a religious book but a book about a concept that was introduced at the beginning of the creation of man. That concept is the source of the human search, and its absence is the reason why man "invented" religion. Before I can attempt to discuss this dynamic concept, it is necessary to refer to the document where it was first introduced. In the "book of beginnings," the first book of Moses, the great Hebrew writer and freedom fighter, these words explain the reason for mankind's search for purpose and power:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Genesis 1:26 NKJV, emphasis added).
This statement documents the most important declaration ever made regarding mankind. It declares the motivation, nature, purpose, and mandate behind mankind's creation. As this statement makes clear, dominion is the purpose for man's creation and existence. The word "dominion" here translates the Hebrew word mamlakah, which can also be translated as "kingdom," "sovereign rule," or "royal power." In essence, mankind was created to have rulership over the earth.
The first thing man was given by his Creator was a "kingdom." This initial assignment and mandate of "kingdom" is the Creator's primary purpose and motivation for His human creatures. Dominion sets the framework for all the desires, passions, and activities of mankind and is the key to his fulfilment and personal and corporate peace. It is also the foundation and source of his need to control and rule his environment and circumstances. It is this kingdom mandate that validates man's desire for power. Power is natural to the human spirit.
THE LOSS OF POWER
Mankind's failure through disobedience to his Creator resulted in the loss of his dominion over the earth. He lost his kingdom mandate, his gift of divine power. In short, man lost his kingdom. It is important to note here that when man fell from grace, he lost a kingdom, not a religion. He lost dominion over the earth; he did not lose Heaven. Therefore, mankind's search is not for a religion or for Heaven, but for his kingdom.
This is why religion can never satisfy the deep hunger in the heart of man. Religion is itself the search. No religion can substitute for the kingdom or fill the vacuum in man's soul. The hunger of the human heart is for the lost kingdom.
THE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE
A careful and honest look at the biblical Script will reveal that the fundamental message of this greatly misunderstood Book is about a King and a Kingdom. The Bible is not primarily about a religion or rituals, but about the establishment of a kingdom rulership on this planet from the heavenly realm. It is about a divine project of governing earth from Heaven through mankind. In practical terms, the Bible is about a royal family mandated to colonize earth from Heaven.
This kingdom assignment is the priority of God the Creator and the object of mankind's inherent pursuit.
I believe no one who has ever lived has been misunderstood more than the young teacher who happened to be born, not by preference but by promise, through the line of the Old Testament Hebrew patriarch Abraham-Jesus the Christ. Misunderstanding Jesus has caused Muslims to reject Him, Hindus to suspect Him, Buddhists to ignore Him, atheists to hate Him, and agnostics to deny Him. But it just may be those who claim to represent Him the most-Christians-who have in fact misunderstood and, therefore, misrepresented Him the most.
If my last statement sounds outlandish and way off the mark to you, let me encourage you to read the rest of this book before closing your mind to this possibility. In my own life I have had to come to grips with my own personal defects related to my understanding of Jesus and His message. This book will demonstrate beyond doubt that Jesus' message, assignment, passion, and purpose were not to establish a religion of rituals and rules but rather to reintroduce a kingdom. Everything Jesus said and did-His prayers, teachings, healings, and miracles-was focused on a kingdom, not a religion. Jesus was preoccupied with the Kingdom; it was His top priority, His heavenly mandate.
Those, to whom He came first, the Jews, misunderstood Jesus and saw Him as a rebel, a misfit, and a fanatic. In their minds He was, at best, a misguided rabbinical teacher spreading heresies that contaminated the teachings and laws of Moses and Judaism. In truth, they had reduced the message of Moses to a sophisticated religion where strict observance of the laws became more important than the original purpose for those laws. And they expected Jesus to do the same. The original intent of God's mandate to Moses was not to establish a religion but a nation of people who would love, serve, and honour God-a "royal priesthood [and] a holy nation" (see 1 Pet. 2:9).
The Muslim misunderstands Him as simply another in a line of prophets who was a great teacher, a good man, and a great prophet, but who fell short and failed to deliver the finished work of redemption to mankind.
The Hindu misunderstands Him as a good teacher, a good man, and just another deity to add to their list of gods to provide a service in their need for spiritual security.
The atheist, agnostic, and humanist see him as a mere man, an historical figure, whom a group of misguided men transformed into a god and an object of worship. They acknowledge that Jesus existed but deny any of His miracles as well as His claim to divinity.
The media, scientists, and secularists see Him as fair game for investigation and criticism. They acknowledge Him as an interesting subject for arguments, theories, discussion, and debates while ignoring His divine claims and questioning His validity, integrity, and sometimes, His very existence.
Christians have misunderstood Him as the founder of a religion and have transformed His teachings and His methods into customs and His activities into rituals. Many even have reduced His message to nothing more than an escapist plan for getting to heaven and His promises as a mere fire insurance policy for escaping the pains of a tormenting hell.
And yet a simple study and review of His message and priority reveals that Jesus had only one message, one mandate, and one mission-the return of the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. From the very beginning, Jesus made it clear that the principal need of the human race, and the only solution to mankind's dilemma was the Kingdom of Heaven. His first public statements reveal this Kingdom priority:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Jesus' first announcement was the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. His solution to the malnourished and bankrupt human spirit was not a religion but the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, if you are spiritually poor, only the Kingdom will satisfy and fulfil your hunger. The Kingdom is God's priority and must become our priority if we are to overcome the confusion of religions and the threat of self-destruction.
RELIGION VERSUS KINGDOM
The power of religion lies in its ability to serve as a substitute for the Kingdom and thus hinder mankind from pursuing the genuine answer to his dilemma. My study of the nature of religion and how it impacts the process of man's search for the Kingdom uncovered several significant truths:
Religion preoccupies man until he finds the Kingdom.
Religion is what man does until he finds the Kingdom.
Religion prepares man to leave earth; the Kingdom empowers man to dominate earth.
Religion focuses on Heaven; the Kingdom focuses on earth.
Religion is reaching up to God; the Kingdom is God coming down to man.
Religion wants to escape earth; the Kingdom impacts, influences and changes earth.
Religion seeks to take earth to Heaven; the Kingdom seeks to bring Heaven to earth.
Perhaps this is why Jesus addressed the religious leaders of His day so strongly when He said:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:13,15).
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:1-3).
Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition (Matthew 15:6b).
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you" (Matthew 21:31b).
It seems clear from these words that religion is one of the greatest obstacles to the Kingdom. Perhaps this may be cause for us all to take another look at the power of religion over our lives, culture, and society.
BACK TO THE KINGDOM
Christianity as a religion is well-known, well-established, well-studied, well-researched, well-recorded, and well-distributed; but little or nothing is known about the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, most of those trained in official institutions to understand the Christian faith and propagate its purported message graduate without ever taking a single course in Kingdom studies. Often, no such course is available. The result is that few so-called ordained ministers and priests have any formal instruction at all in any Kingdom concept. Their priority is in propagating the Christian religion rather than the message and concepts of the Kingdom of God.
This perpetuation of the Christian religion and its rituals, customs, and rites has left a great vacuum in the world that must and can be filled only by understanding the Kingdom.
In this book you will learn what a kingdom is, what it consists of, how it functions, and all the components that make a kingdom unique. You will also discover the difference between a kingdom and a religion, and how it compares with all other forms of government. You will be instructed in principles of Kingdom concepts, how they relate to your daily life and how you can appropriate Kingdom citizenship here and now. This book will help you appreciate that you cannot appropriate what you don't understand nor experience what you postpone. This is your practical guide to understanding the most important message mankind has ever received; a message the whole world desperately needs to hear. This book will equip you not only to receive that message but also to share it effectively with others.