Where is the kingdom of God?

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Why not emphasize the afterlife as the best reason for becoming a Christian?

Written by Marcus Borg and William A. Kolb

I have, on occasion, thought about the possibility that the Church would not have lasted two thousand years if it were not for the fact that we die and we know we will die. It is a compelling possibility that the reality of death may have been what motivated people to become early (and maybe later) Church members in the first place. 

But that does not lessen the importance of our teachings and doctrines about death and the afterlife. No matter what the conscious reasons for asking to be baptized, one is engrafted into the Body of Christ at the time of that holy rite. So long as our intentions are sincere and we want to be received as part of the Lord, our baptism is equally valid with all baptisms ever performed.

If our sole reason for joining the Church is immortality, so be it —because by being baptized for this reason we are honoring Jesus Christ as the place to turn for eternal life. And that is the point, after all. That Christ is The One —the Son of God, the promise of life that will never end.

—The Rev. William Kolb

When the afterlife is emphasized as the primary reason [for being a Christian], it inevitably turns Christianity into a religion of requirements and rewards: [With this type of thinking] if there is an afterlife, it doesn't seem fair to most people that everybody gets to go there regardless. One must have to do or believe something [in order to experience life after death]. Suddenly we're focusing on requirements and rewards.

Secondly, when the afterlife is emphasized, it tends to divide the world into those who are saved and those who are not. An emphasis on the afterlife also directs our attention to the other world or the next world rather than to transformation within this world. I see transformation within this world to be the primary meaning of the Christian gospel. An invitation to relationship with God is what begins to transform our lives in the here and now, and as that relationship deepens, it also leads us to become concerned about the transformation of society and the world itself.

I see Christianity, and its roots in Judaism and the Hebrew Bible, as very much a this-worldly religion. There's no denial of an afterlife in my saying that. But it's a way of saying that we leave the afterlife up to God. Our task is the transformation of ourselves and of the world this side of death.

—Dr. Marcus Borg