One of the core elements of Chalcedon’s message of the need for Christian Reconstruction has always been the belief in the applicability of the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:28). Within the modern antinomian church our emphasis on the applicability of Biblical law has met the most resistance. This attitude within evangelicalism is largely theological; law is falsely seen as antithetical to grace.
The secularist, however, is not particularly concerned about whether some Christians believe in the applicability of Biblical law. After all, if religion is a purely personal spiritual odyssey, the morality one derives from it has little bearing on others. The secularist, however, is concerned to preserve his own turf. The concept of dominion conveys to him a belief that goes outside the box he has designated as religion’s proper realm.
When Christianity makes any claim on secular, humanistic man, great howls of indignation arise. Such thinking must be seen as sinister. In recent years, it has earned its own designation as an “ism”; dominionism has become the great evil of the Religious Right and is used to convey what the term communism represented to the politics of the cold war.1
What dominion theology represents to many is the politicizing of Christian ethics. It is made into a political agenda. The scenario is presented of a fanatical cadre of Christians who determine to usher in God’s Kingdom through the political order. As often as not, some reference is made to presumed similarity with the jihad of Islamic fundamentalists.
Islam, however, has a far different view of the nature of religion, and hence a different motive, methodology, and ethic. Christianity is a religion of faith and necessitates a willing, self-conscious act of conversion. Little belief of any kind is necessary to Islam except a general acknowledgment of the supremacy of the divinity of Allah and preeminence of Muhammad as prophet. Beyond that core theology, Islam is a largely external religion; its focus is on what one does. Conversion in such an external religion of works is thus submission to the authority of Islam and its clerical authorities. No change of heart or ethics is required. This is why Islam has always expanded by the force of conquest and has seen freedom of religion as a threat. The “peace of Islam” is the peace that comes from submission to its rule, however brutal. Statism has not merely characterized the history of Islam; it has been the primary means of its rise as a world religion. It is the nature of Islam that it can advance its religion by force of arms and a “convert or die” policy; it is the nature of Christianity that such force is antithetical to its purpose.
The secularists distrust orthodox Christianity (they rarely have a problem with liberal, modernistic versions whose views are so similar to their own) because they see it as a threat to humanistic man’s religious authority, the democratic will. Humanism is the elevation of man to a position of preeminence; anything deemed anti-democratic is thus an attack on the religious orthodoxy of modern man. This is not to say that the secularist will not oppose the will of the democratic majority, however. When the majority favors some non-humanistic ethic or position, the majority must be forced into line, usually in the name of protecting the “rights” of some minority. Thus either the democratic rights of a majority or the democratic rights of a minority can be appealed to as circumstances dictate.
The scenario that is suggested by accusations that rest in the democratic will is that Christians are likely to resort to compulsion and violent suppression to reform society. Yet oddly, this has been the common pattern of secular humanists, not Christians. In 1972 Gil Elliot, in Twentieth Century Book of the Dead, noted how that century was the bloodiest in the history of mankind. That analysis did not include the killings that continued after 1972 nor did it include any of the millions of deaths by abortion. The twentieth century is the record of ascendant secularism, not Christianity.
What great oppression can secularists point to as Christianity’s offense? Generally, they point out the resistance to humanism’s agenda. If Christians object to abortion, those modern-day Herods (guilty of the murder of millions of innocents) object to the loss of their freedom to kill. If Christians try to retain any meaning of marriage in state law, they are denounced for denying the rights of those few who seek to redefine that institution (one example of how any tiny minority can co-opt the claim of “democratic rights” against the majority as the need arises). Inevitably, one area of Christian ethics is, above all others, condemned as offensive. Modern man embraces his rebellion and so defines his rights in terms of his will to evil. Sexual morality is thus a hateful concept to modern man.2 Man now sees sexual license as the measure of his freedom. Western man is now more taxed and regulated than ever in history, but sees himself as free because he can access pornography so readily.
According to Genesis, man was made to work, and the creation or dominion mandate was his directive. Dominion is thus part of man’s nature; if he does not use it in an ethical way, he will use it in an aggressive way and manifest his sin nature. Thus, bullying by children, spousal abuse, manipulation by false guilt, and the abuse of employees are all examples of an evil drive to dominion. Those enumerated by Elliot are only the politically sponsored examples of evil dominion that resulted in massive numbers of deaths.
All men have a dominion impulse; it is part of their nature. Benign examples of dominion on the personal level are the nurturing of children into productive members of society, the businessmen who produce capital that increases the wealth and well-being of their family and employees, and the scientists or inventors who seek to improve man’s life.
The Christian view of the dominion mandate goes beyond that of a socially responsible and productive life, however. The dominion mandate is, after all, also called the creation mandate, and so represents a view of man’s fundamental purpose and responsibility to his Creator.
Man is responsible to God in his every thought and action. Man was created to work. The fact that man rebelled against God means that his efforts are now plagued by sin. God has communicated to man His laws, at times by direct revelation to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and others. Moses was led by God to record this law in writing, and later Biblical writers revealed more of God’s will for men.
All of God’s revelation to man since the Fall has directed man to His promise of salvation from sin and victory over Satan. Ever since Genesis 3, mankind has been divided in terms of response to God’s salvation, which is a recall to life on God’s terms. God’s salvation is a recall to faith in God and a view of life in terms of that faith. Faith represents a confidence in who God is and the truth of His Word and promises. It is not a retreat from the physical, secular realm into a spiritual world. That is a dualistic distinction; the Christian is called to see all of reality as God’s. Life then becomes the obedience of faith, a return to full accountability to God.
Men will exercise dominion of one sort or another. The secularism that arose with the Enlightenment and that was fostered by Darwin’s naturalism has fed humanism’s lust for dominion. This dominion resists Christianity’s proclamation of the sovereignty of God and His law at every turn. The humanists do not reject dominion theology; they only repudiate any Christian form of it in favor of their own. They seek to control every aspect of life to maintain a humanistic order. They demand their dominion over education, law, art, music, economic, and all other spheres. Their faith insists on the legitimacy of their own dominion and demonizes any competing form.
The question is not whether man will seek dominion, but whose right it is to dictate that order. That right does not belong to the Christian any more than it does to the secular humanist. It is not a human prerogative. One of the interesting Messianic names of Jesus Christ is “Shiloh.” It can be translated as “He whose right it is.” All things are Christ’s, and all power in heaven and earth is His (Matt. 28:18). The choice for all men since Genesis 3 has been to live in terms of God’s covenant promise of salvation. Man since then is defined as either a covenant-keeper or a covenant-breaker. Since the advent of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, we can only be covenant-keepers if we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the one whose right it is.
Theonomy Is Anti-Statist
At the heart of the secularists’ misconception of the dominion mandate is their assumption that it is statist in nature. Humanism is the belief in the preeminence of man and so tends to either anarchism (the preeminence of the individual) or, more often, some form of statism (the preeminence of collective man). We live in a statist era that equates the state with god walking on earth (after Hegel). It is thus natural for modern statist humanists to presume that Christian dominion theology is also statist. This, however, is not the case.
The dominion of which we speak is not a rule by Christians over a subjected class of unbelievers. Theonomy means “God’s law” as opposed to man’s law. Theocracy means the “rule of God” as opposed to the preeminence of man and his law as embodied in humanism. Neither represents the political domination of Christians but rather the authority of the Sovereign Creator God and His law.
It was the people’s will to have a king and its accompanying strong political order that led God to say: “[T]hey have not rejected thee [i.e., Samuel], but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Samuel, under instructions from God, predicted the nature of the political order they desired. He described conscription, servitude, the confiscation of lands and wealth (including the redistribution of wealth as political payoffs), until they would cry out under the oppression (vv. 9–19). The monarchy was given, but with it came the oppression prophesied; even the best of the reigns was characterized by heavy taxation and corrupt and self-serving abuses of power. Many reigns had no offsetting characteristics of good rule.
The government of Israel before the monarchy was a very decentralized affair. At its heart was self-government of individuals who recognized their covenant responsibilities. Beyond the self-governing individual was a patriarchal system where the elders or heads of families were the natural authorities. This existed even before the Exodus (Exod. 3:16), but at some point “elder” became an official title. After occupying Canaan, there were elders of cities, tribes, districts, and of Israel as a whole (the latter in some way forming a “congregation” or national assembly in matters of war or other general areas of great importance). The institution outlasted the monarchy and was in evidence after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 10:14). In New Testament times it was an integral constituent part of the Sanhedrin.
The problem with accusing dominionists of being wannabe dictators is that big government has never been anything but antithetical to the Christians’ view of the Kingdom of God. The first detailed account of a strong political order was as early as Genesis 11 and was that of the city and tower of Babel. Babel and the later Babylon are thereafter synonymous with a foolhardy rebellion against God. In recent U.S. history Christians have become active in politics for largely defensive purposes, such as defending the victims of abortion and defending long-held ethical standards or definitions in law, such as marriage.
It would be safe to say that most Christians who believe in the dominion mandate distrust any political leader or group that does not believe in reducing the size and power of government. Basic to all Christianity is the belief that man is a sinner and that sin must be controlled. The secularist sees that message and says, “Yes, that means they want to control all people to prevent sin.” To do that would, of course, require a very big government with a great deal of power. That has been the opposite of the Christian direction in government, certainly in modern times.
The Puritan distrust of power in the hands of sinners led to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which were limits on the power of civil government. It has been humanists who have made the push for more government, more power for the state, enlarged areas of responsibility, and more levels of government authority over man (including various treaties and world bodies such as, but not limited to, the United Nations). At the dawn of the modern era and the rise of absolute monarchs who claimed “divine right,” it was Christianity that conspicuously opposed such claims and precipitated the trend to limited monarchies. It has been the post-Enlightenment secular humanists who have presided over the growth of the modern state both in politics and by way of the philosophical justification of the enlarged state.
Christianity sees sin as man’s problem and seeks to limit man’s sin by limiting his power over others. Christianity looks to God and His law-word as authoritative, not man. It is not the Christians’ political power-grab that concerns secularists, but their source of authority, God and His law.
The issue is, to use a title of one of my father’s books, “By what standard” do men live? Man’s standard can produce the horrors of mass murders and the executions Elliot and others have noted. God’s standard limits the power of sinners whether in civil politics or without. Chalcedon will continue to proclaim the standard of God’s law-word for all men of all time and all places as His eternal will and the only course of sanity.
1. For this reason I do not use the term dominionism and prefer instead to reference the dominion mandate and its call to exercise dominion. Dominionism conveys a political frame of reference alien to Christianity.
2. For a full analysis of this, see R. J. Rushdoony, Noble Savages (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2005).