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Family, Covenant, Property, Dominion

God has chosen to place man in the earth chiefly for this purpose to steward the earth for His glory. This is the dominion commission, the foundation for the so-called Great Commission, the gospel commission (Mt. 28:18-20).

  • P. Andrew Sandlin,
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The first family was placed in a garden. The husband, and subsequent father, was required to cultivate that garden (Gen. 2:15). But this was just his initial task. His wife was to assist him in his prime calling:1 to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth, exercising dominion under God's immediate authority (Gen. 1:26-28). God could grant to man this extensive authority because God was the Creator and Sustainer of the earth. He told man that he could eat of every tree of the garden except one; God was letting the man and woman know in no uncertain terms that He dictates His own terms; man does not dictate his terms to God. He was informing the man of something else: God has ultimate property rights (1 Cor. 10:26, 28). Property is not an inalienable human right it does not belong to individuals or to the state; it belongs to God. He can grant it to whomever He wishes. He has chosen to grant it to man, and ultimately to the godly. In fact, He has chosen to place man in the earth chiefly for this purpose to steward the earth for His glory. This is the dominion commission, the foundation for the so-called Great Commission, the gospel commission (Mt. 28:18-20).

The gospel commission is necessary because man violated God's law. When man violated God's law he invited God's predicted judgment (Gen. 3:16, 17; Rom. 6:23). But God was indescribably gracious. He swiftly set into motion a plan by which man could be restored to his rightful place as God's heir (Rom. 8:17). We call this the covenant of grace.2 This plan culminated in the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the new Adam; He succeeded in His probation where the first Adam had failed (Rom. 5:12f.). Our Lord's reward, among other things, was the earth as His inheritance (Ps. 2:8). Christ is not only God of very God; He is the new Dominion Man (Eph. 1:20-22).

God's main objective, then, is to bring all things under the dominion of His Son, Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). The dominion commission is a principal means of meeting that objective. Whereas the first Adam failed by his disobedience to fulfill the dominion commission, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, did not fail; the success of the dominion commission is secured by Christ.3 Godly man, therefore, has not been relieved of his task to exert dominion in the earth. The only difference now is that, because of sin, he must exert dominion by means of the redemptive medium of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ac. 2:29-35). The covenant of grace is the medium through which man is restored to his role as God's vicegerent and steward of the earth. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But the chief objective of man is to exert dominion in the earth, under divine authority.

The Family
God has explicitly established three human institutions by which man is to honor God by exercising godly dominion. They are the family, the church, and the state. The family is central and most vital; the church is second to the family in divine purposes, but no less vital; the state, least important of the three, is nonetheless indispensable. The church and the state are necessary because of sin; they are inherently redemptive institutions. The family is a pre-redemptive institution. Had sin never entered the world, there would have been families, but no church or state at least not as they are arranged in God's post-Fall order. This is another reason we know the family is the central institution in God's plan it is not an inherently redemptive institution, though it does have a crucial role in the covenant of grace. To assert that the state or church takes precedence over the Christian family is to assert that grace trumps obedience; few conclusions could be more misguided (1 Sam. 15:22; Rom. 6:1, 2).

Each of these institutions — family, church, and state — maintains its own divinely established jurisdiction. Each has obligations and privileges denied the other. The family, for instance, amasses and transmits wealth and property from generation to generation (2 Cor. 12:14). The church administers the sacraments, the visible keys of the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 11:20f.). The state wields the sword against civil law-breakers (Rom. 13:4). Ideally these three are independent, but cooperative, institutions. Strong families guarantee healthy churches and states. Strong churches undergird strong families and make the state's job easier. Healthy states protect family property and keep society free for the church's tasks. All three play a critical role in godly dominion, though the state is much less important than the family and church.

The Dominion Conflict
After the first family sinned, God promised, in effect, a New Dominion Adam (Gen. 3:15). He would exert dominion in the earth, but first He had to exert dominion definitively over sin. How? He would thus crush the head of the seed of the serpent. He would destroy sin before He exerted dominion. Why? Because it is not God's will for the ungodly to exercise dominion; it is God's will for the godly to exercise dominion. Why were Adam and Eve driven from the garden? The Bible tells us why. Because had they stayed, they could have eaten of the Tree of Life and lived forever (Gen. 3:22, 23). What is so objectionable about that? It is not God's intent for the ungodly to gain eternal life. It is not God's intent for the ungodly to execute the dominion commission while enjoying eternal life. The dominion impulse resides in every man in the wicked no less than the righteous. The wicked exercise dominion in terms of their own perverse nature. The righteous exercise dominion in terms of their own redeemed nature. The righteous, not the wicked, will inherit the earth (Ps. 37:9-11). God expelled Adam and Eve because it is not His design for covenant-breakers to gain eternal life and exercise permanent earthly dominion. The course of history is a story of two warring factions of humanity covenant-keepers, who exercise dominion in the name of our sovereign Lord, and covenant-breakers, who exercise dominion in their own name, or the name of some rival to God. The battle is always between dominionists godly dominionists and ungodly dominionists. This is where the heat of the battle is. And godly families, in conjunction with godly churches, clash right in that heat of battle.

The Covenantal Course of History
The first Adam failed, but God resumed His work with man and man's dominion work by calling out godly families. The line of Abel, Adam's godly seed, represents that line. Cain killed Abel. It was the first murder and martyrdom in history. It was the first external hostility between covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. The covenant-breakers won that round. But they did not win for long. The covenant-breaking seed overspread and polluted the earth. So God decided to destroy that entire generation. He spared a covenant-keeping family, Noah's. After the universal Flood, Noah was charged with the same commission that Adam had been charged with. Why? Because God's plan for man is to exert godly dominion in the earth. God subsequently formalized this plan in preparation for the Ultimate Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. He did this by calling another family head, Abraham, and pledged him a covenant bond. If Abraham would obey His voice, God would grant him a religion, a seed, a land, and honor: God would be a God to him and to his seed forever; God would give him the land of Canaan for a possession; and God would bless all the families of the earth in him (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 8; 22:17, 18). Note carefully that the land promises are no less vital or certain than the cultic or seed promises. There is no dualism in God's covenant promises. That God would give Abraham a land was no less certain than that He would be a God to him and his seed. God's promises are not merely "spiritual." They are comprehensive affecting all areas of life. Abraham's seed, we note in Galatians 3, is comprehended in Christ. All united to Christ by faith are Abraham's seed and heirs of the promises to Abraham. This means that all united to Christ are entitled to the Abrahamic promises: God will be a God to us and to our seed (Ac. 2:38, 39); He will give a land for our possession (Rom. 4:13); and He will bless all the families of the earth in us (Mt. 28:18-20). As Murray observes,4 Romans 4:13 expands the land promises to include the entire earth, and grants them to the seed of Abraham Christ, and all united to Him by faith. The family of God including the physical seed of covenant parents5 is the seed of Abraham.

The family is a covenant (Mal. 2:14-16). The church is a covenant (1 Cor. 11:1, 2, 19-27). The state is a covenant (Rom. 13:1-7).6 The family is the chief human covenantal institution. Why? It is through it that man comes into the world and first confronts the claims of the sovereign God (Ex. 12:24-27; Ez. 16:8, 21). The church, the second most important covenantal institution, assists the family with its task (Eph. 1:1; 6:1-3; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). Parents take baptismal vows for their children before elders who administer baptism before the witnesses of the congregation. The church bolsters the father's authority in leading his family in the Faith. The state protects family authority (and its own authority) by suppressing crimes that subvert the family.7 The family, church, and state are each legitimate covenant spheres with distinct obligations.

As we examine the Scripture we note that it equates obedience with covenant faithfulness. In the Old Testament, the Jews were reminded to obey their God's commandments, that is, to stay faithful to His covenant. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit places the law of God in our hearts so we can effectively obey that law. This is a dimension of the new covenant (Heb. 8, 10), operative no less in the Old Testament period.8 In the Bible, ethical obligation is always tied to concrete revelational circumstances: the covenant. The covenant always requires stipulations note in Deuteronomy the mutuality of the covenant (Dt. 26:17-19): God sovereignly and willingly binds Himself in covenant love to His people. They bind themselves in allegiance to Him. He promises to be their God and protect and bless them; they pledge to own Him as their God and obey His voice (the commandments of His word); this mutual covenant obligation is visibly reinforced at every Christian baptism and communion.9 If Christians are faithful to the covenant stipulations, they will amass wealth, that is, property. By wealth we do not mean money, which is simply a medium of exchange, but property, which money can purchase. The acquisition of property is a reward for covenant faithfulness.

Faithful families therefore work to posses property. As Rushdoony notes of land ownership:

We are accustomed to thinking of land ownership as either "private," i.e., individually owned, or state owned, i.e., socialism. The Bible gives us a different standard. Land in the Bible was allotted to families. It was community property. The individual head of a family was thus regarded as a trustee whose duty it was to preserve what he had inherited from the past, improve it, and pass it on to the future.10

With rare exception, it is not the responsibility of the church to finance the family. For instance, the church should care for widows and orphans who have no family to provide for them (1 Tim. 5:9-11). But it is the family that is first responsible. Why? Because, for the most part, the family monopolizes property. The church should not monopolize property. It should use the tithes and offerings it collects to support its teachers (Levites) and advance the kingdom of God in the earth. The state may seize only enough money from families to provide them the protection from external evil that the Bible requires of the state (Rom. 13:1-6). The state may not redistribute wealth to the needy. In any case, to take as much as a tithe from its citizens borders on tyranny (1 Sam. 8:6-18). Any state that seizes more than a tithe is a tyrannical state. It blatantly attacks families, who monopolize wealth.

Why does the state routinely overtax its citizens? Because it has no independent means of generating wealth. The modern state must cannibalize the wealth of its own citizens to marshal its messianic designs in programs like universal health care, Medicare, Social Security, Head Start, state welfare, ADC, the National Endowment of the Arts and the Humanities, state universities, national parks, and hundreds more. The state cannot generate wealth, so it must seize wealth.

Families should work to amass wealth, as much as legitimately feasible. Why? Not to consume it on their own lusts, but to secure intergenerational kingdom advancement. Knowledge is power but so is wealth. You have heard of the Golden Rule he who has the gold makes the rules. There is a lot of truth in that maxim. For Christians, wealth means more property, and more property means stronger families who use the property to advance the kingdom of God. This is easy to demonstrate. Just think of so-called property rights versus so-called free speech rights.

Liberals are constantly talking about free speech, but few people understand that free speech presupposes property.11 If I speak on the sidewalk, I am only allowed to speak there because the state which seizes wealth to build sidewalks says I can speak there. Within reason, I can speak freely on the TV, and radio, and in newspapers, but only if property owners permit me. I can speak freely in the house or car I own. Because Chalcedon values my writing, they pay me every month to speak freely to at least 6,000 people. I don't own the Chalcedon Report; the foundation does. I have the liberty of free speech because somebody who owns property permits and pays me to speak freely.

You see, speech really isn't free after all. Somebody has to pay for the property whereby the speech can be disseminated. This is why so-called property rights are more important than so-called free speech rights.

What does this mean in the context of advancing the kingdom of God? It means that if we want to advance the kingdom, we need to obtain more wealth. Think of our brothers in China today. They are suffering for their faith at the hands of a cruel, atheistic regime. But we must understand that if Christians in China one day amass great wealth, the state will find it increasingly hard to persecute them (although a decline in persecution would probably come first). Why? Because family wealth is always a competitor to civic tyranny. Wealth means property, and the state needs property to exist. If the state meets up with a large sector of its citizens that value godly family dominion more than a large state, it will find it difficult to remain large. Of course, it can seize their wealth by force; this is a favorite Communist ploy. But this scenario is vitally impossible if much of the community is Christian and also wealthy. A majority of Christians with great wealth who use it to advance the kingdom can purchase safeguards against a tyrannical state. Wealth cannot buy everything, but it can bankrupt a tyrannical state. The fundamental factor is not the wealth, but the prudent use of the wealth by the people of God.

Understand, therefore, that as Christians amass wealth, they amass power, and thus greater means and platforms for speech. And greater speech means greater freedom to preach the gospel. If dominionist Christians own many or most of the radio, TV, periodical, and electronic outlets, they can preach the gospel pervasively. Not only so, but if they own great segments of the economy, they can legally, peacefully, and morally inhibit the message of evil. Remember that speech depends on property. The more property Christians own, the more they disseminate that message and stifle the Devil's message. We become the head and not the tail we lend to the unrighteous who are indebted to us and who become our servants. The wicked will fear us, and we will rule over them (Dt. 28:7, 10, 12, 13; 30:7). We will not persecute them, but treat them fairly under God's law (Ex. 22:21). Nonetheless, we will rule over them, economically, and in every other way.

Pietists gag on the scenario I have just described. They think it sounds "triumphalistic." But if you think about it, you will understand how holy, peaceful, and life-giving it is. As God's people obey Him from generation to generation, He blesses them materially. As He blesses them materially, they obtain more property which they use to advance Christ's kingdom. This leads to greater obedience and exponential blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28. As they gain property they gain additional wherewithal to preach the gospel and legitimately, peacefully subordinate God's enemies. They increasingly become the head, and not the tail. They rule the earth under God's authority just as God designed.

Secularists portray us as politically ambitious. They hint that we want political power so we can "take over" the country so we can persecute people who disagree with us. Nothing could be more slanderous and hypocritical. In the first place, secularists have already "taken over" the country and already persecute Christians. We don't want to return the favor. We don't want the civil government to make people better Christians; it is the secularists who need the civil government in order to make people better secularists they do it in government schools every day. We have a sovereign God; they have a tyrannical civil government. We believe in dominion by obedience; they believe in dominion by tyranny. We exert dominion lawfully; they exert it unlawfully. When our godly heirs one day pervade the earth, they will have accomplished their dominion or, I should say, God will have accomplished His dominion in them by peaceful, lawful, Biblical means, not by extortion or revolution. One aspect of that means is the legitimate accumulation of wealth. We accumulate wealth by obedience to God's law and employ the wealth to advance Christ's kingdom.

The legitimate acquisition and proper use of wealth and property is a principal means of executing the dominion commission.

Today, why is the kingdom of God underfinanced? There are two main reasons. First, because God's people have been disobedient. They lack wealth often because they are antinomian (Dt. 28:16f.). For instance, they refuse to tithe, thus incurring God's judgment (Mal. 3:7-10). They hate God's law, so God impoverishes them. Second, they tend to look at poverty as somehow inherently virtuous; this is just as foolish as those who look at wealth as inherently evil. They are afraid of money, though they envy those who have it. This is just backwards, since wealth is not a sin, but covetousness is. Certainly, not all poor people are ungodly, nor all rich godly; but intergenerational obedience produces intergenerational wealth, just as intergenerational disobedience produces intergenerational poverty. According to Proverbs 11:31 and Galatians 6:7, 8, man is rewarded or judged not only in eternity but also in history. Wealth and poverty are two aspects that reward and judgment.

What does all this teach us? First, that Christians should abandon their false, pietistic view of wealth and property. They should examine carefully the Biblical teaching on these issues, like the market, theft, debt, tithe, interest, and capitalization. These are not somehow "less spiritual" than the doctrines of justification, the church, and the Second Advent; they are worthy of examination in their own right, and they should be implemented by Christians no less than any other Biblical commandments should be. The Bible does contain numerous warnings to the wealthy (Mk. 10:23-27; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Man is not to love wealth for its own sake (Prov. 23:3, 4). He is not to use wealth to oppress the poor (Jas. 2:6). He is not to boast of his wealth (Rev. 3:17). He is not place faith in his wealth (Lk. 12:15-21). He is to use his wealth to help others (1 Tim. 6:17, 18). The sin is not wealth itself, however, but the misuse and abuse of wealth. Wealth is like power, sex, and fame it is not evil in itself, but can be easily misused.

Second, families should strive to create and preserve wealth and property. Family businesses and investments are not just an excellent idea they are essential for the long-term advancement of the kingdom of God. Families must perceive that they are God's central custodians of wealth in the earth. Their obligation is not merely to provide for children and aged parents. It is to obey the Scriptures so as to acquire wealth.

Third, Christians should actually employ their wealth to advance Christ's kingdom in the earth. This is the function of much of the tithe. It was given to Levites, who had no inheritance, but served the Lord in teaching ministries. There are no Levites as such today, but there are Levitical ministries. Chalcedon is one. Sound churches and Christian organizations are likewise Levitical ministries. We should use our wealth compassionately. We are commanded to be charitable. But if we lack wealth, it is hard to be charitable too extensively or too often. Acquiring wealth means greater opportunity to obey in caring for the poor and oppressed, and finance greater kingdom advancement. Those who lust for poverty are really lusting for a greater opportunity to disobey. Wealth should be employed to advance the kingdom; it is a dominion-extending mechanism.

We can now recognize the direct relation between wealth and gospel. The more wealth that godly families acquire, the more opportunity we will have to preach the gospel. And the greater opportunity to preach the gospel, the more widely God will advance His kingdom. Therefore, let us be in the business of business of creating and acquiring wealth. Let us by diligent stewards, who do not hide our wealth in the earth, but capitalize it (Mt. 25:14-20).

In this manner, no less than in prayer, evangelism, and charity, we advance the kingdom of God.


1. Rousas John Rushdoony, " The Doctrine of Marriage," in ed., Elizabeth Fellerson, Toward a Christian Marriage (Vallecito, CA, 1972), 10-17.

2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1941 ed.), 262-264.

3. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (no loc., 1957).

4. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, 1959, 1965), 1:142.

5. Andrew Murray, How To Raise Your Children for Christ (Minneapolis, 1975).

6. Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker, Fountainhead of Federalism (Louisville, 1991), 43f.

7. Rousas John Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (no loc., 1973), 394-401.

8. Robert S. Rayburn, "The Contrast Between the Old and New Covenants in the New Testament," unpublished dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1978.

9. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada [1869], 1991), 8-12.

10. Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology (Vallecito, CA, 1994), 2:972

11. David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer (New York, 1997), 66.

  • P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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