God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion. (Gen. 1:28) — The Dominion Mandate
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them. (Mt. 28:19) Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mk. 16:19) — The Great Commission
A friend recently told me that one morning after his congregation sang “Onward Christian Soldiers,” a woman confronted him. “It’s too militaristic,” she said, obviously communicating that Christianity and conquering were antithetical.
This indicates a fundamental aberration within the church: the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28 no longer functions as the theological rationale to the Great Commission.
A Church-Fostered Secularism?
The problem is cultural pacifism. This pacifism leaves the ministry of the church vulnerable to being defined by the secular culture, which would then be in the position to “redeem” Christianity. Thousands of churches across the nation, in the name of “seeker-sensitive” cultural relevance, are ironically working to make the church just one more cultural institution through which men can foster a secularized society. Perhaps this is why a prospective church member today does not ask, “What does the Lord require of me?” but rather, “What do you offer for me and my children?”
Conversely, a robust appreciation of the Dominion Mandate would provide the means by which the secular is redeemed, which cannot happen if the ministry of the church becomes simply part of secular life under the illusion of cultural neutrality.
The Commission of Dominion
Christ brings about the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to bless “all the nations,” but the theological backdrop needs to be appreciated if the church is going to rightly understand its conquering mission. The Abrahamic call is not the first of its kind, but rather a reaffirmation of God’s original dominion promise to Adam, echoed throughout Genesis. As Adam was commissioned in the Garden to extend God’s kingship and lordship throughout the earth, so Abraham and his people were to extend the knowledge of the glory of God to every nation.1 The universal extension of God’s Kingdom reign over every nation was the hope of David, Solomon, the psalms, the prophets, and realized in Jesus Christ.2
The Kingdom and Adversity
This commission does not come without cost. After the Fall, God in His mercy restored mankind back into His garden presence through regeneration, enabling mankind to be about the business of creating a worldwide civilization of God.
This civilization does not consist of all mankind. In the very act of promised restoration, God introduced the Antithesis, a divinely imposed wall of hostility between the people of God on one side and the people of Satan on the other. The Antithesis provides the overarching framework of history, with two civilizations co-existing, one founded upon the Word of God, trusting in His promises and provisions; the other founded upon the anti-Word of Satan, seeking to meet their own needs. Because man was created with an inner drive to dominate, the quest for total dominion is central to both civilizations.
It is never a question of whether there will be a dominant civilization on earth, but which civilization will be dominant: the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man.
With the inauguration of the Kingdom, Jesus reveals to His disciples the “mystery of the kingdom,” or, the overlapping of the ages (Mk. 4:10-12). As the Kingdom parables attest, the Kingdom comes into the world gradually, not catastrophically, through the progressive extension of Christ’s lordship by His people, and the kingdom age and the adversity of the fallen world overlap.
It is against this backdrop that Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God because they, as the people of God, are combatants in a war.3 Paul echoes this theme in his second letter to the Corinthians when, describing his ministry, he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). At the sunset of his life, having formerly instructed Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12), Paul himself could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
It is this fight that King Jesus has called all His people to wage in the Great Commission.4
Victory in Jesus
In the midst of this war, there is the certainty of victory. Abraham’s seed will “possess the gates of the enemy,” and Judah will wield a scepter over the obedience of the peoples. In Numbers, God promises to Moses, “Indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord,” a vision seen by the prophet Isaiah.
Jesus enthroned has inaugurated a new world order of righteousness and peace, whose current reign will bring all His enemies under His church-body’s feet and thus the original Dominion Mandate is accomplished through the Great Commission.5
Assemblies of Victory
Getting back to the woman who objected to “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and with the Dominion Mandate in mind, how should the church’s worship music sound? With the people of God in the midst of a war against a very crafty and determined enemy and with worldwide victory assured, am I wrong to think that “militaristic” music is entirely appropriate for Christian worship? Given that psalmody and many faithful hymns offer such expressions of worship,6 could it be that in losing touch with her mandate the church has also lost touch with Biblical worship?
I observed a Promise Keepers conference that began with the sound of a trumpet assembling corporate worship, and the 10,000 men packed in the arena shouted out at the top of their lungs in response to Jehovah’s call. It was a great victorious roar claiming the crowned rights of King Jesus and His justice over that arena and that city. Such a call should have been followed with “A Mighty Fortress” or “Christ Shall Have Dominion.”
Much to my surprise, the worship team followed that glorious shout of victory with a “love” song that could have been performed by Whitney Houston!
It is no wonder that men feel they have to become emasculated in order to join the church of our time. Yes, Scripture does present a loving and tender God, and there are perfectly appropriate times for the men of God to lift their tear-soaked faces to the throne, singing of God’s tenderness and mercy. However, the church must do so in the context of its royal commission and the self-identity that the commission requires.
When cultural pacifism becomes commonplace, the Dominion Mandate is neutered. Music expressing the commission to conquer the world for Jesus Christ, not by might nor by power but by His Spirit, is silenced. But this conquering mission is ours, and its true appreciation should evoke victorious songs before which the gates of hell will tremble.
We must inspire and encourage one another in songs of victory testifying that, through the cross and the church, the kingdoms of this world have indeed become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Onward Christian soldiers!
1. Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:1-6; Dt. 4:5-8
2. Mt. 3:17; 28:18-20; Rom. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Rev. 11:15
3. Eph. 6:10-17
4. Regarding Jesus’ baptism, Sinclair Ferguson argues, “Jesus is here equipped for conflict, indicated by the fact that in each of the Synoptic Gospels the baptism narrative is followed immediately by the wilderness temptations.” Christ’s wilderness temptation demonstrates the first effect of the inaugurated new creation: the vanquishing of Satan from his own “enemy-occupied territory.” See Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1996), 46-49. David Chilton’s Paradise Restored traces the battle motifs between the garden of God and the uninhabitable desert-wilderness of Satan throughout the OT and NT. Jesus’ kingdom parables and their principle of gradualism are thus to be understood against the backdrop of the progressive conquering of uninhabitable wilderness by the Kingdom of the Garden-Paradise. See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: An Eschatology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985).
5. For a concise development of eschatological victory motifs, see Kenneth L. Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1997), ch. 9-13.
6. e.g. “Joy to the World,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “Christ Shall Have Dominion,” etc.
- Stephen R. Turley
Stephen R. Turley is currently pursuing an MAR through Reformed Theological Seminary and is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. He teaches theology, apologetics, and hermeneutics at Tall Oaks Classical School in Delaware and music at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. He is the founder of Fretboard Fellowship Ministries, www.fretboardfellowship.com.