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Are Christians Supposed to Take Dominion?

A Reconstructionist Reply

by Gary DeMar

from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1989, page 30). The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

In the Winter/Spring 1988 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, Robert M. Bowman, Jr., gave an impartial and balanced critique of Christian Reconstruction entitled "The New Puritanism: A Preliminary Assessment of Reconstructionism." I was so impressed by his work that I called to thank him for an outstanding job.

I cannot offer the same praise for Bowman's more recent (Fall 1988) JOURNAL article, "Are Christians Supposed to Take Dominion?" He begins well, describing Reconstructionists as "orthodox Calvinists" who "are thus solidly evangelical." He also states that Kingdom Now and Christian Reconstruction "understand 'taking dominion' rather differently." He notes that "Reconstructionists envision a gradual, pervasive transformation of human institutions in the wake of worldwide conversion to orthodox Christianity." Bowman concludes that "the two movements are working for different goals." If he had stopped here, the article would have been a good one.

After telling his readers that Reconstructionists "envision a gradual, pervasive transformation of human institutions," Bowman asserts that Reconstructionists hope to achieve this goal solely by political means. He equates "taking dominion" with "pursuing political power." This is far from the truth. My books The Reduction of Christianity and The Debate over Christian Reconstruction prove just the opposite. (JOURNAL readers can purchase both books for $10.00 [a $20.00 value] from American Vision, P.O. Box 720515, Atlanta, Georgia 30328.)

Reconstructionists do believe, along with many others, that when civil government engages in any kind of evil (e.g., legalizing abortion), Christians have a duty to work for change. This, however, is only one aspect of dominion. The purpose of getting involved in politics is to reduce the power of the State in its advocacy of unbiblical laws. Reconstructionists believe that government at the top will change only when government at the bottom changes: from self-government to civil government. I've developed this concept in numerous books and articles. In fact, my first book, God and Government: A Biblical and Historical Study (1982), begins, not with politics and civil government, but with self-government, family government, and church government. The same emphasis can be found in my Ruler of the Nations (1986). Along these lines, I wrote in Reduction that, far from being a panacea, "politics is the 'quick fix' approach to cultural transformation" (p. 297).

Mr. Bowman moves to the main point of his article by asserting that "the Bible never commands Christians to take dominion. A search for such a mandate proves fruitless. The Bible never even hints that this is to be the responsibility of the church between Christ's first and second comings."

First, unfortunately, Mr. Bowman never gives a working definition of what Reconstructionists mean by "dominion." If, as it appears, he is defining dominion as "wresting control of our government away from the godless" then he is woefully misinformed.

Second, Mr. Bowman should have advised his readers that Reconstructionists aren't the only theologians to claim support for a "Dominion Mandate" based on Genesis 1:26-28. Henry Morris teaches a similar view of dominion in his The Biblical Basis for Modern Science. According to Morris, the "dominion mandate" (his usage) includes science, technology, the humanities, commerce, law, civil government, education, and -- in short -- every facet of human culture (pp. 41-43).

Third, contrary to Bowman, non-Reconstructionists have seen a relationship between the Dominion Mandate of Genesis and the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Dr. Harold John Ockenga, in his Introduction to Carl F. H. Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), writes: "A Christian world- and life-view embracing world questions, societal needs, personal education ought to rise out of Matt. 28:18-21 as much as evangelism does" (p. 14).

Finally, Mr. Bowman asserts that the claim of a Dominion Mandate "does not bear close scrutiny of the texts. In Genesis 1:28 God gives dominion over the animal kingdom to man." But there are three aspects of dominion: Fill and subdue the earth and rule over the animals. Procreation, animal husbandry, and culture are in mind, for culture is one of the earth's potentialities. Culture includes art, music, literature, technology, and the sciences. This is why the Dominion Mandate is often described as the "cultural mandate."

Another criticism, not voiced by Bowman but certainly implied in his critique, is that the Dominion Mandate of Genesis does not give dominion to man over other men (i.e., the political aspect of dominion). We should not expect to find such a mandate in a pre-fall command. It is only later that civil dominion is added to the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:26-28. This is clearly seen in Genesis 9:5-7 where the Dominion Mandate is repeated with the addition of giving man -- in a civil capacity -- the authority to restrain and punish criminal activity. The case laws of Exodus, the wisdom literature of Proverbs, and the fuller revelation of the New Testament are God's instructions for dominion. In a word, dominion is the faithful and righteous application of God's Word to every area of life. For a biblical analysis of the Dominion Mandate, see my God and Government: The Restoration of the Republic (1986), Reduction (pp. 24-29, 220-25), and Debate (pp. 160-68).

Mr. Bowman says that "all authority in heaven and on earth" has been given to Jesus, not the church. There's certainly nothing to disagree with here. I don't think one will find a Reconstructionist who would advocate anything different. But there is such a thing as "delegated authority" based upon the authority of a Superior.

Parents exercise legitimate authority over their children even though all authority has been given to Jesus. This is why children are instructed to obey their parents "in the Lord" (Eph. 6:1). Jesus is the "head of the church," and yet we are told, "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account" (Heb. 13:17). The civil magistrate exercises legitimate authority even though all authority has been given to Jesus. This is why "he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:2).

Who led the Israelites out of Egypt, God or Moses (Ex. 14:31)? A similar question can be asked about dominion. Who takes dominion, God or man? Since Jesus takes dominion, we know that our efforts in taking dominion will succeed just as Moses knew he would succeed in leading Israel out of Egypt.

Mr. Bowman writes that he disagrees "with those who criticize any attempt to establish 'the rule of the righteous.'" Isn't this "taking dominion"? Couldn't this be construed as "Christians struggling to take dominion over political and economic institutions"? Is it possible that some might interpret this as a "direct attempt by the church to take over these institutions"? Mr. Bowman, in his attempt to be cautious, has become schizophrenic.

Reconstructionists agree that "the church's main responsibility is evangelism and discipleship, not political activism." Keep in mind that Reconstructionists do not advocate a "political mandate," but a Dominion Mandate that includes all areas of life, including -- but not limited to -- politics. We also ask the question, "What does a person do once he is evangelized and he has another sixty years of life to live before he dies?" Well, he's to evangelize, be discipled, and disciple others. But what does discipleship include? Everything Jesus commanded! We Reconstructionists write our books to the Christian community. This is one of the reasons it's called Christian Reconstruction. We are involved in the discipleship process. After all, there will be no reconstruction unless Christians bring it about through the power of God's Spirit.

Mr. Bowman tells us that "Christians should exercise righteous 'dominion' when the opportunity presents itself." But there are dozens of opportunities every day to exercise dominion. Most Christians still send their children to public (government) schools. A significant percentage of Christians are not registered to vote. The church has failed to develop a biblical approach to welfare. What an opportunity to evangelize the hopeless and helpless! Instead, the poor turn to the State for salvation. How many more opportunities will Christians pass up before they decide to act. The emphasis on taking dominion is simply a needed corrective for a church that has been passive too long.

Mr. Bowman's article is filled with half-truths and not a small number of misrepresentations. Unlike his previous article, he does not quote one Reconstructionist to support his claims. I understand that his article was brief and that he could not deal with all the nuances of Christian Reconstruction and dominion. It is best, therefore, to say nothing at all rather than present half-truths as if they were the whole truth. (Those interested in my extended response to Mr. Bowman's article may write to American Vision for a copy.)

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. replies:

Gary DeMar's article makes explicit certain aspects of the Reconstructionist view of dominion which I knew about but was unable to address in "Are Christians Supposed to Take Dominion?" For this reason, it is a welcome counterpoint and should help our readers gain a more balanced understanding of Reconstructionism.

I regret that DeMar inferred from my article that I thought Reconstructionists equate "taking dominion" and "pursuing political power." What I intended to criticize was the teaching that pursuing political power is necessary in order to fulfill the Great Commission. I recognize that for Reconstructionists there is much more to "dominion" than politics.

My failure to define "Dominion Mandate" is a weakness in the article. As I understand Reconstructionists, the Dominion Mandate is for them a command to take control over every aspect of human life on earth, including but not limited to politics.

DeMar is right to point out that other Christians have held views on the Dominion Mandate and the Great Commission similar to those of Reconstructionists. He is wrong, however, to suggest that I denied this fact.

I agree also that the command to "subdue the earth" in Genesis 1 involves human activities generally, and not merely control over animals. In context I was not denying this, but simply contrasting the creation mandate in Genesis with the Great Commission in Matthew. In my view there is no direct connection between the two passages, as Reconstructionists argue. On the other hand, I do believe that the fulfillment of the Great Commission will contribute to the eventual fulfillment of the creation mandate. This will happen because Christ Himself is fulfilling the creation mandate (see Heb. 2:5-9), and all who are united to Christ by faith will eventually share in His dominion (see 1 Cor. 3:22-23; Col. 3:2-4).

Genesis 9:5-7 does imply that man is to restrain criminal activity. This does not mean, however, that man is to exercise "dominion" over man, at least not in the sense the word is used in Genesis 1, where man rules over the earth and the other life forms God created for man's own benefit (Gen. 1). DeMar, on the other hand, defines dominion in a different sense as "the faithful and righteous application of God's Word to every area of life." Although I would agree that men should exercise such "dominion" in their dealing with others, this seems to me to be a broader concept than is really intended in Genesis 9, even when compared with Genesis 1.

There is such a thing as delegated authority, of course. But the universal authority which Christ claimed in Matthew 28:18, He did not delegate to anyone. The church (to whom the Great Commission was given) does have the assurance that it will be successful in its mission because of Christ's universal authority. Yet this is not quite the same thing as saying that the church itself has authority over the rest of the world.

DeMar asks how I can deny that taking dominion in the political sphere is part of the church's mandate and yet agree that the righteous should rule. The answer is simple: the righteous ought to pursue political influence, but not as part of a program to fulfill the Great Commission. Even in Reconstructionist teaching the church and the state are two distinct institutions (though overlapping in their concerns). In my thinking this implies that the success of the church's mission of discipleship does not depend on the success of the righteous in exercising political rulership. I should add that DeMar (in conversation) has told me that he views the Great Commission as a mandate to disciples individually, not to the church as an institution. Although I read Matthew 28 differently, DeMar's reading would allow him to see the Great Commission as mandating political activism without confusing church and state.

In summary, I think DeMar exaggerates when he says that my article was "filled with half-truths and not a small number of misrepresentations." It did address only one aspect of Reconstructionist doctrine, and was therefore somewhat one-sided. And it did leave the wrong impression that Reconstructionists equate dominion with politics. Beyond these two qualifications, though, I stand by what I wrote. Christians should pursue political power in the interest of promoting justice, but not as an essential part of the church's mission as set forth in the Great Commission.

End of document, CRJ0050A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Are Christians Supposed to Take Dominion?: A Reconstructionist Reply"
release A, March 25, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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