Who Defines the Ministry?
There are two opposing views regarding the mission of the church; what may be called the majority opinion and the minority. It has to do with the command in Genesis 1:28 to ‘subdue it (the earth): and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Most of the church considers this command, given before the Fall, to still be in force. It is argued that it has never been repealed and forms the basis for what the church is about. Labeled as the “Cultural Mandate” or the “Dominion Covenant,” the task of the church is to restore a fallen world to a pre—fallen state.
Thus, this becomes the basis for defining the ministry. Those who embrace this view argue that all the created order is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. The product of our work has value in that it contributes to gaining dominion over the earth to the glory of God. The conscientious believer is to be actively involved in a wide range of social issues simply because it is part of the mission of the church.
The issues on the “liberal” agenda include such things as economic restitution (note the recent U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops Pastoral letter), one world government, world peace through nuclear disarmament, and management of the environment. The “conservative” agenda includes anti-abortion, pornography, school prayer and born-again politicians. Note, however, that both have embraced as the mission of the church the restoring of a fallen world to a pre-fallen state.
The minority view, of which I am a part, believes that the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:28 was never repeated in the Bible and is not in effect today. God will establish His kingdom and restore this broken world at His Second Coming. Meanwhile, the church is commissioned with the task of preaching the Gospel to every creature, discipling the nations, teaching them to do all Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).
This minority view does not argue for the exclusion of the believers from social concerns. Rather, it argues that such concerns are not the mission of the church.
APPEAL OF THE CULTURAL MANDATE
I believe the reason the ‘majority” perception of the ‘church’s mission is so attractive is:
1. It provides a short cut to the preaching of the Gospel. Prior to the time of the Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, Christianity was a minority religion struggling for its existence. Ministry was viewed as changing the individual rather than institutions. With the Edict of Milan in 320 A.D. Constantine embraced Christianity as the religion of the empire. One hundred years later Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, saw the Christianizing of society as the path to individual salvation. He argued that if we could produce the “city of God” on earth, it would be far easier to convert the individual citizens of that city. This was the appeal of Calvin’s Geneva and the marriage of church and state.
2. It gives man and his work significance. Because we are building Christ’s kingdom, all we do has value. The bolt produced in the factory is an important contribution, as is the vocation of every person. Man feels that what he is doing here and now on earth is truly important, and he is significant because of the part he plays.
3. It adds to man’s feeling of security. Man is rarely less secure than when he cannot measure and control . If the task of the church is eternal without the temporal dimension of changing society, the believer is forced to trust God for the outcome. The eternal cannot be measured and controlled.
4. It promises a trouble-free environment. All of us long for a community where it is safe to walk the streets at night and we can leave our homes unlocked without fear of being robbed; where morality reigns and people live in peace. It is the picture of a mid-American town at the turn of the century depicted in a Walt Disney movie.
WHAT IS AT STAKE
By any man’s standard of evaluation, the human situation is bleak. Homo sapiens have simply been unable to put their act together. History is an illustration of man’s inability to solve his own problems and, if anything, things are getting worse. Man’s inhumanity to man is staggering even to the most calloused conscience.
Hitler exterminated six million Jews and Stalin and Mao 20 million more people each. Americans abort 1.5 million babies a year, arguing with one breath that a wiggling, little fetus isn’t really alive unless the mother gives birth while denying the existence of any kind of life but physical with the other breath.
The only hope for this depraved human race is the blood of Christ. Only His return will make things right.
Some argue that it isn’t either-or. Rather, it should be both the Gospel and social issues. The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. As noted in an earlier issue, even those historians who hold to the “majority” view concede that when the church embraces as its mission the city of God on earth, it does so at the expense of the Great Commission.
To develop a society at peace, free from hunger and injustice, would not be at odds with the objectives of Satan. As Donald Gray Barnhouse so eloquently argued, such a goal is consistent with the goals of Satan. Even those communities that have been able to model themselves in a theocratic fashion lose their spiritual edge. Show me a city in which the church has been able to super-impose its will on the citizens, and I will show you a city whose church members have lost their spiritual vitality and their sense of urgency in fulfilling the Great Commission. The horror of hell is dulled. It is the blackness of the human situation that sharpens the eternal focus and gives urgency to the Gospel message.
It is not uncommon to hear people say, “If the church were doing its job, there would he no need for the “para-church agencies.’ There is a measure of truth in this. It is when the main line denominations perceive their mission as restoring a fallen world to a pre-fallen state that conscientious believers begin looking elsewhere for ministry. The strength of organizations such as Wycliffe, Young Life, the Navigators and Campus Crusade is in the fact that they came into existence embracing the “minority” view of the believer’s task.
Still the Cultural Mandate remains attractive. With evil spreading like a prairie fire unchecked, legislating a solution looks appealing. For the believer to become involved in social issues is well and good. To embrace these issues as the mission of the church is a ploy of the devil. As we move into a new year, let us resolve to give ourselves to the task of world evangelism, understanding that until our Lord’s return the ills of mankind will never be corrected.