What’s the Biblical Basis of Dominionism? Is there one?

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As a research writer, I never show my hand as far as my personal belief or individual take on a topic is concerned. I simply state the facts, spit out a list of references and tie it all together in a neat little narrative. So it was a little out of character for me to show my hand so clearly in the last article, titled “What is Dominionism?” I am anti-Dominionism, a conviction I hold so strongly that I came out and said it, right off the bat. I’ll talk about the personal reflections that lead to that standpoint in another article. Today, I’m talking about the Biblical reasoning.

Depending on the context, I either laugh or groan internally when I hear people say, “Well I believe the Bible!” Frankly, it’s a complicated book! You can’t just believe the Bible. You need to consider which lens you are viewing it through (and it is inevitable that you will be viewing it through a particular philosophical or theological lens, even if you don’t know it). Are you a Biblical literalist? A Calvinist? A progressive? Are you attempting to view it through the lens of Christ Himself? Or perhaps through the eyes of a preacher you follow? It’s a complicated question. Someone with a decent grounding in theology could argue for or against a good many doctrines regardless on the basis of scripture.

Call me a poor theologian if you like, and I will happily wear that, but I just can’t argue for Dominionism from scripture. Add to that one simple fact: Dominionism comes from Biblical Reconstructionism – the brain child of Rushdoony (and other influencers for sure), who was also a totalitarian. So its kind of counterintuitive to argue for dominionism, and against Kim Jong Un. Just saying. But anyway. On with the show.

Is there a scriptural basis for Dominionism?

For the hard-line devotees of Dominionist theology, there are a few scriptures that seemingly justify it. Even for those who find themselves in tacit agreement with dominionism, these scriptures seem like justification on first look. I would argue, however, that they don’t actually back the militant Dominionist approach. The key scriptures often used to argue for Dominionism are the following:

Genesis 1:26 “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on earth.”

Luke 19:13 “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. He called his ten servants and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, “Occupy till I come.”

Matthew 28:18-20 “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And finally, Matthew 16: 15-20. “He said to them, But who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Okay! So lets talk about it.

Genesis 1:26 seems like it should be the first place we argue for Dominionism. It’s also the first place we should argue against it. I really can’t say it better than this [3]:

“This verse is taken by Christian Dominionists as a divine mandate to claim dominion over the earth, physically, spiritually and politically. However, this is taking a large step away from the text, which only says to have dominion over the creatures of earth, and to “subdue” the earth. It is likely that this verse simply means for humanity to a) multiply and expand over the face of the earth instead of staying in one place and b) keep and take care of all other living things.”

Pure and simply, and perhaps most tellingly, there were no political, business, media or education entities in Genesis 1. This passage of scripture specifically names plants and animals. It makes no mention of any spiritual or political dominion.

It is my belief that Genesis 1:26 was talking about spreading out over the earth and taming creation, not about taking dominion over or subduing people. When we think our job is to subdue people, we have problems. Subduing people means taking away their rights and ignoring their hardship – these are two things that the God we see (especially in the New Testament) would never sanction.

As responsible Christians, we need to read the Bible in context and consider the kind of God who created us. Why would He grant us free will (two trees in the garden) only to take it away in the next breath by instituting a system that subdues and disenfranchises some people groups by granting power to others? Dominionism involves Christians ascending the halls of power, but at the cost of what? As they say so often in The Handmaids Tale (seemingly a cautionary tale when it comes to theocratic dystopias), “Better isn’t better for everyone.”

Then we move on to Luke 19:13 – “Occupy till I come.” In other translations, it simply says “Do business until I return.”It was a parable spoken by Jesus describing good stewardship, illustrating that a good steward doesn’t just look after what is entrusted to them, they improve upon it.

I agree with this premise. I just don’t think it’s about dominionism. This passage is not militant. It is not forceful. It does not allege that these stewards should engage in covert activities in order to carry out their master’s mandate. In these ways, it does not resemble dominionism at all. In fact, if anything, it resembles servanthood.

If you look at this scripture through an economic lens, it makes sense. If a master is gone ten years, then the ten pounds buried in the ground has lost value, as it does not keep up with inflation. Its an illustration that bears thinking about: whatever we don’t improve upon is given to entropy. You could look at this scripture and see it as a picture of the church – Jesus was going, and would return at an unknown point in the future. If we stayed the way we were, never sharing the good news of Christ with others, then Christianity and the gift of salvation would have died out with the 12 disciples and the other followers of Christ during his time on Earth. “Do business until I come” could mean “keep this movement going. Pass on my teachings. Keep growing.”

How on Earth it has come to mean taking dominion over politics, business, education, arts, etc. is beyond me. Can we reflect for a moment? Even Jesus didn’t do this during his time on Earth. His chosen nation, the one He was born into, wasn’t the ruling class of the day. It was not the powerful Roman empire. It was the nation of Israel.

Perhaps this scripture ties most closely to the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Yes, Jesus charged us with being stewards of this message, and making sure all heard it and had the opportunity to be saved. This is a beautiful thing, when done right. But again, it is a message of love, of forgiveness, and of Jesus sacrifice. It is not political. It is not business related. It is not militant.

I can’t ignore the fact that many a country was colonised with Matthew 28 in the minds of the explorers of the olden days. Many a nations first people still bear the scars of colonisation. Again, I don’t know how the Great Commission could translate into the atrocities committed during those times. I can’t even bring myself to mention them in this post, because their damage is so great. How would Jesus feel about it? To know that the sacrifice of His life for the redemption of mankind somehow meant the subjugation and abuse of people He meant for us to love and care for.

It’s a topic too large and too complicated for me. Even this month, a Christian was killed while trying to reach an unreached tribe. I do agree that the Great Commission charges us with making sure all have an opportunity to respond to the message of Christ. I don’t agree that it should be done in ways that are unethical, or that abuse, or remove rights. That, to me, is in direct opposition to what Jesus was about.

Often, I see Dominionist theology’s adherants taking their so-called mandate to be a command to vocally oppose ideologies they do not agree with. I’m sure in the future, I’ll blog on this too. But for now, this: can we learn the lessons of the harm done via imperialism and colonialism, and avoid committing the spiritual equivalent by forcing our righteousness down the throats of people whose rights we intend to take away? Can we reflect instead on John 3:16 and realise there are no caveats? That God loved all of us to the point where He sent His Son to die for us?

Anyway….

Now finally, Matthew 16. There are lots of times through-out scripture where the term “dominion” is used. But overwhelmingly, these are referring to God having dominion. In Matthew 16, Jesus mentions the ‘the keys to the kingdom’ in a conversation with Peter. This, to many, symbolises dominion over a fallen Earth returning to mankind. But my big thought here is this: Jesus said to Peter that “on this rock” He would build His church. The rock was Jesus or the revelation of who Jesus was/is. Ownership of the church still belonged to Jesus, never to Peter. The keys to the Kingdom described governance of the church, which, in all messianic prophecy throughout scripture, rested on Jesus shoulders. Not on that of man. For me, it’s a bit of a long bow to think that Peter replaces hundreds of years of messianic prophecy with that one statement, especially given the general acceptance that ‘the rock’ was the revelation of who Christ is/was.

There is another rabbit hole I’m choosing not to go down, and that is the Zion scriptures. The reason I am choosing not to explore them is twofold 1) because the above four scriptures are more commonly used as justification for Dominionism, and 2) because it seems quite clear from Scripture that Zion is referring to either Jerusalem, or to the City of God. Perhaps I’ll talk about that another day, but I’ll do so with a guest blog from a dear friend who is also Jewish! (Just doing my bit to avoid cultural appropriation here!)

The Ultimate Example

Now let’s look at Jesus’s MO, seen best in Philippians 2:5-11.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It’s clear here that Jesus brought himself low. He did not ascend to the halls of power and redeem the Jews from the seat occupied by Pontias Pilate and his homies. It was redemption via the most humiliating of deaths. In this passage of scripture we see a clear exhortation toward humility and servanthood, and a clear statement that the highest office still belongs to Jesus not man. Why claim to emulate Jesus then pursue a faith that orbits around Dominionism? It’s counter-intuitive. Jesus had a whole world of people He could have come to during the years He walked the earth. He chose not to come to the powerful Roman empire. He chose to come to a small nation, a marginalised race within a powerful Roman stranglehold. Again, He didn’t seek power.

So there are a few fundamental clashes there but the big one for me is Philippians 2:5-11. This is a picture of Christ as servant, not as Dominionist. This is a picture of going low to serve and empower, rather than going high to take what one deserves. He was perfect. He deserved/deserves everything. Instead he gave everything. If we are to emulate anything, then the servitude and compassion of Christ is surely the place we need to start and end. That compassion and servitude is shown over and over again…from Joseph, to Daniel, to Jesus himself. It is what I believe Christianity should be built around.

There is one more picture that I can never ignore, and it’s the picture of Christ the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. To me, it’s a picture of care, and of seeing the plight of the individual. Yet if we seek after power, then we can so easily ignore the plight of the individual while we try to chase down dominion in the domain that surrounds the 99.

I get the appeal of dominionism. It means we do not have to confront our own vulnerability, because we believe we are born to rule. We do not have to trust in God, because we believe that God has put His trust in us. It means that call of compassion is lesser than the pull of power.

So in light of all this, I have to agree with the scholars that call dominionism a heresy – that is a false doctrine, an unbiblical idea that has seeped its way into popularity in the church. It does not mean that Christians should not have positions of influence in any of the domains of society. If we are to live and work in this society, be good at what we do, or be good stewards of the teachings of Christ, then it is inevitable that some of us will have positions of influence. In fact, we should try to excel! We should try to serve and empower the very best we can!

But power in and of itself should never be the motivation. Because that is a position loaded with potential to go awry, and it is not an example Jesus ever set for us.

So that’s that! Tune in next week when I talk about Dominionism in modern politics in Australia and America.

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