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No. 21: The Dominion Church

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 21
January, 1991
Copyright 1991, Biblical Horizons

The modern Church in America and virtually everywhere else is ideology-centered, not geographical. This is because various Churches believe different things and have different customs of worship and sacraments. The ideological Church has gradually developed from the time of the Reformation, because accuracy of doctrine has become more important to the various churches than ever before. This was a net gain for Christendom, I believe, but it has now gone to seed.

The Biblical picture of the Church is clearly geographical: the Church at Ephesus, at Jerusalem, at Sardis, etc. It is very important to recover the geographical model of the Church, because it is intimately related to the Church’s mission on the earth.

In the recent symposium published by the faculty of the two Westminster Theological Seminaries, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Zondervan, 1990), several authors make the point that the New Testament is concerned almost exclusively with the Church as a governmental organization, and has virtually nothing to say about the civil government. They make this point over against the Bahnsen-Rushdoony "Theonomic" position, which maintains that both Church and "state" are pictured side-by-side in the New Testament as in need of reformation and as needing to come under the revealed law of God. There is a sense in which both positions are correct, and I think many (not all) on both sides would agree with what I am about to state here.

As I pointed out in Biblical Horizons No. 19, the distinctive change that came about with the Noahic Covenant was this: God promised to act to call a halt to all Cainitic civilizations, and put into the hands of His people the tools with which to effect this stoppage. The Old Testament Church would determine who ruled the land. The Church would put the sword of capital punishment into the hands of civil rulers, who would then execute justice on the earth. When the Church was evil, the ruler would rule badly, but when the Church was faithful, the ruler would rule wisely.

Throughout the Old Testament, the enemy was defined as Cainitic men, and the imprecatory psalms are phrased in terms of battle against evil men. We find next to nothing about battling demonic powers in the Old Testament.

What is distinctive and new about the New Covenant is that God pushes the battle back to the citadel of the enemy. Now the enemy is defined as Satan’s legions, the fallen-angelic principalities and powers. The Church is called to destroy them. Now the war is against the Garden-enemy (Satan), not primarily against the Land-enemy (evil men). Church discipline is what is most important, and excommunication comes in as a more powerful tool than execution.

For this reason, the New Testament focuses almost exclusively on ecclesiastical warfare, which is liturgical warfare. We cannot rest with a mere victory against Cainitic culture. We cannot rest until men are converted, and Satan is fully bound from influencing the hearts and minds of men. We must cast down strongholds of ideology, not merely bring criminals to justice.

If the Church is faithful in her calling to prosecute liturgical warfare, there will be little need for the magistrate to carry out capital punishment. We can see that this has indeed happened in Christian societies, for there is far less tyranny, brigandage, and murder in them than in non-Christian lands. The crimes that brought the death penalty in the Old Covenant are not often committed in Christian lands. Of course, as the Western world has rejected Christianity, the old crimes of rape, incest, homosexual seduction, murder, and the like have once again become major concerns in our society.

God plants the Church in specific places to exercise dominion over those places. The Church does this by faithfully obeying God in worship: weekly communion with real bread and real wine; singing all the psalms and other Bible songs; excommunicating rebels; recognizing the government of other churches; tithing; praying specifically for the people within her area, whether believers or not; etc.

But there is more. The Church is to claim territory. The old word for this is "parish." The Church governs a parish spiritually, and within her parish she oversees what is going on. A full parish is about the size of a political precinct in our state-centered age.

If some "Theonomists" (capital Tee) have failed to make clear that the Church is the center of society, some "anti-" and "non-Theonomists" have failed to make clear that the Church exercises social dominion. The Church does not exist for herself, but as Alexander Schmemann put it, "for the life of the world." In a particular place, the Church establishes a sphere of Spirituality, driving out the demonic powers. Within that sphere, such "state" actions as are necessary — and there will always be some criminals — will be done according to the standards of the law of God. And here, of course, the Old Testament social standards have much to say.

Practically speaking, what can be done to restore the geographical model of the Church? First of all, I don’t believe anything would be accomplished if we each decided to quit the church we presently attend and walk to the Church nearest to us. We might as well continue to drive to the Church we prefer.

Second, we need to take seriously the idea that the place where we meet, where the Word is preached on the Day of the Lord and where the Table is set up, is the geographical center of our work. The pastor should view himself as an "elder over hundreds" (Ex. 18). Those hundreds are not the same as those on the role of his church, who drive across town to get to worship. Rather, they are those who live within walking distance of where the church meets.

The pastor should put on his clergy shirt and clerical collar, and walk to every house and apartment near the church. There is nothing like a clerical shirt to open doors: When people see the black shirt and white collar, they know who you are and what you represent, and they know you are not a Jehovah’s Witness. He should speak to the people in the house, and say something like this: "Hello. I’m Pastor Green. Our church meets in the school down the street. I want to let you know that if you ever have trouble, or if you need someone to talk to, or if you want to know more about the Christian faith, we are here to help you in any way we can."

Pastor Green should find out what church they attend, and assure them that he is not trying to get them into his church. If ever there is an emergency, however, and they cannot get in touch with their pastor, they can call on him. Green should call their pastor and tell them this as well, and thereby build bridges. If they are not in a church, Pastor Green can offer to explain the faith to them.

Pastor Green should tell them that they are invited to come to the bazaars, Christmas and Reformation Day parties, and other public events hosted by the church. He should ask them if they would like to be on a mailing list to hear about those events. He should stress events that their children or visiting grandchildren might like to attend. He should tell them about the church’s brown-bag food programme. If the Church has a recreation hall, they should be invited to use it any time. In as sense, it is their Church, the Church in their neighborhood for them.

Meanwhile, the elders of the church ("elders over tens," Ex. 18), can do the same in their neighborhoods. They, too, can put on clergy shirts and clerical collars — for they, too, are pastors — and visit up and down their streets (two houses on either side, and five across the street), telling where they live, and offering the services of the church in like manner. The elder might have a meeting in his home on Sunday evenings, hosted by him and his assigned deacon, and neighbors should be welcome. The elder should try to have a neighborhood barbeque during the summer, so that the neighbors meet each other. The elder should offer to baby-sit in case of emergency. His car should be available in case of emergency. Etc.

When the New Testament speaks of the Church in Ephesus, this is what it has in mind. Jesus wrote letters through John to seven such city-churches, addressed to the bishop ("elder over thousands," Ex. 18; Rev. 2-3). In such churches, the bishop (or "superintendent," the Presbyterian term) was pastor to the pastors over hundreds, who in turn shepherded the elders over tens.

Jesus made it clear that as goes the Church in a city, so goes the city itself. The example in Revelation is Jerusalem. The Temple was wicked, so the city was too, and both were destroyed. This was the object-lesson to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

We can rebuild the geographical-parish view of the Church if we simply start doing what the Bible says to do. It is not hard: All we are doing is offering to help. In this way, the Church can begin to establish dominion as she did in the days of the Early Church. After a while, whole nations had "arch-bishops" called Patriarchs, each independent and equal to the other in a common brotherhood of Christian nations. A shadow of this still exists in Orthodoxy.

Let me suggest some steps for implementation. First, teach these things to your officers and then to your congregation. Second, have a congregational meeting and covenant together by vote to do these things: weekly communion, psalmody, tithing, etc. Sign and date it. Third, declare a moratorium on all hymns until all 150 psalms are learned in at least metrical versions. Chanting is easier and better; get with your local Lutheran pastor and learn how to do it. Have his music-leader come on Saturdays to teach your congregation how. The point of all this is to recreate the Church as a true home, a place you feel good about asking people to visit.

After six months or a year of learning how to do it in the privacy of your local Church, have the Pastor start visiting as described above, taking an elder with him. Once the elders learn to do it, have them do it in their neighborhoods. Eventually, these elder-run house-churches may grow into new full-churches.