Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Subtle Legalism of Dominionism

I want to stress that these are very introductory comments about Dominionism. Dominionism itself, which I consider a false teaching, is a very large subject. Much has been written on it, and I don’t mean to get to heavily into the many tentacles of Dominionism itself.

I want to confine my comments to the Legalism that is inherent in Dominionism. And so I’d like to start with two definitions. The definition of Legalism, as I’ll be using it today, and the definition of Dominionism, as I’ll be using it today.

1. Legalism

I want to talk about the kind of Legalism that imposes laws and commands of Scripture, or (and get this please) SUPPOSED laws and commands of Scripture, on Christians, as a means of gaining God’s acceptance, or favor, or love. In other words, God won’t really love you, or accept you, or favor you, even if you’re a born-again Christian, unless you do this or that, and don’t do this or that.

That’s the kind of legalism which I call Performance-based Christianity. It's likely that some reading this are thinking, “Well of course! Isn’t that what the Christian life is all about is the do’s and don’t of the Bible? After all, isn’t our ultimate goal in the Christian life to obey and not sin? What’s wrong with Performance-based Christianity?”

Well, there are two problems with Performance-based Christianity. First, it’s simply not Biblical. The Bible continuously points us to the Lord Jesus and His New Covenant, in which He has not only paid the price for our sins, all of them, but has given us the gift of His righteousness, has made us new creations in Christ, and has freed us from the condemnation of laws and rules.

So now we are free to get close to Jesus, without condemnation, and fellowship with Him, and commune with Him, and thus be filled with His Spirit, and so follow and obey Him, not in order to gain His love and favor, but because we do love Him and desire to follow and obey Him. We treasure His commands, because they reveal His beautiful heart to us, and let us know when we are veering off and walking by the flesh, so that we can get back in close communion with Him, where we belong and are really satisfied.

Do you see the difference between Performance-based living, and Spiritual living? So the first problem with Performance-based living, again, is it’s not Biblical.

The second problem with Performance-based living is that it just doesn’t work. If we focus on our Performance to gain God’s love and favor, we will invariably fail. Because we are relying on what we DO, instead of on what He has already done. We are relying on Law, instead of Grace. This quenches the Holy Spirit, who wants us to live by faith in what Christ has already done, and when we quench the Holy Spirit, we lose the very power and internal motivation to follow the Lord’s ways, and we fall flat on our face.

And if we love the Lord, when we fall flat on our face, we tend to shy away from Him, because we’re ashamed, and we doubt His love, and when we shy away from Him, we are even more prone to walk by the flesh, and the bad cycle continues.

So the second problem with Performance-based living is that it just doesn’t work.

2.Dominionism, also known as Dominion Theology

Dominion theology basically stems from three basic beliefs:

a. Satan, through the fall of Adam, has taken over man’s rightful dominion over the earth.
b. The Church is God’s instrument to take back dominion from Satan.
c. Jesus can’t return until we, the Church, have regained control of the earth, having dominion in every area of worldly life, including social institutions, and government. This has been called such things as “reigning over” or “ruling over” the nations, in the name of Christ.

Now many people think this is a new movement. It's not. But with the amazing communication tools we have today – first the printing press, then radio, TV, and now the Internet – we are seeing a spread of this false doctrine at an amazing pace.

Now let’s contrast this Dominionism with Biblical teaching about the true kingdom of God, and then we’ll address the legalism involved.

Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world”.

You may remember that Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate, after Pilate asked Him if He was the King of the Jews. And when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” the emphasis was on “MY”. In other words, He distinguished His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms, and we know from many Scriptures that the biggest difference is simply that His kingdom is a spiritual one. Or to put it another way, it’s a kingdom which reigns in the hearts of those who have been born again.

That’s why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed the kingdom of God is within you.”

In other words, the kingdom of God is internal. Now, I am aware that there are some who say that what Jesus meant was that the kingdom of God is AMONG you, or IN YOUR MIDST – in other words that it’s sort of “all over the place”. But this is a ridiculous interpretation, which takes the simple point out of context and twists it to mean what it doesn’t mean. The whole point of Jesus is that the kingdom of God in this age is an invisible kingdom.

Now let me be quick to say that this spiritual kingdom of God in the hearts of believers WILL have visible effects from time to time. When a true believer has God in him working to will and to do His good pleasure, as the Scripture says – in other words, as Christ lives out His life through us, there will be things coming from our lives that can be seen. But do you see how far that is from the Dominionist idea that we will take dominion over the earth?

If the way is narrow, and few there be that find it, as Jesus said, then the future for the Church is surely a kingdom within many kingdoms, a spiritual kingdom operating in the midst of worldly kingdoms.

We are not destined to take dominion over the earth and all its institutions. But this is not bad news, or pessimism. This is the optimism of the spiritual kingdom of God.

When we realize that God IS working in us believers, that we ARE His workmanship, that He is CAUSING us to walk in His ways, as the prophesies of the New Covenant had promised, that He IS building His church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, we have a great confidence in the plan of God.

But the plan of God is not to subdue the nations in the physical absence of Christ Himself. When He returns the nations will indeed be subdued, but until then, we are sojourners and pilgrims (as Peter says in 1 Pet. 2:11), temporary residents, even while we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…”.

OK, now what about the Legalism?

Dominionists always divide the Church into those who are active in the takeover of the earth, and those who are not. And they are very active, though often under the radar, in recruiting whoever they can to accomplish the purpose. It may be government, business, educational institutions, think tanks, even other religions, but with one common theme: power.

Whereas God said, “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” the theme of Dominionism over and over is, “gain the power”. I don’t have the time now to develop this theme, but the result is this:

Dominionism will always have authoritative leaders, often calling themselves Apostles, sometimes Prophets, but always exercising strong authority over the churches and people whom they continuously drive to “expand the kingdom”. Sometimes it’s in the form of evangelism, sometimes in the form of social good deeds such as fighting poverty or disease, sometimes it’s in the form of the grasping of raw power, through political affiliations and unscriptural yoking with unbelievers.

Invariably, the importance of Biblical truth takes a back seat, and the emphasis is on “expanding the kingdom”, that is, the VISIBLE takeover of every aspect of society and power structures like government and other organizations.

In many ways, this is a repeat of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but without the centralization of power in a single city, at least for now.

But the results in legalism are very similar. Christianity is often redefined as those who are part of the movement.

Great emphasis is placed on discipleship, but a form of discipleship that conforms to the authority of the so-called Apostles and Prophets. These self-proclaimed Apostles and Prophets regularly seek control over the lives of their congregations and organizations, sometimes actually choosing whom they should marry or where they should give their money, other times exercising cult-like mind control through various forms of “shepherding” or “discipling”, which puts these members on a constant guilt trip of “expanding the kingdom”.

Maturity, in these groups, is not seen as a growing understanding of Christ Himself, and a deep spiritual relationship with Him, and an understanding and belief in the eternal heavenly things of Scripture. Maturity is seen as being discipled to “expand the kingdom”, and discipling others to “expand the kingdom” in order to "reach the nations" in order to "rule the nations".

All in the name of Christ, of course.

And so we come full circle to Performance-based Christianity, the Legalism that Dominionism imposes on its followers. “Good” Christians have their nose to the grindstone of “expanding the kingdom” and “bad” Christians don’t. God really loves and favors those who are “expanding the visible power-gaining kingdom”, but those who aren’t tithing to it, and working hard for it, and praying for it, and recruiting others to do the same, well...let’s just say, they better get on board.

And so while the Dominionism pushes on, sadly there are the bodies of many, leaders and followers alike, who are scattered along the road, wounded and disillusioned, because they failed, fell into moral sin, or simply woke up to the unbiblical nature of “expanding an earthly kingdom of Christ”, instead of seeking first the spiritual kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

Such is always the result of Legalism. Even if the Legalist thinks he’s doing pretty well, it only results in pride. But more often it ends in failure, disillusionment, and discouragement.

Please, friends, steer clear of that. Seek first the internal spiritual kingdom of God, and understand the unconditional Grace by which He has made you His beloved. Draw near to Him, commune with Him, be continually filled with His Word, and His Spirit, walk by the Spirit, and God will do His work in and through you, and you don’t have to answer to the marching agenda of any modern-day so-called Apostles.


All Blog Spots said...
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Zack Allen said...
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Pastor E said...

Enjoyed and agreed with your thoughts on Dominionism - however, strongly disagree on your 'theory' comment on cessationism on the Pyromania blog. Saying that Pentecostals willingly lie to themselves and know that their prayer language is really fake is flat out ridiculous and unfair.

Todd said...

I also enjoyed and agreed.

Terry Rayburn said...

Pastor E,

Thanks for stopping by. My view on suppressing the truth about phony tongues is the result of 31 years of observation, as well as personal experience, as well as the testimony of many ex-tongue-speakers. But I appreciate your comments.