Monday, July 07, 2008

The Subtle Legalism Of Dominionism (Transcript)

Before we get rolling today, I want to stress that this is a very introductory talk 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.

Defining Legalism As Used Here

First, legalism. Legalism can have many meanings, and usually, in the Church, simply means requiring something or forbidding something that the Bible doesn’t require or forbid. For example, requiring a suit and tie for men, or forbidding jewelry for women. Those kinds of things that some churches delight in burdening their people with, and some churches cry, “Legalism!”

But that’s not the kind of legalism I want to talk about here. 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 and this, and don’t do this or this.

That’s the kind of legalism which I call Performance-based Christianity. And considering the size of the audience listening to this, I know there are some of you who 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?”

Two Problems With Performance-Based Living

Well, there are two problems with Performance-based Christianity:

1. 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 creatures 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 is love and favor, but because we 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 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.

2. 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 on our face.

And if we love the Lord, when we fall on our face, we 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.

Defining Dominionism As Used Here

Now, having defined legalism for our purpose today, let’s define Dominionism or Dominion theology:

Dominion theology basically stems from three basic beliefs:

1.Satan, through the fall of Adam, has taken over man’s rightful dominion over the earth.

2.The Church is God’s instrument to take back dominion from Satan.

3.Jesus can’t return until we, the Church, has 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. And with the amazing communication tools we have today – first the printing press, then radio, then TV, and now the Internet – with the amazing communication tools we have today, we are seeing a spread of this false doctrine at an amazing pace.

Contrasting Dominionism With The Bible

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 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...”.

So Where's The Legalism?

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.

It's About Power

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.

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 or 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”, and 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, 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” without Christ, instead of seeking first the spiritual kingdom of God and His righteousness.

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 so-called Apostles.


MadTownGuy said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks for this great article. It encapsulates a lot of what I saw when a group of NAR proponents attempted to take control of our church. Here are some additional observations that I think illustrate your points.

The new thing they are promoting is positioned as the “gospel of the kingdom” as over against the “gospel of salvation.” It is as if this great gift that God has given us is not enough, that we must progress to the next level, whatever that is. Get in the river, they say, or you’ll stagnate and be unfruitful. What that means in practice is that if you are manifesting, if you’re having experiences, that is a sign of God’s approval and of your spirituality. So here is how that seems to be playing out in churches, and I agree that this is very legalistic - in fact I see it as the shepherding movement on steroids, where entire churches are being coaxed into coming under extremely oppressive authoritarian rule.

There is an earthly focus
- emphasis on places and physical objects as ‘consecrated,’ so that anointing oil is considered to have special properties, there are prayer walks to sanctify neighborhoods, and rituals to set certain places apart for spiritual warfare. We had that in a ‘prayer room’ at our church that had special rules about how it was to be used and by whom.
- restoration of the physical, created world - without which, in their view, will cause the return of Christ, however they define Him, to be postponed.
It’s all about man’s, not God’s glory
- emphasis on performance and obedience to ‘covering authority’ - resistance is the cardinal sin, so you must get on board with the agenda or you will be found fighting against what they perceive as God’s purposes.
- reinvention of the church - conflating ministerial authority, which is a valid Biblical concept, with a sort of governmental authority, which quickly degenerates into overweening , oppressive control and micromanagement.
- at first I pictured it as being about money and power - but really, it’s all about power. Control reigns supreme, not only in the church but in the culture at large, so any source of influence is pursued aggressively even if ethics must be compromised. The end justifies the means. They talk about the ‘transference of wealth’ from the unredeemed culture to the kingdom effort, but since their ‘kingdom’ is an earthly one, it becomes a dubious venture. I believe this is why many of the prosperity ministers have amassed such wealth, not to be rich but to be powerful.
- redemption of culture, not souls - the transformation of society into the image the NAR would like, while the true gospel either goes unpreached or is shared only as an afterthought. If someone is truly saved it is incidental to their efforts, or in spite of them (though of course sovereignty overseen by the Lord).


Terry Rayburn said...

Thanks, madtownguy.

Really good observations.

You're right about the "consecrated places" with the New Apostolic guys. I remember when Dutch Sheets was advocating lying down on the graves of dead saints in order to get "anointing" from their bones.

When "The Call" came to Nashville last year, NAR-type folks came to cast water demons out of our Cumberland River in order to "cleanse" the area for the event.

As regards taking control of your church, this is an actual agenda of the movement. They are not only attempting to "restore" Charismatic churches under so-called Apostles and Prophets, but have the stated agenda to make inroads into more mainline churches as well. This accounts for the association of people like Rick Warren and his Mentor, C. Peter Wagner.

Wagner is the head of the New Apostolic Reformation, and has an enormous influence on the whole Dominionist movement, through an octopus-like network of organizations.

I get the impression that they failed in taking control of your church. I thank God for that.


Frank Zimmerman said...


I appreciate your comments about the problem with "performance-based" thinking, but am having some difficulty applying it (probably because of my "performance-based" thinking!).

How would it apply to someone like Abraham? God promised him a son, and he really needed to see the fulfillment of that promise. The future of God's work seemed to depend upon it.

It seems that performance-based thinking got him into Ishmael, which only delayed God's promise. Yet Abraham needed to see God's promise fulfilled. How would the proper faith bring him to the promise...and how would his bringing forth of Isaac be free from "performance-based" thinking?


PuritanReformed said...

Hello Terry,

do you happen to know of any good material on Dominionism from a reformed perspective?

Terry Rayburn said...


Sorry for the delayed response. Time gets away from me sometimes.

Regarding Abraham, the first important point to make is that God works through "all things" synergistically for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28,29).

Therefore, although Abraham "messed up" in various ways, he was best served when he "believed God".

Same with us.

When we "believe God", then we don't believe the "performance-based" lies of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Examples of such lies would be:

1. God is angry with you, because you sinned today [He is never "angry" with His children, though He may take them to the woodshed if they persist in unrepentance over something]

2. God would love you more if you only did _______ [God's love is total and steady toward His children]

3. You are a rotten sinner, fortunately saved by grace, barely [You are no longer a "sinner" in your identity before Christ, nor in your nature or spirit, which has been made new. You will still sin, but that now goes AGAINST your nature, through the deception of the world, flesh and devil. You are now a "saint" in your identity and your nature.]

So, Frank, it's not our Performance by which God loves and favors us. But He is working in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

When we are Performance-based in our thinking, we get off the ground of grace, and on the ground of Law (which we have died to). Ths quenches the Holy Spirit, and ironically our "performance" is worse than if we had stayed on the ground of grace and allowed the love of Christ to "constrain" us.

Hope that helps,

Terry Rayburn said...


Sorry, but unfortunately there is not only too little concern among us Calvinists for the Dominionist Movement, but many have embraced it through Reconstructionism.

Still, there are a lot of good resources online if you Google around a little.

A missionary named [Mr.] Sandy Simpson has written some good stuff, with passion and pretty good homework.

Google "sandy simpson dominionism" (without the quotation marks) for a good start.