Christian Dominionism and John 14:12

By Dr. Christopher Plumberg

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At times throughout the history of the Church, some Christians have held to the belief that the Church ought to aspire to political power in order to fulfill the commands of Jesus, such as the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). This position has occasionally been known as Christian dominionism, because it seeks to achieve earthly dominion for Christianity. Dominionists sometimes cite passages such as Matthew 6:9-13, in which Jesus encourages His disciples to pray that the Father's kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, and John 14:12, in which Jesus states, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father" (NASB). However, is this really what Jesus had in mind when He made these statements? Did Jesus really command Christians to aspire to and acquire public and political positions of power?

As we've just observed, Jesus certainly did teach His disciples to pray that the Father's kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. However, what Christian dominionists typically fail to appreciate is that Christ's heavenly, spiritual kingdom should not be conflated with any earthly, political sort of kingdom. In fact, Jesus implicitly emphasized this point when, just before His crucifixion, He answered Pontius Pilate, saying that, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36, NASB). In other words, although the fulfillment of the Great Commission certainly does not preclude Christians from holding political power, it certainly does not require them to, either.

In fact, the Great Commission itself gives us a good idea of what Jesus had in mind for His priorities for His Church. In Matthew 28:18-20, we read Jesus' commands: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (NASB). Now clearly, the substance of this command is to "make disciples," something which describes the spiritual reality of a person who ceases to be an enemy of God and becomes instead one of His children. The principle implicitly reflected in Jesus' reply to Pontius Pilate is that such a spiritual victory can only be accomplished by means of a spiritual kingdom: Jesus' rule over our hearts is not one of external coercion, as a political power would have, but one of internal compulsion, as only the convicting work of the Holy Spirit can produce. Indeed, such a spiritual victory would seem to be the only kind of victory that matters, for any other kind of victory would fall short of restoring fallen people to the glory of God.

Thus, we see that Jesus assumed no political position, not because this was a work which was too great for Him, but because it was too small: a political position could, at best, correct only the externally problematic aspects of humanity, without ultimately resolving their internal sin natures. One day Jesus will rule, both externally and internally, but for now, His kingdom reign is mostly limited to a spiritual reality. Even Jesus' miracles, like political power, could only fix temporal problems: Lazarus, for instance, although he was raised from the dead (cf. John 11), eventually died again. On the other hand, the greater works that you and I have been called to participate in are eternal in nature, and are precisely what Jesus has called us to in the Great Commission: we are to participate in bringing about the spiritual victory, rule, and sovereignty of Christ to its full effect in the hearts of the lost. The quest for Christian political power is thus risks ultimately becoming an ill-fated grab at a superficial solution to a fundamental human problem, and only the spiritual kingdom of Christ can truly set us free.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the kingdom of God is only spiritual: the point is simply that identifying the kingdom of God with political power is a mistake. But the kingdom of God nevertheless has plenty of earthly effects as well, whose significance ought not to be minimized. In fact, if the kingdom of God were only a spiritual reality (i.e., completely irrelevant to our everyday life), then it would not truly represent God's sovereign rule over all things.

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Published 12-1916