More than two hundred years have gone by and Christianity is still the religion of America. Through wars, panics, depressions, and unprecedented technological advances, Americans have not left their beliefs behind. Nine Americans in ten say they have never doubted the existence of God. Eight Americans in ten say they believe they will be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for their sins. Eight Americans in ten believe God still works miracles. Seven Americans in ten believe in life after death.1
But over the last twenty-five years Christian beliefs and morality have been swept away by a widespread abandonment of the conscience. Increased sexual immorality, premarital sex, adultery, sodomy, widespread divorce, and drug abuse -- all these have had devastating consequences on the lives of Americans.
In response to the frightening prospect of life in a society whose moral base has been seemingly lost forever, Christians today are voting, joining political movements, and running for office to uphold Biblical morality in a last-ditch effort to stem the rising tide.
This is not the first time Christians have sought to reform society according to the principles of the Word of God. It was just such thinking that guided the Puritans of early New England. They drew inspiration from the work of earlier reformers in England, Scotland and France, especially from the teachings of John Calvin. He believed that the church, as a morally upright and spiritually fervent minority (the elect), could rule over a relatively complacent majority outside of the church. Thus 'the elect' are able to create a society that is at least outwardly moral. For example, Calvin's church in Geneva, Switzerland, greatly influenced the ruling council and the policies of that city for almost thirty years.
Men came from all over Europe to Geneva to listen and learn from John Calvin. Yet it was in England that his teachings probably had their most far-reaching effects, even leading a tiny band of farmers and their ministers to endure a difficult ocean voyage and brave the harsh New England winter in order to put those beliefs into practice.
In Plymouth and in the Commonwealth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Calvin's teachings found their freest expression. Church members elected their own officials, who framed laws, elected justices, waged war, and negotiated treaties, all for the glory of God and the benefit of their fellow citizens.
However, as other persecuted sects settled in the New World, the Puritans grew intolerant of them, regarding them as a threat to their well-ordered society. Quakers and other dissidents whose beliefs didn't agree with those of the official church were fined, driven out, whipped, or hanged. The Puritans saw themselves as purifying their society and bringing it under God's dominion. They felt that a pure society would follow the superior moral leadership of a true church with the help of a godly government. In fact, such a church and society were, in their minds, a necessary prerequisite for the Second Coming of Christ.
The seeds that John Calvin planted never died, although many have lain dormant for a long time. Right now Christians are considering many of the beliefs John Calvin first introduced. This way of thinking has often been called Dominion Theology (because it teaches that Christianity should dominate every sphere of society). It has also been called Christian Reconstructionism (because it advocates the total reconstruction of society according to Biblical principles), or Theonomy (because it seeks to impose God's law on all of society).
Proponents of Dominion Theology or Reconstructionism believe that Christ will return to earth in His Second Coming after the Millennium. They believe that we are currently in the Millennial age and that it is during this age that the Kingdom of God must be established on the earth. The following is a summary of the Reconstructionist understanding of the church's role in these days, according to Professor Renald Showers of the Institute of Biblical Studies:
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the marching orders for the Church. It is the New Covenant update or recapitulation of the cultural or dominion mandate given at creation... In order for the dominion mandate, or Great Commission, to be fulfilled, three things must happen:
First, the vast majority of people must experience true Christian conversion through the worldwide proclamation of the Christian message of redemption and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. For the reconstructed society to work, the great majority of people must be capable of governing themselves. Only regenerated people have that ability; non-Christians do not.
Second, Christians must take over the rule of every sphere of society, including the rule of individuals, institutions, and nations. This means that Christians must be political and social activists. They cannot fulfill Christ's commission to disciple the world if they are not ruling it.
Third, as Christians take over the rule of the world, they must subject every sphere of society to the Biblical law found in the Old Testament, especially all the moral and civil aspects of the Mosaic Law that God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. This is necessary to save the world from destruction. God intends the Mosaic Law to be the rule of life for all people, in every culture, in every age of history. In fact, the unchangeableness of God requires that the Mosaic code be enforced in all cultures at all times. Obedience to it is guaranteed to bring peace and prosperity, but disobedience will inevitably bring cursing. Only as the Mosaic Law is enforced worldwide will the dominion mandate given at creation be fulfilled.
This enforcement of the Mosaic Law will involve the application of the death penalty for such capital crimes as murder, rape, kidnapping, bestiality, incest, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, idolatry, witchcraft, the offering of human sacrifice, unchangeable rebellion in adolescent children, flagrant negligence resulting in the death of another person, blasphemy, apostasy, the spreading of false doctrines, and perhaps Sabbath breaking.
The reconstructed society will regard dissenters and heretics as treasonous criminals at war with the law and society. It will turn such people over to the civil authorities for judgment. Some will be imprisoned, lose citizenship and many rights, and perhaps suffer greater penalties.2
The fundamental flaw of Dominion Theology is that it fails to acknowledge the essential difference between the nations of the world and the holy nation. What it describes as taking place in the world at large (living by the Mosaic Laws) is really meant to happen in the holy nation (where love fulfills the Law as we lay down our lives for each other). The nations of the world, on the other hand, are accountable to live according to the instinctive law in their conscience, which is the everlasting covenant of Genesis 3:16-19. They should not be expected to live by the higher law of love that only disciples can attain to by the power of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers (Acts 2:44), which is the church.
The Apostle Peter described the church as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession."3 It is a spiritual nation, distinct from and yet dwelling in the midst of the nations of the world. Its sphere of authority is in spiritual and not civil matters. The church exercises her authority over those who are in the New Covenant, not over the unregenerate people of the nations (over whom she has no authority).
Our Master's words in Matthew 21:43 undercut the claim of Dominion Theology that the nations of this world can become the kingdom of God in this age. He said:
Therefore I say to you [the Jews], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
That nation to whom the Kingdom is given is the holy nation of 1 Peter 2:9, which must be a light to the nations of the earth, a demonstration of righteousness, not a coercion or a religious regime.
While the initial steps today's Christian political activists are taking may not seem very threatening when compared to the agenda of Reconstructionism, they are firmly on that path. The thinkers and visionaries of the Christian Right have the long view in mind, but are patiently advising, inspiring, and encouraging Christians with political potential to run for office. Probably most of those who get involved in the affairs of state have little grasp of the scope of Dominion Theology, but are merely seeking to do their part in stemming the tide of moral decline. Nonetheless, the movement is gathering momentum, taking on a life of its own, set on a dangerous course toward the wedding of the church and the state. As in the time of Constantine, Luther, John Calvin, and the Puritans, the fruit of such a marriage has always been bitter.