As we discussed last week, the “salt and light” concept used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount has both Old Testament connections and cultural ramifications. The church cannot ignore the fact that she has been given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28; Matt. 28: 18-20), and that her “dominion” activities (or lack thereof) will set the pace for all of mankind’s cultural pursuits. We need to keep in mind that culture is far more than simply movies, music, and magazines. In reality, culture is the outward expression of the core beliefs of individuals; it is truly “religion externalized.” And this externalization is made manifest in everything that individuals do in this world, whether for God or against Him. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).
In his letter to the Church at Colossae, the apostle Paul reminded his readers that Jesus is both the Creator (1:16-17) and the Reconciler (1:20) of heaven and earth. It was God the Father’s good pleasure to send Jesus into the world as a physical and spiritual reminder that He owns it all and we are mere stewards. The culture that we create “down here” is a tangible outworking of our willingness to comply with or rebel against this cosmic truth. Remember John Frame’s simple summary: “Creation is what God makes, culture is what we make.” And what we make is intimately connected with what we believe.
When God created in the first chapter of Genesis, He set a pattern that we continue to follow with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28. In the first three days of creation, God made the environment, i.e. air, sea, and land, and filled them on days four, five, and six with birds, fish, and animals. When He made man—His crown of creation—He gave him dominion, or stewardship, over everything that He had made. He told man to be “fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” When Jesus gave His final commission to His disciples He told them: “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…” It should be fairly obvious how these two mandates are essentially saying the same thing. Both include being fruitful and multiplying (physically and spiritually) and taking dominion over what God has made. When we make disciples and teach them all that Jesus has commanded, we will be fulfilling the dominion mandate and increasing it. When more Christians inhabit the earth, the cultural implications are clear. We take dominion by first subduing our environment and then by multiplying ourselves, both physically (children and grandchildren) and spiritually (converts and disciples).
Because we have been given dominion of the earth by the very Creator Himself, failure is not an option. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 makes this point clear. God expects us to multiply, fill, and subdue the earth for His glory. It is our responsibility to clear the weeds, plow the ground, and plant cultural flowers as He has ordained. The fact that we didn’t make the mess is not an excuse. When my children are sitting around our living room knee-deep in toys and puzzle pieces, it is not an option for them to claim that they didn’t make the mess. As stewards of the house that God has graciously given us (not to mention the toys with which to make a mess!), we, as a family, have an obligation to keep it clean and orderly, regardless of whether or not one of the neighbor boys is actually the cause of the mess. The same thing is true in the larger matters of the culture. We can waste a bunch of time trying to point fingers at the philosophy of Nietzsche, or Marx, or Darwin to account for the cultural rot we see around us, or we can actually get to work planting flowers. Instead of searching the culture for an occasional bone that actually stumbles over transcendental truth, we must be doing the hard work of actually taking dominion. The church has lost sight of this basic and simple principle. The world will only begin to take notice when we get serious about our God-given mandates. But when we willingly trade the multi-generational stone edifice church buildings of prior generations for the pre-fabricated box-shaped “worship center” of modern times, is it any wonder that the world doesn’t take the church seriously?