God Loveth Adverbs

Relation between Gospel and Cultural Mandate

Generally a good life is a balanced life, in thought, deed, speech, etc., yet it is difficult to maintain balance. To be in either extreme is much easier. Suppose we fall on one extreme of idea, others who do not agree with our position fall into other extreme more easily than taking the balanced and integrated solution. The two ends of pendulum we often encounter in Christianity are ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. The first regards that only spiritual things matter; while the other elevates the secular at the expense of the spiritual. I believe this dualism resides in the minds of many of us. Why is this so? Perhaps the influence of Zeitgeist—the spirit of the ages—is too strong for us not to be contaminated by it. What I know is that a certain kind of this dualism started since Plato (emphasizing the ‘other’ world) and Aristotle (emphasizing this world). This is portrayed by Raphael in his painting The School of Athens. Since then—according to Alfred North Whitehead—all Western thoughts are only series of footnotes to Plato and Aristotle. Let us come into the topic.

Evangelicals may have the tendency to consider the Gospel mandate (Mt 28:19-20 are very often quoted to support them) as the ultimate reason for Christians to live in this world. This is stated by Arthur Holmes in his book All Truth is God’s Truth. He pointed out that this is because of many mission works and evangelism done by the churches in the last 150 years (especially cross-cultural mission and personal evangelism). I think the tendency is also a reaction to the spread of Liberalism and Social Gospel in the early 20th century. Liberalism basically negates the basic doctrines of the Gospel, while Social Gospel movement puts too much stress on social reform, even above individual salvation. Thus, as a counter of these movements, in my opinion, evangelicals fall to the other side.

Let us examine this tendency by looking at the verses taken by evangelicals as their basis.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20, ESV)

The main verb in this commission (based on the Greek language) is to “make disciples.” Then it is explained by the other three verbs, i.e. “go”, “baptizing …” and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (emphasis added).” And since the task is impossible to do by relying on human power, Christ assured the apostles His protection. Clearly this mandate includes many more things other than evangelism. Disciple implies follower, thus we are to follow Christ as He has given us the absolute example and Christ’s teaching is about how we should live an integrated life for the glory of God (at that time disciple means someone who submits himself to a good teacher). So in fact, I should say the Great Commission comprises of Gospel Mandate and Cultural Mandate.

Actually, these two mandates are the consequence of the Fall. We should remember that the first mandate God gave to man was what we call Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:28). It is basically a “command” for human being to flourish in all dimensions of life on earth (this flourishing is what the Old Testament calls shalom and New Testament calls eirene, usually translated as peace). For more explanation on the concept of shalom, especially its implications in Christian higher education, the reader is referred to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book: Educating for Shalom.

Of course, the framework for flourishing human kind is the glory of God. Human being subdues nature to glorify God as the manifestation of the Lordship of Christ in every square inch of life. But Adam sinned against God such that no one seeks God (Ro 3:10-12). Reformed tradition holds that sin pervades all area of human existence hence his relationships with God, fellow human, and nature are damaged (see for example, Philip Graham Ryken’s commentary of Gal 1:4 in Galatians (Reformed Expository Commentary) or Wolterstorff’s autobiography essay The Grace That Shaped My Life). In conclusion, the Fall made it impossible for human to do the Cultural Mandate as given by God. Therefore the only solution for human to be what God intended him to be is redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (Note that I do not imply that redemption is God’s plan B. I write this way because of the limitation of human mind. There are still deep theological debates on this matter).

Consistent with the reality of sin mentioned above, redemption is cosmic in nature (Jn 1:1-4, Col 1:16-20, Ro 8:19-23, Mt 19:28, Rev 4:11). Therefore, Christ’s work on earth provides us the only way to flourish accordingly. And this is what Christ said in the Great Commission. Human must first repent from his sins and surrender himself to the Lord (Gospel Mandate). Only then he can live to please God (Cultural Mandate). So actually, Gospel Mandate is (the only way) to support Cultural Mandate. But I am not saying that one is more important than the other. Each mandate is one side of a coin. They cannot be separated and one cannot be done without the other. Neither part can be absent in the whole body of Truth. Also note that after the Fall in OT period, Cultural Mandate was still effective (refer to Gen 9:1-3 when God made a covenant with Noah). I would say that this is because even the Gospel has its shadow right after the Fall (Gen 3:15, which scholars called protoevangelium, first Gospel). Furthermore, people in OT understood Christology more than we often think (refer to Messianic Psalms for the case of David and Heb 11:26 for the case of Moses).

One important aspect on how we do our mandates is faith, which is given by God. Faith is also viewed in holistic manner as sin and redemption. Faith transforms our heart so that all aspects of our life are influenced. However, it does not happen instantaneously. Regeneration is just the beginning, a new birth. What should follow in every Christian life is sanctification, a new growth. As we are sanctified, we are enabled by God to do His mandates and at the same time we are conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ (Ro 8:29). Again we see that the relationship between regeneration and sanctification is like that of the Gospel and Cultural mandate. We are saved to be sanctified and we cannot be sanctified unless we are born again.

Going back to our first paragraph, the tendency of the evangelicals can be seen as one end of the pendulum, which is ‘sacred’. Saying that our purpose of existence is to share the Gospel can make us think our school or work as a lowly matter. Why am I in school? Of course to share the Gospel to my classmates. Why am I working? Obviously to make a fellowship in my office, to pray together, share our burden, or to be a good witness, to be honest, disciplined, etc. I am not saying that all these things are wrong (otherwise I fall to the other end of pendulum, the ‘secular’). We should do those things. But there is more than those things in our school and work.

We believe that all we do is to glorify God. To glorify God, surely we have to do things according to His Words. Now, if what I have said about Zeitgeist is correct, then we have to be careful about it. Zeitgeist influences what and how lessons are taught in schools, for example. So we cannot just accept what the world is feeding us through universities, thinking that this is not a problem and sharing the Gospel is the only thing important anyway. On the contrary, Christians should equip themselves (Eph 6:10-18) to influence the current Zeitgeist with biblical world and life view.

The Bible teaches us that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Thus everything done in faith (definitely the biblical faith) will glorify God. Luther even declared, as quoted by Os Guinness in The Call, that God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper. Finally I draw this writing to a close (and a beginning for us to study His Words more) with a quotation from the old Puritans, “God loveth adverbs.”


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