Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Commission And Creation Mandate

Dr Leong Tien Fock's paper for NECF Forum VI: TRANSFORM NATION AGENDA
is already online for preview. It takes a fresh look at the Great Commission in light of the Creation Mandate and provides a firm biblical-theological basis for what is called "wholistic mission". Here is an excerpt:

The eschatological Kingdom and the Great Commission

It is in the context of what the Church and disciples of Christ are called to be and to do that the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” them is given. Certainly, in “going” to make disciples, the Gospel must be preached and accepted before the “baptizing” can happen. But the Gospel to be preached is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is an invitation to repent and believe in Jesus so as to enter the Kingdom of God, thereby having a foretaste of the eschatological salvation. This explains why there is such a focus on “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, teaching them to submit to God’s reign by seeking to do His will in every area of their life.

The Great Commission is premised on “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This means Christ is already reigning in heaven and on earth. Hence the Great Commission is premised on the presence of the eschatological Kingdom of God. But Christ will not impose His authority on the nations. When disciples, and not just converts, of all nations are made, people of all nations will willingly recognize Christ’s authority and seek to do God’s will. Hence the Great Commission is, in this sense, about seeking God’s Kingdom to “come” to, and hence His will be done in, all nations. Since not everyone will become a disciple, Christ’s reign will not be universally recognized. And since even the disciples of Christ have not yet fully experienced the eschatological salvation, Christ’s reign will not be
perfectly recognized. The Great Commission is given with the promise that Christ would be with His disciples even to end of the age. Hence the work of the Great Commission is to continue until He comes back to consummate the Kingdom, where His reign will then be universally and perfectly recognized.

The kingdom of God and the Creation Mandate

Since the Kingdom of God was promised in the Old Testament, we need to understand what the kingdom or reign of God means in that context to fully appreciate the meaning of the Great Commission (note: the Kingdom refers to the eschatological Kingdom, while kingdom refers to kingship or reign in general). In order not to miss anything, we need to go all the way back to the very first commission given to the human race: the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).

It was before the Fall and in the Garden of Eden that God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “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.” Thus the mandate to fill and subdue the earth and rule over the creatures was given when Adam and Eve were in direct fellowship with God and before there was a need for world redemption.

This mandate must first be understood in this context before we can relate it to the Great Commission.

When the earth was first created it was “formless and void” and God had to do some major renovation on the earth and the solar system before life on earth was possible. Then he created plant and animal life and finally human life (Genesis 1). God further developed (a small portion of) the earth by planting the Garden of Eden and placed the first human couple there to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15).

It is in this context that the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill and subdue the earth (outside the Garden of Eden) was given. What did it mean to Adam and Eve?

John Walton in his Genesis commentary explains:
If people were going to fill the earth, we must conclude that they were not
intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden
would appear a hardship since land outside the garden was not as hospitable as
that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable).
Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend
the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would
extend the food supply as well as extend the sacred space (since that is what the
garden represented).

The Garden was a “sacred space” because it was within this space that God dwelled with Adam and Eve. And within this space God’s will was to be done perfectly (“on earth as it is in heaven”). And when they sinned by not submitting to His will they were driven out. In other words, the Garden was where the kingship of God was fully realized, and to expand the Garden by filling and subduing the earth was to expand the kingdom of God. It was thus the pre-Fall version of the command to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The Creation Mandate came with the assurance of the availability of food in the Garden (Gen 1:29) just as the command in Matthew 6:33 came with an assurance of the provision of food (and other basic needs) through a promise. The implication in both cases is that the need to “make a living” is no excuse for not fulfilling the mandate or the command to extend God’s kingdom.

But how would the multiplying of human beings and the filling and subduing of the earth actually work out in history?

Albert Wolters has answered it well:
When God rested from His work of creation (and renovation) on the seventh day,
this is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has
withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth
with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty;
in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not
completely. People must now carry on the work of development; by being fruitful
they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind,
as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be
a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own
kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of
the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task
ahead is civilization.

Thus the Creation Mandate is to develop a civilization that would spread to the whole earth.

But what kind of civilization would this be? The first human civilization was that of the ungodly Cain and his descendants. They did build a city and develop agriculture, industry and the arts (Gen 4:17-22). But they did not call upon the name of the LORD (cf. 4:26). And Lamech not only practiced polygamy; he boasted about killing a boy for hitting him and, unlike Cain, had no fear of the consequence (4:23-24). It was a godless civilization that eventually led to the Flood, which destroyed the world except Noah and his family.

The Creation Mandate was given before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. And they
were in direct fellowship with Him. So the civilization was intended to be distinctly (but not completely) different from that developed by Cain and his descendants. The difference would not be in the building of the city and the development of agriculture, industry and the arts. All this is part of the mandate to “fill and subdue” the earth. The distinct difference would be that the civilization is developed in obedience to, and in fellowship with, the Creator.

Hence, the civilization is to be an expression of the kingdom of God. In other words,
the kingdom of God is to be expressed through a civilization. What then is this civilization supposed to be like?

Read on for the rest of article

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