Secular journalists have recently concocted the term “Christian Nationalist.” They are labeling many well-meaning Christians who are serving in public office with the pejorative designation with the intent to marginalize their influence in the public square. So what do they mean when they charge you with this? This Bible study is intended to unpack that term (which is not a new subset of Evangelicalism, by the way—it is just a newly coined term to describe it) and aid you with the theological knowledge to persuade you, hopefully, to not be one. By painting public servants who trust in Christ for their salvation as “Christian Nationalists,” the secular journalist hopes to instill fear in the voting populous.
So it is important for you to know what this means and why it is not a biblically based precept to begin with.
Read on, my friend.
Smearing believers with the new term “Christian Nationalist” is an attempt to label Christian public servants and other believers as Dominionists, perhaps too, a Christian Reconstructionist, perhaps too, a Theonomist. What do these terms mean? Each, generally speaking, represents a different facet on the same gemstone of belief.
A. CHRISTIAN DOMINIONISTS
Dominionists believe that followers of Christ need to take dominion over civil government. Such thinking is rooted in a misinterpretation of Genesis 1:28 and the Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:19–20. (These passages will be studied in greater detail.)
B. CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
Reconstructionists believe that all the Founding Fathers were Christians and that they founded the United States as a “Christian Nation.” They believe that over time, the secularists revised American history and stole away that historical truth. Christian Reconstructionists feel it is their obligation to restore that truth. (The beginning premise of the very existence of a “Christian Nation” will be studied in greater detail.)
C. CHRISTIAN THEONOMISTS
Theonomists believe that in taking dominion and in reconstructing America as a Christian nation, it follows that all of America’s laws should be based on Old Testament (OT) law—that all of the OT law must be imported and become the basis of all of America’s civil law. (The basis of this idea too will be studied in greater detail.)
For the sake of introductory simplicity, these sound-bite capsulations are sufficient for those unfamiliar with them. Keep in mind, all of these terms are close cousins and necessary ingredients to the idea of establishing a theocratic nation.
Let me add here in the introduction that in ministering to public servants in the highest levels of governance for more than 25 years, I can vouch for the fact that not one Christian public servant I’ve ever worked with harbors motives of a theocratic takeover of some sort: In fact, most every one of them has been totally unfamiliar with these concepts or terms!
In essence, secular journalists and left-wing blogger activists are attempting to strike fear in the hearts of society by falsely postulating that believers in office desire to turn America into a theocracy-a church-controlled state.
If a Christian Nationalist by definition is someone who desires to create a Christian Theocracy, then it stands to reason that such a person desires to champion a cleric-controlled state. That could take the form of a Christian dictatorship, Christian republic, or perhaps a Christian oligarchy. Whatever the form of governance, such Christian individuals would have to hold absolute power and control over the state in order for that state to qualify as a bonafide Theocracy.
Anything less than the above would not meet the standard of the existence of a theocratic form of government by sheer definition of the word.
Therefore, for a public servant to be genuinely labeled a Christian Nationalist, it would necessitate that person be in favor of replacing America’s present democratic form of governance with something else —where Christians hold all the power.
It then follows that a Christian who desires NOT to change the existing form of the government is not a Christian Nationalist!
Many, however, are the believers in office who are pursuing the objective of maturing in Christ so as to better represent Christ and His teachings IN THE EXISTING GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE. It follows that such are not theocratic-craving Christian Nationalists!
This distinction is of critical importance because secular journalists are now attempting to say that committed Christians who wish to study the Bible and grow in their faith are actually trying to establish a Christian Church-controlled government.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Such labeling efforts are absurd, defamatory, and reveals their ignorance of theology.
In her book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Michelle Goldberg invented the term “Christian Nationalism.” In a blog that was published by the Huffington Post on May 14, 2006, she writes:
“I’ve just published a book called ‘Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,’ and since it appeared, I’ve been asked several times what Christian nationalism is, and how it differs from Christian fundamentalism.
“It’s an important concept to understand, because the threat to a pluralistic society does not come from those who simply believe in a very conservative interpretation of Christianity. It comes from those who adhere to a political ideology that posits a Christian right to rule.
“Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic; separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives … The goal of Christian nationalist politics is the restoration of the imagined Christian nation.”
Goldberg names David Barton, founder of the WallBuilders organization, as a “foremost Christian revisionist historian.” To illustrate Dominionism, Goldberg quotes George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries who authored the book The Changing of the Guard. Grant writes “Christians have a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ—to have dominion in civil structures … It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.”
In these quotes, Goldberg has accurately identified the components of Christian Nationalism as being those of Christian Reconstructionists and Dominionists. And she has singled out the fundamental Evangelical Christian as not being one! She is making the same point as my sidebar titled “Who is and who is not a Christian Nationalist?”
But the very fact that Goldberg felt it necessary to coin a new term, “Christian Nationalism,” gives evidence that she is not familiar with the established terms: Reconstructionists, Dominionists, and Theonomists—accepted, sufficient and satisfactory labels long ago established by theologians. Her seeming need to re-label all this casts doubt on her knowledge, understanding, authority, and credibility to write on such issues. Further evidencing this, she fails to quote the leading Theonomists in her overview: Rousas Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen. In summary of the introduction:
DOMINIONISM: Pertains to Christian Rulership
RECONSTRUCTIONISM: Pertains to Christian History
THEONOMY: Pertains to Christian Civil Code
All of these are close cousins, descriptors in part, of a theocratic form of civil governance. It follows that the mention of any of these words and their meaning should and does strike fear in a historically composite society steeped in a First Amendment tradition and understanding of the same: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”
II. THE MISCONSTRUED PREMISES OF CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
There are at least three areas of biblical misunderstanding that, to this day, create the false basis of Christian Nationalism. They are as follows.
A. A MISUNDERSTANDING OF GENESIS 1:28 AND THE GREAT COMMISSION, MATTHEW 28:19–20
1. Genesis 1:28
In this familiar passage of the OT, God gives those whom He has created in His image the right to rule—or as some English translations state, “have dominion over”—the remainder and totality of God’s created order. Genesis 1:28 states:
“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘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.’”
Worthy of note is the main emphasis of the surrounding passages: Only man was created in His image, Imago Dei (cf. Genesis 1:27), and it is this contrast to the remainder of the created order that is the emphasis of the passage.
Man is to have dominion over the remainder of creation because he is made in the image of God. The passage is not speaking to Christians having dominion over civil government.
God has not even created civil government at this point! So how can Genesis 1:28 be used as a cogent basis for the propagation of Dominionist Theology? Civil government is nowhere in sight here! It is, therefore, an exegetical leap to cite this passage as a proof-text for such; in fact, there exists no biblical texts commanding Christians to take dominion over civil governments.
2. Matthew 28:19–20
Dominionism is also fueled by a misinterpretation of the Great Commission— the final command of Jesus as recorded at the conclusion of three of the four Gospels and the beginning of the Book of Acts. Matthew 28:19–20 states:
“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.”
Herein Jesus commands His followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations ….” The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. It is the base for the English word Mathematician. In context, Jesus is commanding His followers to, after His ascension, go into all the world and make “spiritual calculators”: Men and women who calculate the world for what it is the way Jesus would calculate it. In other words, as the Great Commission goes on to say, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Jesus is charging His followers to create other followers of Christ by teaching them all that He said—that which would soon be recorded in the New Testament (NT). Further, the word “nations” is the Greek word ethnos and can be also translated as “people groups” rather than geographically boundaried nations in the sense of civil governments. Ethnos, used here and elsewhere in the NT, refers to “people of a similar language.”
All combined, Jesus is not commanding His followers to make disciples of geographical nations, He is commanding His followers to make disciples of individuals.
Further to the point, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” relates to individuals, not nations. All that to underscore that the Great Commission passages of the NT in no way serve to underscore a command to create theocracies as is postured by Dominionist theologians.
As stated previously, nowhere in the Bible is the follower of Christ commanded to take dominion over civil government, nor as seen herein under point 2 is there ever a biblical objective to create a “Christian Nation.” In fact, the word “disciple” as used in the NT always relates to an individual, as does the word “Christian.” The concept of a “Christian Nation” is in fact biblically unfounded; it is exegetically unsubstantiatable. The term is a misnomer and should never be used by anyone except to say such does not exist in the Bible.
In the NT, Jesus and His apostles are always about building God’s kingdom in a future, eternal sense; never are they about creating Christian nations in the here and now.
The Dominionists, Christian Reconstructionists and Theonomists misinterpret Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 28:19– 20, using them eisegetically which means interpreting the text by reading one’s own ideas into it to underscore their faulty presuppositions.
The aforementioned is further buoyed by the additional, clear understanding of the NT teaching pertaining to the institutional separation of the Church and state during the Church Age of Scripture.
B. A MISUNDERSTANDING OF INSTITUTIONAL SEPARATION
Christian Nationalists have a less-than-clear understanding of the fact that God has bifurcated the institution of the state from the institution of the Church during the time in which we live—and that He desires to keep it that way! America as such is a composite nation, but keep in mind, institutional separation does not imply influential separation. The following three NT passages serve to underscore the fact that God has separated the institutions of the Church and the state in the New Covenant.
1. Matthew 22:1–21
At the conclusion of this passage, Jesus speaks these profound words:
“And He said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’”
When Jesus said these words, Israel was occupied by Rome—something very upsetting to the Jewish rulers of the day. After all, they understood themselves to be “a holy people to the Lord … chosen … to be a people for His own possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). This passage from the Gospel of Matthew more than hints that Jesus is no longer favoring theocratic Israel as being primary in the world—He is giving a place to secular civil government! In ushering in the New Covenant, God is separating His representational people, the forthcoming Church, from also housing civil-governing authority. God’s representative people, the coming Church, will no longer also hold civil authority as was the case with theocratic Israel of old. Under this new arrangement, the civil state will hold the civil power that God’s people will need to submit to. This institutional bifurcation obviously caught the Pharisees off guard. They were accustomed to a theocratic form of civil government. Herein then is the beginning of the forthcoming biblically based composite society: the institutional separation of the Church from the state!
2. Romans 13:1–8
The Apostle Paul continues with this same theme as Jesus has stated in Matthew 22:21: Note especially Romans 13:1–4, which serves to indicate this institutional separation:
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”
The state, too, is ordained by God, but obviously a separate institution that believers need to submit to.
3. 1 Peter 2:13–14
The Apostle Peter continues this theme as Jesus states in Matthew 22. Again, the state is established by God, but it is a separate institution that believers are under the authority of:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”
These aforementioned passages could not be more clear; they triphonically serve to govern the interpretation of what the Great Commission means by what it says: In that the state is a distinctly separate institution ordained by God in the Church Age, one cannot interpret the command to “make disciples of all the nations” to mean that believers are to make people groups into “Christian nations” or theocracies: Such an interpretation of the Great Commission would negate these three aforesaid passages pertaining to ongoing institutional separation during the Church Age in which we now live! In addition, these separation passages negate the Dominionists’ understanding of Genesis 1:28: It is incongruous to think that believers are to take dominion over and be about creating “Christian Nations” if indeed God has explicitly stated that He has now separated them! Such an interpretation of Genesis 1:28 creates a theological conundrum of purpose, dueling objectives, if you will, between man and God: The Dominionist is coaxing believers to attempt to tie together something that God has just unknotted!
The Dominionist, Christian Reconstructionist, and Theonomists conveniently overlook these institutional separation passages! Is that because they serve to tear at the very fabric of their faulty theological construct?
C. A MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE APPLICABILITY OF OT LAW
Most everyone who has read even a small portion of the Bible knows that we live in the times of the New Testament, not the Old Testament. This is a simple, basic, necessary beginning point when unpacking the fallacy of all the components of Christian Nationalism. Why? What follows is the easiest way to make sense of the seeming complexity of the application of the OT law in NT times:
Only the specific aspects of the OT law that Jesus and NT writers bring forward are applicable for today; what they do not mention is not, and should not, be a basis for current civil lawmaking.
Theonomists believe that today’s civil laws in and for civil society should be enacted based on all biblical laws—NT as well as all of the OT.
Upon a cursory read of the NT, it becomes immediately evident that the theocracy aspects of OT law—those that relate to theocratic Israel—are not noted by Jesus nor the apostles in the NT, and therefore, are not applicable in the composite Church Age of today.
Having established these basic means of discerning applicability, let us go a step further to aid in a clearer working understanding of this issue which is so pertinent to this study. The student of Scripture divides the OT law into three separate, distinctive categories. Those are as follows:
1. The Moral Law
Think in terms of the 10 Commandments as recorded by Moses in Exodus 20 (found in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, prior to Israel becoming a bonafide theocratic nation [contr. the book of Judges, 1 Kings, 2 Kings]. Jesus and the apostles repeat the moral law of Exodus 20 in the NT. Examples of such are: the sin of murder; the sin of stealing; the sin adultery. The essence of the 10 Commandments and the Levitical code (cf. the book of Leviticus in the Torah), have been the basis of American law ever since the foundation of our great and prosperous nation— and have served the nation well.
A good example of this OT moral law reliance is America switching away from one aspect of it: California’s birthing of no-fault divorce. When California enacted no-fault divorce laws, the sin of adultery (among other sins) became a non-punishable offense; no-fault divorce laws usurped the laws concerning marriage and divorce which had previously greatly curtailed the number of divorces by enforcing penalties upon the spouse who was found to be at fault (be it adultery or otherwise). California’s enactment of OT-based moral law prior to its jettisoning served to curtail divorce, thereby creating greater civil stability. In fact, divorce leads to one-parent families, which leads to poverty. Prior law also placed the responsibility to care for the wife and dependent children on the husband, who traditionally was the breadwinner. When the no-fault law came into effect, those family protections eroded. Women were no longer automatically granted alimony, men were free to use their resources for themselves without being held accountable for broken commitments, and this resulted in the abandoned family being left, for the most part, to fend for itself. Many other illustrations exist relative to the price a nation pays for suspending or, for whatever reason, failing to enact the moral law of the OT.
Summarily, the moral law of the OT is fast-forwarded into the NT era by Jesus and the apostles and it is the basis of societal structure and overall civility today.
The moral law of God should and will always be the basis of a properly functioning civic government.
2. The Judicial/Civil Law
This aspect of the OT law was given in order to set apart theocratic Israel, God’s chosen people, as a unique and distinctive nation relative to other Gentile nations of the time. As seen in previously quoted Deuteronomy 7:6, Israel was Jehovah’s nation; Old Covenant theocratic Israel was God’s form of representation at that time in biblical history. It follows that the judicial/civil laws of ancient Israel as recorded in the OT served to set Israel apart via such things as their agricultural practices, diet, disputes, cleanliness and dress. Again, this aspect of OT law related to Israel as a theocratic nation set apart to be Yahweh’s special, representative people. It follows that when Israel was chastised and rejected by God from being God’s surrogates (due to her prolonged obstinacy and sin), this aspect of the OT law was suspended as well.
The NT is explicit about this—that the OT law passed away when Israel rejected her Messiah. Passages that indicate God’s abrogation (abrogation: “to abolish by authoritative, official, formal action”) of Israel’s judicial/civil laws are evidenced in many passages (cf. Acts 10:1–16; Colossians 2:16–17 and 1 Peter 2:9). In fact, John 19:15 serves to indicate the manifest reality of this in the hearts of the Jewish leaders themselves, as is evidenced at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”
The Bible states that God, at this time, the time of the Church Age, has rejected Israel as a nation. Matthew 21:43 states this in no unmistakable terms: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.”
The people referred to, who will produce the fruit God desires, are the Gentiles in and of the forthcoming Church Age. But this rejection of God’s chosen people, Israel, is only for a time because theocratic Israel will be restored, once again becoming central in God’s plan, when Christ sets up His Millennial Kingdom in the future (which is at the conclusion of the Church Age we presently live in). Such is spoken of clearly and in detail in Romans 11:25. Conclusively on this point of the judicial and civil law of the OT:
Theocratic Israel no longer exists in the age we live. Therefore, the OT judicial and civil law no longer exists either.
The Theonomist, in his clumsy hermeneutic (which is the science of interpreting a historical document), fails to make this distinction and imports not only the moral law, but the civil and judicial law (again which pertains only to Israel) into the NT era—as if it is pertinent in civil law construction! This is a huge theological error in their thinking and should be roundly rejected by Christian public servants and citizens alike! Such thinking has no theological merit, let alone practical application in a First Amendment, bound composite society.
The Christian public servant can confidently reason that those aspects of the OT law are applicable only to theocratic ancient Israel and not repeated nor mentioned in the NT by Jesus or His apostles. In fact, as we have discovered, Jesus Himself states that they have been done away! (Cf. Matthew 21:43.)
Today, the Church is God’s chosen representative body on the earth, not Israel. 1 Peter 2:9–10 makes this abundantly clear, wherein the same language used to describe Israel in the OT, Deuteronomy 7:6, is quoted by the Apostle Peter and prescribed to the Church.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Note that in the New American Standard Bible, as used above, that every time the translators quote verbatim an OT passages, they use capitalized English letters.)
Going a step further, it is important to distinguish (even though the descriptive language above is quite the same) that the Church today is not the same entity as Israel was yesterday; the Church is not Israel of old. To hold such a belief causes all kinds of difficulties that the aforementioned clarifications eliminated. An example of what I mean is this: when asked the question “Do you believe America should stone homosexuals?” Given the aforementioned argument, the clear, simple answer is “No, America should not stone homosexuals, because America is not the theocratic Israel of the OT!—those laws were given specifically to OT theocratic Israel! And when Jesus stated that Israel was no longer His spokesperson, He did away with those nation-distinguishing laws.” That is a clear, clean answer based on what we have learned about the non-transferability of certain aspects of the OT law. But to say that the Church today is the same entity as OT Israel of yesterday is to muddy the water; such a viewpoint is akin to negating the existence of all of the previously referenced passages.
3. The Ceremonial Law
This aspect of the OT law was meant to govern theocratic Israel’s aspects of worship. Temporal, Temple sacrifices for the remediation of sin were at the heart of Israel’s form of worship. Akin to the judicial/civil law being done away with the passing of Israel at this time, this portion of the OT law, too, has passed away. Specifically, the Temple worship of Israel was done away with when Jesus died on the cross for our sins: simultaneously the veil was torn in the Temple, signifying the end of ceremonial law. All now have direct access to God through the propitiatory work of Christ on their behalf! Matthew 27:51 states in this regard:
“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.”
Hebrews 10:19–22 states further in this regard: “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
In that America is not a theocracy, it is inconceivable that any lawmaker would today think of fast-forwarding ceremonial law into our American civil law code.
When Jesus came, Scripture states that He did not come to abolish the OT law. Note Matthew 5:17 in this regard: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” How is a Christian lawmaker to understand this passage? Does this not undergird the Theonomist? Does this passage mean that all the OT law is applicable for today—none to be abolished?
This passage in the Sermon on the Mount, spoken by Christ, is in the context of the preeminence of Christ over all of The Law, in the clear contextual sense that any and all aspects of the OT law were never intended to save. Galatians 3:24, dealing with the same contextual idea as is being addressed here in the Sermon on the Mount, gives much light to this meaning:
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
The contextual understanding of the OT law in this passage is soteriological (Gr.: soterios: to save) in nature. What Jesus is stating here is how one obtains a relationship with God, how people are saved: Christ fulfills all of The Law for the saved individual who is trusting in Christ by faith for his salvation; Christ is their propitiation for each person’s sin, paying the price for their lack of fulfilling the requirements of the OT law. In this sense it is Christ who fulfills The Law, making perfect the sinner in the eyes of God, the lawgiver.
This passage, therefore, is not an informant for civil lawmakers today. Matthew 5:17 should not otherwise confuse your perspicuous understanding of this matter.
The ceremonial law, likened to the judicial law, applied only to ancient Israel and is not repeated in the NT; in fact, again, the NT states both of these aspects of ancient Israel’s law have been done away with for the time being. Clumsy in his hermeneutic is the Theonomist as he seeks to import all three aspects of the OT law, instructing fellow believers that all should be applicable by lawmakers today in their civil law construction. Such thinking must be soundly rejected by the Christian public servant.
The judicial/civil OT law along with the ceremonial OT law are not applicable for public servant lawmakers today in the Church Age because they are specific to theocratic Israel of the OT and they have been done away with by Christ Himself. On the other hand, the moral law of the OT is applicable for today as a reliable informant for civil government leaders in their lawmaking. In fact, the moral law is and should remain the basis of civil government lawmaking today because it matches perfectly the conscience “chip” that God has installed in everyone He has created: The moral law of God, revealed in the OT and NT is written on our hearts! (Cf. Romans 1:18–20.)
Whereas Christian Nationalists postulate total national adherence to total OT law, based on the aforementioned arguments, believers must categorically reject this understanding and viewpoint.
The Theonomist is wrong and clumsy.
Believers who serve in civil government should only seek to import one of the three distinctly different aspects of the OT law. They should seek to import for today the moral law of God as revealed in the OT Torah!
Christian Nationalism and its three-faceted componentry of Dominionism, Reconstructionism, and Theonomic Importation equate to really bad theology. Be not misled, my friend; we are not Christian Nationalists for these stated reasons.