Updated: Sep 19
For the past two weeks, we have been talking about Christian nationalism. In this final installment, I want to talk about the actual theology of this idea. Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and we have to take active steps to keep it that way. Nationalism asserts that “America is and must remain a Christian nation as a prescriptive program for what America must be in the future.”
To be clear, if someone wants to see biblical values influence culture that is a positive thing, and living in a democracy, there are many tools to have that type of influence. But much of what we hear today has a militant tone that blurs the lines between duty to God and duty to Caesar. For instance, thousands of Christians recently confessed this so-called Watchman Decree, where this line was included: “We, the Church, are God’s governing Body on the Earth.”
Dr. Michael Brown recently gave a very timely message on Christian Nationalism and idolatry
It is true that God has given apostolic authority in the Spirit for leaders to govern the ecclesia—the body of Messiah. But this does not include America (or any other earthly government). And if you listen to the rest of the Decree, they are declaring that America will be energy independent—something that is a political issue. And there is no particular call for believers to reach their fellow Americans with the gospel. It seems to say that America’s salvation lies in taking control of American institutions. Read for yourself.
In the First Great Awakening, there was not even a hint of nationalism but a focus on world missions. In the New Covenant, there is no call to take over nations politically (though, of course, a believer can run for office), but we are called to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” Mark 16:15). The target is the whole world, and the method is preaching the gospel. It was out of this Awakening in the 1700s that the modern world mission movement was birthed.
America is special
A key component in this Christian nationalism movement is that America has a covenant with God. It is true that many of the first pilgrims who came to the shores of the New World sought God’s favor and made a covenant with Him. For example, the Virginia Compact’s goal was to spread the gospel. Same with the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.
John Winthrop, leading 700 Puritans to Massachusetts in 1631, said it like this:
“Others may come to the New World for wealth and furs.’ He said, ‘We have another goal, another end. We have entered into an explicit covenant with God to be His people in this New World.”
However, many began to compare America to ancient Israel—which also had a covenant with God. While I believe God has a special plan for the US, Bishop Joseph Mattera points out that God did not make a covenant with America as he did with Abraham. Of course, it is always good and noble to seek God’s favor, but with Abraham, God sought him out and cut covenant for His own salvific purposes for Israel and the world!
Mattera reminds us that despite seeking to establish a Christian mission, we embraced slavery and even committed genocide at times against the natives. While God may indeed have a special plan for America, God claims all the nations as His (Rev. 11:15).
Many who embrace Christian nationalism also embrace a theology called Dominionism. What is Dominionism? It is a belief that Christians are called to exercise authority over all of the earth’s major institutions. The Kingdom of God has come in fullness, and we simply need to take dominion. It was once called “Kingdom Now,” and the implications are obvious—NOW, not in the future.
Most theologians embrace the idea popularized by George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary, who argued that the kingdom has come through the death and resurrection of Yeshua but will only be fully established at his return. He called this “the already, but not yet.” The kingdom is here now in the present and coming in greater fullness in the future.
Dominionism teaches that it is up to the disciples of Jesus to establish the Kingdom in its fullness before the coming of Jesus. It uses Genesis 1:29-30, where man is given dominion over the earth. To be clear, this was not about taking over universities and government but about populating the earth. The dominion given was over animals, not other humans. “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). If believers want to change society (and we should), we do so through prayer and persuasion, not coercion.
As I have stated in the past, whenever the Church has gained complete political power (I don’t mean Christians serving as governors and senators, which I would encourage), it became oppressive.
Consequently, if we want to influence a city we don’t take it, but rather love and serve it. The problem with the early church after Emperor Constantine began to favor Christianity (AD 313) was not that Jesus was proclaimed the universal or imperial ruler, but that the church transmuted itself and became elitist in nature. In some ways, the oppressed (the church) became the oppressor, and the Roman Empire influenced the church more.
Dominion theology teaches that Jesus did not merely call us to preach the gospel but to take over. Matthew 28:18-20, in the Dominionists’ teaching, is not about world missions but discipling nations. And you disciple a nation by ruling it. But is that what Jesus meant?
When Jesus made that comment, there were no nations the way there are today. There were mostly empires, such as the Roman Empire. The idea of sovereign nation-states the way we see them today is only a few hundred years old, going back to the Peace of Westphalia. This was after nearly eight million people were killed in the Thirty Years’ War. This took another big step after World War I, when many more nations were created, such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Yugoslavia, to name a few (see map).
What were the actions of those who heard the Great Commission after Yeshua ascended into heaven? Did they focus on influencing society through geopolitical power? Or was their primary emphasis on preaching the gospel and bringing people into a salvation experience? It would be hard to argue against the latter. The apostles preached the gospel, immersed new believers in water, and saw them baptized in the Holy Spirit. They cast out demons and healed the sick.
To use the Great Commission as a call to seek political power is a complete misreading and misuse of the passage. But this is how many saw the presidency of Donald Trump. Because he embraced policies that were suitable to evangelicals (particularly white evangelicals), He was seen as a bridge to greater power and influence over society.
Dominionists hold to an extreme version of the “Seven Mountains.” The founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Bill Bright, and the founder of Youth with a Mission, Loren Cunningham, came up with the idea that believers could have influence in society by engaging in what they called the “Seven Mountains” or spheres of culture: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment and Business.
However, in Bright and Cunningham’s version, the believer comes in as a servant to have influence, not to take over. In the extreme version of today, spokesmen speak in more militant terms of taking over, occupying, invading, or taking back society. To be clear, while the terms may be militant, I do not believe that these ministers are calling for violence.
While these terms could be used in prayer and spiritual warfare in a very positive way, the rhetoric against individual humans is growing increasingly volatile. Recently, a governor took Ephesians 6:11, which says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes,” and changed it to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the LEFT’S evil schemes.” That is the exact opposite of what Paul meant by this passage. Paul says our fight is not against human beings but against demons, but the governor’s comment is what happens when you merge politics and Jesus. Jesus transcends all aspects of the human Kingdom. I understand that there are demonic powers behind much of the agenda of the Left—and also the Ku Klux Klan and Q-Anon. However, we cannot weaponize scripture for our own political purposes.
While I applaud involvement in the political arena to be salt and light and have influence, our primary focus must be the preaching of the gospel and winning people to Jesus—not the taking over of government and other institutions. Such theology is simply not in the New Testament.
 Get Real with Ron Cantor episode, https://www.god.tv/video/get-real-with-ron-cantor-mark-chironna-and-joseph-mattera/zype.  Eddie L. Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening of 1857-58: The Prayer Movement that Ended Slavery and Saved the American Union (Hyatt Press, 2019).  Mattera, https://www.god.tv/video/get-real-with-ron-cantor-mark-chironna-and-joseph-mattera/zype, 5:57  Joseph Mattera, “7 Reasons Why I Am Not a Christian Dominionist” International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, August 30, 2018, https://www.icaleaders.com/news/2018/8/30/7-reasons-why-i-am-not-a-christian-dominionist-by-joseph-mattera.