Chapter 10: The State and the Great Commission

Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Joseph Spurgeon
Book: The Greatness of the Great Commission
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God…. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (Revelation 21:10, 24).

As in the previous two chapters, I begin by referring again to the 1981 Association of Reformation Churches proposed addition to its confessional statement. Paragraph 5 of the document reads:

As a ministry of order, the mission of the state is to provide a peaceful environment in which the evangelical and cultural mandates may be carried out. Because of the sin of man, order and peace require the use of force, and thus to the state has been given the sword of justice. As the church implements Christ’s work of redemption, so the state implements His work of vengeance. The terror of the sword has been given to man as the image and son of God, and thus the rule of justice must proceed in terms of the law of God revealed in the whole Scripture. To the extent that the revealed law of God is not implemented, the state does not fulfill its mission and becomes a tyranny. Only through the full application of Divine law can the widow, the orphan, the alien, and the poor be delivered form oppression; the family and the church be freed to perform their missions; and justice and right be established in all the world.[1]

Although it was not so designed by God, the State has become the dominant institution among men today. The temptation to Eve to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5) has been seized by heads of government throughout human history. Civil rulers have dared to seat themselves as gods (Isa. 14:4, 12-21; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; Rev. 13). With the State’s monopoly of the sword (Rom. 13:1-4), this has brought untold woe upon man.

As I have shown in this book, the Christian worldview has implications, including for the State. Yet for much of this century (up until 1980), Christians have been content to sponsor “retreats,” well away from civil issues – except for the misguided Christian influence in Prohibition.[2]

While maintaining a fundamental distinction between Church and State,[3] we still must recognize the Christian calling to affect all areas of life with the truth of Christ. The Great Commission is not without implications for civil government.[4]


  1. Concern for civil government. Christians must have a concern for the function of the State as one of God’s divinely ordained institutions.[5]

Christ calls us to “disciple all nations,” and this reference to “nations” involves the idea of “cultures” (as per our earlier discussion). Consequently, we must have a concern for the governments of the nations, as an important aspect of culture. To pietistically omit concern for civil government is to truncate the implications of the Great Commission.[6]

We should note also that this retreatism would not be in accord with biblical precedent. Both Paul and Peter give express biblical principles applicable to civil government (Rom. 13:1-4[7]; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). John Baptist and Christ even rebuked civil authorities for their immoral conduct (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:18; Luke 13:32). Scripture encourages our prayer for civil authority (Ezra 6:10; Psa. 72:1; Jer. 29:7).


  1. Obedience to civil government. The various governmental spheres – family (1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 5:22-6:4), Church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5), and State (1 Tim. 2:2-3; 1 Pet. 2:14) are ordained by God for our good.

Paul and Peter specifically oblige us to submit to civil governmental authority (Rom. 13:2-7; 1 Pet. 2:12-17). Since the Great Commission shows Christ laying claim to “all authority” on earth, civil government must submit to His design. As a basic and general rule, therefore, the Christian should live an orderly, Christ exhibiting life in terms of his civil relations (1 Pet. 2:15).

Nevertheless, the Christian at all times holds God and Christ as supreme authority and must refuse any governmental directive which would obligate his doing that which is contrary to God’s revealed will.[8] The government may not act as God;[9] it does not possess unimpeachable authority.[10] Only Christ has “all authority” to command us (Matt. 28: 18).

  1. Exposing evil governmental policies. In that man is sinful, government easily lapses into sin and must be exposed for its wickedness.

Unrighteousness anywhere is hated by God. In the sphere of civil government wickedness especially has horrible and dangerous consequences. Bowing to the ultimate authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18) and seeking actively to “disciple the nations” (Matt. 28: 19), the Christian will “expose the works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11).[11] He will be recognized as one at odds with certain governmental policies because of his commitment to Christ (Acts 5:21, 29; 17:7-10).

  1. Involvement in civil government. In that faith must be exhibited in works (Jms. 2:14-26), and prayer must be undergirded by labor,[12] we should engage ourselves actively in our governmental process, and not just “be concerned.”

The call to “disciple the nations” involves actively and diligently setting forth the claims of Christ even before governments. The Christian should promote governmental polices rooted in God’s Law.[13] One of the express purposes for God’s establishment of Israel under His Law was that it give an example to the governments of the world regarding righteous law.[14] Civil governments are to glorify God in governing their populations[15] by founding their governments on God’s Law.

In doing this, we should recognize the importance of local governmental offices, because: (a) Most higher, federal offices have been gained by those experienced in lower, more local governments. Thus, in the long run (Matt. 28:20), this will reap rewards. (b) We have more influence on local government than on federal government. (c) It costs less, thereby encouraging stewardship.

  1. Promotion of Christian distinctives in government. In that Christ has “all authority,” we should labor in the long term for a recognition of and submission to Christ’s authority (not the Church’s!) in the United States Constitution.

Although any present discussion of reverent submission to Christ in governmental affairs might seem contrary to the “American Way,” it has not always been so. The earliest colonial charters and state constitutions – even into the 1800s – were distinctly Christian covenants, fully recognizing Christ’s “authority on earth” (Matt. 28:18). It has been through the decline of a full-orbed Christian “discipling” program and biblical witness (Matt. 28:19) that we have ended up with a secular state. This decline is largely traceable back to the negative influence of the Great Awakening in the 1700S.[16]

Christians need to begin rethinking their understanding of governmental authority. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). In the long run, due to the predestined expansion of Christ’s kingdom, all kings and nations will bow to Christ.[17] And since God normally works through means, we need to realize that the intellectual preparations should be begun now in anticipation of a cultural paradigm shift. All of this will involve registering to vote, voting, precinct work, running for office, and other such endeavors.


The Great Commission has important, direct bearings on the three foundational societal institutions, the family, the Church, and the State. The full-orbed character of the Great Commission demonstrates both its greatness and its practicality to life. The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3), not just in the heart, but in all areas of life.

If Christians are to preserve the very greatness of the Great Commission, they need to see its applicability to all of life. To do so will require a radical re-orientation in our thinking, a biblical re-orientation. We need to reclaim the Pauline spirit:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:26-28).

[1] “Of the Christian Mission” in The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, vol. 1 of Christianity and Civilization (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1982), p. 96.

[2] For the biblical view of alcoholic beverage consumption (i.e., God allows its use in moderation and with circumspection), see: Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages: A Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986).

[3] See earlier statement at footnote 62 on p. 59, above. See also: Greg L. Bahnsen in Gary Scott Smith, ed., God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989), pp. 21-53.

[4] For more information in this area, see: Gary DeMar, The Ruler of the Nations: Biblical Principles for Government (FL Worth: Dominion, 1987). Greg L. Bahnsen, House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Part I. Rus Walton, One Nation Under God (Old Tappen, NJ: Revell, 1975). Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory (Tyler, TX: Geneva Press, 1981). Ronald H. Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1983). Rousas J. Rushdoony. Politics of Guilt and Pity (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn, 1978).

[5] Rom. 13:1-3. Cp. Prov. 8:15-16; Jer. 27:5; Dan. 2:21; John 19:11; 1 Pet. 2:13.15.

[6] The retreat of fundamentalists for politics for most of this century is well known.

[7] Paul’s statements here are ideals for government, not an historical account of Roman government.

[8] For more information see: Junius Brutus, A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants (Edmonton, Alberta: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989 [rep. 1689]). Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and Its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983). Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1981, chs. 7-10. Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1982), ch. 19. Gary North, ed., Christianity and Civilization (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), vol. 2: “The Theology of Christian Resistance” and vol. 3: “Tactics of Christian Resistance.”

[9] Matt. 22:21; Acts 20:20-23. Cp. Isaiah’s taunt against the king of Babylon, Isa. 14:4, 12-21.

[10] Exo. 1:15-20; Josh. 3; Dan. 3:8-30; Acts 5:29.

[11] For help in this area, see: William Billings, The Christian’s Political Action Manual (Washington, D.C.: National Christian Action Council, 1980).

[12] Cp. Matt. 6:11 with 2 Thess. 3:10.

[13] Psa. 119:46; 148:11, 13; 1 Tim. 1:8-10; Rom. 13:4-9. See Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985) and Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 2 vols.

[14] Deut. 4:5-8; Isa. 24:5; 51:4; Psa. 2:9-10; 119:118.

[15] 2 Sam. 23:3; 2 Chron. 19;6-7; Psa. 2:10-12; 148:1, 11.

[16] Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).

[17] “And, with reference to the times of the New Testament, when ‘the abundance of the sea shall be converted, and their forces come unto’ [the Church], he hath promised, that ‘kings shall be her nursing fathers; – her officers peace, and her exactors righteousness.’ This is connected with the “advancement of the interests of the meditorial [sic] kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is in, but not of this world, and as subservient to which the kingdom of providence is committed unto him.”‘ Thomas M’Crie, Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and Other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod; etc. (Edmonton, AL: Still Waters Revival, forthcoming [1807; 1871]), p. 133.