Guest Essay by Stephen McDowell
Jesus began His ministry proclaiming “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Three decades prior to this, the King of the Kingdom came to earth in human form. At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation – the coming of the eternal, omnipotent King.
Paul defines the Kingdom of God as “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Jesus instructed us to seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and as we do, many other things (like peace, prosperity, and joy) will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). When God’s Kingdom comes – when we submit to His government and apply His righteous standard to our lives – we will lead a peaceful and blessed life. Life without the King is restless and miserable. This peace resides chiefly within our hearts and minds, and is available even under the worst conditions.
Christ, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), gives us peace. When the angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds he proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27), and “Peace to you” (John 20:29, 21, 26).
What is this peace given to us? For one, it is the internal peace of salvation that comes from our right-standing with God. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is peace in the storms of life. Jesus calmed the sea – saying to it, “Peace, be still” – and He will also bring peace during the storms of our lives. There is peace for the righteous but no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 57:19-21). We can have peace in the daily challenges that exist in the world because of sin. Simeon could depart in peace because he had seen the Prince of Peace (Luke 2:29). We can depart in peace, and we can live in peace once we have seen and follow Him.
Biblical peace is not the absence of conflict. The response of Herod (a pagan ruler) to the Prince of Peace was the massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18). The response of fallen man/society was to crucify the Prince of Peace. Having God’s peace does not mean your life will be without challenges or hardships, but possessing His peace enables you to face every situation with confidence and great grace.
Consider the testimony of many of the Scottish Covenanters who were persecuted for their Christian faith. Three days before James Renwick was hanged, “he told a friend who kindly asked how he was, that he was very well but that he expected to be much better in a few days.” On the morning of his execution, February 17, 1688, he told his mother and young sisters: “Death is the king of terrors but not to me now, as it was some times in my hidings. . . . Would ever I have thought that the fear of suffering and of death could be so taken from me? What shall I say to it? ‘It is the doing of the Lord and marvelous in our eyes.’ I have many time counted the cost of following Christ but never thought it would be so easy.” As he was marched down the street and saw his place of execution he cried out: “Yonder is the welcome warning to my marriage; the Bridegroom is coming; I am ready, I am ready.”1
The peace Christ gives us impacts our whole life, and beyond. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. In the Septuagint (the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament dated from the third century before Christ), shalom is often rendered by soteria, which is translated salvation in English. Soteria means complete salvation (of spirit, soul, and body). It includes restoring the inner man, healing the mind and body; it touches all of salvation. It implies peace in our family and relationships, peace to the elements, and peace to the created order. Biblical peace also includes the supernatural rest we have in Him, the rest of Hebrews chapter four.
We are to pray for kings and authorities in order that we may live a peaceful and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul’s concern was not only for our personal peace but for civil and societal peace as well. Such is the fruit of the Kingdom of God manifested in the earth. Where His kingdom has come, peace has come, and has included the advance of civility. As the underlying Biblical ideas of the Protestant Reformation advanced, persecution against Christians and innocent citizens diminished. Nations embracing the Reformation ended martyrdoms, tortures, and other barbarous acts.
A perfect peace will never come to sinful man, so conflicts will remain until Christ returns, but Biblical peace has and will progress in men and nations as His Kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven.
As was mentioned, peace is much more than the absence of conflict. It includes being blessed and happy; having full and perfect happiness. Peace includes having prosperity. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, signifies prosperity, and much more. Shalom, peace, is the restoration of the Creation order with man acting as God’s vice-regent ruling in the earth and carrying out the Dominion Mandate.
Jeremiah told the exiled Israelites to “seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city” of Babylon. Before this, he explained what God said they were to do in order to seek the shalom of the nation: “Build yourselves houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not be diminished.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, AMP)
To bring peace to our city, and to our nation, we are to fulfill the creation mandate of God to be fruitful and multiple, to fill the earth, and rule over it. We are to seek to establish God’s original creation order. Cornelius Plantinga writes that shalom is
the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. . . . Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.2
Shalom is “the way things ought to be;” it is completeness, wholeness.
There was perfect shalom in the original creation order, in the Garden of Eden. This was corrupted by the Fall of man. We are commissioned to restore this order in the Cultural Mandate (given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel) and in the Great Commission. This will ultimately come about at the end of all things with the establishment of the eternal city, but will progressively come about in the earth as the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached and embraced.
Jesus (the Prince of Peace) provided the means for Biblical shalom to be realized. Shalom is one aspect of His Kingdom (righteousness, shalom, joy). He demonstrated and preached the Kingdom. He first established His Kingdom within man (Acts 1:7-8), knowing that it would gradually flow out and impact all of life (family, occupation, society, government). Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), that is the Prince of shalom. When the angels announced peace on earth (Luke 2:14), they were announcing that through Christ, shalom (the way things were created to be) was coming to the earth. The restoration of all things was at hand. He made the way for the earth to be restored to God’s original plan, and more.
When Christ was riding into Jerusalem to fulfill His redemptive work, the people declared the prophetic Scripture: “blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38; Psalm 118:26). God’s restored order for the cosmos – both heaven and earth – was being initiated. The King was re-establishing His creation order.
The Christian faith is the means by which shalom is being worked out in history. And our work (calling, vocation) is the means by which shalom is gradually and progressively occurring.3
We are building for the future. We are to occupy until He comes. Our calling is to build a society to the glory of God, which includes converting individuals, but also much more.
His Kingdom came with Christ, but also has been coming progressively in the past 2000 years, and will continue to come in the future. His Kingdom has come in the past, is coming now, and will come in the future. His Kingdom was, is, and will be. At the end, with the coming of the New Jerusalem – the eternal city of God – things will have perfect shalom.
Replace Two Chapter Gospel with Four Chapter Gospel
Much of the church has preached a truncated Gospel in the past century or so. It has failed to understand that the Kingdom of God encompasses all things, and that our mission in the earth is to advance His Kingdom (government) in all spheres of life. These pietistic Christians have embraced what some have called the “Two Chapter Gospel.”4
The “Two Chapter Gospel” teaches that man is fallen and sinful (Chapter 1 – Fall) and in need of a Savior. Christ came to earth to redeem man, to restore his relationship to God (Chapter 2 – Redemption), so that he may live with Him for all eternity in the consummation at the end of the age. The salvation of man is of foremost importance, and the work of the church is to see as many people saved as possible before we die or Christ returns. In this view the Kingdom of God is about man’s salvation and life in the Kingdom that is to come.
These two chapters (Fall and Redemption) are certainly true and important, but is this the whole Gospel story? Is this the Gospel of the Kingdom that Christ proclaimed? What is the Gospel? What did Christ do for us through His coming to earth? Herman Bavinck summarizes it well: “God the Father has reconciled his created but fallen world through the death of His Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by his Spirit.”5
The “Four Chapter Gospel,” which is what the church generally believed and preached for 18 centuries, recognizes God’s created order and purpose before the Fall as well as the broad redemptive work of Christ. The four chapters are:
- Creation – God created the world very good. He created man in His image and made him vice-regent over the earth. He gave him the Creation Commission or Cultural Mandate, which required him to work to take the resources in the earth and make it a better place (Genesis 1:26 – 28; 2:15).
- Fall – man disobeyed God, sin entered the world, and everything was negatively affected (Genesis 3:6-19; 6:5, 11). Man lost the capacity to properly fulfill the Cultural Mandate.
- Redemption – Christ came into the world to restore all that sin had affected, and sin affected man and all the created order. Redemption is as broad as the sweep of sin. (Genesis 12 through Revelation 22 shows the outworking of God’s plan of redemption.) This redemption is for man, but it is also for all of God’s creation. God loves His created order, His kosmos (world). In fact, God so loved His created order (world, Greek – kosmos) that He sent His only Son to redeem and restore it (John 3:16). All the creation groans for its restoration (Romans 8:19-22).
- Restoration – Personal conversion is important, but it is only the beginning. It is how we enter into the Kingdom of God, but our purpose is not just to enter the Kingdom; it is to extend the Kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that matter/creation/the earth is good, and God wants to restore the creation order that was negatively impacted by the Fall. Work is a primary means of doing this. This restoration does not mean we are to go back and live in the original primitive state of nature, but we are to utilize the talents and skills God has given us and take His good creation and see that it advances; that is, we are to seek to fulfill the Cultural or Dominion Mandate.
The end of redemptive history is seen with the coming down from heaven of the “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 3:12), the city of God. When the new city comes, the “tree of life” (Revelation 22:12), the same tree of life in the garden, is now in the midst of a developed city. The Cultural Mandate has been fulfilled. This is the consummation.
We are redeemed in order to restore God’s original creation order and mandate. We are not merely redeemed to get to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth. God wants the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). The Father’s pleasure and purpose through the cross was “to reconcile all things to Himself” (Colossians 1:20). The creation itself will be set free through Christ’s redeeming work (Romans 8:19-22). We are called to restore all things, to extend His Kingdom, which is over all. Abraham Kuyper declared there is not one inch of creation where God does not say, “Mine.”
Believing a Four Chapter Gospel affected how the Puritans evangelized the lost in the founding of America. They understood it was not enough to just send a “talking head” to tell the Native Americans that they were sinners in need of a personal savior who would become their “fire insurance” and give them eternal life if they believed in Him. This is the Christianity that was presented in much of Africa in the 20th Century. The Puritans sought to “propagate the Gospel” by not only teaching of Christ’s redemptive work but also of demonstrating the restorative effect of His redemptive work. They sought to set up a model community with civil liberty, order, peace, and prosperity in order to show the fruit of redemption in society and provoke the lost to desire this same thing.
The Charter of Massachusetts Bay reveals the Christian mission as the central motive of those behind colonization. In the charter, provisions were made for establishing laws, electing representatives, punishing offences, etc. “whereby our said People, Inhabitants there, may be soe religiously, peaceablie, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderlie Conversacon, maie wynn and incite the Natives of Country, to the Knowledg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Sauior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which in our Royall Intencon, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantacion.”6
Biblical Doctrine of Work
A vital part of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth, of restoring all that was affected by the Fall, of establishing Biblical peace (shalom, the way things ought to be) is restoring the Biblical doctrine of work. After all, Jesus taught that we will occupy the earth through our occupation (Luke 19:11 ff).7
One reason the Protestant Reformation had such a transformational impact upon many nations is that it revived the Biblical teaching of vocational calling, that work is holy and is to be done not only for God’s glory but also in accordance with Biblical principles, recognizing, in the words of the inventor of anesthetic surgery, Crawford W. Long, M.D., that “my profession is to me a ministry of God.”8
Martin Luther helped promote a Biblical view of work, writing:
the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going through her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.9
Shalom includes increasing prosperity. As the Christian faith is progressively established in a nation, by first changing men’s hearts and minds and then gradually flowing out to transform all spheres of society, the corresponding blessings of obedience to God’s Word are manifested as well. The blessings of obedience include material prosperity10. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This prayer has been answered most where God’s Kingdom (His righteous standard, His law, Biblical peace, Biblical doctrine of work) has been manifested the most. America’s prosperity is a product of God’s Kingdom and in particular the application of the Biblical doctrine of work.
Understanding and applying the Biblical doctrine of work is essential to fulfill the Cultural Mandate. In my book on Building Godly Nations I write how fulfilling this mandate requires us to: discover truth through sciences, apply truth through technology, interpret truth through humanities, implement truth through commerce and social action, transmit truth through education and arts, and preserve truth through government and law. I present many examples of how Christians have led the way in advancements in all of these areas, and in so doing have played a large part in advancing the Kingdom of God in history.Christians today must see this is how we will fulfill our mission in the earth of working with Him as vice-regents in His ever expanding Kingdom. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:33). Calvin said God put us here to work in His Kingdom, and “the nature of the kingdom of Christ is that it every day grows and improves.”11
- Jock Purves, Fair Sunshine, Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990, pp. 116-117.
- Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1995, p. 10.
- See “Fulfilling the Cultural Mandate,” Chapter 1, and “Biblical Principles of Business,” Chapter 14, in Building Godly Nations, for more on the Biblical work and calling. Also, see the upcoming Providential Perspective booklet on the Biblical Doctrine of Work, to be published in 2013.
- See Hugh Whelchel, “Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” unpublished article, May 2011.
- Bavinck quoted in Art Lindsley, “Creation, Fall, Redemption,” Knowing & Doing, Winter 2009, C.S. Lewis Institute.
- Sources of Our Liberties, Richard L. Perry, ed., New York: American Bar Foundation, 1952, 94.
- See Building Godly Nations, chapter 1, and the soon to be published booklet by Stephen McDowell on the Biblical doctrine of work.
- Engraved on his statue in the United States Capitol Building.
- Martin Luther, Selected Writings of Martin Luther, Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p. 430.
- See Stephen McDowell, The Economy from a Biblical Perspective, and Liberating the Nations, chapter on “Principles for Christian Economics” for why prosperity is the fruit of a Biblical society.
- John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, p. 252. Quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” p. 28.