Fulfilling the Cultural Mandate – How Christians Have Helped Establish God’s Kingdom in the Nations

Updated: Apr 6, 2018

By Stephen McDowell

What is man’s purpose or mission on the earth?

Christians often answer this by referring to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and rightly so, but in recent years a large segment of the Church has limited the meaning of this to only personal conversion. Certainly the Great Commission includes the Evangelistic Mandate, to redeem man, but it also includes the Cultural Mandate, to redeem the earth.

God has revealed Himself as both the King of Creation and the Redeemer of mankind. His kingship over creation is depicted in the opening chapters of the Bible. God’s purpose for man is also revealed in the book of Genesis. To properly understand God’s plan for man, we must understand a fundamental truth declared in Genesis 1:1 — the sovereignty of God. God declares His existence from the beginning. He declares He is the Creator, and hence His Lordship over creation. He rules over all creation. “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord. . . . He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:16, 3).

Since He is sovereign, all men are responsible before God. The first book of Genesis also teaches the distinctiveness of man. Man is made in the image of God (1:26-27), therefore he is unique and distinct. Man displays the principle of individuality — in calling and characteristics. We all have a common general purpose, but each of us has a distinct specific purpose.

God gave a mission to His special creation from the beginning — the Cultural or Dominion Mandate (vs. 28). God gave man an assignment to rule over the earth, to take dominion. Psalm 8:6 says we are made to rule over the works of His hand.

God created man in His own image and likeness as His vice-regent or steward to rule over the earth. Unfortunately, man fell from the purpose for which God created him.

Thus, man lost both his intimate relationship with God and his ability to properly govern the earth. Sin not only separated man from God but also brought a curse and great loss. Man was unable to properly fulfill the cultural mandate.

God’s redemptive nature is evident early on. Man having fallen from what God made him to be and to do, God planned both to redeem man and to restore man’s delegated authority and stewardship over the earth. God promised that the seed of woman would destroy the serpent, Satan (Gen. 3:15). Christ was that seed who came to redeem man and reverse the effects of the fall and the curse. He restored to man the ability to fulfill the mission originally given to Adam, as well as restoring man’s relationship to God.

The story of redemption unfolds in the various covenants which God initiated with men. The giving of the law in the Mosaic Covenant was also used by God to further His redemptive program. Of course, God’s redemptive purpose has found ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant through Christ, who was slain and by whose blood God has redeemed men for himself “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Purpose of salvation in Christ

The complete purpose of salvation in Christ cannot be understood unless we understand the original purpose of man. Salvation goes beyond getting man to heaven. It includes restoring man to his original position. Christ brought to man the restoration of the covenant he had with God, of the glory he had from God, and of the dominion mandate. Jesus also brought His kingdom rule and reign to all creation. He proclaimed and demonstrated the gospel of the Kingdom (that is, the government, righteousness, truth, and peace of God in all areas of life).

His atoning work also reversed the curse due to the fall of man. The curse affects individuals through death, sickness, bondage, etc., and in turn also affects all spheres of life. Christ brought redemption to individuals, but also institutions and all spheres of life (including law, government, education, arts, business). Redemption is as broad as the sweep of sin.

God’s desire, as Jesus taught us to pray, is for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have been redeemed for a purpose. In Christ we have been restored to sonship and are now in a position to obey both the Cultural and the Evangelistic Mandates. With respect to the Cultural Mandate, God has restored us to stewardship. Through Christ we are called back to God’s original purpose—to live in His image and to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over . . . every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). We have been restored to serving God as his vice-regent over the earth.

Nations are also affected by Christ’s redeeming work. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus told us to go and make disciples of the nations. Matthew Henry said the intention of this is to admit the nations as Christian nations. Acts 17:26 tells us that God made the nations and determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God.

Nations have duties to God. George Washington summarized well the duties the nations have to God in a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, observed on Thursday, November 26, 1789: “It is the Duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his Benefits, and humbly to implore his Protection and Favor.” [1]

We need to see that our commission is great and goes beyond converting individuals, though that is of first importance.

Redeeming the earth

The Cultural Mandate calls us to use all our resources to express His image and likeness on the earth. 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.

Historically, Christians have led the way in each of these areas. As these men and women have been faithful to fulfill the call on their lives and utilize the talents God gave them, they have contributed greatly in taking dominion over the earth and extending God’s purposes and government in this world.

In the parable in Luke 19:11-27 Jesus instructs us in how we should live on the earth as we wait for, and assist in bringing forth, His kingdom. He told us to “do business with this until I come back” (vs. 13). The this are minas, which certainly speak of wise money usage, but in a broader sense represent the talents, skills, and abilities God has given each of us. God created us for a purpose. He wants us to work as partners with Him to take dominion over the earth by using the talents He has given us. These talents express themselves in the business or work He has called us to. Our work is a vital part of God’s plan for us and the nations. As we are faithful to labor hard and multiply what He has given us, we will be taking part in bringing forth His Kingdom on earth and being a blessing to the nations.

We can learn much in how to disciple the nations today from the examples of Christians God has used throughout history. Following are listed some Christians who have contributed to fulfilling the cultural mandate by doing business with the talents God gave them in various fields. A few of these pioneers are briefly examined so that we may learn from and be inspired by their examples.

Fulfilling the Cultural Mandate Requires Us to:

1. Discover truth through sciences

• Scientists/inventors — Johann Kepler, William Herschel, Isaac Newton, James Maxwell, Francis Bacon, Carolus Linneaus, Blaise Pascal, James Joule, Michael Faraday, John Herschel, Robert Boyle, Louis Agassiz, Lord Kelvin

James Maxwell (1831-1879), Scottish Physicist and Mathematician, reflected the proper view scientists should have when they approach the study of the universe from God’s perspective in his following prayer:

Almighty God, Who has created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who discovered the Law of Gravity and the Laws of Motion, developed calculus and the particle theory of light, and invented the first reflecting telescope, was probably the greatest scientist of all time. He wrote more about God than science. In his Philosophy of Nature he wrote:

We are to . . . acknowledge one God, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the Creator of all things, most wise, most just, most good, most holy. We must love him, fear him, honor him, trust in him, pray to him, give him thanks, praise him, hallow his name, obey his commandments, and set times apart for his service, as we are directed in the Third and Fourth Commandments, for this is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous (l John 5:3).

2. Apply truth through technology

• Colonizers/Explorers — Christopher Columbus, Richard Hakluyt, The Pilgrims, Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, William Penn, Marcus Whitman, Jason Lee, Jedidiah Smith, Johnny Appleseed

Christopher Columbus wrote in his Book of Prophecies, 1502: “It was the Lord who put into my mind, I could feel His hand upon me, the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.” [3]

The person most responsible for the colonization of America by England was a minister, Richard Hakluyt. He wrote of the providential purposes of American in Discourse of Western Planting, 1584:

Wee shall by plantinge there inlarge the glory of the gospell and provide a safe and a sure place to receave people from all partes of the worlds that are forced to flee for the truthe of Gods worde. [4]

William Bradford, the governor of the Pilgrims for 33 years wrote and author of a history of the Pilgrims, Of Plimouth Plantation, wrote of one reason for their starting a new colony:

A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing of the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world. [5]

The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, said after receiving a charter for land in America: “My God that has given it to me … will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” [6]

When missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, reached the Continental Divide on July 4, 1836, they claimed the Oregon Territory for God and the United States. Rev. Spalding wrote:

They alighted from their horses and kneeling on the other half of the continent, with the Bible in one hand and the American flag in the other, took possession of it as the home of American mothers and of the Church of Christ. [7]

• Inventors — Johann Gutenberg, Robert Fulton, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel F.B. Morse, R.G. LeTourneau

Samuel F. B. Morse’s Invention Shrunk the World

Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph in 1832 and worked during the next decade to improve it. The first inter-city line was tested in 1844, when a message was sent from the Capitol Building in Washington to Baltimore.

The invention of the telegraph was one of the most significant technological discoveries in history. It ranks with the printing press in its impact in the area of communication. The message from Washington to Baltimore took a few minutes, which before would have taken about a day. When cables were laid across the Atlantic and across the continent, messages that would have taken days and weeks, now took just a moment.

The New York Herald declared Morse’s telegraph “is not only an era in the transmission of intelligence, but it has originated in the mind . . . a new species of consciousness.” Another paper concluded that the telegraph is “unquestionably the greatest invention of the age.” [8]

Morse was a Christian who believed he had been chosen by God to make this discovery—a discovery that would lead to the advancement of man and the fulfilling of God’s purpose for mankind. Annie Ellsworth, a friend of Morse’s, composed the first message sent over the Washington-Baltimore line on May 24, 1844. She “selected a sentence from a prophecy of the ancient soothsayer Balaam” — “What hath God wrought!” [9] Of this message Morse wrote:

Nothing could have been more appropriate than this devout exclamation, at such an event, when an invention which creates such wonder, and about which there has been so much scepticism, is taken from the land of visions, and becomes a reality. [10]

Morse considered it remarkable that he, an artist, “should have been chosen to be one of those to reveal the meaning of electricity to man! How wonderful that he should have been selected to become a teacher in the art of controlling the intriguing ‘fluid’ which had been known from the days when the Greeks magnetized amber, but which had never before been turned to the ends of common man! ‘What hath God wrought!’ As Jehovah had wrought through Israel, God now wrought through him.” [11]

Morse wrote to his brother:

That sentence of Annie Ellsworth’s was divinely indited, for it is in my thoughts day and night. “What hath God wrought!” It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me. “Not unto us, not unto us, but to Thy name, O Lord, be all the praise.”

I begin to fear now the effects of public favor, lest it should kindle that pride of heart and self-sufficiency which dwells in my own as well as in others’ breasts, and which, alas! is so ready to be inflamed by the slightest spark of praise. I do indeed feel gratified, and it is right I should rejoice with fear, and I desire that a sense of dependence upon and increased obligation to the Giver of every good and perfect gift may keep me humble and circumspect. [12]

Morse would remark in a speech many years later:

If not a sparrow falls to the ground without a definite purpose in the plans of infinite wisdom, can the creation of an instrumentality, so vitally affecting the interests of the whole human race, have an origin less humble than the Father of every good and perfect gift? I am sure I have the sympathy of such an assembly as is here gathered, if in all humility and in the sincerity of a grateful heart, I use the words of inspiration in ascribing honor and praise to him to whom first of all and most of all it is pre-eminently due. “Not unto us, not unto us, but to God be all the glory.” Not what hath man, but “What hath God wrought!” [13]

• Scientists — Jedediah Morse, John Fleming, Joseph Lister, James Simpson, Matthew Maury, Nathaniel Bowditch, Ephraim McDowell, George W. Carver, Crawford W. Long

An engraving on the base of a statue in United States Capitol of Dr. Crawford W. Long says:

Discoverer of the use of sulphuric ether as an anaesthetic in surgery on March 30, 1842 at Jefferson, Jackson County, Georgia U.S.A. “My profession is to me a ministry from God.”

George Washington Carver Applied the Truth and Transformed the Economy of the South

George W. Carver was born into slavery just before the close of the Civil War. His mom was a slave, but after emancipation she stayed with the family in Missouri who had owned her. George and his mom were carried off from the Carver family by raiders when he was just a baby. Mose Carver offered 40 acres and a horse (since he had no cash) to a man to find the mom and child. He brought back George, but was unable to find the mother. George, therefore, grew up on the Carver farm, but in relative poverty.

As a child he loved the woods and plants and things related to botany. He was very observant of nature and always asked questions. He also enjoyed using his hands. At about age 10 he left the farm and worked his way through high school. As a young man he worked hard and saved money to go to a certain college, but was not allowed to attend. A couple helped him to go to an artist school, but he found there were no jobs for an artist. He eventually was able to study his first love, agriculture.

After obtaining his university degree, Carver was invited by Booker T. Washington to come and teach at his newly formed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. His work while here transformed the economy of the South and affected many nations as well.

Carver would rise every morning at 4:00 AM, read the Bible, and seek God concerning what He wanted him to do. Toward the end of his life Carver remarked: “The secret of my success? It is simple. It is found in the Bible, ‘In all they ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’” [14]

One thing he sought God concerning was how to improve the economy of the southeastern part of the United States. Continual planting of cotton had depleted the soil and the invasion of the boll weevil was destroying much of the cotton crop.

Biographer Rackham Holt wrote that, “He devoutly believed that a personal relationship with the Creator of all things was the only foundation for the abundant life. He had a little story in which he related his experience:”

I asked the Great Creator what the universe was made for.

“Ask for something more in keeping with that little mind of yours,” He replied.

“What was man made for?”

“Little man, you still want to know too much. Cut down the extent of your request and improve the intent.”

Then I told the Creator I wanted to know all about the peanut. He replied that my mind was too small to know all about the peanut, but He said He would give me a handful of peanuts. And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth . . . to you it shall be for meat. . . . I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.”

I carried the peanuts into my laboratory and the Creator told me to take them apart and resolve them into their elements. With such knowledge as I had of chemistry and physics I set to work to take them apart. I separated the water, the fats, the oils, the gums, the resins, sugars, starches, pectoses, pentosans, amino acids. There! I had the parts of the peanuts all spread out before me.

This story of Carver’s teaches us the importance of preparation in fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. Carver had labored hard to develop his skills of chemistry. Consequently, God could answer the question Carver posed to Him. God could not reveal the answer to this question to me today; I would need much preparation before I would be in a position to understand and act upon the answer. This is true in many areas of our lives. God is not able to answer many of our inquiries or lead us deeper into our providential purpose for we have not learned enough or been properly prepared to hear and understand what He may say. This is an important lesson to learn. To continue with Carver’s story, he relates:

I looked at Him and He looked at me. “Now, you know what the peanut is.”

“Why did you make the peanut?”

The Creator said, “I have given you three laws; namely, compatibility, temperature, and pressure. All you have to do is take these constituents and put them together, observing these laws, and I will show you why I made the peanut.”

I therefore went on to try different combinations of the parts under different conditions of temperature and pressure, and the result was what you see. [15]

The results: Carver discovered over 300 uses for the peanut. Food items included nuts, soup, a dozen beverages, mixed pickles, sauces, meal, instant and dry coffee. Other items included: salve, bleach, tan remover, wood filler, washing powder, metal polish, paper, ink, plastics, shaving cream, rubbing oil, linoleum, shampoo, axle grease, synthetic rubber.

He produced milk which would not curdle in cooking or when acids were added. Long-lasting cream and cheese could be made from this milk. “This milk proved to be truly a lifesaver in the Belgian Congo. Cows could not be kept there because of leopards and flies, so if a mother died her baby was buried with her; there was nothing to nourish it. Missionaries fed the infants peanut milk, and they flourished.” [16]

George worked with many other plants and items — making 107 products from sweet potatoes; making synthetic marble from sawdust; and making wallboard from many different Southern plants.