Does the Great Commission of Mt 28:18-20 supersede the cultural mandate of Gen 1:26-28? Does the command to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ replace the requirement to fill and subdue the earth and to rule over all living things?
At first sight, it might seem that this is indeed the case. After all, the cultural mandate was given to Adam in Eden, as God’s image-bearer, in a state of innocency, prior to the Fall. ‘Adam and Eve, together with their progeny, were to serve as God’s representatives on earth and to fit the entire planet to serve as a habitation for God to the praise of his glory.’ But humankind has been banished from Eden, and God’s image in us has been distorted and tarnished. By nature we are in no position to exercise godly dominion over all the earth. But in redemption God’s image is being renewed in us (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24), and this happens as the gospel is proclaimed, in obedience to the Great Commission.
Too often, Christians have interpreted and applied the Great Commission too narrowly. They have understood it as requiring the evangelisation, baptism, and bringing into church life of individuals. But the scope of the commission is very broad: ‘Teaching them,’ says Jesus, ‘to observe everything that I have commanded you.’
John Frame writes:-
‘The great commission tells us not only to tell people the gospel and get them baptised, but also to teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. Everything. The gospel creates new people, people radically committed to Christ in every area of their lives. People like these will change the world. They will fill and rule the earth to the glory of Jesus. They will plant churches, establish godly families, and will also plant godly hospitals, schools, arts, and sciences. That’s what has happened by God’s grace. And that is what will continue to happen until Jesus comes.’
Psalm 24:1 affirms that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’. This be so, we will not erect an artificial division between the sacred and the secular, between evangelism and cultural responsibility. Redemption in Christ equips us to fulfil the cultural mandate, and enables us to progressively bring all things under the wise and loving rule of God.
As Howard and Packer put it:-
‘To affirm and bask in the goodness of the world, to praise God for the wonders of creation, to practice responsible stewardship of this small planet, and to honour its Maker by using its resources widely for the welfare of the race and the enriching of human life are all integral aspects of work that Christians are called to do. Any idea that consistent Christianity must undermine or diminish concern for the tasks of civilisation should be dismissed once and for all.’
Summarising a section of this article by Norman Wells.