The Creation or Cultural Mandate, what is it? By Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, what is known as the creation or the cultural mandate will be covered by way of an overview. This overview will be coming from a Protestant Reformed viewpoint. The word dominion will appear several times in this overview. Some readers coming from a dispensational approach may be alarmed at this word. They should not be, it is a biblical word right in the Genesis text.
Definitions from two sources:
God’s command for the human race to fill the earth and rule over it; also called creation mandate, dominion mandate, or stewardship mandate. *
Creation, cultural mandate
The terms creation mandate and cultural mandate can be used in various contexts with subtly different meanings. It’s important to clearly define which of these definitions is at hand in any particular discussion.
The term cultural mandate is far more flexible, implying a wider range of topics than the term creation mandate. There are three primary versions of the idea of a cultural mandate. The first is essentially the same as the creation mandate. The second connects God’s command in Genesis 1:28 with Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20), implying divine authority over all social and political matters. The third places the Great Commission within the creation mandate, requiring political and social matters to be forcibly brought under Christian control. **
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
Let us consider the following comments from Man’s Creation and Dominion by R. J. Rushdoony that are relevant to the Genesis text:
What was God’s purpose in creating man? David answers this question, but much earlier God, in Genesis 1:26, tell us that it is dominion, and David, in Psalm 8:6ff, restates this saying, “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: thou has put all things under his feet.” What God and His Word state so emphatically should be basic to the church’s ministry, but it is not. In fact, one important observer has said that only Chalcedon holds to and teaches dominion theology. But David sees this dominion calling of man as a basic aspect of being “crowned with glory and honor” (v. 5).
The church in the main has lost its dominion mandate and calling. As a result, instead of being the source of the world’s culture, the church is a shallow reflection of humanistic culture, man-centered and not God-centered. As Psalm 8:2 makes clear, our calling and our purpose should be to “still the enemy and the avenger.”
God created man to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth under Him (Gen. 1:26). When man fell into sin, God chose a people and commissioned them to this same task (Jos. 1:1ff.). But Israel failed and was replaced by the church, which was commissioned to the same task (Mt. 28:19-20). The church now, instead of wanting victory and dominion in the face of tribulation, wants rather to be raptured out of it. Will not God give rather tribulation than rapture to such a people? Should they not tremble before God and change their ways?
A strong people of God are told that the Lord even ordains strength “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings” which “still the enemy and the avenger” (v. 2). Now the mouths of famous preachers ordain weakness and retreat.
The dominion God promises to His people is total: it applies to every sphere. The mark of God’s being is absolute dominion, and this is His promise to His people.
The Lord’s Prayer is, in essence, a prayer for dominion: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). For most churchmen, the use of the Lord’s Prayer is a “vain repetition” rather than marching orders. Too many churches need to pray, “God have mercy on us, for we have neither prayed nor lived as we should.”
We must seek God’s dominion over ourselves and our world with all our heart, mind, and being. We must recognize that no church is truly Bible-believing if it rejects God’s dominion and our calling in Him to bring all things under His dominion, beginning with ourselves. (1)
Bio Note: Rousas John Rushdoony was a Calvinist philosopher, historian, and theologian and is widely credited as being the father of Christian Reconstructionism and an inspiration for the modern Christian homeschool movement. Rushdoony extended Cornelius Van Til’s thinking from philosophy to all of life and thought. He wrote over fifty books.
Two more critical Scriptural passages:
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)
“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:6-8)
From the Pulpit Commentary on Psalm 8:6 we read:
Verse 6. – Thou madest him [man] to have dominion over the works of thy hands. An evident reference to Genesis 1:28, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By these words man’s right of dominion was established. His actual dominion only came, and still comes, by degrees. Thou hast put all things under his feet (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:25-28; Hebrews 2:8). In their fulness, the words are only true of the God-Man, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18). (2)
Another passage from Psalms speak of man’s ordained role by God in governing the earth:
“The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” (Psalm 115:16)
Again, from the Pulpit Commentary:
Verse 16. – The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; literally, the heavens are heavens of Jehovah. They belong to him – he dwells there; but it is otherwise with the earth. But the earth hath he given to the children of men. For man God framed this fair world; to man’s use he adapted it with minutest care; and certainly not least for his own people, who are “the salt of the earth” – the human race by representation. (3)
Dutch Reformed theologians on the Cultural Mandate:
First, is Richard J. Mouw. He was Professor of Christian philosophy at Calvin College for seventeen years. He has also served as a visiting professor to the Free University of Amsterdam. He was appointed Professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1985. In 1993 he was elected president of Fuller Theological Seminary, retiring after 20 years of service.
Richard J. Mouw, explaining the cultural-mandate:
When we use the word “culture” to apply to human realities, we are referring to the ways in which we human beings cultivate patterns and processes that give meaning to our collective interactions, as well as the things that we “grow” as a result of those interactions. The Cultural Mandate for Kuyper, God cares deeply about culture and its development – so deeply that the divine desire that human beings engage in cultural activity was a central motive for God’s creating the world. In the narrative of Genesis 1, immediately after creating human beings in God’s own image, God gives them instructions about how to behave in the garden. In the three-part mandate of Genesis 1:28, the first thing God tells them is to “be fruitful and multiply.” That is about reproduction. He wants them to procreate, to have children. But when the Lord immediately goes on to tell them to “fill the earth,” that is a different assignment. This “filling” mandate, as viewed by Kuyper and others in the Reformed tradition, is a call to cultural activity – “the cultural mandate.” The first humans are placed in a garden – the raw nature of plants, animals, soil, and rocks – and they are instructed to introduce something new into that garden: the processes and products of human culture. When the Creator goes on to stipulate that they are to “have dominion” over the garden, that means they must manage – rule over – these patterns and processes of culture in obedience to God’s will. In the well-known formulation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, our “chief end” as created human beings “is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” – and at the heart of this glorifying our Maker is our obedient service as God’s designated caretakers in the cultural aspects of created life. Our true “enjoyment” includes our flourishing in the kind of participation in created life that God intends for us. (4)
Second, is Abraham Kuyper. He was elected Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905. He was an influential Calvinist theologian and journalist. We will consider some of his significant insights into the cultural mandate.
Abraham Kuyper, on the all-encompassing nature of the cultural-mandate”:
God is present in all life, with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labora shall be permeated with its ora in fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God. Consequently, it is impossible for a Calvinist to confine religion to a single group, or to some circles among men. Religion concerns the whole of our human race. (5)
Kuyper, on how Calvinists and Anabaptists differ in relation to the cultural-mandate:
The avoidance of the world has never been the Calvinistic mark, but the shibboleth of the Anabaptist. The specific, anabaptistical dogma of “avoidance” proves this. According to this dogma, the Anabaptists, announcing themselves as “saints,” were severed from the world. They stood in opposition to it. They refused to take the oath; they abhorred all military service; they condemned the holding of public offices. Here already, they shaped a new world, in the midst of this world of sin, which however had nothing to do with this our present existence. They rejected all obligation and responsibility towards the old world, and they avoided it systematically, for fear of contamination, and contagion. But this is just what the Calvinist always disputed and denied. It is not true that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good, which are fitted into each other. It is one and the same person whom God created perfect and who afterwards fell, and became a sinner—and it is this same “ego” of the old sinner who is born again, and who enters into eternal life. So, also, it is one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace; which has now been redeemed and saved by Christ, in its center, and which shall pass through the horror of the judgment into the state of glory. For this very reason the Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. He feels, rather, his high calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honorable, lovely, and of good report among men. (6)
Now we will consider mistakes that have been made by Christians in regards to culture and a biblical plan of action:
Ideas have consequences. If the ideas are false, the consequences can be disastrous. By repudiating some mistaken theologies and strategies, we can get back on track so that government excesses and abuses, the result of a large-scale Christian abandonment of culture can be corrected. Dropping out of the system or acting like an ostrich will make us culturally irrelevant. Besides, short-term solutions ultimately fail. We are in a war of ideas. We need to change peoples’ minds, their worldview. It will not be an easy task, but one that can be accomplished. Changing a person’s worldview will take dedication and preparation on our part for a long-term battle. If we remain unwavering, then our children’s children will again taste the freedom of our forefathers. Christ calls us to disciple the nations in Matthew 28:18-20. We are given a cultural mandate in Genesis 1:26-28, which is carried out by the Great Commission. We can accomplish the task of reclaiming our freedoms through teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God. We must have patience and apply wisdom. A flash in the pan activism accomplishes nothing of lasting value. Short sited activists of this nature usually end up becoming apathetic beer drinkers. We must “think generationally.”
We must see that our fight to regain freedom is a long-term multi-generation battle. Our children will see positive change as a result of our allegiance to the cause of freedom. It is interesting to note that many who claim to be Christian have in many cases been led astray by a pessimistic, dispensational eschatology (a view of history, which accepts as accurate, the ultimate defeat of God’s people before the second coming of Christ). Fallacious belief systems have serious, culturally debilitating consequences. Our lives must be built upon the solid Rock that is Christ. The gospel will triumph in history (Daniel 2:34, 35; Matthew 13:31-33). The belief in materialistic evolutionary origins determines how we live is false. Likewise, those obsessed with the end times speculation can suffer a cultural paralysis, which prevents a meaningful contribution towards building a Christian society. Origins and eschatology can be either positive or negative. The Christian must carefully consider Scripture before taking action.
We must endeavor to see things from God’s perspective. Why? Because God is God and He is sovereign. Besides, God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. The Christian is obligated to do the will of God. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty does not mean that we resign ourselves to defeat. On the contrary, this doctrine gives us the theological basis for working all the harder for the cause of freedom, and if it pleases God, then perhaps He will grant us deliverance. The book of Judges tells of God’s chastisements and the subsequent deliverance of His people. The state is God’s creation for good and order in society, and therefore has the moral authority to do many things like bringing punishment on evil doers. Today, and at many times in history, the state has been an instrument of man’s self-imposed slavery. Men sell themselves into slavery for the illusion of security. The rebuilding of society happens through the preaching of the gospel. The work of discipleship for a nation begins by teaching God’s principles for all of life. The work of discipleship of the nations, alone will reverse the trend towards socialism or the complete takeover by the out of control state.
Christians must learn the biblical principles of freedom to have a basis for speaking out against oppressive government or wickedness in the public sphere. We must be actively engaged in fighting against the idolatry of statism and maintain a principled opposition against all forms of tyranny and wickedness. For those who believe in the continual advancement of Christ’s kingdom in history, there is hope. We must press the claims of Christ’s Lordship in every area of life including the state. Christ is indeed the Lord of the state. Many Reformed and Presbyterian churches have held to the position known as “sphere sovereignty.” As noted, this position was formally developed by Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian statesman.
Kuyper summarized sphere sovereignty as follows:
“In order that the influence of Calvinism on our political development may be felt, it must be shown for what fundamental political conceptions Calvinism has opened the door, and how these political conceptions sprang from its root principle. This dominating principle was not, soteriologically, justification by faith, but, in the widest sense cosmologically, the Sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible. A primordial Sovereignty which eradicates in mankind in a threefold deduced supremacy, viz., The Sovereignty in the State; The Sovereignty in Society; The Sovereignty in the Church.” (7)
This diagram illustrates Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty:
Kuyper’s influence is still with us today through the apologetics of the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary. Several of Kuyper’s works are still in print. While he was one of the most powerful conservative pastor-theologians, he entered politics and became prime minister of the Netherlands. The Reformed churches in the Netherlands did not endorse Dr. Kuyper’s candidacy because of their adherence to the rudiments of the doctrine of sphere sovereignty. Sphere Sovereignty stated is that the state, church, and family are institutions created by and accountable to God. Each institution should not intrude into the sovereignty of the other institutions. For example, the state cannot pick candidates for church office. The elders of the church cannot tell a family that their children should not eat “Wheaties.” The church should not pick or endorse political candidates. There is little disagreement concerning the first two propositions, so why should Christians question the third? The genesis of sphere sovereignty existed in John Calvin (Protestant Reformer) and is continued in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), a distinguished Protestant confession.
Sphere sovereignty lies at the heart of and is fundamental to the Protestant doctrine of separation of powers. The spheres of sovereignty or authority must always be under God’s authority. This doctrine of the separation of powers is seen in Reformed church polity (government). For example, there are three layers of church courts: the first being the session of the local church, the second being the Presbytery or regional church court, and third the General Assembly, the highest court of appeal. This Protestant influence is also apparent in our American Constitutional Republic. For instance, we have three divisions or separations of powers, the Judiciary, Legislative, and Administrative.
KJV Dictionary Definition of dominion:
DOMINION, n. L. See Dominant.
1. Sovereign or supreme authority; the power of governing and controlling.
The dominion of the Most High is an everlasting dominion. Daniel 4.
2. Power to direct, control, use and dispose of at pleasure; right of possession and use without being accountable; as the private dominion of individuals.
3. Territory under a government; region; country; district governed, or within the limits of the authority of a prince or state; as the British dominions.
4. Government; right of governing. Jamaica is under the dominion of Great Britain.
5. Predominance; ascendant.
6. An order of angels.
Whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. Colossians 1.
7. Persons governed.
Judah was his sanctuary; Israel his dominion. Psalm 114.
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
do-min’-yun: In Ephesians 1:21 Colossians 1:16 the word so translated (kuriotes) appears to denote a rank or order of angels. The same word is probably to be so interpreted in Jude 1:8 (the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) “dominion”), and in 2 Peter 2:10 (the King James Version “government,” the Revised Version (British and American) “dominion”). See ANGEL.
7985. sholtan — dominion
… 7984, 7985. sholtan. 7986. dominion. Transliteration: sholtan Phonetic
Spelling: (shol-tawn’) Short Definition: dominion. Word.
/hebrew/7985.htm – 6k
Seventy Two occurrences of the word Dominion or the concept in the following passages:
1 Corinthians 15:24
2 Corinthians 1:24
1 Timothy 2:12
1 Peter 4:11
1 Peter 5:11
2 Peter 2:10
2 Samuel 8:3
1 Kings 4:24
1 Kings 9:19
2 Kings 20:13
1 Chronicles 4:22
1 Chronicles 18:3
1 Chronicles 29:11
2 Chronicles 21:8
Francis A. Schaeffer on a correct view of dominion:
“Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.” (8)
This would be Godly dominion or faithful stewardship under God’s directions.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter IV.2 – Of Creation) states:
After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female,  with reasonable and immortal souls,  endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image;  having the law of God written in their hearts,  and power to fulfill it:  and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.  Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God,  and had dominion over the creatures. 
4. Gen 1:27
5. Gen. 2:7; Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:43; Matt. 10:28
6. Gen. 1:26; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24
7. Rom. 2:14-15
8. Gen. 2:17; Eccl. 7:29
9. Gen. 3:6, 17
10. Gen. 2:17; 2:15-3:24
11. Gen. 1:28-30; Psa. 8:6-8
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper
“The moral absolutes rest upon God’s character. The moral commands He has given to men are an expression of His character. Men as created in His image are to live by choice on the basis of what God is. The standards of morality are determined by what conforms to His character, while those things which do not conform are immoral.” – Francis A. Schaeffer
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Man’s Creation and Dominion, (https://chalcedon.edu/magazine/mans-creation-and-dominion, 2001).
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Psalms, Vol. 8, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 49.
3. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Psalms, Vol. 8, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 62.
4. Richard J. Mouw – Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (2011).
5. Abraham Kuyper: The Stone Lectures (Princeton University 1898), Lectures on Calvinism, (Eerdmans publishing, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1981).
6. Abraham Kuyper: The Stone Lectures (Princeton University 1898), Lectures on Calvinism, (Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1981).
7. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures On Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1981), 79.
8. Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, Complete Works of Francis A. Schaffer, A Christian Worldview Vol. 5, (Westchester, Illinois, Crossway Book), p. 42.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics
And at https://carm.org/
GREAT COMMISSION AND CULTURAL MANDATE (1) https://postmillennialworldview.com/2015/02/18/great-commission-cultural-mandate-1/
GREAT COMMISSION AND CULTURAL MANDATE (2) https://postmillennialworldview.com/2015/02/20/great-commission-and-cultural-mandate-2/
9 Abraham Kuyper Teachings on Christianity and Culture https://blog.faithlife.com/blog/2015/10/9-abraham-kuyper-teachings-on-christianity-and-culture/