Starting at the beginning means that we must start with Genesis. More specifically, we must start with the Garden of Eden: a time of vital importance in biblical revelation. However, for all the things that one might say about this key period, our purposes require that we make mention of one often overlooked point. Namely, that the time in the Garden was a time of God’s theocratic rule.
This idea is often a bit of a jolt to the system. While the word ‘theocracy’ easily conjures up thoughts of Israel during their time at Mount Sinai, it doesn’t as readily send us to the very beginning. That said, some thought on the matter shows that the idea of theocracy should indeed point us to the Garden.
To be sure, theocracy is an involved state of affairs, but at its core it simply means that their is no distinct line drawn between cult (…and no, I don’t mean ‘cult’ cult. I mean: ‘sphere of religious worship’) and culture. In other words, during a time of theocracy, rather than distinguish between cult and culture, it is all rightly seen under one main kingdom rubric.
This of course, is very different to our current situation. When we as the church, talk about ‘culture’, we are talking about something that is decidedly outside of the ‘sphere of religious worship’; something then that the church has much need to engage with on mission. Once again however, this was not the case in the Garden of Eden. Cult and culture were one. All of life was properly under the banner of the religious sphere. Not to mention of course, that at this point there was no sin present.
The other big issue in the Garden had to do with geography. That is, before the fall, God’s rule over His people had a distinctly geographical dimension to it (the garden itself). Once again, this is a vital component of what theocracy entails. If there isn’t a divinely sanctioned piece of real-estate involved, call it what you will, but it’s not a theocracy. So, while we do indeed find a biblical counterpart to this time during God’s rule over Israel–who lived in Canaan (the Promised Land); and also a counterpart/fulfillment in God’s final rule over the new heavens and the new earth; it should also be emphasized that during the times in between, things were (or are) very, very different.
So then, before moving forward to further explore this difference, there are two main things to note as we set out on this journey through Scripture, enquiring into the matter of missiology. The two things we should take note of are, a) that God’s rule in the Garden was a time of theocracy, and b) that God’s rule in the church is not a theocracy.
Already this concedes to a colossal idea, the implications of which are far reaching for mission and cultural engagement. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Paying careful attention to these first two observations, we’ll move on the next thing in the following post.