I have been thinking of writing about colonization from a biblical perspective ever since I read the quote below in Andrew Roberts’ superb biography on Winston Church, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. More about that quote in a moment.
(The meme reads: Christians feeling guilty for colonizing helpless pagan nations: Why do I fix everything I touch? It has a picture of Fix-it Felix from the movie Wreck-it Ralph).
Now, I know it is just a meme, not without flaws.
One of those flaws is that it posits the idea that Christians are the ones who colonized. Therefore colonization is often used as an attack on Christians, since Christians often used the expansion of a nation for missionary purposes. I think it’s worthy of pointing out that it was governments influenced by Christianity that were mostly colonizing in these conversation. However, not all expanding governments are influenced by Christianity that colonized.
In a sense, those nations were carrying out the dominion mandate found in Genesis 1:26. All men everywhere have been given this mandate by God when we were created.
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
This mandate was given to Adam when he was created by God, and given to us since we are Adam’s natural descendants. The problem is that shortly after Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard the garden, his wife, Eve, was deceived by the serpent and led to believe that she and Adam could become like God if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The irony is that they were already made in God’s image. They were already like God in their knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. They already had all that they needed.
Yet, Adam, not being deceived, chose to believe the lie of Satan (who was the serpent), instead of trusting God for all things. They sinned. They were banished from the garden. Yet, the creation mandate remained. The image of God remained. What changed was that the image was now tainted with sin and mankind lost original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
How does this play into our article?
It plays into the subject because we are given the dominion mandate to subdue the earth, but we do so sinfully. Look back up at the command given above. It says we are to take dominion over all the creatures and the earth. It does not say we are to take dominion over one another. Yet, in our sinfulness, this is exactly what happens.
Just look throughout history.
The Mongols, Japanese, Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, Aztecs, Germans under Hitler, the Soviet Union, and currently China are just some of the kingdoms that sought to fulfill the dominion mandate. Notice, these kingdoms did not know the God of the Bible (excluding Germany, although Hitler did not). It wasn’t like they were looking to Genesis 1 saying, “we need to take dominion as God has commanded us to do.” They didn’t have to. It’s a part of who we are as humans.
Our ability to carry out the creation mandate is warped by sin, but it’s still very much alive and well. The command, coupled with sin, manifests itself in the desire for power, authority, and riches. That is what we see in most nations when they expand. This is why we still have oppressive governments today. They seek to take dominion over our lives. In seeking control, they try to fulfill the command and establish their own knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Unbeknown to them, they are carrying out the command, though sinfully, and trying to restore what was lost in the fall. This is what all false religions do, and these governments are false religions, or false gods, seeking to take God’s place in their own lives and the lives of their subjects.
So how are we to proceed?
Fortunately, the Triune God didn’t leave us to ourselves. After all, He has purposes for creation that most people are quite unaware of. He is actually establishing His Kingdom for His Son, Jesus Christ and rules over all other kingdoms. However, the Kingdom of God does not go forth via the physical sword, as the kingdoms of man do (think current-day Islam and their advancement through force). It goes forth through the proclamation of the gospel, which is the message of the Cross of Christ.
And, the gospel goes forth with the expansion of those kingdoms who are heavily influenced by God’s word, although not living up to the standards of Scripture. Only the Kingdom of God will meet those standards, through the ministry and work of Christ, the King.
One way to put it is, worldly kingdoms advance their own causes through expansion, rightly or wrongly. God uses those means to take His message to the areas that are conquered or colonized. The gospel, being only partly present in the members of those colonizing kingdoms, still has a salt-like effect on those colonizing and those being colonized. While mankind’s kingdoms expand and fall, the Kingdom of God continues to grow. Christ, in His sovereign good pleasure, uses both expanding kingdoms and failing kingdoms to grow His Kingdom. His Kingdom grows almost imperceptibly, like Jesus illustrates for us in The Parable of the Leaven (Luke 13:20-21). The leaven works slowly, steadily, and will eventually work thoroughly.
We get a glimpse of the salt-effect working through the United Kingdom’s colonization of India, which brought both good and evil with it. This is where Andrew Roberts’ book on Winston Churchill comes on the scene. Roberts notes that when Churchill was in India, he couldn’t help but be pleased with all that the UK had brought to India since its colonization. What Churchill saw, were the fruits of Christianity, the good in the United Kingdom’s rule.
Today, of course, we know imperialism and colonialism to be evil and exploitative concepts, but Churchill’s first-hand experience of the British Raj did not strike him that way. He admired the way the British had brought internal peace for the first time in Indian history, as well as railways, vast irrigation projects, mass education, newspapers, the possibilities for extensive international trade, standardized units of exchange, bridges, roads, aqueducts, docks, universities, an uncorrupt legal system, medical advances, anti-famine coordination, the English language as the first national lingua franca, telegraphic communications and military protection from the Russian, French, Afghan, Afridi and other outside threats, while also abolishing ‘suttee’ (the practice of burning widows on funeral pyres), ‘thugee’ (the ritualized murder of travelers) and other abuses. For Churchill this was not the sinister and paternalist oppression that we now know it to have been.
The first time I read that quote, it angered me and set me off thinking about colonialism. As I mentioned above, both good and evil are advanced through colonialism. You can see that in the Roberts quote (and I wonder if Roberts was speaking tongue-in-cheek about colonization being completely evil). What he doesn’t mention is that the gospel went forth to India as well, and Christ’s kingdom advanced. This is the greatest good that can come about through colonization, the advancement of the gospel and the redemption of the lost in those countries.
That brings us back to the dominion mandate again, which is still in play. Christ actually added to and clarified the mandate just before His ascension to the throne:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20).
This command shows we are to take dominion over the earth, not with the sword of war, but with God’s word and the gospel. This is the greater purpose of God, expanding His Kingdom until all His enemies and our enemies are made a footstool for Christ (Psalm 110). God is still working to expand His Kingdom, and does so through both the good and evil of the nations.
Let me be clear: this is Christ’s purpose as the Second Adam, doing what the first Adam failed to do: take dominion over all the earth. As the gospel spreads, this is exactly what happens. The enemies of Christ are either converted, becoming children of God and members of the Kingdom, or they are condemned. Either way, they have been ultimately subdued under Christ.
Some might decry the fact that Christians are trying to advance Christianity over and against all other religions, and have an influence over all the earth. It’s true. We are. Some would accuse us of thinking Christianity is far superior to all other religions, both secular and spiritual. It’s true, we do. We do so with good reason. Our King did what no other religious leader, thought guru or political despot ever did: died on the cross and was risen up from the grave, dealing with man’s greatest problem: sin and death.
Colonizing/conquering is going to continue until every nation, every tribe, every king, is finally subdued or destroyed by Christ Himself. He does this through the gospel, which brings life to those called, and condemnation to those who are not. The point is that the influence of Christ’s reign will continue to expand over the earth until every knee will bow, and tongue will confess that Jesus is LORD.
All photos are copyright © Timothy J. Hammons 2021.
As for Roberts’ book, I highly recommend it.