In the Introduction, Stellman argues for a couple of his foundational premises, wanting us to see a clear distinction between worship and life. The basic question he is seeking to answer is this: “What is the relationship between cult and culture, the church and the world?” (p. xviii).
Stellman argues that theocracy requires two components — both rule and realm. In the Edenic state, our first parents lived in a theocracy because God was worshiped, and they lived within the realm that He gave them. “This means that God’s reign over pre-fallen man was a dominion that included a domain, a rule that included a realm — namely, the garden of Eden” (p. xix). He defines a theocracy as “an arrangement in which God provides for his covenant people a distinct land in which they are to serve Him as His loyal subjects” (p. xix).
This theocracy continued until the Fall. “Once man declared his rebellious sovereignty, his kingdom became distinct from God’s kingdom, causing an unnatural separation between cult and culture” (p. xx). Notice the assumption that the separation was successful in this at least — that man had wrested culture away from God and made it his own realm.
Because the patriarchs did not have such a land, they served God in a situation where there was a separation between cult and culture. “The situation of the patriarchs before the giving of the law, therefore, can be characterized as pilgrim politics, a term that highlights their status not as a triumphant theocratic army but as ‘resident aliens’ and ‘tolerated sojourners’ whose inheritance was not yet a reality” (p. xxi). The shape of culture therefore belonged to the unbelievers outside, the worship of God proper belonged to the believers within the patriarchal orbit.
Under the law of Moses, the people of Israel came back under a theocracy, with both God’s rule and God’s realm defined. “Like Adam but unlike the patriarchs, the people of Israel under the Mosaic covenant were both cultically and culturally distinct from all other nations on the earth” (p. xxii). But this only applied within the borders of Israel. This is how Stellman accounts for Solomon being able to have friendly dealings with the king of Tyre and the queen of Sheba (p. xxii). “Did Solomon not realize that these were heathen rulers?” (p. xxiii). It also seems to account for God’s instruction through Jeremiah (Jer. 29:4-7) to seek the welfare of heathen Babylon (p. xxiii). So with this understanding, Israel functioned like a theocracy within its borders, and like a pilgrim nation in its foreign policy.
“And what determines whether God’s people are a theocracy or a band of pilgrims? The answer is simple: a distinct land. A theocracy, as I pointed out above, always has a geographical element to it” (p. xxiv).
What does this do for our day? Under the new covenant, our “situation [is] more like that of the patriarchs under the Abrahamic covenant than that of Israel under the Mosaic covenant” (p. xxv). Got that? We had a theocracy in Eden. It was lost in the Fall, and the patriarchs were a pilgrim church. Theocracy was restored under Moses, and then abandoned for the new covenant.
We therefore must come to the New Testament for instruction on two things. The first would be how God desires to be worshiped under the new covenant, and then, as a completely distinct matter, we need direction on how to live as pilgrims in the midst of a hostile or indifferent unbelieving culture. But until the Last Day, that outside unbelieving culture is a fixed given, and will not be fundamentally changed. We will always need instruction on how to live there as pilgrims.
“Civil institutions that existed in New Testament times, such as marriage (1 Cor. 7:27), parenthood (Col. 3:20-21), slavery (1 Cor. 7:21), and government (Rom. 13:1ff), were considered legitimate expressions of the kingdom of man, and participation in them was not ruled out by one’s membership in the kingdom of Christ. However, though membership in the body of Christ did not alter the fact that believers in the early church participated in these things, it most certainly altered the way in which they participated in them” (p. xxvi).
If we cash this out, this is what we see.
“In non-theocratic contexts, where God’s people were pilgrims without an earthly land (such as the patriarchs, Israel and Judah in exile, and the new covenant church), the religious sphere is distinct from the cultural sphere” (p. xxvii).
The first thing to note about this set-up is that it appears to me to be internally consistent. The thesis statement (theocracy requires land) is one that can be held up against the situation of God’s people in various times and places, and there tested. Unfortunately, it only passes the first round of tests. If we look closer at Abraham and Daniel (say), the thesis starts to come apart in our hands.
Take just two examples of what ought to be an occasion for pure pilgrim politics, but which do not appear to have been used that way.
“And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people . . . And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Gen. 14: 14-16, 18-20).
Looks like a triumphant theocratic army to me.
“Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon”(Dan. 3:28-30).
In short, faithfulness on the part of pilgrims is frequently honored by God, and is honored by Him via cultural victories, and cultural transformations. Above we see a military victory won by a pilgrim army and a massive political victory won by some pilgrim advisors. When pilgrims participate in their surrounding culture, and they do so in a different way (as Stellman acknowledges they do), what should they do when God gives them favor in the eyes of the leaders of that surrounding culture?
There are four other things to note. The first is that Stellman wrongly assumes that Gentile = nonbeliever. This is a common mistake, but if you remove this particular error from Stellman’s argument, his whole case collapses. In the old covenant era, there was no obligation to become a Jew in order to be put right with God. It was not comparable to the believer/unbeliever grid that we have today. All men today are called to repent and believe in Christ. The gospel brings a universal call with it. But there was no Great Commission telling the Jews to bring the whole world into Israel, and this was not because all Gentiles had been written off. This is why we see faithful Gentiles like Melchizedek, Jethro, Naaman, the inhabitants of Nineveh, Job, and every faithful Gentile who ever came to pray to Yahweh in the Court of the Gentiles. The old covenant Temple was a house of prayer for all nations. But if this is acknowledged (and I think it must be acknowledged), it plays old Harry with Stellman’s entire argument.
Secondly, I am interested in his assertion about the need for land in order for a theocracy to exist, although I am dubious about it creating an obligation to swear off theocracy. Couldn’t it go the other way? I would say that if the claims of Christ are total, then this means that theocracy means of necessity that God is claiming (and promising) the land. Stellman is arguing from no land to no theocracy. I am arguing from theocracy to let’s pray to God for the land. And I would throw a glorious promise into this particular mix — “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:1-3). Moses gave Israel what Stellman would call a theocratic promise, and it was a promise connected to land (Dt. 5:16). Paul picks that same promise up, calls it a continuing promise, and cheerfully applies to a bunch of Gentile Ephesian kids, and — consistent with the promise — applies it to territory, to the earth. So I would say that we have land the same way Israel did right after Joshua crossed the Jordan, before Jericho fell. Was Israel a theocracy in the wilderness? No land, no more permanent territory than Abraham had. They lived in tents just like Abraham did. And when they crossed the Jordan, they only had a few acres and the rest of the land by promise, just like we do. They were not yet cultivating all the vineyards, but that didn’t matter. They had the promise of land, just like we do.
Third, Stellman (unlike his friend, the really consistent amillennialist) cannot really live by these principles.
“While Christians would certainly agree that many divisions have been unnecessary and wrong (such as racial divisions), some distinctions must be maintained” (p. xvii).
Now wait a minute. Assume a church that keeps ungodly racial divisions out of its membership, as I am sure Exile Presbyterian does. On what basis could someone from that church tell the unbelieving culture outside that her ethnic discriminations have been “unnecessary” and “wrong”? Wrong by what standard? Unnecessary by what standard? Suppose the kind of culture I grew up in, where schools and restaurants and so forth were divided according to race. I could, on Stellman’s principles, argue and vote against this kind of thing, but only in my own name. I could not do so because this was “the Christian position.” It would have to be just me and my sensibilities. And I would have had to have derived those sensibilities from nowhere in particular, which would lead to certain embarassments in the Q&A session.
This leads to the last point — the distinction that Stellman wants to make between the Church and the individual Christian. In other words, he wants to say that his position does not prevent him from taking a stand against the Holocaust, or against racial discrimination (as above). But I have no doubt that Stellman would indeed take a stand against great social evils. He just wouldn’t be able to tell us why — or the most he could say is that as an individual Christian he was allowed to take this stand. But are there any cultural issues that require Christians to take a stand as Christians, in the name of Jesus? When I give a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, in order for this to count as something done in His name, must it be on church property? (Mark 9:41) Must it be from the church drinking fountain?