By Ray Sutton
“I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and possess the land.”
- Exodus 23:30
How do we establish a society based on the biblical covenant? This question needs to be raised because there is some confusion about how a Christian society is created. Covenantal culture cannot come from the top-down, meaning by some “theocratic elite” forcing everyone to be a Christian, or believe a certain way. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
God told the Israelites that their biblical culture would come “little by little.” It did not come suddenly, or overnight. It came gradually. The covenantal society can only come the same way. That is, if it is to survive, it must come from the bottom-up. Sure, the covenant structure can be implemented in the home and established in the church. But its fulfillment in society-at-large will be much more difficult. It can only successfully come about (and stick), if it takes hold at the grass-roots level through evangelism.
The expansion of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome serves as an example. Jesus says at the beginning of Acts, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This verse summarizes the spread of the Gospel from one part of the world to the rest. It began in Jerusalem, and ended up in Rome. The method was little-by-little evangelism, just like the land of Canaan.
Yes, Acts parallels the book of Joshua. Joshua is the account of the conquest of the land; Acts is the story of the conquest of the world. But there is one striking contrast. Joshua took the land by use of the sword, even though it played a secondary role. None of the Apostles used the sword to spread the Gospel. Why the difference? Joshua, although a type of Jesus Christ, was under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was a covenant of the flesh, graphically portrayed in the sacrament of circumcision. And, if anything, the Old Testament teaches that the kingdom of God could not be established in the flesh, meaning by the sword.
The garden of Eden was sealed off by a “flaming sword” (Gen. 3:24), prohibiting reentrance. Man could not return to that particular garden by a carnal weapon because his sword could not stand against God’s. Even David, a great man of God, was unsuccessful in creating God’s kingdom. He was a man of war, so he was not allowed to build the Temple (1 Kings 5;3). When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), they were expressing their confusion about the nature of the kingdom of God. They still thought it would be a political order, that is, a kingdom established by the sword.
They were wrong. The next verses in Acts speak of a new regime. The New Covenant kingdom is created by the spirit. God had conquered Jericho by His might, to be sure. But the Holy Spirit had not come in all of His historical fulness. Christ had not yet come in history. Israel needed to use the sword, but Israel ultimately failed. The Church succeeded. In Acts, the Spirit of God went forth and created the beginnings of a Christian world from the bottom-up.
The instrument the Spirit used was evangelism, witnessing. The role of the witness is twofold. Positively, he stands before men and the courts of the world, and he testifies of the Resurrected and Living Christ. Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul all became witnesses in the courts of man. Indeed, Acts tells how God sent them before Jewish and Roman courts, and even into prison for this reason. The task of evangelism is the challenge of being a witness in the unbeliever’s place of holding court. As we see in Acts, this can be a place of education or doing business, as well as an official court for passing judgment (Acts 19 and 16). The idea is that God sends His witnesses before man’s seats of judgment to proclaim God’s judgment, particularly through Jesus Christ.
Much has been said and written about evangelism, so I will not spend any more time on this phase of little-by-little covenant expansion. The sword cannot hold the inheritance for the future; only education, missions, and evangelism can. The Gospel is to be spread household-by-household, a very bottom-up approach to witnessing.
The Covenantal Lawsuit
It is the other bottom-up aspect of being a witness, a negative side that is virtually unknown, or neglected that needs to be addressed. Bringing testimony can also become a covenant lawsuit. Taking dominion in a pagan society is frustrating at times – these days, most of the time! One of the greatest concerns is the “wicked people” – abortionists, pornographers, statist politicians, etc. – who stand in the way of the visible reign of Christ (Heb. 2:8ff.). How should they be dealt with? Because the Biblical covenant commands Christians to be lawful, they are not allowed to use violence, except in the event of self-defense and a legally declared war by proper civil magistrates. Are they, therefore, left only with what some Christian activists call “a smile and a ‘God loves you’”?
No. The Bible specifies a special kind of lawsuit that can be filed with God against the wicked called a covenantal lawsuit. This Biblical concept is consistently used by the prophets. In a covenantal lawsuit, the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy 28 are turned into accusations against lawless covenant-breakers and enemies of the Church, calling down God’s sanctions on them. Yes, a covenant lawsuit asks God to remove the wicked. God removes the wicked one of two ways: by conversion or destruction. So, a covenantal lawsuit is not “unloving.” But it is a Biblical method for taking dominion when opposition is met! A Christian’s greatest weapon in the face of opposition is not a “carnal” weapon but a spiritual one (2 Cor. 10:4), the covenant itself turned into a lawsuit before God.
Who Files the Lawsuit Today?
There are only two classifications of people: covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. These are the only two, each having opposite inheritances. The covenant-breakers may appear to be blessed on the “front end” of life. But in the end, they will lose everything forever. The covenant-keepers get to be like Job: greatly tested but richly blessed in this life and the one to come.
In the Old Covenant, the prophet brought the covenant lawsuit. The question is: “Who files the lawsuit today?” Can any individual curse someone he doesn’t happen to like? Does the State file the lawsuit? Does the Church?
Jesus sheds some helpful light on these questions when He says, “Where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Two things stand out. First, the reference to “two or three” is a formula used for legal testimony in the Old Testament: “On the evidence of two or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence [literally “mouth”] of one witness” (Deut. 17:6). Second, Jesus applies this formulas at the end of the section on Church discipline.
Thus, we should conclude that a covenantal lawsuit can only be brought in the context of a Church court, or worship service (also a Church court before God’s throne), since the imprecatory (judgment) Psalms (Ps. 83, 94) were intended to be used in worship. Individuals need witnesses in order to file a lawsuit with God, and certainly the State has no function in filing a covenant lawsuit before God. Imprecatory Psalms should only be prayed “where two or three have gathered.” This means that these prayers are offered as worship when people have entered the presence of God.
The imprecatory Psalms are not to be treated lightly, nor autonomously. They have a two-edged nature to them. If they are abused, they could kill the user!
Is it wrong for Christians to use the covenant lawsuit? Are not Christians supposed to “love the sinner and hate the sin?” No! God hates the sinner as well as his sin (Psalms 11:5). And since the Church is the New Israel, Paul commands it to pray and sing the Psalms (Eph. 5:19) – all of them, especially the imprecatory Psalms that call down God’s destruction and conversion of the wicked (Psalms 74, 83, etc.).
Israel was built by the covenant, it was torn down on the basis of the covenant. Man gains dominion by covenant, and he loses it by breaking the covenant. We are reminded with richer understanding of Moses’ words, “So keep the words of this covenant to do them that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deut. 29:9)! Now we know the words of the covenant are kept and applied in society little by little.
Excerpted from: That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant, by Ray Sutton, Dominion Press, 7112 Burns St., Ft. Worth, TX 76118.