The Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission: The Power of Integration

by Will Sorrell

Conference centers fill and coffee carafes empty at countless Christian conferences each year. Recently, faith and work1 as well as business as mission (BAM)2 have been popular themes. They are similar in scope, seeking Gospel renewal and redemption in and through the vehicle of work. Nevertheless, these interrelated fields do not intersect nearly enough.

A recent article from Mats Tunehag, co-author of BAM Global Movement, describes the business as mission movement as upheld and driven by three biblical mandates: the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28), the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39), and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). He precisely states that those engaged in BAM must keep all three at the forefront of their intentions, their businesses, and their missions. This is a helpful framework, but does not always materialize in a balanced way. It is not difficult to imagine some BAM entrepreneurs and tentmakers3 placing emphasis upon the Commission over the Cultural Mandate.

Faith and work invites Christians to see the God-ordained value in their existing vocation. Work that promotes human, environmental, and economic flourishing is indeed worship, and we must treat it accordingly.

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing faith and work movement—in the United States and elsewhere—heavily emphasizes societal renewal. Faith and work invites Christians to see the God-ordained value in their existing vocation. Work that promotes human, environmental, and economic flourishing is indeed worship, and we must treat it accordingly. However, faith and work integration must not neglect the charge to make disciples locally and globally. 

It is undoubtedly significant that the Great Commission follows the Cultural Mandate; without the Fall, there is no need for evangelism. After all, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”4 There is an urgency to the Great Commission that is for all believers across all time that requires an all-in attitude. The Gospel must reach the nations, and it must reach them swiftly (Rom. 10:14-15).

Nevertheless, the Cultural Mandate cannot fade from our missional vision. The Cultural Mandate did not end in Genesis, and the Great Commission did not begin in Matthew. The movement of the canon is one from creation to new creation, and the King’s Kingdom is one of holistic healing. The restoration of the nations involves worship around the Throne one day, as well as worship in our work and witness this day.5

Faith and work authors and speakers tend to spend a great deal of time exegeting the Cultural Mandate. In some spaces, business as mission leaders and entrepreneurs can tend to anchor down in the Great Commission. Both the Mandate and the Commission are God-breathed and God-ordained. Both proceed from the mouth of God as his effective and living Word, not to be taken as mere suggestion. Though the Mandate and the Commission serve as archetypes for Christian work and witness, we must not dichotomize them. We must dwell in the tension, submitting to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

The Cultural Mandate

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). In the very first chapter of Holy Scripture, even before the Fall, the Triune God establishes mankind as vice-regents over creation. Yet before God gives the mandate, he declares the imago dei (1:27). Mankind reflects the image of the Creator through creativity and cultivation—prioritizing, promoting, and participating in Creation’s flourishing.6

The hope of the Gospel is not only for mankind, but also for everything under mankind’s care.

Dr. Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor serves as a bastion for the modern faith and work movement. Journeying through three congruous movements, Keller invites the reader to consider God’s plan for work, the problem of work, and the Gospel’s response. God made everything good, the Fall made everything broken, and the Gospel makes possible the redemption of all things.7 The hope of the Gospel is not only for mankind, but also for everything under mankind’s care. A mature faith and work theology rests not upon a scorched-earth, annihilationist eschatology, but upon an actualized renewal of everything. Though we were evicted from Eden, we are heading to New Jerusalem.

Our work today, no matter how seemingly small and menial, matters. Work matters because people matter. People matter because God matters. Work is good because God is good. God has instituted work for our good and his glory, and this involves the good of the world and his glory being proclaimed in it. Perhaps the greatest contribution Martin Luther made to the Reformation was emphasizing the priesthood of all believers. If all are priests, then none is superior to another, we are all members of the same body, with diverse and vital functions, with Christ as the head (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

The Great Commission

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus’ final words before the ascension clearly detail what he requires of his disciples—that they make more disciples. This is not optional for the Christian; he sidelines no one in this task. However, we do not approach the task alone, for his Spirit is with us, and he intercedes for us presently, persistently, and perfectly.

Not only does work itself worship God, but working out of a faith-filled heart can shift paradigms for people, cities, and nations.

BAM companies seek to fulfill the Great Commission in the marketplace. Neal Johnson broadly defines BAM as a “for-profit business venture that is Christian led, intentionally devoted to being used as an instrument of God’s mission (missio Dei) to the world, and is operated in a cross-cultural environment, either domestic or international.”8 The companies are local and global, serve the population at hand holistically, and minister incarnationally to all stakeholders.9 As Mike Bear writes, they are “real business doing real things living out real faith among real lost people.”

Much like faith and work students and scholars, BAM business people emphasize the priesthood of all believers. Lay people began and sustain the movement for the Gospel to infiltrate the marketplace.10 The ministerial role of the laity is one of dignity, significance, and honor in the scriptures, and the BAM movement seeks to reclaim this identity.11 Not only does work itself worship God, but working out of a faith-filled heart can shift paradigms for people, cities, and nations. If the average American adult spends over 2,650 hours working every year, then we would do well to use that time advancing the Gospel in one way or another.

Integration vs. Polarization

Faith and work and BAM are fundamentally intertwined, though the potential for further cooperation and collaboration is powerful. Both proceed on a trajectory toward individual and corporate wholeness, filled with eschatological hope. But there will be limitations if the eschatological hope present in faith and work movement tends only toward an economic hope, the final and full redemption of all things created, or if the eschatological hope present in the BAM movement tends only toward an evangelistic hope, the final and full redemption of the bride of Christ. We cannot permit our hope to be polarized. We must hope comprehensively in the full character of Christ.

When we pray, “Your kingdom come; your will be done,” we are praying for both personal and public restoration. The Christian corporate banker and retail worker must be about their Father’s business—to advance the Gospel in their workplace and to all the nations. The missions-minded entrepreneur and overseas tentmaker must remember and celebrate that their supporting work is not second-rate, but filled with divine dignity. Work is worship because our God is a worker. Missions is worship because our God is the Messiah.

The Greatest Commandment

Both communities would do well to plant deeper roots in both the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Both the Mandate and the Commission are expressions of the Greatest Commandment, and the second which is like it. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37, 39).

We are never more in line with the heart of Jesus than when we are abiding in his love, and loving God and neighbor in return. Our neighbor does not merely need our good works. He needs our vocational work and our Gospel witness. We love God and neighbor by producing quality goods and services. We love God and neighbor by sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard. We must both demonstrate and declare the love and grace of our Lord.

We are never more in line with the heart of Jesus than when we are abiding in his love, and loving God and neighbor in return.

To work and witness well is a waiting endeavor. We are waiting for Christ Jesus to make all things new. We are waiting for a new earth freed from thistles and thorns, sweat and sorrow. We are waiting for a new heaven filled with people from every tongue and tribe.

So let’s wait actively. Let’s learn from one another. Let’s work and witness together.

Will Sorrell is a Master of Divinity and MBA candidate at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School and Brock School of Business, respectively. He works as a graduate student researcher at Beeson Divinity’s Global Center, concentrating on the fields of faith and work theology, business as mission, and redemptive entrepreneurship and investing. A native and resident of Birmingham, Alabama, Will enjoys watching Crimson Tide football, enjoying local cuisine, and going on walks with his wife and Labrador retriever. 

[1] For the purposes of this article, ‘faith and work’ broadly represents thinking theologically about vocation, seeing work as an avenue for worship, and understanding labor as a means of restoration for culture and creation.

[2] For the purposes of this article, ‘business as mission’ broadly represents for-profit, Christian operated enterprises that aid in local and global disciple making by seeking a quadruple bottom-line: financial, environmental, social, and spiritual.

[3] Bivocational missionaries

[4] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), 35.

[5] Gen. 12:1-3; Ps. 67; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 7:9, Rev. 22:1-2

[6] Wendell Berry, “Healing,” in What Are People For?: Essays by Wendell Berry, (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 9.

[7] Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin, 2012), 162-163.

[8] C. Neal Johnson, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 27-28.

[9] Ibid., 39.

[10] Ibid., 178.

[11] Ibid., 182.