The “Agrarian” Minded Church

Posted by Rural Missourian on Feb 11th, 2009

As I have been dialoging with various like-minded reformed denominations in seeking to find a home for CRC Rayville, a question has frequently crossed my mind. How many agrarian minded reformed churches are out there? With so many different definitions for agrarian, I need to briefly describe what I mean by an agrarian minded church, which requires that I define what I mean by agrarian. I derived my definition from the Scriptures and not from its basic dictionary definition, for the term agrarian has any number of meanings and connotations.

It’s best that I start first, however, with two dictionary definitions of the word agrarian. From Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (1988) we get the following entomological definition:

Agrarianadj. 1618, borrowed through Middle French in the phrase loy agrarienne agrarian law, from Latin agrarious of the land, from ager (genitive agri) field . . .

From the American Dictionary Of The English Language (1828) we get the following definition:

 

AGRARIAN, a. [L. agararious, from ager, a field] Relating to lands. Appropriately, denoting or pertaining to an equal division of lands; as, the agrarian laws of Rome, which distributed the conquered and other public lands equally among all the citizens, limiting the quantity which each might enjoy. Authors sometimes use the word as a noun, an agrarian, for agrarian law.

 

 

We see from the outset that the word agrarian is not talking about the vocation of farming (agriculture), as some think, but to law that deals with land, specifically with its distribution as in “the agrarian laws of Rome.” This leads to an important question. Who actually owns the land and by what terms is it to be possessed? More so, the answer to this question, since it deals with sovereignty, also will determine who decides how the land is to be used and by whom. Is it man or the Lord who has the final say? So we see already that this subject is far bigger than the word agrarian suggests for it deals with the whole of the earth and the whole of mankind.

Though fallen man ardently affirms that he is the owner of the earth, as he is ever seeking to take dominion of it through unending wars and ever increasing taxation, the Scriptures make it quite clear that the Lord, as the Creator of earth and mankind, is the sole owner of both of them (Deu. 10:14, Rom. 9:21) and, thus, the SOVEREIGN over all. The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein (Psa. 24:1). It is thus the will of our Sovereign God, as understood by His Law Agrarian, which determines who is to possess the earth and by what terms is he to take dominion of it, live and multiply on it (Gen. 1:28, Psa. 37:7-9).

We are taught by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the earth (1Tim. 6:13-16, Rev. 1:4-5, 17:14), to pray that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven (Luke 11:2). Of course, the preaching of Gospel of the Kingdom and the discipling of the nations is central to this, but what about the earth itself? Does the Lord’s will for the earth also include specifics on how His people are to possess it, to live and multiply on it, as they live out their lives in successive generations while preaching and living out the Gospel? I say yes and contend that the two work hand in hand, for what other meaning can be given to the calling of the Lord’s people as the salt of the earth and light of the world, but that they are to act as the standard for all of mankind (1Tim. 3:15) in the building of godly cultures on earth in submission to the Lord, as the Gospel takes root in their hearts and begins to bear fruit. It is in the discipling of the nations (made from every nation, tribe, and tongue scattered throughout the earth) wherein they are taught Christ’s commandments and how to keep them (Mat. 28:20) that the Lord’s disciples learn not only how to love each other but how to live on the earth. Ought we not, therefore, to regard the earth with all knowledge and wisdom in serving the Lord as its stewards?

This stewardship began in the garden where God ordained man as the earth’s cultivator and guardian. Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [work, cultivate it] and keep [guard] it (Gen. 2:15). The first calling of mankind in service to His Creator was as a working steward of the land from which the Lord would provide his physical needs, for the earth was specifically created to be tended and guarded by him, and that, according to the commandments of its Maker. This was in conjunction with the commission given to Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). It only makes sense that the Creator (Gen. 1-2) and Owner (Psa. 24:1) of the earth should also issue the manual for its stewardship (2Tim 3:16-17).

God created man to be totally dependent upon Him in a moral, accountable manner that has direct earthly consequences, depending upon his obedience or disobedience to His commandments, the terms of the stewardship. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'” (Mat. 4:4) Thus, the Lord makes a very clear correlation between mankind’s conduct on the earth as its stewards and its productivity, both in bounty and barrenness.

Leviticus 26:3-4

3 ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them ,4 then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.

Deuteronomy 11:16-17

 

16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them,17 “lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.
 

 

Every man, woman, and child on earth, no matter whether they fear God or deny his existence, whether they knowingly tend the earth as unto Him or deny that they have any such responsibility, whether dead in their trespasses and sins or alive in Christ, are by the creation mandate the Lord’s stewards of the very earth they live and multiply on, and are accountable to Him for their every action. Man is not a free agent to live on the earth as he pleases, as though it is an expendable commodity that can be exploited anyway he chooses. A man may choose to abandon his wife to live “freely” as he pleases. His escape doesn’t mean, however, that he is not still a husband and accountable for his marriage. In the same way mankind may have long ago abandoned his calling as the Lord’s steward of the earth to live on it as he pleases, but it doesn’t mean that he is not a steward and accountable for his stewardship. He may be an absentee steward, but his still a steward.

Just because the Lord is merciful, good to all, and bestows His common grace upon both the just and the unjust (Psa. 145:9, Mat. 5:43-45, Acts 14:15-17), doesn’t mean that each and every human is not directly accountable to the Lord for how they live on the earth. Appearances can be deceiving, however, especially over short periods of time where things appear to prosper regardless of faith or its absence (Psa. 73:1-18), as though it is a “neutral” subject. The Lord’s gracious longsuffering with mankind’s sin must not ever be confused with any notion that He cares not how mankind lives on earth or what by means he builds culture (2Pet. 3:9). Every aspect of human culture at every level as it is developed on the earth—its faith; ethics and moral standards; famial, ecclesiastical, and civil governments; economics and money; judicial systems and the exacting of justice and mercy; agriculture; manufacturing; technology; science, engineering, and all aspects of education; and every aspect of human life—is to be governed by the commandments of the Lord in our love and worship of Him (1John 5:3-4). The biblical statement, whatsoever is not of faith is sin, applies to all we humans do, both for the saved and the lost alike.

In a practical, down-to-earth sense we Christians, as stewards of the Lord’s earth, the salt of the earth and light of the world, who have been commissioned by Him to take the Gospel of the Kingdom to the nations to make disciples of Him and teach them to observe His commandments, are in its daily outworking to apply the whole of God’s Law to the whole of life to all we do on the earth. This is what I mean by agrarian. What ties the whole of our duties together is the New Covenant. As we keep covenant with God in seeking first His Kingdom and Righteousness, so we fulfill by grace through faith our various duties according to His will, and, as He promised, He adds unto His people all things necessary for life on earth (Mat. 6:33). The priority is God and Kingdom first, and life on earth second. Thus, the biblically agrarian focus is not on cultivating and stewarding the earth, not on preaching the Gospel to win souls and make disciples, not on any of one of our duties, important as they are, but on Christ, Whom we are to love with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. And there is only way to love God and our fellow brothers and sisters but by keeping the commandments of God, which are not burdensome, but effectual in overcoming the world by our faith in Christ (1John 5:1-5).

Now, as much as I cringe to have given such a brief, incomplete definition, I am forced too come back to the purpose of this post. Before I finish it, I must say that I have found by experience that no matter how careful one is to define their terms and clearly present their ideas, that someone is going to take them wrong and ascribe all kinds of evil to them, or go the opposite direction and read far too much into them. This is especially true when one attempts to describe a work they are involved in. Misunderstandings will abound, nonetheless, we must communicate with each other the best we can, trusting the Lord that His will be done in these matters. To that end, I hope I communicated well enough what I mean by agrarian.

Our church here in Rayville is looking for like-agrarian-minded reformed (there’s another loaded word) churches to alliance with. We are not talking about perfect churches where everyone of its members would make the cover of Better Home Businesses and Gardens. All churches have their weaknesses, blind spots, and shortcomings. There is no believer or church that has “arrived.” All of us are somewhere in the transition between the old life dominated by the old man and carnal mind and the abundant life led by the Spirit who renews our minds. Lastly, lest we be accused of being Luddites, we are not talking about churches that are hidden in the boondocks where all its members forsake electricity, don sanctified “agrarian” clothing, and farm for a living.

But, as we do hold that covenant keeping is central to the life of the believer and the church, as the testimonies of the Scriptures bear witness as well as history, particularly the early days of colonial America, we believe that the biblical model for the local church—acting as the salt of the earth and light of the world in being the standard for human culture in proclaiming and living out the Gospel of the Kingdom—necessitates that its members live in close proximity to each other, wherein the vast majority of them in keeping covenant with each other live where they work and worship, as they labor separately and together in various vocations to be productive stewards as unto the Lord. Of course, there will be exceptions due to particular circumstances in the lives of believers and in different types of ministries and vocations, but for sure the local church is to be known by the local, visible community it has defined and built.

In its most biblically prosperous and free time America use to be covered with hundreds of such distinctly Christian communities. Except for the Amish (and a few other like minded communities), the days are long gone in America when the local church was the central hub of a local community, where its members employed a common worldview and moral ethic that shaped the character of the community, where its members worked on or near the same land they lived and could pass it on to their children in generational continuity, where they could interact daily with each other and render help at a moment’s notice, and where they could labor together and pool resources and equipment to be effectual producers of various products and services to establish a local economy, which is one of the greatest preservers of civil and religious freedom. I feel that it is from this position of strength and deep community character, that the local church can best duplicate itself in various missionary endeavors.

To their credit, the Amish publish a newspaper, The Budget, which serves the Amish-Mennonite communities throughout the Americas. On the front cover is an extensive index which lists each community by it’s location and the page where one can go to read the news specific to it. When was the last time that reformed churches in America were noted by the vibrant local communities they had formed? I believe that American Christendom is long overdue for a great reformation. Perhaps it’s time that biblically agrarian minded churches unite together by covenant in forming alliances (confederations, denominations) where its member churches live in such proximity that together they can play a role once again in forming the surrounding culture?

In the meanwhile, as the Lord directs us, we shall continue to seek an alliance such as we can. To that end, we invite inquiries by churches and denominations. May God grant us all that we come into the unity of the true faith. — The Rural Missourian

9 Responses

  1. Claudio Gomes Says:

    Very informative post.
    Please forgive my ignorance, but I’m not familiar with the term “reformed church”. Can you please clarify in a few words? Thank you and God bless you.

    Claudio

  2. Bob Mothershed Says:

    Greetings to the Church of Christ in Rayville,
    We are very happy to see this post. We have wandered long throughout our short life as “dominion oriented” christians. As you know, there are many and varied opinions on what constitutes a true, bibilical definition for agrarianism. As we have tried to understand the Scriptures, and it’s implications on our life-style choices, it has been difficult to not run afoul of the two prominant mindsets that we are concerned with. Those two being, Orthodoxy and Agrarianism. It seems that the former is oblivious to the latter, and the latter is represented by those who are atagonistic of the former. Thank you very much for what is a clear and much needed understanding of how we may move from a “less pure” Church to a “more pure” Church, without breaking all the bruised reeds along the way,or abandoning every convenience of moderninity as proof of our piety. That said, we pray that the art of “mule-skinning” would be much advanced in our day by your efforts! Great encouragement in a troubled week.
    Your fellow pilgrim,
    Bob

  3. Nancy Says:

    I think this would bring our country back. I also want to know what you mean by “reformed” church. Thankyou.

  4. Scott Terry Says:

    Thank you Tom for an excellent post! I share Bob’s concern about the “baptist-separatist-agrarian” positions out there. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a good amount of what they are saying but I think they start out with some false presuppositions about the Kingdom of God. We in the reformed agrarian camp need to offer our positions for consideration in a loving manner. I do believe that the only “agrarianism” that will last is one that flows out of a multigenerational, postmillenial, covenantal faith. While there are a lot of people talking multigenerationalism and claiming to be covenanted, there are not very many who are willing to put their money where their mouth is yet. At least our anabaptist brothers are walking the walk and actually living out their faith. They should be commended for that, and we reformed folks should be a little ashamed. I find that the reformed of our generation are real good at writing books about God’s law and holding conferences about it. There must be more to life than writing and talking.

  5. Rural Missourian Says:

    Claudio, it is always good to hear from you. You have asked a good question, which I decided to answer in my next post. God bless . . .

    Bob, I am glad to hear that what I wrote came through clear, that, as you say, the churches of Christ may move from a “less pure” Church to a “more pure” Church, without breaking all the bruised reeds along the way, or abandoning every convenience of modernity as proof of our piety. I pray that the Lord greatly encourage His people during these trying times and move them away from fearful reaction to godly proaction.

    Nancy, I am glad you commented. I concur with you, in as much as the Lord is able to deliver His people as they (by His grace and inward leading) humble themselves, repent, and turn back to Him in obedience, that our country can be brought back.

    Scott, thanks for the encouraging amen. I agree with you, that our Anabaptist brothers – especially the Amish – should be commended for living out their faith in a community oriented agrarian manner. May it be an inspiration for the “frozen chosen” to thaw out and get into the heat of the battle by taking the high ground once again in being on the forefront of building culture to the glory of the King, Jesus Christ.

  6. Allen Shropshire Says:

    Tom, This is an excellent post. As always your vision leaves me longing! Unfortunately most so called Christians, reformed or not, are not even remotely interested in keeping covenant with one another, let alone God. It requires too much honesty. May it be!!! Thank you Tom for your words. Rayville is a beacon on a hill!

    Scott, you are correct. Any other form of agrarianism is just a passing fad or escape. We do not wish to escape just to save our own, we wish to impact generations.

    Bob, good comment. I am always amazed that we cannot discuss these two issues without going to extremes and discounting the other side of the coin. When we can unite the two, then the church can be a balm to those who are bruised.

  7. Jerald Finney Says:

    Much of what you wrote is in my book, God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application. We should be working to win the lost to Christ, we should be light, etc. However, the Bible teaches that we will not bring peace, prosperity, and the Kingdom before Christ returns. At Armageddon, Christ will crush all Gentile nations in existence which will come against Israel. Then He will establish the Kingdom of Heaven.

  8. Rural Missourian Says:

    Jerald, I appreciate your comment. As I mentioned when I posted on this subject that I was not going to make it a debate, I will keep with my intentions and only comment briefly. I wholeheartedly concur that we should win the lost to Christ, as the Church, the salt of the earth and light of the world, preaches the Gospel of the PRESENT kingdom of Christ . . . the King of the rulers of the earth, who NOW exercises all authority both in Heaven and on earth. The duty is ours and the outcome is His, and the certainly not the devil’s to decide (in withholding peace or prosperity).

    Since it appears to me that you hold to a “devil rules the world,” premillennial worldview, I must assume that you not only believe that the Kingdom has not been established but neither the New Covenant, for you cannot have one without the other. I ask you, therefore, under what covenant with God do you presently have any standing with the Lord? Is your standing based upon the “spiritual” benefits of a yet unratified covenant in a kingdom yet to be established? When the Lord ascended to Heaven and entered The Most Holy Place and sprinkled His blood upon it was its New Covenant purposes put on hold for all these thousands of years? (Heb. 9:11-15).

    As much as I would love to get into it here, this ends my comment. May the Lord be glorified in His people as He works in them both to will and do according to His good pleasure in overcoming the world through faith in Christ Jesus, the LORD.

    As to the comment you made on my brief post on the Reformed Faith, I choose to decline to publish it because it promotes your book, which I take disagreement with. Let’s leave it there, thank you.

  9. randallgerard Says:

    Pastor Tom,

    Thanks for your phone calls which are a great encouragement to me, and for this post as well. You show clearly the main problem with our gnostic brand of contemporary christianity lite. Endless haggling over pet doctrines, endless writing of books, endless pie in the sky bye and bye will not build the kingdom. The church militant, in the continuous act of loving her Lord and faithfully applying His Word will in time inherit the Kingdom. This is at the very center of the gospel promises; a land was promised to Abraham the father of all the faithful whether those faithful ones are jew or greek. We are the heirs of this promise for which the promised land was a shadow and fore-taste, for Christ has said ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the EARTH’.

    May God Bless you for making the fullness of the gospel known to every creature, as you have done and are doing.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.