In addition to the church and state, the Bible includes a third sphere of authority: the family. Each of these three play a vital role in the structuring of the Christian’s life. To ignore that reality is to ignore God’s design. To twist that reality is to abuse God’s design. As Creator, God has every right and authority to delegate how He pleases. Notice that God has delegated authority to the family, church, and state. There are other authorities, like employers, professionals, and clubs; yet none of them derive their authority directly from God. Moreover, these spheres of authority are not independent, isolated entities but assignments given by God and bounded by His rules, that may, at times, intersect in practice.
The family is the “lowest” or most basic form of government and has been given the authority of welfare and education. This flies in the face of our modern way of thinking, which relegates these “social services” to the state. Paul establishes within the household that the husband is to nourish and cherish his wife, “just as Christ also does the church.” (Ephesians 5:29) In a literal sense, it is the husband’s responsibility to feed (thus “breadwinner”) and warm his wife and children. The analogy Paul uses is that a person rightly does this to himself. No one deliberately starves and freezes himself. In a figurative sense, the Apostle makes clear that the head of the house is responsible for ensuring the welfare of his family. He echoes as much in his First Epistle to Timothy where it is mandated that widows are to be cared for by their children or grandchildren, who “must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” (I Timothy 5:4) The charge he brings is shocking and grim: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8) The family is the first line of welfare, and only if there are no living or willing family members does Paul say it is appropriate for the widow to seek welfare from the church (notice nowhere does he say the state!). The family is also the authority God has designed for the perpetuation of education. This is certainly true of religious education, for God commands “You shall teach [the Law] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7) But I don’t think God is limiting instruction to simply doctrine. Paul urges fathers, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) All of life, ethics, morality, and culture are wrapped up and defined by God in His Word. This is what every family must be teaching to its children and not something handed over to the state or even the church.
The three historic marks of a reformed church are the regular exposition of the Bible, the right administration of the sacraments, and the restorative discipline of sin. These three are the areas of authority God has delegated to the church. It is Christ who gave to the church the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) which invested her with the opening and closing of the kingdom of God. This opening of the Kingdom is done properly through the preaching of the Kingdom Word, (Matthew 28:20) the administration of the sacraments as signs and seals of the Kingdom (I Corinthians 11:26), and the restoration or excommunication of sinners into or out of the Kingdom (Titus 3:10-11). It becomes clear then that for the true believer, being connected to a church is not only necessary but required. This requirement is, of course, not for salvation, but in submitting to the authority that God has placed in the church (Hebrews 10:25; 13:17). The elders of ever true church will have to give account to God for the way they cared for the flock. (I Corinthians 3:13)
The civil magistrate is delegated powers and authorities by God through some degree or another. I say that because we recognize that nearly every society has different levels of authoritative governments. From town councils, county supervisors, and law enforcement officers, to presidents, congresses, and supreme courts, each of this has more or less authority over their denizens. The powers given to the state by God are the administration of justice and the protection of life The magistrate is given the charge to settle disputes and make judgments without partiality (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). The absence of partiality is key. If any form of government shows deference to one group over another, it is in rebellion against God. Civil governments are also given the charge to protect life. This is often done through—almost counter-intuitively—the wielding of the sword. When done in accordance to God’s law, the municipalities have the right and duty to protect citizens through just wars and the execution of justice (I Peter 2:13-14). It is lawful, then, for these civil governments to collect taxes in order to promote justice and life (Romans 13:6-7). When governors act accordingly, they rule as ministers of God’s justice.
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