The Symbiotic Relationship of the Home, State, and Church
Responsibility and authority are inextricably linked.
Authority without responsibility is tyranny. Responsibility without authority is slavery.
So it’s important to understand the interrelation of the different spheres of authority and responsibility that you will need to navigate. Especially as these degenerate, as they look like they will continue to do, after a record plummet in 2020.
All authority comes from God. He is sovereign. He is almighty. He reigns over all.
Thus, only God’s authority is absolute and unquestionable.
But God is a God of means. He works out his eternal purposes through providence, in the works of creation. He has delegated His authority to three institutions: the church, the civil magistrate, and the family.
Each of these institutions’ authority is limited to a particular domain. It would be an act of rebellion towards God for one institution to usurp the role given to another. So an institution’s authority is binding to its subjects only inasmuch as it is in accord with God’s Word.
In other words, all authority must, and can, only be lawfully exercised according to the purpose for which God has delegated it.
Think of it this way:
- God has given the keys of the kingdom to the Church
- God has given the rod to the family
- God has given the sword to civil magistrate
The authority of institutions will overlap at certain points, because every person is in some way a subject of each institution. E.g., suppose a 14 year old communicant member of a church steals a dirt bike.
The magistrate will deal with the criminal aspect of the sin. Not the church, nor the family. They are involved, but the sword isn’t given to those institutions.
Yet the elders of his church must now decide if he should be put under church discipline. Maybe he should be suspended from table fellowship, or maybe admonishment will do. Regardless, it will be the church that makes that decision—not the family, nor the magistrate.
And still his father must decide how he will deal with his son’s waywardness. The church or even the magistrate can make recommendations to the father, but what actions he takes are ultimately his decision.
Much trouble comes from institutions neglecting the legitimate authority of other institutions. And much trouble comes from institutions overreaching into domains and responsibilities which God has not given to them.
The natural family isn’t a replacement for the particular church.
The particular church isn’t a replacement for the natural family.
The civil magistrate isn’t a replacement for the particular church or the natural family.
The particular church and the natural family isn’t a replacement for the civil magistrate.
We must not collapse these institutions into each other—but neither can we fully separate what God has made interdependent.
It’s a major error to think of these institutions as a series of concentric circles with one having a greater priority over the other. Yet that is how most people today think.
Many hyper-patriachial types absolutize the father’s authority, and make the family central. This subordinates, if not outright rejects, the rightful authority of the church.
But there is always more than one ditch.
Many liberals absolutize the civil magistrate, and in doing so create a religious nanny state that overreaches and interferes both with the family and the church. The state is not central, yet even the majority of Christians today put the state at the center. They would instantly recognize, condemn and rebel against overreach if a father or pastor did it, but they happily accept and defend it if a governor does it.
Still, there are other churches, be they liberal or conservative, which absolutize the authority of the elders and make the spiritual primary in all regards.
It’s not a series of concentric circles, but rather a Venn diagram, with God as sovereign king at the center.
These institutions should not compete with one another. There is a symbiotic relationship.
Strong churches mean strong family and a just state.
Strong families will lead to growing churches and seed society with well trained citizens.
And a strong, but not overreaching state will keep the family and church strong by protecting them from criminal elements.
They are supposed to work together.
Now, here’s the rub: each institution will pick up the slack when one or both of the other institutions fail in rightly exercising authority over their given domain. This is something like the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; only transferred or changed from one form to another.
Authority is the same; it can only be transferred or changed, never destroyed.
If the family fails to fulfill its duties, then the church or state will be moved to step in and meet those needs…and vice versa. We’ve had decades of the family and church abdicating their responsibilities. And the government saw an opportunity to step in and gobble up all that authority which God had delegated for those responsibilities.
This is ultimately how we have gotten a nanny state, and why so few people now recognize overreach as overreach.
Doing something about it starts with the heads of household and churches knowing the duties of the state, knowing their own duties, and taking back what was delegated to them.
The duties of the state are to punish evil and praise good.
The duties of the family are to be fruitful and raise up godly seed in the discipline and nurture of the Lord.
The duties of the church are to be the pillar and buttress of the truth through discipling the nations in the Word and sacraments.
Know your place, have a vision for what it looks like, plan to make that vision a reality—and do not give it up to anyone who wishes to unlawfully take it from you. The man who stands with God cannot be outnumbered