When Spheres Collide – The Governments


Take a deep breath because this installment may require multiple readings, but I promise it’s worth your effort. In 1880, Abraham Kuyper (pronounced kie-per) delivered a public address at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam which he entitled “Sphere Sovereignty.” The basic idea is this: Jesus Christ is sovereign over all. Underneath his total sovereignty, Christ has instituted various spheres of human society and established the boundaries (or spheres) of their authority, responsibilities, and competence. In this post, I’m going to apply Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty to our topic of the three governments directly instituted by God.

The family government possesses authority and competence within its prescribed sphere. The same is true with the civil government and the church. Sphere sovereignty, therefore, is concerned with the relationships between these human governments. Although Sphere Sovereignty isn’t a perfect system (no system truly is perfect a world of fallen human beings), we can gather several valuable inferences and applications from Kuyper’s thought.


In an earlier post in this series on the governments, I made the case that parents, not the state, have the authority and right to teach and discipline their children. Several of you wrote me and asked an important question: “Do parents have a right to subject their children to so-called “gender reassignment surgeries.” Sadly, of course, many states in our nation grant the legal right for parents to do so. In a saner society, the government would legally prevent parents from doing so. Why? Sphere Sovereignty. Parents do not have the right to mutilate their children’s bodies. In such a case, the government is not transgressing the boundary (sphere) of the parent’s authority. Rather, the parent is transgressing the civil and criminal laws which the government is required by God to enforce.

In other words, these spheres (family, state, church) cannot be isolated from one another. Instead, they all bear a responsibility to one another. The church cannot act in any way it pleases, nor can the family or the state. Let me give two more examples.


Christians (especially Roman Catholics) have long taught a social doctrine called “subsidiarity.” The idea is that the responsibility to provide for human flourishing subsides at the most basic unit where it can naturally be exercised. Larger social units should only step in when smaller social units cannot provide solutions.

For instance, if a person is physically unable to work in order to support themselves it does not immediately fall to the federal government to give assistance. Rather, the individual’s nuclear family is the first line of defense. They have a greater responsibility, a greater knowledge of the needs, and a greater motivation to assist than the federal government. If the nuclear family is unable to assist, the need then moves to the next largest social unit, the extended family/church, then the town, then the county, then the state, and so on. But the further you get from that smaller unit competence falls as does motivation and accountability. This is why a government can “lose” $6 Billion but families don’t.

If you and I want to see greater health in our nation, we must reassert the family as a sovereign sphere of responsibility and authority. We have to break the mentality that Washington, D.C. is responsible for solving our problems. We need a greater appreciation for the responsibilities entrusted to each of these governments.


Generally speaking, the church is to honor the civil magistrate. We are to be a good-faith member of society. We are not to be scofflaws. We pray for and submit to police officers as well as other government officials. We believe every single word of Romans 13:1-2:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)

But we also know that the Apostle Paul, who wrote those words constantly disobeyed the governing authorities when they demanded disobedience to Christ. Paul, along with many of the apostles, were fugitives who regularly angered the civil magistrates by their preaching. So, all-things-even, Romans 13:1-2 always applies as a general rule. But, there are some demands from the civil government that the church cannot obey. Just as we believe every word of Romans 13:1-2, we also believe every word of Mark 12:17:

17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17)

Go back, for a moment, to March 13, 2020. I was standing in the parking lot of our church with several men who had gathered for a workday. We were spreading mulch and discussing whether we ought to have worship service the coming Sunday. The COVID-19 virus was making headlines, and it wasn’t hours before all of civilization around the globe came to a halt. In those first couple weeks, our church tried its best to honor the civil magistrate’s authority in asking us to all stay home. However, after several weeks it became clear that our church could begin meeting again without presenting a grave health threat to congregants. We began meeting outside and then moved indoors. We did all of this even while civil magistrates continued to ban or place draconian limitations on gatherings. It was an act, albeit a mild act, of civil disobedience. We didn’t shout and post about it. We didn’t protest outside of the county offices. We simply felt that Christ’s commands to gather and worship outweighed the guidance of the local magistrates. Some Christians may disagree with our course of action. There is certainly room for Christian liberty and freedom of conscience. We showed patience within our own congregation with those who were not yet comfortable gathering. All this is to say that two spheres of authority collided: the church and the state, and we could not honor both equally.


Each of these examples demonstrates both the reality as well as the limits of “spheres” of governmental sovereignty. As Christians, we have a responsibility to understand the three governments directly instituted by God (family, state, ecclesiastical) and their boundaries. We need to know what God has required of the family, the state, and the church. We need boldness to tell the state what it can and cannot do. We need conviction to live under the authorities which God has prescribed.

Do You Know Rousseau?


Continuing our plod through the three governments that God instituted, we come now to the state or civil government. We, as a culture, have forgotten that it is God himself, not humans, who instituted civil government to uphold to rule of law and to punish lawbreakers.

The only hope for the future of civil governments is to remember to Biblical origin of civil governments. The state only possesses the authority that God has granted the state. The state is not above the law but beneath it. But, before we can define the Biblical origin of the civil government, it’s crucial that you understand the modern myth our culture has embraced concerning the beginnings of human societies.


If you took a political science course at university, you would not doubt have been exposed to Jean Jacques Rousseau and his (in)famous Social Contract. If not, here’s the basic idea. Before modern societies and states existed, human beings lived as what he termed “noble savages.” They were “savage” because they were not in society, but they were “noble” because they had complete and total freedom. Rousseau taught that humans, in some pre-historical age, agreed to give up some of their freedoms in order to cooperate for social benefits and protection. Thus, the term social contract. This theory of the origin of human government is not unique to Rousseau. You can find social contract theory in Thomas Hobbes as well as John Locke.

Here’s the problem: it’s all fiction. There never was a “noble savage.” Man has always existed in relationship to his Maker and his Maker’s law. Man has never been totally free. Even Adam, before the Fall, did not possess full autonomy. Civil governments didn’t begin in some pre-historic past but began after recorded history. And, because God, not men instituted civil government, God, not men defines its sphere of authority.


The origins of the civil government are found in the first chapters of Genesis.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11)

Between Genesis 3 (the Fall) and Genesis 7:11 (the flood waters of judgment cover the earth) we see that fallen humans have managed to fill the earth, not with ordered governments, but evil. God’s judgment poured out, quite literally, cleanses the earth. Noah’s family, who are saved by God’s mercy, receive the same cultural mandate that Adam and Eve received in the garden.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… (Genesis 9:1)

But to that cultural mandate, God adds the command that civil government be established in order to protect human life and restrain evil.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)

In this single verse, God has given to civil government the power to wield the sword against those who break the law. Criminals are to be held to account. We often refer to the contents of Genesis 9 as the Noahic Covenant. It’s a covenant that God has ratified with the entire earth (not just an ethnic people) and he has ratified it for all of human history (not simply a single generation or civilization.)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. (Genesis 9:8)

The Noahic Covenant is still in force today and applies to the entire kingdom of creation. God has bound all of creation, every race that would come from the sons of Noah, to obey the dictates of this covenant so that the world would not be full of unchecked evildoers.


In the coming weeks, I plan to publish several articles applying the Noahic Covenant to our civil government. In those articles, we’ll see how much the civil authorities have overstepped their prescribed boundaries and how, in many cases, they are directly opposing God’s covenant commands. But for now, consider this fact: God instituted the civil magistrate. God alone gets to define the role, authority, and purpose of the civil government.

Human beings were not noble savages who made a social contract. Human beings were depraved wretches who filled the earth with violence. Yet, God has called sinful humanity into the Noahic Covenant that evil might be restrained and his redemptive purposes might be realized in the sending of his Son.

The Governments – The Family


The nations of the West are crumbling because we’ve mistakenly believed that our national or global governing bodies are the only governments that matter. We have forgotten that God instituted three governments: the family, the state, and the church. The only hope of fixing our broken state is relearning and practicing what the Scriptures teach about all three of these governments. These governments are all essential and must be kept in their proper place. Today, we introduce the government of the family.


Our culture elevates the individual over the family as the fundamental building block of society. How have we done that? We began by making marriage covenants easy to break through no-fault divorce. Individuals may leave a marriage at any time, for any reason. We have made singleness the normative relationship status. Look at the television programming over the last 3 decades. The most popular shows have been about perpetually single and promiscuous adults who never embrace responsibility for starting and raising a family. This life of individuality is glamorized. Not only have we normalized singleness, but with the aid of contraception (which can be a good thing) we have also normalized sterility. You can now have children when it fits your plans. Within the last 15 years, we have witnessed the erosion of the very definition of marriage and even “male” and “female.” Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. (Jug. 21:25) In other words, the individual, not the family is the fundamental building block of society. The individual defines themselves.


When we read the Bible we see that families, consisting of a father, mother, and children are the fundamental building block of a society, not individuals. In the opening chapters of the Scriptures, God made an individual human man, and shortly after his creation, God declared that it was not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2:18) God then made a woman from the man, and through their marriage and sexual union, a new generation of humanity was born. (Gen. 4:1) As a general rule, the human race is not called to a life of singleness or chosen sterility. Undoubtedly, that last sentence rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I can already hear the, “But what about…,” arising in your throat. We could make disclaimers all day long, but the Scriptural truth stands. As a general rule, the human race is not called to a life of singleness. Marriages are not to be childless. God intends godly men to actively pursue a godly wife and bear and raise godly children. The family, then, is a self-contained, God-instituted government given for the flourishing, protection, and propagation of the entire human race.

The family government has offices: husband, wife, child. These offices are not interchangeable, but rather distinct and crucial components of a healthy family unit. Husbands are not to have multiple wives or vice versa. Men may not marry men. Women may not marry women. Children are not to act as if they are parents.

The family government has rules and regulations prescribed by God. God requires husbands to take responsibility for the health of the family as they love their wives and teach their children. (Gen. 3:17, Eph. 5:23; 25, 6:4) Wives are to respect their husbands and care for the households God has given them (Eph. 5:22; 1 Tim. 5:14). Children are to obey their parents. (Eph. 6:1-3)

The family government has boundaries that partition the family from other human societies. (Eph. 5:22-33; Eph. 6:1) Another way of putting this is that families have their own sphere of authority. Fathers and mothers are responsible to correct and discipline their own children, not every child. They are to nurture and care for the needs of their own children, not every child. (1 Tim. 5:18) While a family may choose to meet the needs of another family, they are not naturally obligated to do so. The covenantal relationship between husband and wife as well as the biological relationship between parent and child create both a covenantal and biological partition that surrounds and sections-off individual families from others. They create ties of ownership, responsibility, and accountability.


As a pastor, I often have conversations with individuals outside of our congregation who are seeking financial assistance. As I counsel them, I always ask about their family. I ask if they have any family who can provide financial assistance before the church steps in to assit. I don’t ask that because I’m stingy or cold-hearted, but because their family has a natural obligation to them that the church does not, and they have an obligation to their family. If their family refuses to help them, it may be an indication of their family’s sin, or their own. It may mean that they need to go back to their family and make amends so that the family can renew its duty to the individual or vice versa.

I give this example because it highlights a major problem in our nation: we no longer see the family government as binding. Rather, we see family as optional. Families often neglect their own. Family members often mistreat their families knowing they can get a hand-out from the church or the state. This is upside down. The church and the state can genuinely assist those who are vulnerable, but they must not seek to replace the family.


As parents, my wife and I alone are ultimately responsible for what our children are being taught. This is because our children belong to us. They are our possessions. They do not belong to the state, or to the schools. One of the fiercest attacks on the family today is seen as various school systems seek to minimize or remove parental oversight in the education of their children. A simple internet search would return scores of articles on school boards or teachers who sought to hide what children were reading in the classroom, or encouraging students who struggle with gender dysphoria to outright lie to their parents about their questions regarding sex and biology.

Why is this such a flammable subject? It’s because, in many cases, the state and school boards have overstepped their God-given boundaries. They do not own children. They may be entrusted by parents with certain responsibilities, but they are to serve at the pleasure of parents and under their watch.


Christians must boldly speak up for and champion the cause of the family government. This begins by starting and maintaining our own families according to God’s design. It means we must reject and repel attacks on biblical definitions of marriage, gender, and sexuality. To do all of this, we’ll need deep connections with other faithful Christian families within the local church. None of us can make this stand on our own.


Much more can be said about the need for strong families. If you would like to dive deeper into this subject I would like to suggest a few resources. Begin by reading the Scriptures. Start by reading and studying the references in this post. Here is a list of books I have found helpful as well:

Biblical Foundations for the Family

Köstenberger, Andreas J, and David W Jones. God, Marriage, and Family Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. 2nd ed., Wheaton, Ill Crossway, 2010.

Biblical Foundations for Human Sexual Ethics

Heimbach, Daniel R. True Sexual Morality. Crossway, 9 Nov. 2004.

Biblical Foundations for Men

Phillips, Richard D. The Masculine Mandate : God’s Calling to Men. Sanford, Florida, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016.

Biblical Foundations for Men & Women

Piper, John, and Wayne Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood : A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2012.

Natural & Political Arguments for Marriage

Sherif Girgis, et al. What Is Marriage? : Man and Woman : A Defense. New York, Encounter Books, 2020.


The Governments – Intro

Decades ago, the schools of our nation taught classes like “Government/Econ.” Most of those classes taught ninth-grade students about America’s three branches of the Federal Government and, if you were lucky, the United States Constitution. Don’t worry, will not be asking anyone to define obscure legal jargon at the end of this series. Rather, during September, my “letters from the pastor” will focus on the subject of human government. In this first “letter” I will be introducing the subject, and in the three letters that will follow I will be taking a closer look at each of the governments God has established. One of the reasons our nation is swirling the drain is that we’ve mistakenly believed that national or global governing bodies are the only governments that matter. So, without further ado, let’s allow the Bible to inform our understanding of government.

God has instituted three spheres of human government: the family, the state, and the church. Because God is the one who institutes these governments, he alone gets to define them. Where do we find the institutions of these governments? The government of the family is instituted in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1, 2) In Genesis 9, after the flood, God institutes the government of the state by granting the power of the sword to human societies as a way of restraining evil. Finally, the church is foreshadowed in the worship of Israel and realized in the New Testament (Matt. 16:19; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9, et. al.) Underneath these three formal human governments, is the requirement that individuals be able to govern themselves (self-government).

The three main reasons our state governments are so ineffectual are: first, the government of the state has failed to recognize and submit to God, second, the governments of the family and the church have been severely weakened, and third, the government of the state has overstepped the boundaries of both the family as well as the church. We will examine these three reasons in more detail in future letters but let me summarize my thoughts on all of them in a few short lines.

(1) If a nation does not recognize a God above the state, then the state functions as “god.” This has happened in America.

(2) Families with fathers, mothers, and children (not individuals) are the fundamental building blocks of a healthy society. Without healthy families, there is no hope of having healthy nations. The families of our nation face external threats (from the government) as well as internal threats (from our own sinfulness).

(3) Finally, governments are catastrophically ill-equipped to provide for the needs that only families and churches can meet. Our government, trying to substitute itself for fathers, mothers, and pastors has become an arrogant stumblebum.

We have immense challenges facing us, but the first challenge is to wake up, read what the Bible says about each of these governments, and believe it. Elections matter. So do families. So do churches. Our nation did not get where it is today simply by voting. We sinned ourselves into the mess we’ve made. We won’t get out simply by voting (though we must vote). We get out through repentance and faith: through believing God and obeying God.

Let me be clear from the outset of this series: Our obedience to the Word of God as it regards human governments will not and cannot produce a utopia on Earth. The perfect kingdom of Christ has been inaugurated by his resurrection, but it will not arrive in its fullness until the return of Christ at the end of this age. But we have a duty before God and to our fellow man to order our homes, our nation, and our church according to the dictates of his Word. And, when we do this, it will result in a far more holy and just nation than we are inhabiting today.

So, get out your pen and paper. Grab your Bible too. Over the next several weeks we’ll take a look at the human governments God has instituted and see how this subject addresses nearly every societal ill we face.