“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution …”
1 Peter 2:13
< This newsletter piece is an extension of the sermon from this past week on 1 Peter 2:13-17. If you missed the sermon, entitled Governing Authorities, the audio is available at RedeemerVA.org under the resource tab or on our podcast channel RBC Spotsy Village – available on apple or Spotify. >
There are two more areas from this past week’s sermon that I want you to consider. First, that God has ordained three basic spheres of authority in the world; government, church, and family. Each is different from the other. Each overlaps with the other – like a Venn diagram – but each is also distinct from the other standing as its own authority. Government is ordained by God for authority in areas of civil organization, law and order (criminal justice), national defense, and taxation. The church has authority in matters of doctrine, morality, local church organization and function. The family has authority in matters of the home related to organization and care of children (care and raising, education, and discipline).
When these function correctly according to God’s design, each informs and strengthens the other, but none takes over the other. When functioning as God intended, the church strengthens the family through informing it of God’s will and through the support of bringing families together in Christian community. The government serves the church and family by maintaining a safe, well ordered, and free society. The family contributes for the common good to the government through individual effort and taxation. The church guides the conscience of government by informing it of what is right and wrong according to God’s will. The government recognizes societal structures created by God such as human dignity, marriage, and religious liberty.
However, when this is not functioning properly, the spheres of authority do not cooperate and collaborate together but compete and destroy each other. Government works to take over the family and become the agent to raise, educate, and institutionalize children. The church gives away its moral authority to government for ultimate right and wrong to be determined by judges or dictators. Or the family loses faith in biblical church structures and attempts to substitute the family for church (i.e. home church). Or the church attempts to rise up and take on the role of government creating an indistinguishable fusion of church and state (a governing church).
In the Bible we see a degree of sovereignty for each of the three spheres. When each exerts a biblical authority and stays within its intended lane, there is a check and balance between the three authorities which produces peace and stability in society. I urge you to consider carefully the biblical role of the government, the local church, and the family – valuing each for the place God has given it.
The second consideration relates to standing up for governmental rights afforded to us by government structures. There is strong biblical precedent for this in Acts 22:22-29. After preaching in Jerusalem to a large crowd of angry Jews, the mob turns on Paul. As the scene descends into a riot, the local Roman tribune arrests Paul and takes him into custody to examine him by flogging. They go so far as tying his hands and feet and stretching him out for flogging when Paul speaks up saying, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” At this lawful appeal, the tribune releases Paul and does not flog him.
This is an important lesson to all Christians blessed to live in a society under the rule of law. In most democratic societies there are religious liberty rights. In the United States we are blessed with the first amendment which reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” This first liberty enshrines in American law the liberty to freely establish churches and practice our Christianity. This means we have the right to live out what we believe in the public square, and we should act on this right. Christianity is not just something to be lived within the walls of the church, or within our homes. We have the legal public right to religious liberty.
Similar to Paul, when we are leaned on or threatened for simply living out our Christian belief and morals, we should press our legal religious liberties. In this, we should be very careful that our attitude is Christ-like and that what we are doing is not based on tradition, but on Scripture. But if, like Paul, our attitude is above reproach and our actions are according to what God requires of us, we can stand up for our religious liberty rights with courage and a clean conscience. I believe it’s important here that we clearly use the language of the first amendment to those that would silence and undermine the Christian church, “Is it lawful for you to forbid the free practice of my religion? This is not my personal opinion. This is required by my religion as a Christian. I choose to live and act this way because I am a Christian.” As Christians we should strive to be a people of peace, but there is clear precedent that when we feel threatened, we are permitted to appeal to the protection of available civil laws.
I hope these considerations are helpful to you.
May the Lord Jesus give us wisdom for navigating these days,