Recognizing God’s Government

The government of God is broad and includes every place in which God imposes His reign.  In the general sense, this is everywhere.  It could be said; that even darkness is under His control, in that God limits the activity of evil to operate within the confines of sin and spiritual darkness.  No authority is beyond His control in the truest sense of the word.

The acts of God issue from His throne and His throne is established on His authority.  All things are created through God’s authority and all physical laws of the universe are maintained by His authority.  Hence the Bible expresses it as ‘upholding all things by the word of His power,’ which means upholding all things by the word of the power of His authority.[1]

David wrote in the Psalms that if he ascended to the heavens or the depths of the grave that God was there (Ps 139:8). Therefore, in the broader sense God’s government exist ubiquitously, yet God has recognized three specific spheres in which He reveals His glory and authority.

He has established His authority in the family (domestic authority, Eph 5:22-27), the state (civil authority, Rom 13:1-4), and the church (ecclesiastical authority, Heb 13:17). Each sphere of authority stands separate and is accountable to God. Each of the three is prohibited from overstepping its boundaries into the other two spheres. For example, civil government is not permitted to rule the home or the church in that each sphere has been given a different form of government and function. Church authority is also restrained from overstepping it limits into the domestic and civil realm.  Each institution is ordained by God and receives its authority based upon the responsibilities that God has given. For any of these three to do more or less is in opposition to God’s will for His government in the earth.  Though the Church stands separate from the other authorities, it rises as a prophetic voice calling the civil and domestic government to account before God.

Familial Government

The family is the very foundation of society.  Individuals within the family stand before God and function under domestic authority.  This form of government also has limits and guidelines given from Scripture.  When God originally established domestic authority in creation when Adam was created, he was subject to and accountable before God.  After God created Eve, He gave them both responsibilities over their children. Parents serve as God’s government in the home.  Parents may use many means to rule; however, the highest redress that parents have in bringing discipline to their children is the rod (Eph 6:1-3). With a servant’s heart, the husband is given to lead his family as Christ does the church (Eph 5:23-31).

The family is subject to the church only in matters in which the Scriptures plainly declare.  Spiritual influence by consent is always present among leaders and followers.  Though there may be a variety of power forms, the desired power base of church leadership is spiritual authority.  Dr. J. Robert Clinton defines spiritual authority as “the right to influence conferred upon a leader by followers because of their perception of spirituality in that leader.”[2] Through this influence, church leaders may instruct or teach matters that are prudent and extrapolated from the Word. However, authorities of the church can only confront the family with redress in areas in which the Word of God is clearly transgressed. There may be times in the life of a church when leaders have strong preferences and convictions that are founded upon reasoning from the Scriptures, yet if they do not have a clear command by the Word, then caution should be taken to guard against building primarily upon such matters. In these situations, there remains no redress beyond spiritual influence. When it comes to church discipline, the authority of God does not support personal preferences. However, where the Word of God is clear, then individuals and families can be expected to obey church leaders or anticipate possible confrontation.

Family matters that cannot be handled within the family government should be appealed to another authority.  Christian families have the means to appeal first to the Church by going to its leaders.  If the matters that are appealed warrant the civil sphere of authority, such as crimes, then the church must stand aside and allow the civil government to function.

Civil Government

Civil authority was the second sphere instituted by God.  After the fall, man did what was right in his own eyes, and evil multiplied.  Consequently, God brought judgment upon the earth through the flood and afterwards established restraints with unambiguous sanctions for murder and cruelty to the creation (Gen 9:5-6). This was the first establishment of civil government.  Later, God established the written law, thus ordering society (1 Tim 1:8-9). At this point, civil authority was clearly established.

Though it is true that state and church authority are separate, biblically, no authority can be divorced from God’s laws.  The Scriptures plainly declare, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). The authority of the civil government rests upon what God has extended to it, which primarily is the protection of its citizens from enemies both domestic and foreign. His eternal decrees established law and order for society giving clear instruction on how to address specific crimes and ills for social order. The highest redress that was given to the state is the sword or capital punishment. Paul the Apostle declares, they that wield the sword for the state are ministers of God (Rom 13:4). He plainly declares that civil authorities exist by God.

Ecclesiastical Government

Thirdly, God has purposed to reveal His authority more clearly through the church.  It can be seen in the placement and functioning of its members in the body of Christ.

Beginning in the Old Testament, authority was set in order through the priest and prophets.  God’s children functioned under His government through Moses and Aaron as the “church in the wilderness” (Act 7:38). Then on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit formed the Body of Christ to include all people who call upon the name of the Lord.  This brought forth God’s eternal purpose for His Church and His government.  It is in the church where the rule of God is best demonstrated.  Isaiah the prophet declared,

“. . . the government will be on his shoulders. . .  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

True to the prophecy, Jesus promised to build His church upon the revelation that He was the Christ the Son of the living God, proclaiming Himself as the builder of the house (Heb 3:3). The keys of the kingdom, representing His authority, were given to the Church.  Though the words were spoken to Peter, this authority extends into His body today.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).

Quoting the latter portion of Matthew 16:19, two chapters later in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus declares His authority in matters, which are being judged in the Church.  Here He gives the highest redress for church discipline, the keys of excommunication, once again, addressing the significance of His government in the Church

[1] Watchman Nee, Spiritual Authority (New York, NY: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1972) p. 10

[2] J. Robert Clinton, Leadership Perspectives, How To Study the Bible For Leadership Insights (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1993) p. 58

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