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Biblical Theocracy: Family, Church, and State

By Eugene Clingman
March 01, 2004

A deluding spirit is loose within Evangelicalism! It teaches that God’s authority extends only as far as piety, the inner life of the believer, and possibly in some measure to the church also. Many within our ranks have drunk deeply of this spirit having never tested it by the Word of God, which alone can deliver from conformity to the world (Rom. 12:1-2; Ps. 119:99-100). As a polluted well and a trampled spring they have acquiesced to the spirit of plurality and compromise (Pr. 25:26).

The Kingdom of Christ is advancing not by a sword thrust into the belly of its enemies, but rather by the Word of God held in the believing heart, spoken in the power of the Spirit of Truth, and faithfully lived out through the saving grace of Christ. R. J. Rushdoony wrote, “God’s law is God’s program for conquest in His name, where antinomianism in any degree prevails a pessimistic eschatology will likewise prevail, because the heart of Biblical eschatology has been denied.”1 For this reason most of Christendom anticipates a future of mounting evil dominion. Yet we believe the future in every area of human life and endeavor will more and more be guided by Biblical principles, by God’s law-word. We believe Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, rules in every area of life, and shall indeed progressively make His enemies a footstool for His feet, until the last enemy, death, is also subdued (1 Cor. 15:25-26). We believe that to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples in all things (Gen. 49:10; Zech. 14:20-21), for to Christ all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given. Because Christ is the God-Man, His Kingdom is a theocracy. And who but the confused or the ungodly will deny that Christ’s rule legitimately extends to family, church, and state?

There is no legitimate human authority except that delegated by God. No man may rightly conclude his authority originates or is derived from himself, his position, status, or office. Whether he is father in the family, pastor or elder in the church, or civil official in any rank of any government, he has no legitimate authority except that delegated by God. God’s authority must be exercised in God’s prescribed measure and way. As Abraham Kuyper said:

God is present in all life with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labor shall be permeated with its ora [aura] in fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.2

The Family

The creation story clearly reveals the family as basic to all social structure. The family existed before church or state. The family therefore is first to be subject to the theocracy of Christ. Here, as in all realms of human life, authority exercised within the family must be the exercise of God’s authority. Fathers (or mothers who are head of a fatherless family) are ambassadors of the theocracy. Family heads are to do the bidding of their great King and sovereign, raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and conducting every household activity to the glory of God (Eph. 6:4; 1 Cor. 10:31).

The Church

In the same way church leaders are to shepherd the flock “according to God” (1 Pet. 5:2; Ac. 20:28). The natural man and even the misguided, unsanctified Christian mind can suppose authority originates with himself (Hab. 1:7), or with his office (Mt. 23:2-5). The Israelite king was warned against such presumption, and to guard against it, he was commanded to write for himself a copy of the law of God, to keep with him and to read all the days of his life, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left…” (Dt. 7: 20). By this he was to remember that there was a higher King to which he himself must give account and that his authority as king was but an extension of the righteous rule of the Most High. So it should be within the church — leaders are to subject themselves to the requirements of Christ, and by example, as well as by admonition, lead the people to do the same (Jas. 3:1).

The State

Here is where the difficulty escalates for much of the evangelical church. Many Christians believe Christ’s Kingdom does not extend to the governing of nations. Along with Jehovah’s Witnesses they suppose that when Christ said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” He meant He was unconcerned about government and political matters and would have nothing to do with that realm which effects justice and righteousness in society until He brings judgment on the last day. They are wrong! Surely the whole of Scripture teaches God is concerned about the political realm and also holds men accountable for how they rule. William Symington, commenting on the obvious reference to the Messiah in Psalm 2 wrote:

Here, then, we have a most decided, unequivocal proof of the right of dominion over the nations of the earth which is possessed by the Mediator; for, had not such been his right, it is inconceivable that the Spirit of God should have enjoined subjection to him upon all civil rulers without exception, whether supreme or subordinate, whether belonging to Old or to New Testament times. We have here a command of universal and permanent obligation; and, while it retains its place in the Word of God, it will be impossible to deny the dominion which Jesus as Mediator possesses over the nations of the earth and their rulers.3

J. H. Bavinck expresses the same principle:

It is striking how frequently the other nations are called upon in the Psalms to recognize and to honor God, and how complete is the witness of the prophets against the nations surrounding Israel. God does not exempt other nations from the claim of his righteousness; he requires their obedience and holds them responsible for their apostasy and degeneration.4

And Dr. Greg Bahnsen wrote:

The cities of Sodom and Nineveh provide adequate proof that nations which have not been corporately selected by God for special care and that have not been granted a special, written transcript of God’s law are nevertheless fully responsible to God’s standard of holiness as revealed in the law…. Hundreds of years before the constitution of Israel as a nation under the written law of God that same law had ethical authority; if there had been no binding law, there would have been no sin and hence no justified vengeance of God against the Sodomites.5

All nations therefore are to rule themselves according to righteousness, according to Christ and His Kingdom, or be judged and condemned by that righteous standard.

The Difference Between Biblical Theonomy and Other Theocracies Such as Islam

From the time Mohammad and his bands swept across the middle eastern deserts, Islam has been a theocracy (reputedly so) advanced by the sword. “Convert or die!” has been its mode of operation. The Kingdom of God does not advance by a principle that demands conversion or death, nor by a sword that cuts flesh. Christ’s Kingdom is advanced by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself ruling from heaven as He sends forth the sword of His living Word by means of His obedient people, writing His law upon the hearts of His converts so that they in turn carry the righteous demands of His Kingdom into every realm in which they live, work, and play.

Christ rules the nations! He judges those that will not submit to the requirements of His Kingdom, and blesses those nations that do. He establishes the obedient who stand in His counsel, and causes the wicked (individuals and nations) to be as chaff swept away by the winds of His providence. This process of sifting will tend to the ever enlarging sway of Christ’s Kingdom in every area of life including civil government until that which has been spoken by the prophets is fulfilled: “And foreigners will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you…. For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, and the nations will be utterly ruined” (Is. 60:10-12).


1. Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), xiii.

2. William Symington, Messiah the Prince (n.p.:  National Reform Association, 1999), 129.

3. J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions, trans. David Hugh Freeman (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1960), 12-13.

4. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, [1931] 1999), 53.

5. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 344-345.


Topics: Biblical Law, Christian Reconstruction, Church, The, Education, Family & Marriage, Reformed Thought, Theology

Eugene Clingman

Eugene Clingman is Executive Administrator of the International Church Council Project (www.churchcouncil.org) a theological effort (of Coalition on Revival) seeking to halt the slide of the evangelical church toward liberalism and compromise. Eugene also works part-time as a representative for an Inc. 500 company (MoreHealthTimeMoney.com).

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