God has graciously given the human race three institutions for its protection and development — church, family, and state. Each has its own distinct purpose, jurisdiction, powers, limits of authority, and government. Only when all three of these institutions are functioning Biblically can any one of them function effectively. When one usurps authority not given it by God, or disregards the limits of its jurisdiction, tyranny results. These institutions may not be blended or combined. Each is “sovereign” in its own sphere, although all three are obviously interdependent and equally accountable to the Word of God.
God has given the church the keys to the Kingdom of God (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). Keys are symbols of authority in the church of Christ, which authority is to be exercised by the officers of the church (Heb. 13:17). This is to say, as does the Westminster Confession of Faith, that “The Lord Jesus, as king and head of His church, has therein appointed a government in the hand of church-officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.”1
Three Biblical truths are brought out here: 1) Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the source of its existence and authority (Eph. 5:23). In His church, His Word, and only His Word, is law. 2) Jesus has placed the authority to govern His church in the hands of church-officers, i.e., ruling and teaching elders, and not in the hands of anyone else, e.g., fathers or civil magistrates
(Ac. 20:28). These officers are to act as “gatekeepers” and “caretakers” of Christ’s church and all of its families. 3) The governing authority and jurisdiction of the institutional church are distinct
and separate from the civil government (Mt. 16:19).
God has also given the family basic and fundamental powers, so that, as R. J. Rushdoony wrote: “The destruction of the family’s position and authority is the destruction of all society and the introduction of anarchy.”2
The family’s first power is the control of children in terms of the Word of God (Gen. 18:19). Under God, “the parent is the child’s provider, protector, lover, teacher, and lawgiver.”3
The second power is the control of property (Ex. 20:15). The implication of Biblical law is that “property is power, social and personal power. Whoever controls property has liberty, and whoever surrenders power over property surrenders liberty.… God’s Law provides for the freedom of the family by undergirding private ownership of property.”4
The third power is the control of inheritance (Pr. 13:22). “Basic to all control of property is the control of inheritance.… When the state enters into the question of inheritance, property gradually is transferred from the family to the state.… For the family to maintain itself, the family must control inheritance.”5
The fourth power is the responsibility of welfare (2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:8). The family, not the state, is to provide for its own economic and moral welfare, with the diaconal assistance of the church (Ac. 6:1f.).
The fifth power of the family is the responsibility of education (Dt. 6:7). Parents, not the state, are given the responsibility of educating their children according to the Word of God, with the assistance of the church (Mt. 28:18f). “The family is man’s first and basic school.… For education to cease to be parent-controlled and become state-controlled is deadly to both education and the child.”6
The Relation of Church and Home
The church is the house and family of God (Eph. 2:19; Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.2). As a result of the preaching of this glorious truth and the working out of its implications for church and home, churches, faithful to the Word of God, have been used by God to transform families, cultures, and nations throughout many generations.
However, within the past 150 years our families and churches have weakened. Why? Not because the Biblical truths and principles defining and governing churches and home have failed. Rather, our families and churches are failing because most of today’s professed Christian churches and families have left the Faith of our fathers and have compromised or neglected that historic Faith.
So then, what is the solution? Innovations of the truth? No! New theologies? No! New ways of worship? No! New models for church and family life other than those in the Word of God? No!
Over the centuries, as the church has tried to live by the Scriptures, we have developed traditions and doctrines to apply the Scripture to our lives in this world. It is not the historical traditions, models, methods, and doctrines of the historic Christian and Reformed Faith that have failed us. We have failed to live by God’s commandments.
Preachers have failed by not teaching their churches to love our Faith. Elders have failed by not defending and enforcing our Faith. Deacons have failed in not fleshing out our Faith in service. Fathers have failed by not leading their families into the truth and life of our Faith. Families have failed by trying to live as if our Faith were irrelevant. Church members have failed by not striving for the purity and peace of the church. And in failing our Faith we have failed the world that we have been commissioned to win for Christ.
Where are we to begin in the hard work of restoring church and home to their proper place and relationship? Not only must the family repent of its sins, devote itself to Christ and rebuild itself according to the Word of God in terms of the powers God has given it; but also the church must repent and recover its importance and influence in the lives of families and the world (Is. 62:1-7). As central and basic as Christian families are, their existence, powers and functions are effective only in the context of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ — the covenant family of families (Gen. 35:11).
Zion, the city of God, was the center of the worship of God in the earth. Its Temple was where God’s people gathered as the congregation of the Lord for public worship. “The other dwelling places of Jacob” refers to the homes of the covenant people throughout the land of promise. So then, God’s love for His Temple, where the congregation gathered for worship and instruction in God’s law, is greater than His love for the individual homes of His people, where fathers gathered their families for worship and instruction. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote:
God delights in the prayers and praises of Christian families and individuals, but He has a special eye to the assemblies of the faithful.… This should lead each separate believer to identify himself with the church of God; where the Lord reveals His love the most, there should each believer most delight to be found. Our own dwellings are very dear to us, but we must not prefer them to the assemblies of the saints.7
As Christian families rededicate themselves to be governed by the Word of God, they must learn to see that the Holy Spirit makes the reading and teaching of the Bible, but especially the preaching of the Word (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 155), the primary instrument in the delivery of God’s grace and truth to parents and to their children. Fathers and mothers are to teach the Bible to their children as the entire family sits under the Spirit-empowered preaching of the Word of God by those called, gifted, and ordained by Christ through His church to that preaching office.
As Romans 10:14-15 teaches us: “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’”
It is in the official preaching of the gospel that the living voice of Christ is chiefly to be heard. Neither the Greek noun for “preacher,” kerux, nor the Greek verb for “preaching,” kerusso, refers to the civil magistrate nor to fathers in the New Testament. The preaching of the Word of God, then, is the chief delivery system for Scriptural truth from generation to generation. Apart from the faithful preaching of the Word of God and outside the faithful Christian church, the family has no future; and if the church’s families degenerate, the church as an institution has no future.
1. Westminster Confession of Faith 30.1.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973), 192.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1984), 70.
5. Ibid., 73.
7. Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983 reprint), Vol. IV, 115.