This might seem like a strange blog post, and it really is different from what I usually do here. But these are strange times, and as they say: strange times call for strange blog posts. They do say that, don’t they? During the Reformation catechisms were written all over the place, short punchy lists of questions that everyone was asking, trying to get their heads and hearts around, and so here’s one for our day that I hope will be helpful, as we ask the Lord to bring another Great Reformation out of this current disarray.
And of course, helpful comments or suggestions are most welcome. But please note that I said “helpful comments.” All the unhelpful ones please only share with your computer screen or iPhone or pet turtle. At some point, it would probably be helpful to put Scripture references in the answers. But suffice it to say for now I have tried to stay close to what the text clearly says or what can be clearly inferred from the text. In other words, I have Scripture references in mind for these answers, and I’m happy to provide them upon request for particular answers. So here goes.
1. Where does all authority and power come from?
All authority and power in heaven and on earth originates in the Triune God and has been given to the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. If all authority is from God, what kind of authority can humans have?
Because all authority is from God, all human authority is delegated and limited.
3. What does it mean that all human authority is delegated?
Delegated authority means that it was given directly by God and can be revoked by Him.
4. What does it mean that all human authority is limited?
All human authority is limited by the particular assignments given to them by God in His Word. Any leader who goes beyond, misuses, or abdicates their particular assignments has no authority to do so.
5. What governments have been established directly by God?
God has established the responsibility of self-government in every individual, and family government, church government, and civil government in society.
6. Who is the Head of every government and power?
The Lord Jesus Christ. Since He exercised self-government perfectly in His sinless life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection and ascension, He has been made Father of all the families of the earth, King of all the kingdoms of the earth, and the only Head of the Church in heaven and on earth.
7. What is the sphere and assignment given by God to individuals in self-government?
God has graciously assigned the dominion mandate to all human beings which is part of what it means to be made in God’s image.
8. What is the Dominion Mandate?
The Dominion Mandate is found in Genesis 1:28 and it is the command and blessing, with the corresponding authority to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over all of creation.
9. How is self-government possible?
Because of sin and the Fall of Adam, self-government has been distorted and become a means of tyranny, harm, and misuse. Therefore, true self-government is only possible through the regeneration of human hearts brought about by the preaching of the gospel and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.
10. What is self-government also called in the New Testament?
In the New Testament, self-government is also called self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit.
11. Why is self-government the foundation for all other governments?
Self-government is the foundation of all other governments because all other governments are made up of individuals who either serve themselves and their lusts, or else they serve others in love through obedience to the authority of Christ.
12. What is the duty of all people with regard to self-government?
It is the duty of all people to rule their entire lives in this world to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth with good things in praise and imitation of their Maker and Savior and for His glory.
13. What is the sphere and assignment given by God to family government?
God has assigned the dominion mandate to families as well, with the particular tasks of providing for the basic nurture, health, welfare, and education of individuals in the household.
14. Who are the magistrates of the family?
Ordinarily, God gives husbands and fathers primary authority and responsibility for the provision and protection of their household. Every wife and mother is the vice-magistrate of the home, assisting her husband, bearing and training up their children, and ruling her home in wisdom and beauty.
15. What does the provision of health and welfare entail?
The health and welfare of a household entail the basic ongoing material and spiritual provisions of love, care, friendship, intimacy, food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the responsibility to provide for medical expenses, disabilities, retirement, and inheritance.
16. What does Christian education entail?
Parents are required by God to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of Lord Jesus. This is the task of teaching children to love God with all that they are in every area of life all day long, but it is also the broader task of handing down the skills, loyalties, and spiritual and material inheritance necessary for the household to successfully replicate itself over generations under the blessing of God.
17. What sanctions has God given to the government of the family?
God has given parents the authority to discipline children in the love of Christ, both in positive encouragement and with the use of the rod of correction. Ultimately, if a child persists in rebellion and unbelief, Christian parents have the responsibility to disinherit him.
18. What is the duty of all people with regard to the government of the family?
It is the duty of all people to honor their father and mother, that their lives may be long in the land. All people are also required to honor the marriage bed and consider it and the blessing of children among the highest gifts given by God to men, and the basic building block of human society.
19. What is the sphere and assignment given by God to church government?
God has given church government the Great Commission and authority over Christian worship.
20. What is the means God has given to the church to carry out the Great Commission and Christian worship?
God has given the church the Word and the Sacraments to carry out the Great Commission and Christian worship.
21. What is the Great Commission?
The Great Commission is given in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go, disciple the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
22. What is Christian worship?
Christian worship is the called-together gathering of the church in person, principally on the Lord’s Day, to renew covenant with Christ, through the Word read, preached, and sung, as well as through prayers, and the celebration of the sacraments, all according to Scripture.
23. What is the Word?
The Word is the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, the perfectly preserved testimony of the patriarchs, apostles, and prophets, proclaimed by evangelists, missionaries, and pastors, and thoroughly taught to all who believe in Christ for obedience in every human endeavor. The Bible is the authoritative Word to every human government, but it is the peculiar charter and constitution of the Christian church.
24. What are the Sacraments?
The sacraments are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the signs and seals of membership in the church, means of grace for all of God’s people, instituted directly by Christ.
25. Who are the officers of the church?
The officers of the church are qualified men called elders (or bishops) and deacons.
26. What are the offices within the eldership?
There are three offices of elders: ministers (or pastors) are elders tasked with regular ministry of Word and Sacrament; teaching elders (or doctors) are tasked with teaching the Word, often in academic or missionary contexts, and ruling elders (or lay/parish elders) are elders whose primary job is to rule the church. All three offices of elders share the government of the church equally together.
27. What is the office of deacon?
Deacons are qualified men who assist the elders in carrying out the ministry of the church and in caring for the physical needs of the saints.
28. What are the sanctions of the Church?
Christ has given to the church the sword of Scripture with which it is authorized to preach, encourage, teach, rebuke, as well as private and public censure. This authority is also called the keys of the kingdom, and it includes welcoming new Christian disciples through baptism, correcting for sin, and in cases when an individual persists in high handed, unrepentant sin, excommunication, barring them from the Lord’s Table, and reckoning an individual an unbeliever and outside the fellowship and inheritance of Christ.
29. What is the duty God requires of all people with regard to the Church?
God commands everyone everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and so be baptized and received into membership in a local church, to be in submission to local elders, and to participate in the worship and life of the body through freely giving of their gifts.
30. What is the sphere and assignment given by God to the civil government?
The sphere and assignment given by God to civil government is punishing criminals, establishing good order and justice in society through equal weights and measures, and praising the righteous.
31. Does the Bible require a particular form of civil government?
The Bible allows for some flexibility and freedom in form of government, but it clearly teaches a constitutional and representative form of government, governed by Scripture, common law, and natural law, prioritizing personal, local, and covenantal relationships and loyalties, with multiple checks and balances, given the natural tendency of sinful men to abuse power. A Christian civil order requires a limited government.
32. How is civil government to be limited?
Civil government is to be limited by honoring the assignments given to the governments of the family and the church, not meddling in or taking to itself those assignments, and remaining steadfast in the sphere and assignment given to it by God: punishing criminals and upholding justice.
33. Who are the officers of civil government?
Following the pattern of Scripture, the officers in civil government are ordinarily qualified men who are judges, legislators, and executives, beginning with local magistrates in the city gates.
34. What are the sanctions granted to the civil government?
God has granted the civil magistrate the sword with which to execute God’s vengeance on criminals. The basic principle is the lex talionis “eye for eye” which requires strict punitive or retributive justice and biblical restitution in cases of theft, property damage, or divorce, but may also include stripes, banishment, exile, or the death penalty. Incarceration is not an ordinary tool given to civil government.
35. What is the difference between a sin and a crime?
Not all sins are crimes, but all crimes, if defined by the Bible, are sins. However, sins are the jurisdiction and ministry of individuals, families, and churches. Crimes are the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate and do objective, public harm to life, liberty, or property. The Bible identifies crimes as those actions which require restitution or penalty by civil magistrates. For example, in the Bible, drunkenness and ethnic animosity are sins but not crimes, while adultery is a sin and a crime.
36. Are the civil laws of ancient Israel binding on all civil governments for all time?
No. The specific laws of ancient Israel have expired with that nation state. However, those laws were based on the general equity of moral justice based on the eternal character of God. Since that eternal character cannot change, those common law principles are still binding on all nations for all time.
37. What does natural law teach and require?
Natural law is the revelation of the eternal character and attributes of the Triune God found in all of His creation, including His image found in all human beings in their conscience, customs, creativity, and cultures, and it teaches and requires all men to acknowledge Him as Creator and praise and obey Him in all things. Because of sin, natural law must be interpreted and checked by Scripture.
38. What is the difference between “preventative” and “punitive” justice?
Preventative justice is the attempt by humanists to prevent crimes by limiting liberty through endless regulations, fines, and inspections, whereas biblical punitive justice leaves men free and only punishes where actual crimes have occurred.
39. What is necessary for a civil magistrate to administer just punishment?
Civil magistrates administer just punishment when crimes are clearly identified in the Bible, confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses, when the accused have the right to answer their accuser and cross examine any witnesses, and when the penalty is commensurate with the crime. In short, the Bible requires fixed, equal weights and measures, due process, presumption of innocence, and convictions based on established facts, evidence, and testimony.
40. Does the Bible require the execution of rebellious children, adulterers, or homosexuals?
No. The Bible allows the death penalty as a maximum sentence for such crimes, but only requires execution for intentional murder.
41. Since God establishes the authority of civil magistrates, must they always be obeyed?
No. Jesus says that we must only render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but we must always render unto God what belongs to God.
42. But doesn’t the Bible also teach that we must sometimes submit to evil rulers?
Yes. In matters that do not require us to directly disobey God, we are free to submit to evil rulers in order to be a testimony to them of grace and truth, but we are also free to disobey, especially when God raises up righteous lesser magistrates that we may follow instead. We must never submit when a magistrate commands us to disobey God.
43. What are some examples of righteous civil disobedience?
The Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh and refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys. Gideon threshed wheat in a wine press to hide it from Midianite tax collectors. Daniel and his three friends refused to participate in idolatry in Babylon. Daniel prayed with his windows open in defiance of the king’s decree. Paul fled from a warrant that was out for his arrest.
44. What is the duty of Christians toward civil government?
It is the duty of Christians to seek the good of their cities, counties, states, and nations, as well as pray for and honor those who serve in every area of civil government. This good is to be defined by the Bible and not vague humanistic notions or cultural fads. This good is primarily performed through faithful living in the other spheres of government, free associations and markets, as well as direct participation at various levels of civics.
45. When were all of these governments established by God?
They were established at Creation in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world. The fall of man affected the way these governments function, but it did not create them.
46. May these governments decide to take on new assignments or jurisdictions?
No, because these governments derive their authority from the Lord Jesus, they cannot take on new assignments or jurisdictions without relinquishing their authority since they would be disobeying Christ.
47. What does it mean that these governments have separate powers or spheres?
The separation of powers means that each government must only exercise its authority in the limited jurisdiction assigned to it by God. Civil governments may not regulate how or when the church gathers for worship or how families provide for themselves or educate children. Neither may parents take to themselves the authority over the sacraments, and the church may not legislate or execute criminal justice.
48. Are there not times when one government is abusing its authority and another government may legitimately intervene?
Yes, for example, when a crime, as defined by Scripture, has been committed in a family or church, civil government must intervene. Likewise, when a family or civil government is in unrepentant sin, ministers of the church must teach, exhort, rebuke, and censure.
49. Are there cases of overlapping jurisdictions or authority?
Yes, there are occasional instances where there may be legitimate overlap in jurisdiction. In those cases of overlapping authority, governments must protect their God-given jurisdictions vigorously and work through the challenges, respecting other governments as equals before God.
50. Will all of these governments last forever?
No. While individuals in Christ have everlasting life and the nations will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem, these governments along with marriage and family will be transfigured into something far more glorious, and it is the church alone, as the Bride of Christ, that will last forever.