Authority: Monopoly Powers of Covenantal Institutions

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Another characteristic that covenantal institutions have in common is the presence of monopoly power over the members of that institution.  Once again, monopoly power is not seen in voluntary/contractual activities.  Economically, it is impossible for a monopoly to come into existence when there is free and open competition.  It is only in the presence of an institution that has been granted monopoly power by God that this can exist.  The family, church, and state have all been granted a monopoly on a particular power that they are ordered to exercise over the members of their respective organizations.

Proverbs 13: 24 says, “He who spare his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Proverbs 22: 15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Proverbs 23: 13-14 says, “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die.  You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol.”

These, and dozens of passages just like them, all point to the duty of the representative head of the family to exercise corporal discipline on the disobedient children of the household.  The husband may delegate this duty to his wife to perform while he is absent or indisposed.  Nowhere do we read that somebody outside of the husband/wife team is permitted to strike a child of that household without the expressed permission of the father.  The father has been granted the monopoly power of corporal punishment over his household.  Although Evangelicals disagree over the severity of the punishment and the means to determine what is a punishable offense, I  believe that they generally agree with this doctrine.

In the same way that the father has a monopoly power over his children, the elders of the church have a monopoly power over the members of the church.  Matthew 16: 19 says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 18: 18-20 says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”

The “Keys to the Kingdom” described in Matthew 16 have always been recognized by the orthodox Church as the monopoly power of church discipline.  The elders of the church have the right and the responsibility to discipline the members of the church.  As is always the case in covenantal institutions, God has not left His people without instructions.  Matthew 18 describes in detail how to proceed in cases of church discipline.  The passage quoted above concludes the teaching on procedures of discipline  and adamantly asserts that the representative authority of Jesus is present when the elders act in His name and according to His instructions.  The covenantal authority is so strong that Jesus actually says that he is “in their midst.”  That is not some sort of mystical statement that can be used to describe  what is going on when Christians are having a good time worshipping together.  That statement is made in the context of excommunication, the most severe censure of the church.

The elders of the church, acting as Jesus’ representatives, have the responsibility to excommunicate the unrepentant individual from the local church.  When done properly, the elders have the full assurance that Jesus is “in their midst”.  The excommunicant is declared to be an unbeliever, condemned to hell if he does not specifically repent and return to the church.  This power may only be administered by the elders of the Church.  Neither the state nor the family has the right to excommunicate a member of the church.  Unfortunately, this responsibility is rarely exercised in Evangelical churches in the United States.  See my essay entitled “The Case for the Reformation of Church Disciplinary Procedures” for a detailed study on this topic.

Romans 13: 4 says, “…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”  As we saw earlier, this is a statement about the State.  The covenantal institution of the State has the monopoly power of the sword.  The State, and only the State, is permitted to enforce the civil law of God over its citizens and resident aliens.  This power extends all the way to the ultimate sanction of the penalty of death.  No individual citizen, no family, no church is ever permitted to take up the sword against his neighbor.  God has ordained the State as the means by which the sanctions of His civil law are to be administered.

Although most Evangelicals would wrongly say that the State is not to administer the civil law of God, I know of none who do not agree that the State has the monopoly on “the sword”.  Some modern day Christian anarchists might try to argue that point but they are so far from rational that I will not waste my time dealing with them.

This concludes my explanation of the nature of authority with respect to covenantal institutions.  There are hundreds of practical applications that may be drawn from the principles that have been established.  What follows is a discussion of some of the applications that I deem to be most significant.

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One thought on “Authority: Monopoly Powers of Covenantal Institutions

  1. Michael Hayes

    It is good to be blessed with insightful reading, I thank God for it.I pray I apply it all!


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