Category Archives: Authority

Authority: Introduction

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


A woeful ignorance of the biblical doctrine of authority has caused the Church to descend into a multitude of behavioral errors. Most Christians never even give a second thought to the concept of authority. In the eyes of the average Christian in the pew, each person is equal in authority to every other person. Any attempt to exercise any type of authority over the local congregation is generally met with howls of protest. Many a pastoral career has been ended by congregations that do not comprehend the nature of biblical authority and the right and responsibility of the Pastor to exercise discipline over the members of the congregation.

Even worse, most Christian leaders have no idea of the basis of their authority and, therefore, end up either exercising tyrannical authority or exercising no authority whatsoever. Many congregations have suffered for years under the tyranny of an oppressive Pastor who always insists that he get his way. On the other hand, many congregations have trained their pastors well that he need be in fear of his job if he ever gets too “uppity”. Neither situation is good for the spiritual health of the local church.

This ignorance of the doctrine of authority also leads to necessarily lower levels of sanctification as individual Christians do not know how to deal with the authorities that they encounter in the world. The Bible speaks about authority both inside and outside of the Church. Unless a Christian understands the doctrine of authority with respect to the world, and especially the State, he will be severely handicapped as he attempts to live a life of obedience to God in the world that surrounds him.

The issue of State authority particularly vexes the Church today. Most evangelical Christians have adopted the view that it is the duty of the individual believer to be politically active. We are told that what we need more of is Christians in public office. Somehow a plethora of elected Christians is seen as the magic pill that will bring about righteousness in the land. To make matters worse, many of the battles that these Evangelical activists are fighting involve them in dubious alliances with immoral State power that inevitably result in failure to accomplish the stated goal.

The purpose of this series is to explore the biblical concept of authority and examine the numerous practical applications of the doctrine to everyday life in the Church and in the world. Throughout this series I will be referring to the State, the Church, and the Family. When I use capitalization I am speaking of the entity as an institution. When I spell the entity in small case, I am speaking of a particular state, church, or family. I make no attempt to be gender sensitive in this series. All references are male. Females, of course, are always subsumed. Passages of Scripture that are quoted and that are short are put between quotation marks. Longer passages of Scripture are in italics. There are no footnotes. Reference works that I deem to be of value are mentioned in the text. If I am knowingly taking an idea from somebody else, I will reference that in the text.

Two Types of Authority

The Bible assumes the existence of two different types of authority. No names are given to the two different types so it is necessary to come up with a label for each type. For the purposes of this series I will entitle the two different types of authority as Service/Contractual Authority and Representative/Covenantal Authority. Most of what will be discussed here pertains to the second type of authority: representative/covenantal authority. Nevertheless, it is important to understand a little bit about the first type of authority: service/contractual authority.

Authority: Service or Contractual Authority

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


Service authority is most commonly witnessed in the business community. The Bible does not have a great deal to say about economic philosophy. As a result, this class of authority is not frequently found in the Bible. However, the concept is not ignored. Jesus speaks about service authority in Matthew 20: 25-27. Here we find:

But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…

In this passage Jesus is speaking about the sinful tendency of those in positions of authority to become tyrants. In this case legitimate authority is transformed into illegitimate power. The people legitimately under authority are illegitimately manipulated and coerced by the exercise of the illegitimate power mongers.

In direct contrast to what the disciples often observed in the world, they were to obtain authority by serving others. To rise to positions of great authority it is necessary to “enslave” yourself to others in service. The concept of service authority is a difficult one for most people to grasp. Due to the fact that authority is almost exclusively understood as the application of power over another person, it is hard to conceive of authority being grounded in service to others. As mentioned earlier, the business world serves as the best example of service authority.

Service Authority in Business

Why is Bill Gates the richest person in the world? Popular economic theories argue that Mr. Gates has obtained his wealth by exploiting everyone else in the world. In this view there is a static amount of wealth that exists and all people are in competition for their fair share of it. Whoever is the most powerful, or the most devious, or the most clever, is able to rise to the top and obtain the greatest share of the wealth.

This position is further cemented in the minds of people by politicians who pander to the envy found in the hearts of men. In exchange for your vote, the politician says, I will use the coercive power of the state to extract wealth from the powerful and redistribute it to you, the less powerful. Unfortunately, this view is based upon an utterly fallacious understanding of the way the world operates economically.

The world, in the absence of coercive forces (government being the most common one in the United States, the Russian Mafia being the most common in the former Soviet Union, etc.) operates under the principle of “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant”. Income and wealth flow to the person who serves the needs and wants of the most people. This makes no statement about the moral, or immoral, nature of those wants and needs. The simple fact is that a person becomes wealthy, powerful, and influential by serving others.

Bill Gates is the wealthiest person in the world for one simple reason: he made millions of people very happy by means of the software that he produced. More so than any other human being in the last several decades, Bill Gates produced what people wanted. As a result of his service to others, he is fabulously wealthy. There was no static “pie” of wealth that he managed to garner the greatest percentage of. Quite the opposite, Mr. Gates has greatly enlarged the size of the pie of wealth, or capital, that exists in the world. For this service to mankind in general, and his customers in particular, he has been generously rewarded.

It is an inexorable economic law that service to others results in wealth, and the authority that accompanies it, accumulating to the person doing the serving. Because of his service Mr. Gates is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on software development, software marketing, personal computers, and information networking. Because of his service to others, Mr. Gates is in the position of employing thousands of people. It is here that the nature of service authority as “contract” authority is best seen.

The Nature of Contract Authority

The key concept involved in an understanding of “contract” is the voluntary nature of it. Again, assuming no outside coercive force, a contract is only entered into by the parties involved on a voluntary basis. Nobody is forced to contract with anybody else. Contracts are written with the understanding that, under certain terms, they may be nullified or made void. Each party to the contract is making an exchange; something is being given up in exchange for something more desirable. In an employment contract the laborer is providing labor services (skilled or unskilled) to the employer who generally provides monetary income.

Bill Gates has provided the opportunity for thousands of employment contracts to be written. In the absence of his entrepreneurial skill, thousands of people would be doing something else for a living, probably at a much lower wage. In the presence of his enterprising activities, thousands of people are unified in recognizing the fact that without Bill Gates their lives would not be as materially prosperous as they are. This creates power and authority and grants that power and authority to the person who brought it all about.

Notice, however, that the authority that Bill Gates has is in no way coercive. He can’t make anybody do anything that they do not want to do. If people do not do what he wants them to do (buy his next software version, for instance), there is absolutely nothing that he can do about it. The moment Mr. Gates ceases to give the consuming public what they want he will be cast aside as irrelevant. One of the most amazing things about wealth in the United States is the transitory nature of it. Examine the Forbes Magazine annual list of the wealthiest people in the US. Notice how much the list changes year by year. Decade by decade changes are even more dramatic. People are constantly being added to and subtracted from the list. What is the reason for this mobility? The practice or non-practice of service/contract authority.

This is the nature of service/contract authority. Serve others, get authority. Stop serving others, stop getting authority. Nothing else matters. Coercion is never involved. You rise to the top or sink to the bottom of the authority chain based entirely upon your service rendered to others and nothing else. All Christians should be practicing the words of Jesus and become the servants of others. It is by this means that God provides for income to be generated by the family. It is this understanding of authority that undergirds the classic doctrine of employment or vocation.

The focus of this essay is not upon service/contract authority. It was important to discuss only to distinguish it from representative/covenantal authority. Representative authority is what needs to be considered next.

Authority: Representative or Covenantal Authority

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


All parts of the doctrine of representative authority come from the initial statement of Jesus in Matthew 28:18 where he says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” That one statement, as a part of the Great Commission, summarizes everything that needs to be known about representative authority. The word that Jesus used was ‘exousia’. The Greek word literally means “delegated influence, jurisdiction, or authority”. The key concept here is ‘delegated’.

All representative authority is delegated from the holder of all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Son, had the authority of His Father delegated to Him because of what He accomplished in His redemptive work. Jesus Himself delegates authority to His chosen representatives (hence the term ‘representative’ authority). There is no greater authority than Jesus and all authority which exists, exists because of Him. He has been given all authority and He decides to delegate some of that authority to His representatives on earth.

The nature of authority is dramatically illustrated in Matthew 8: 8-10 where Jesus commends the Centurion:

But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not qualified for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come! and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this! and he does it.”
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel…”

Jesus commends the Centurion for his faith, but his faith was predicated upon his conception of authority. He knew that authority was representative because he knew that whoever he ordered to perform a task would perform that task as his representative. There was no question that it would be done. Conversely, he was under authority himself. His commanding officers knew that he would accurately represent their orders to those under him.

Not only is the representative nature of this authority illustrated by the Centurion; he also illustrates the very important point that representative authority is necessarily coercive. It was inconceivable that he would not obey the orders of his superiors. It was inconceivable that his subordinates would not obey his orders. What made these two events inconceivable? The fact that coercion was legitimately involved. As a man under authority he was expected to put aside his own opinions, his own voluntary wishes, and obey the orders he was given. Likewise, he expected those under his authority to do the same. The whole system of representative authority “works” because of the reality of coercion.

To better grasp the coercive nature of representative authority it is perhaps best to approach it from another angle. Submission is something that is regularly enjoined upon different groups of people in the Bible. Submission is a coercive term. To not submit to legitimate representative authority is to sin against God. To enforce submission to lawful authority, different groups of people are granted various powers of coercion that they may use to enforce submission. Unlike the service/contractual authority we examined earlier, there is no voluntary nature to representative authority. To make this point clear it is necessary to do an extensive examination of the biblical passages that demand submission.

The Relationship of Submission to Representative Authority

There are twelve passages in the New Testament where one class of people is directly ordered to submit to another class of people. These twelve passages are easily broken down into three different categories based upon shared characteristics. First of all however, we need to understand the Greek word for ‘submission’.

‘Hupotasso’ is the Greek word most commonly translated as ‘submission’. It is a compound word made up two parts: ‘Hupo’ and ‘Tasso’. ‘Hupo’ is a preposition that can be translated in various fashions but always contains the idea of “being under”. ‘Tasso’ can mean to “put someone over or in charge of something or someone” or “to order, fix, determine, or appoint”. ‘Hupotasso’ then, in the context of human relationships and interactions, literally means “to be under the appointed authority of another person”. The biblical command to submit is a command to put oneself under the delegated authority of another person who in some way represents Jesus to a particular group of people. The first group, or class, or people are described in the verses that follow.

Authority: Submission in the Family

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


Ephesians 5:22 says:  “Wives, be subject  to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:18 says:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

I Peter 3:1 says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands…”

Lastly, I Peter 2:18 says, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”

These verses are familiar to all Christians who read the Bible but they are not always recognized as pertaining to a particular class or group.  In the first three examples it is the wife who is ordered to be submissive to the husband.  The fourth seems to be of a different class because it discusses servants or slaves.  The conception that the fourth example is different from the first three is illusory.

I Peter 2:18 is often used as a verse to describe employer/employee relationships.  That is a great confusion with respect to the doctrine of authority.  As you recall, employers and employees enter into voluntary contracts with each other to provide something for each other in exchange for a price.  No coercion is involved.  It is not possible that Peter is telling Christian employees that they must submit to the representative authority (of which they have none) of an employer.  He is certainly not telling Christian employees that they are to do nothing when the employer breaks the terms of the voluntarily entered contract between the two of them.  No, in order to understand the I Peter passage it is important to remember the historical and cultural context in which it was given.

Slavery existed in the New Testament era.  Some Christians owned slaves.  Other Christians were slaves.  In some sense the slave owner was seen as having the representative authority of Jesus, otherwise the slave would never have been ordered to submit to the representative authority of the master.  How could a slave master have Jesus’ representative authority over a slave?  There is only one answer.  Because the slave was a member of the family.

The Old Testament recognized that slaves were members of the tribal family units.  They were accorded some of the privileges that other family members had (participation in circumcision and Passover are two examples).  This did not change in the NT.  Slaves in the NT era were also deemed to be members of the family of the master.  Granted they were inferior members, but they were still members.  As such, they were under the representative authority of the head of the family, the father/husband.

All four verses are referencing the same class of representative authority:  the authority delegated from Jesus to the head of the household.  The Ephesian and Colossian passages specifically mention the fact that submission to the husband/father is de facto submission to the Lord.  Why is this so?  Because the authority of the husband/father is representative authority.  The husband represents Jesus to the family and the family members are ordered to submit to him in the exact same way they would submit to Jesus Himself.

For most Christians the concept of submission, although probably not very popular, is not difficult to understand.  Churches in general do a pretty good job of preaching and teaching this principle to the members.  Very few Evangelicals are unfamiliar with the principle of family submission to the head of household.  That, however, is not the case for the other two classes of representative authority that demand submission to the representative head, who, in turn, also represents Jesus Himself.

Authority: Submission in the Church

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


The following verses are not nearly so popular, not nearly so often read, and not nearly so often taught, as the passages about submission in the family.  Nevertheless, they are a vital part of the doctrine of authority.

I Corinthians 16:  15-16 says, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanus, that it was the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.”

Ephesians 5: 23-24 says, “…as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ…”

Hebrews 13: 17 says, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

Lastly, I Peter 5:5 says, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…”  (This passage is in the context of I Peter 5:1 which says, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God…”  This passage is frequently misunderstood by those who interpret the phrase “be subject to your elders” colloquially and understand it to be simply a general exhortation to honor the elderly.)

It is understandable that these verses of Scripture are frequently ignored.  Pastors and teachers are seen as pedantic and self-serving when they preach and teach a passage that orders others to submit to them.  So as not to offend anyone and so as to not appear to be in any way a tyrant, these verses are relegated to the dustbin of the preacher’s repertoire.

Although it is understandable why these verse are ignored; it is also reprehensible that they are ignored.  It is the duty of the preacher and teacher to declare the entire Word of God, without favoritism to any passage and without any respect of persons.   To allow self interest of any fashion to creep into what is selected to be preached is dead wrong.

The majority of the Evangelical churches in the United States are ordered according to a congregational form of government.  The idea of being in submission to an elder and congregational government does not mix well.  The majority of Evangelical Christians in the United States are indoctrinated to believe in the quasi biblically ordained concept of democratic government in which the leaders (elders) are expected to be servants who submit to the orders of the congregation.  I will come back to this problem a bit later in this essay.  For now, it is sufficient to say that there is a great presuppositional bias lurking in the minds of most Christians that makes it almost impossible for them to understand what is being taught in the four passages listed above.

Paul orders the Corinthians to submit themselves to the representational authority of the ministers.  Paul spells out the chain of authority to the Ephesians when he says that Jesus, to whom all authority has been given, is the Head of the Church, and the Church is subject to Him.  Within this Church he has ordained His representatives.  The writer to the Hebrews makes it very clear that it is the moral duty of the members of the congregation to be under the delegated authority of Jesus seen in the leaders of the local church.  To refuse to submit to that representational authority is unprofitable for the members!  Why?  Because in their refusal to submit to the delegated representative of Jesus, they are, in fact, refusing to submit to Jesus Himself.  That rebellion against the chain of command that God has established has serious negative consequences for the rebel.

The warning that non-submission is unprofitable to those who practice it is entirely consistent with the teaching on representative authority seen in the example of the Centurion.  Refusing to follow the orders of the superior does not injure the superior authority.  The consequences of refusing to submit to the superior authority fall squarely upon the head of the insubordinate one.  Therefore, insubordination primarily harms the spiritual welfare of the rebel, not the designated authority.

Most churches today are fearful of exercising authority.  Indeed, the situation is so horrendous that most churches make the conscious decision to not even instruct the congregation on their duty to submit.  Such is not the case with the third class of verses that speak about the necessity of submitting to representational authority.  Those are the verses that speak of the civil magistrate.

Authority: Submission in the State

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


The civil magistrate, or State, has no trouble making people submit.  Christians are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible instructs them to submit to the State.  The following verses prove the point:

Romans 13:1 says,  “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities…”

Romans 13:5 says, “Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes,…”

Titus 3:1 says, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,…

I Peter 2: 13 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

The fact that Christians are ordered to submit themselves to the State could not be any more clear.  It is, of course, always assumed that no Christian has to submit to and obey the State when the State specifically orders a believer to do something that is contrary to the Word of God.  For example, we all agree that if the State ordered a pregnant woman to abort her baby, she would be right in refusing to submit to that order.  When the Christians in the post-apostolic Church were ordered to cease preaching the Gospel, they rightly ignored that order.

On the other hand, insofar as the State does not order an individual believer to violate the principles of God’s Word, he is to submit to and obey the State.  This is true even when the members of the State are very immoral men and women and the dictates of the State are also immoral.  Rome was an amazingly immoral society and the Roman State was filled with immoral practices, but Paul still enjoined the believers in Rome to be in subjection to the governing authorities.

To which expression of the State should the Christian submit?  To whichever ones he pays taxes.  Paul told the Romans that the taxes that they paid to Rome were their duty in exchange for the civil order that is brought about by a state institution.  Sometimes critics of Christians who believe in liberty charge them with being anarchists.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been sucked into popular movements, that they deem to be Christian and patriotic, that encourage them to cease paying taxes and renounce the civil government.  Nothing could be more contrary to the truth.  Of course much of what the taxes are used to pay for is immoral.  That was true in Rome and it is true now.  But Paul does not order the Romans to cease paying taxes.  Instead, taxes are the means by which the legitimate State authority may be recognized.   An individual knows who he has to submit to in the state arena by simply looking to see who he pays taxes to.  The tax is a statement of authority over someone.  When an individual pays a tax it is an act of submission to the taxing authority.  (Contrary to popular belief, God does have an opinion abut the type and amount of tax the State may extract.  That is the subject of another essay.)

Peter continues this theme when he orders the Jewish believers to submit themselves to every “human institution” that acts as a governing authority.  Just as is the case in the United States, there were numerous taxing institutions in his time.  Sometimes he had to submit to a king, sometimes he had to submit to a governor.  Today, we have to submit to the Federal, State, and local governments to which we find ourselves bound via the payment of taxes.

Nothing of what has been said about submission to the State should ever be taken as an endorsement of the policies of the State.  When the State engages in immoral activities, submission to the State does not constitute endorsement of that immorality.  Christians are ordered to submit to the State under which they live.  They are never ordered to become a part of the State under which they live.  They are certainly never expected to bind their consciences to any state policy that is contrary to the revealed Word of God.

Authority: Only Three Covenantal Authorities

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


The twelve verses quoted above are all of the examples of the command to be in submission found in the New Testament.  “Hupotasso” is not a word that is used frequently.  When it is used, it is always in the context of these three institutions of the Family, Church, and State.  Some people object to the use of the word ‘institution’ when describing the Family, Church, and State.  There should be no objection.  Peter used the word when describing who to submit to in the State apparatus in the passage quoted above.  It is a word that is commonly used to recognize the existence of a hierarchy of authority and the presence of a community that is ordered along the lines of that authority structure.  Therefore, I will speak of the three institutions that Christians are ordered to submit to.

“Hupotasso” is always found in the context of three representational authoritative institutions.  Christians are never instructed to submit to anything or anyone else.  In fact, Christians are ordered to not submit to the attempts of other individuals to bind their conscience to believe certain things or behave in a particular fashion.  Christians are told to love one another; they are told to be kind to one another; they are told to be merciful to one another; but they are never told to submit to one another outside the context of a representative institution.  It is not an accident that all cases of the injunction to submit are found in relationship with three authoritative institutions.  These are the three institutions that God has ordained for human society.  These three institutions have been delegated the authority of Jesus to carry out their particular purposes on earth.  It would be worth some effort to compare and contrast these three institutions.

The Covenantal Nature of These Three Institutions

Earlier, in our examination of service authority, we saw that the voluntary contract best expressed the nature of that authority.  In representative/covenantal authority we come to a very different type of authority.  In all three institutions we have Jesus as the Head of the institution.  He personally delegates His authority to His representatives.  Along with His authority comes His clear directions about the form and function of each institution.  The Bible contains the instructions that God has delivered to the institutional heads and to the members of the institution to frame proper behavior within the particular institution.  God never gives His authority without also giving His instructions on how to administer it.  This gets at the heart of the covenantal nature of the three institutions.

Under the terms of a voluntary contract, the parties to the contract could write it any way they desired.  If Joe wanted to produce widgets and Frank wanted to buy corn and George wanted to trade in both widgets and corn, they would design their contract to allow them to do what they wanted.  Under a covenantal structure however, the terms of the contract are already written.  Since Jesus has delegated His authority to the heads of the institutions, He has also prescribed the terms of the contract, or, more properly, the covenant.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who believes that the Bible contains the will of God for His people.

The fact that these three institutions are entered into voluntarily does not make them voluntary institutions.  It is certainly true that nobody is forced to marry another person.  However, once the voluntary decision is made to get married, the terms of the marriage covenant are already written by God in His Word.  He clearly spells out the chain of authority for the family and gives the head of the family instructions about how to manage the institution.  Likewise, He gives instructions to the subordinate wife and children on how to behave.

The same is true in the Church.  Nobody is forced to join the Church.  Conversions at the point of a bayonet are not according to the will of God.  However, once a person has made the voluntary decision to join a particular church, the terms of his relationship to the church are already written by God in His Word.  He clearly spells out the chain of authority in the church and gives the elders in the church specific instructions about how to manage the institution.  The members of the church are also given specific directions for their behavior.

What has been said about the family and the church is also true for the State.  However, at this point most evangelicals lose touch with logical consistency and say that God has no opinion about what goes on inside the State institution.  We have already seen in the passage quoted above that the State is founded by God and represents His authority to its citizens.  In the absence of any clear biblical teaching to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that what is true of the family and the church is not also true of the State.

Nobody should be forced to join the State (I will come back to this concept later in this essay).  The fact that it should be a voluntary decision to join the State does not make the State a voluntary institution.   The terms of the citizen’s relationship with the particular state are already spelled out in Scripture.  The chain of authority in the state is also described in the Bible.  In addition, God gives the leaders of the state specific instructions on how to manage the institution and the citizens of the state are also told what is expected of them.

It is the last sentence above that most Evangelicals object to so strenuously.  I will come back to that objection in a moment.  For the present time it is important to understand that the State is also a covenantal institution.  In fact, we can see that all three institutions are covenantal in nature.  God has granted His authority to the heads, He has declared the terms of membership, He has specified what is expected of the members, in all ways we can see that this is nothing like the voluntary contract of service authority.  Although each representative authority institution is entered voluntarily, they are all, nevertheless, covenantal in nature.  A few verses might help:

Malachi 2:1 says, “…Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”

Not too long ago people commonly spoke of the “marriage covenant” when they spoke about how a particular family was started.  That was a biblical way of speaking that recognized the covenantal nature of the institution of marriage.  A husband and wife are not free to make up new rules for the family.  They may not decide that the wife will be the head of the family because she might be more intelligent.  They are not free to allow their children to run wild if they “don’t believe in spanking”.   They are not free to define a family as anything other than the lifelong union of a man and a woman.  God has established the form and function of the family and the marriage partners are expected to conform to His will.  What is true for the family is also true for the Church.

In speaking about the abrogation of the ceremonial aspects of the Law of God, the author to the Hebrews says this, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.”  Paul describes this “better covenant” as the covenant that God made with Abraham, prior to the giving of the Law.  Romans 4:  9-16 describes how the better covenant is linked to the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham in Genesis 9:

Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that the righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham while he had while uncircumcised.
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

It is not my intention to prove the doctrine of justification by faith.  My point in this extensive quotation is to show the covenantal nature of the Church.  Those who are described as “children of Abraham” are covenantally linked to the Church in general as well as the local church to which they are members.  When a person joins the church he is not free to create another sacrament.  Neither is he free to ignore the sacraments that already exist.  He is not free to worship God in any fashion he desires nor is he free to teach anything but what is found in the Bible.   An elder in the church has specific responsibilities, described in the Bible, that he must carry out or be negligent in his duties.  No Christian is free to rewrite the terms of the covenant that is entered into via church membership.  Although joining the church is a voluntary decision, the church itself is a covenantal institution because God has already written all of the rules that need to be understood for the institution to function properly.

Authority: The State as a Covenantal Institution

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


Earlier I mentioned that Evangelicals usually become very upset whenever they are told that the Bible contains specific instructions for the State.  This is primarily because there is an underlying presupposition in the United States that the State is a voluntary/contractual  institution.  In other words, citizens and leaders of this country see their union with the state as being under the terms of a “social contract”.  This idea was best described in the writings of the philosopher John Locke.    I am not about to go into a protracted description of the political philosophy of John Locke.   His “Two Treatises of Government” were published in 1690 and are available today.    The political philosophy advanced in this work had a dramatic impact upon the framers of the US Constitution and fanned the fires of the Revolutionary War.

In the  “First Treatise”, Locke attacks the idea that the supreme authority of God has been delegated directly to the civil magistrate.  He finds great problems with the concept of authority being delegated from the top down.  In his “Second Treatise” he goes on to argue that civil authority arises through an agreement made by men in an original state of nature.  This agreement is the “social contract”.  Within this social contract  the individual is the direct recipient of the authority of God and he transfers it from the bottom up by means of the vote in the selection of elected representatives.  According to Locke, any magistrate who claims that his authority is vested in him by God directly  is illegitimate and may be overthrown by force.  It is not difficult to see why this view was popular with colonial revolutionaries in their war against the British Crown.

In light of what has been seen about the authority of the State, it is difficult to see how God does not have an opinion about its form and function.  Since the Bible has clearly stated that the State represents the authority of God to its citizens, since it also clearly states that the representatives in the state are representing God to the people, and since it plainly declares that the responsibility of the citizens is to submit to the authority of the magistrate,  it would be very strange indeed if God then left the State in the lurch, with no instructions about how to administer His authority.  All Christians agree that God has given clear instructions the Family and the Church.  But, because of this underlying Lockian presupposition of the contractual nature of the State, most Christians have difficulty understanding how the State is also subject to the precise instructions found in  the Bible.

The position I am describing has come to be known as “theonomy”, or “God’s Law”.  It is a simple position that simply asserts that the Bible not only contains instructions of form and function for the representative institutions of the Family and the Church, but also for the State.  Those who disagree with the position of the theonomist have a burden to prove that God would delegate His authority to the institution of the State and then leave it utterly without instructions on how to operate.

In fact, most Christian who have thought this issue through believe that God has not left the particular state without instructions.  The most common argument is that the state is to order itself according to the light of natural law.  Natural law is that sense of right and wrong that exists  in all but the most hardened reprobates.  Unfortunately for us today, natural law has been used to defend homosexuality, pedophilia, adultery, murder, and a host of other vicious sins.  In the vacuum created by the absence of biblical law, natural law can be made to say just about anything.

St. Augustine first delineated the concept of the three branches of the Law of God.  He said that the Law can be properly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial.  Calvin picked up Augustine’s position and refined it a bit more.  At this point in history the Church is united, for the most part, in its belief that the moral law is eternal.  The Church is also united in the belief that the ceremonial law was fulfilled by the work of Christ and is therefore supplanted by a better covenant in this new era (the Hebrews passage discussed earlier).  The point of debate has to do with the civil law, or the civil case laws of the moral law found in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Theonomists believe that the civil case laws are the descriptions of the form and function for the representative institution of the State.  Theonomists believe that God did not leave His authoritative institution with no instructions on what to do.  Evangelicals, for the most part, assert that God either has no opinion about what the State should do or has left it free to be ordered according to the light of natural law as it is understood at the time.  This Evangelical position is consistent with the assumption that the State is a contractual institution rather than a covenantal one.  Based upon what has been seen with respect to the delegation of authority by God to the State it is difficult to see how it could be anything other than covenantal in nature.

To see the State as anything other than covenantal in nature also presents a problem for the Reformation doctrine of  Sola Scriptura.  The doctrine of “Scripture Alone” that was recaptured by the reformers in the sixteenth century strongly asserts that all we need to know to conduct our lives in obedience to God is contained in the passages of the Bible.  All Christians agree that the Bible instructs us on how to order our homes.  All Christians agree that the Bible instructs us on how to order our churches (although we disagree on points of interpretation).  Theonomists agree that the Bible instructs us on how to order our states.  Evangelicals disagree.

However, if Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice, what is a Christian to do when dealing with questions like:  Who should I vote for? Should I even vote at all?  Should I support a constitutional amendment?  Should I support a new sales tax?  Should my senator vote for increasing the powers of the Presidency?  Should I sign a petition to forbid the church across the street from expanding?  These, and thousands of questions like them, must be answered by the Evangelical with an “I don’t know, God has no opinion about any of these matters, what does the dull light of natural law tell me?”.  The theonomist has no problem.  He believes the Bible contains answers to all of those questions because God does not leave His representative institutions without instructions on how to operate.  Theonomists most certainly do not all agree on the particulars of the civil law of God and its application to the world in which they live but they are united in their belief that Scripture alone is sufficient.

Based upon the characteristics of a covenantal institution and the contents of the Word of God it seems that there is no other conclusion but that the State is also a covenantal institution, along with the Family and the Church.  It is important to note that asserting that the State is a covenantal institution is not the same thing as saying God has made a covenant with any particular state.  This is true of individual families as well since  God has made no covenants with any particular family either.    God has made only one covenant, and that is with His people, the Church.  Genesis 9 describes the origin of that covenant and it is further elaborated throughout the texts of Scripture.  The State is a covenantal institution because it has the characteristics of a covenantal institution, not because it is in particular covenant with God.  The family is a covenantal institution because it also has characteristics found only in that type of institution, not because it is in particular covenant with God.  The Church is both a covenantal institution and in a particular covenant with God.

Authority: Original Authority in the Covenantal Institutions

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


The fact that God the Father gave all authority in heaven and on earth to His Son Jesus has been established.  The fact that Jesus delegates His authority to His representatives in covenantal institutions on earth has been established.  Now it is important to make some finer distinctions with respect to the level and direction of the authority that is being delegated.

I Corinthians 11 talks about authority in the family:

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ…For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is in the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.  Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…

This part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is dealing with a problem that existed in the church in Corinth.  Adopting a contractual view of the representative institution of the local church, some of the members in the church had decided to rewrite the principles on the chain of authority in the church and they elevated women to a position of prominence.  In dealing with that problem Paul clearly sets out the proper chain of authority:  God the Father to God the Son to Man to Woman.  Each person higher in the chain is described as the “head” of those below him.  Each person lower in the chain is ordered to submit to the delegated authority of the Father.  In the family, original authority, is vested in the man/husband/father and it flows from God down through the man to the woman.

Ephesians 5: 23 says, “For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.”

I Corinthians 12: 27-28 says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”  (See also Ephesians 4, I Timothy 3, and Titus 1)

Hebrews 13: 17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”

The chain of authority in the church is clearly established in the things that have been discussed above and in the passages just quoted.  It goes:  God the Father to God the Son to Pastors/Teachers/Bishops/Presbyters/Elders to Individual Members.  All of the terms used above for the leaders in the church are used interchangeably in the Bible.  The different terms do recognize specific areas in the division of labor among those who are gifted and called to the leadership of the church but they do not confer any greater honor on one over another.  Just like in the family, each person higher in the chain is recognized as  “head” over those below him.  Also just like in the family, those lower in the chain are expected to submit to those above them.  In the church, original authority is vested in the elders (I will use that term for all of the other terms in the list) and it flows from God down through the elders to the individual members.

Romans 13: 1-7 needs to be quoted more fully to get the full gist of what is being said:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves….for it is a minister of God to you for good…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.  Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

This passage dramatically reinforces everything that has been said about the covenantal nature of the representative authority  of the State.  “There is no authority except from God” boldly asserts that all authority in heaven and on earth is found in God the Father.  “Those which exist are established by God” strongly asserts that all institutions of civil government are ordained to exist because of the eternal decree of God.  If a particular state exists, it is because God has ordained it.  “He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God”.  Interestingly enough, the word translated ‘ordinance’ is also the word that can be translated ‘institution’.  Paul is clearly asserting that the State is the institution of God and its authority is not to be resisted or subverted.

The function of the State, in broad, general terms, is also set forth in this passage.  The State is “a minister for good”, “an avenger that brings wrath upon those who practice evil”,  and a “minister of God”.  The chain of authority in the institution of the state is:  God the Father to God the Son to the King to the Governor to the Citizen.  For our purposes we are free to interject our own “state chain of command” and make it look something like this:  God the Father to God the Son to the Federal Government to the State Government to the Local Government to the Citizen.

Just like in the family and the church, original authority is vested in the magistrate and it flows from God down through the magistrate to the citizens.  Those higher in the chain are the “heads” of those beneath them.  Those lower in the chain are commanded to be subject to those above them.

All three of the representative/covenantal institutions ordained and established by God have original authority vested in men to whom the authority of Jesus has been delegated.  All three institutions have been given instructions on how they are to operate.  All three institutions have clear statements about the necessity of submission on the part of those who are lower in the chain to their heads.  Authority always flows from the top down.  These are important points that will have a tremendous impact upon the numerous real world applications of the doctrine of authority.

Authority: The Declaration of Independence

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


In light of what we have seen about the nature and direction of original authority in the State, it is worth taking a moment to consider the position taken on the doctrine of authority in the founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence.  I mentioned earlier that the political philosophy of John Locke was instrumental in bringing about the Revolutionary War.  Nowhere is Locke’s position on original authority being vested in individual citizens, effectively skipping over the magistrate, more evident than in the Declaration of Independence.  Here is what the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence says:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of  Happiness–That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…

Although these words are familiar to most people, and their political philosophy is taken for granted, they are nevertheless words that bring about a revolution in the way one thinks about the nature and flow of State authority.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence did not even deem it necessary to present a logical argument as to why the divine right of Kings had been abolished.  They simply assert that it is “self evident” that original authority is now vested in individual citizens of a country rather than in the God ordained magistrates.

Furthermore, they make a strong argument that God, the Creator, has granted men the “right” to “institute” governments and that these governments find their original authority (“power” in the document) from “the consent of the governed”.  This is a radical shift from the biblical position on State authority and there are no rational, logical arguments presented as to why this should be the way the State operates.  By this point in time the concept of the “social contract” form of government had come to dominate the minds of men that they did not even consider it possible that they might be wrong or, even worse, that their belief might be contrary to the biblical doctrine of authority.

It is also important to note that the transfer of authority upward from the holders of original authority (citizens) to the magistrates (elected officials) is brought about by the “consent of the governed”.  It was not long after this that the mechanism that was utilized to convey the “consent of the governed” upward was developed as the right to vote.  By the time of the drafting of the US Constitution it is completely assumed that voting is the act by means of which citizens transfer their original authority upward to the magistrates.  Should the magistrates not perform to their liking they are free to revoke their authority by either voting them out of office, impeaching them from office, or, as in the case of the Declaration of Independence, declare war against them.  Indeed, the Declaration goes so far as to intimate that, because of the original authority that he holds,  the citizen has the duty of engaging in revolution against any government that he deems to be contrary to his wishes and desires.  We will have an opportunity to come back to this topic later in this paper.