Spheres of Authority

Different spheres of authority were given by God in order to allow for maximum liberty for mankind. By having power distributed within the different law spheres, it makes it difficult for a tyranny to arise. When the state does not stay within its designated spheres of authority, it generally becomes tyrannical. The following audio clip explains the principle.

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Sphere Sovereignty
Gai Ferdon

Biblical Text Addressing Despotism,Tyranny, and Unlawful Jurisdiction: I Samuel 8:1-22

What was the motivation behind the people of Israel’s demand for aking?

Consider the circumstancessurrounding the crowning of Saul, and Samuel’s Prologue in respect to Israel’sexplicit rejection of God, who delivered them from the oppressive rule of Egyptand other kingdoms.

The United States, as a Nation, was inaugurated as a federalconstitutional republic of divided authority and diffused power; sovereigntyrested nowhere in civil government. Rather, we implemented principles ofgovernment at the most local level. Those principles were individuality andself-government, local self-government, protection of property, the externalforce of Christian character, and union. These principles were biblicalderived, and implemented to protect the organization, and function, andjurisdiction of individual self-government, family government, ecclesiasticalgovernment, and civil government. But we too are relinquishing over greater andgreater levels of local authority to national authorities to be delivered fromnatural calamites, economic distresses, family distresses, and from our ownirresponsibility.

There are four God-ordained spheres of government outlined in Hisword, which are to be respected and maintained. A biblical view of government,by its very nature, incorporates lawful authority (jurisdiction) and powercommensurate with that authority. Maintaining right jurisdiction results inliberty.


I. Spheres of government

Historic American Definitions of Govern and Government: Internaland External

Government in the Bible, aswell as in the dictionary, refers to more than just civil government--it refersto direction, regulation, control, or restraint in several spheres.

The Bible identifies at leastfour spheres of government, each with its own sphere of authority and activity.Each sphere or institution is separate from the others. None is in authorityover the other, but all are under the authority of God.


1. Self-government

Prov 4:23 (NIV) “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Romans 14:11-12 (NIV) “It is written:‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; everytongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account ofhimself to God.”

Other references:                                  

Prov. 16:32; Prov. 6:6; Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 6:12; 1 Cor. 9:26

The sphere of authority:                     

Self-governmentis defined as the government of the self. This represents the locus of the mostbasic form of government, which also assumes that the fundamentals of governingauthority are ordained of God and established first within the individual forpersonal regulation and right conduct.” Gai Ferdon

The activities ofself-government include:

§ WorshipingGod to fulfill duties owed to him

§ Lovingyour neighbor to fulfill moral and legal duties to them.

§ Workingand being productive, to fulfill the dominion mandate

§ Allmanner of personal ethics which fulfill all moral and legal duties

Example: God has given us responsibility to help keepourselves from lying.


2. Family government

1 Tim 3:4-5 (NIV) “He must managehis own family well and see that his children obey him with properrespect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)”

Other references:                                  

Deut.6:6-7; 14:28-29; 15: 7, 8, 11; 21:17; Prov. 19:14; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim.5:4,8,10,16; Eph. 4; I Pet. 2:13

The sphere of authority:                     

Three way covenantal relationship: ultimate governance by Godwithin a marriage between a husband and wife submitted first to him within theyoke of love. Husbands represent the head governor in the home, and parentsgovern children under the authority of God. Marriage is the crucible forcharacter growth.

The activities of family government include:

§ Creatingand Rearing children

§ Education

§ Healthand welfare

Example: God has given our parents responsibility to teach usabout God's ways and God's world. God has given our family responsibility tohelp us when we are in financial need.


3. Church government

Heb 13:17 (NIV) “Obeyyour leaders [elders] and submitto their authority. They keepwatch over you as men who must give an account.”

Other references:                                  

Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:8-13; 11:23-25;

The sphere of authority:     

Elders govern members under the authority of God.

The activities of churchgovernment include:

§ Preachingand teaching

§ Sacraments

§ Churchdiscipline

§ Organizingbelievers

Example: God has given our elders responsibility to teachcorrect doctrine and when appropriate, to excommunicate the unrepentant churchmember.


4. Civil government (or theState)

Rom 13:1 (NIV) “Everyone must submit himself to the governingauthorities, for there is no authorityexcept that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Other references:                                  

Gen. 9:1,6; Ex. 20:13; 21:12; 22:2; Jn. 19:11; Mt. 17:24-27; Mt.22:17-21; Romans 13: 1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; (Decalogue and OT Statutes)

The sphere of authority:                     

Civil servants or ministers govern citizens under the authority ofGod. Government represents the administration of law for ordered liberty andjustice in a fallen world.

The activities of civilgovernment include:

§ Protectionof People in their Property (Internal and External)

§ Protectthe righteous

§ Punishthe criminal

Example: God has given us public officials to punish thieves.


Relationship Between Spheresof Government

Each sphere is distinct and separate in governing authority orprovince of authority.

One of the main problems with modern thinking is that we don'tcare who meets the needs of the people, so long as somebody does it. We confusepower and authority. But the Bibleteaches us that it is not simply the institution with the power to meet a need that should doit, but it is the one that God has designed and given authority to meet the need. The state may have the powerto dictate religious doctrine--they could coerce us. But the church is designedand given authority to teach doctrine.


II.            Surrender ofGovernment

Notice that there was a failure of self-government on the part ofSamuel's sons (v. 3). They turned to dishonest gain, accepted bribes, andperverted justice. Notice, too, that there was a failure of self-government onthe part of the Israelites (v. 7). They rejected God in their hearts. When theIsraelites did this, they were tempted to look to another sphere of governmentfor answers to meet their need for justice. Here, they asked for a king. True,it was in God's plan for them to have a king. However, they asked for a king inplace of God's rule, not as an instrument of God's rule. And theywanted a king not of God's choosing, but of their own. They surrendered therule of God in their hearts--self-government--to the rule of a paganking--civil government. Instead of responsibly trusting God to fight theirbattles, they turned over that responsibility to a pagan king.

When we are not governing ouraffairs responsibly, we are actually rejecting the Lord as king.

When we surrender ourresponsibility to another, we place ourselves in their power, and riskoppression and bondage. We lose our family, our property, our work, our wealth,and our own lives.

When the biblical spheres ofgovernment are respected and maintained, there is liberty. Jurisdiction servesliberty!


III.          Solution to tyrannical government

To remedy an ungodly surrenderof government, we first simply need to repent for failing to carefully followthe Lord's guidelines for the distinct spheres of government. Weneed to ask God to forgive us for our surrendering to the state what ourfamilies and churches should have done themselves. We need to reestablish God'srule in our hearts. We need to pray for our nation that we will restore rightgovernment in our land. We need to study what the Bible teaches us about thelimits of each sphere of government. With this, we must reconsider our philosophyof education, which in turn, produces a national character, and therefore, aphilosophy of government.

We can thank and praise God that we have the Holy Spirit to helpus! And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty! The Spirit of God indwelling you and me will undoubtedly lead us, andthose around us, into more and more liberty. That is the hope for ourlives, our families, our churches, and our nation.

Consider the following quotations from men who understood theprinciples behind the spheres of authority:

Dutch Legal Theorist HugoGrotius (1583-1645)

“Hee knows not how torule a Kingdome, that cannot manage a Province: nor can he wield a Province,that cannot order a City; Nor he order a City, that knows not how to Regulate aVillage: nor hee a Village, that cannot guide a Family: Nor can that man Governwell a Family that knows not how to Governe himselfe: neither can any Governhimselfe unless his reason be Lord, &c.Will and Appetite her Vassalls: Nor can Reason rule, unless her selfe be ruledby God, and [wholly] be obedient to him.”

Hugo Grotius, Politick Maxims and Observations Written bythe Most Learned Hugo Grotius, Translated for the ease and benefit of the EnglishStates-Men, trans., H.C.S.T.B (London, for Humphrey Mosely, 1654), 18-19.

Robert C.Winthrop (1809-1894), State Representative of Massachusetts intermittinglybetween 1835-1840, and then both a Representative and Senator of the 27thcongress from 1840-1850:

. . . All societies of men must begoverned in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent StateGovernment, the more they must have of individual self-government. The lessthey rely on public law of physical force, the more they must rely on privatemoral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by apower within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or bythe strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. Here, under our ownfree institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.

Robert C. Winthrop, “The Bible,” Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions,vols., 4 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1852), 1: 146, 172. Delivered inBoston 28 May 1848.

Gai Ferdon


Hall, Verna, The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States, (Vol. I and II).  

Ferdon, Gai. A Republic If You Can Keep It.