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Many Christians believe that "the State" or "civil government" is a "divine institution." Some go further.
Many Christians believe (rightly) that heterosexual monogamous marriage ("the Family") is a divine institution.
Some have said that slavery is a divine institution.
In 1815, President James Madison said,
It remains for the guardians of the public welfare to persevere in that justice and good will toward other nations which invite a return of these sentiments toward the United States; to cherish institutions which guarantee their safety and their liberties, civil and religious; and to combine with a liberal system of foreign commerce an improvement of the national advantages and a protection and extension of the independent resources of our highly favored and happy country.
To what "institutions" was Madison referring?
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter proposed a new Department of Energy, based in a New Energy Plan:
Our national energy plan is based on 10 fundamental principles. The first principle is that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the Government takes responsibility for it.... If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social, and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.
How does a corporation, organization, custom, or tradition become an "institution?" What is an "institution?"
Frankly, we cannot define this word. Both the Family and the State have been called "institutions." There is surely a very fluid line of demarcation, as a given institution (e.g., a small school, a small but independent town or county) may more and more resemble the Biblical Family as its goals and methods become more aligned with the Biblical Standard. (As with the "State," we will normally reserve the word "institution" for non-Familial structures.)
What we ask instead is, "Are there any characteristics of a well-governed society which cannot be provided for by the Family?" "Are there any functions which God commands to be carried out that are prohibited to the Family?" People speak of the School as an institution. The "Church" and the "State" are called institutions, and sometimes by Christians, "Divine Institutions." It is the purpose of this series of essays to call these assumptions into question. Vine & Fig Tree defends the thesis that there are no legitimate functions performed by any institution that cannot and should not be more effectively provided for by the Family.
B. M. Palmer, who edited The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, declined an invitation to the chair of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Seminary. Perhaps this was in an effort to strengthen the Family, as he did by writing such books as The Family in Its Civil and Churchly Aspects (1876). He points out that the functions of both "Church" and "State" were originally performed by the Family:
The long interval, therefore, of two thousand years, from the creation to the deluge, has been well termed the dispensational period of the Family; since this was the only form under which government is known to have been administered.Societies which were well-governed (yet without "the government") did not cease to exist at the world-wide flood of Noah. As Genesis 9 makes clear, Noah and his Family even had the power of capital punishment, the most definitive power of "the State." There are many good reasons for speculating that "capital punishment," as with other ritual sheddings of blood, may not be required by God under the New Covenant. Assuming that death is to be meted out to certain sinners in this age, does the Bible anywhere retract the power from "Noah and his sons" (Genesis 9:1-9) and vest it in a non-Familial organization? Does God change the requirements and forbid a Family from discharging the required shedding of blood (Genesis 9:5)? This question will gain our future attention.
The powers of the "Church" were also exercised by Noah, as is evident in Genesis 8:20. Palmer gives the view which should be commonly held by all Protestants in the Reformation heritage:
"Was not the first act of Noah, in coming forth from the ark, the resumption of the patriarchal prerogative in offering burnt sacrifices for himself and for his household?"This rhetorical question really requires no thought. Clearly no such sacrifices are the prerogative of the "Church" in our day, and even if they were, the New Covenant specifically gives priestly authority to every believer (I Peter 2:9) in fulfillment of the promises of God (Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 61:6).
It is clear that for the first 2500 years of human history no "State" or "Church" (as a non-familial "institution") was required by God. When did the "State" arise? When was the "Church" "instituted"? What was the source of government in a society without these "institutions?" How would necessary social functions be provided without a "Church" or "State" in our day? These are questions we hope to answer as we progress through the Scriptures.
That social functions can be provided best by the Family is becoming increasingly clear. The works of Edward Banfield and George Gilder have shown in the areas of crime and social delinquency that moral character provided by the Family is what really solves these problems. John Holt and Raymond Moore have argued most persuasively for the Family as the superior educator and provider of Godly values. Others have taken different areas of responsibility and shown that the Family alone can effectively provide a well-governed society. "The government" certainly cannot.
But we believe a more effective way to argue the case for "Patriarchy" ("Family Rule") is to show the Biblical history of the rise of non-Familial "institutions," and to compare them with the requirements God's Word clearly sets forth for the Family. We believe the Scriptures show the following:
1. The "State" was formed and maintained as an act of rebellion against God's commands for the Family and apostasy from Biblical religion.
2. UnGodly Families in Israel faithlessly asked the LORD for "institutions" like those of the nations around them, which request God granted both as an act of condescension to their Spiritless condition (the basic problem of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:7,11)), and in order to teach us through the judgments of chastisement that were to follow such a departure from God's principles of Family government.
3. Godly government is possible without such "institutions" as "State" or "church."
4. Godly government is prophesied to come about by eliminating the demand for such "institutions."
We might speak of the disorder that would ensue if a society of greedy, covetous, hateful people all tried to rule others according to their own selfish law. But the situation here is too much rule and too many Humanistic rulers (Proverbs 28:2). This is a "society" of would-be gods and Godless rulers.
There is always an "archy." Somebody is going to rule. Either the Spirit of God rules through Godly Families according to God's Law ("Patriarchy"), or one or more men will rule according to their own law ("monarchy," "oligarchy," or other forms of totalitarianism, state socialism, or clan despotism). If the Spirit rules, men are obedient and responsible, walking after the Spirit, and not the flesh; the justice commanded in God's Law is fulfilled in the lives of these people (Genesis 18:19; Romans 8:4). Then there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17) and true, Godly authority (I Corinthians 8:9, where the word "liberty" can also be translated "authority" (Matthew 28:28)). When Christ rules through His Word and Spirit, human "rule" and "authority" are replaced by service (Luke 22:24-30).
But we need to compare and contrast Humanistic Patriarchy and Biblical Anarchy; this will be done in the next essay.