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The Five Spheres of Government8 min read

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The following essay on government is from an out of print Christian newspaper. I want to post this short section of the essay, since it is a great primer on a biblical view of government. This essay was originally written as a response to a letter from a young Chinese Christian, so you will notice some references to China and Chairman Mao, etc.

God has broken down human existence into five basic areas or spheres of government, which make it much easier to comprehend. These five spheres of government are: (1) self government, (2) family government, (3) church government, (4) business government, and (5) civil government.

All human activity falls under the jurisdiction or guidelines of one of these five spheres. The Bible outlines very definite instructions and responsibilities for each sphere as well as definite limits of authority. When each sphere of government operates according to biblical principles in harmony with one another, justice results. When any sphere neglects its God-given responsibility or usurps responsibility from another sphere, injustice results. Gaining an understanding of each of these jurisdictions and their inter-relatedness is absolutely essential for anyone desiring to see justice prevail in China or anywhere else.

We will be taking an in-depth look at each of these spheres in future letters, but a brief explanation of each at this time will help us to gain an overview of what constitutes a just society.

Self Government

The first sphere, and the most foundational, was the theme of the last issue of The Mandate. This sphere in one sense is the most important of the five. It refers to the ability of an individual to govern or control himself or herself in a moral and upright manner without being swayed or intimidated by external forces. Put another way, a self-governing individual is one who will not lie or steal even when there is no chance of being discovered; one who will not cheat or deceive others for personal gain; one who will seek to serve others as one’s greatest ambition; one who will keep a promise and remain loyal even when disappointed by other people.

In view of these very lofty standards that God exemplifies in His own character, we can see why the Bible teaches very plainly that it is utterly impossible for an individual to be self-governing without the inner power of Jesus Christ. [snip] None of us can measure up to what God expects without the supernatural inner transformation of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not another religion or intellectual pursuit, but rather it is the story of God the creator coming down to a world full of selfish people and dying on a wooden cross in our place that we might exchange our dark selfishness for His glorious love.

Without this inner transformation on a personal level, it is an exercise in hypocrisy and futility to consider bringing justice to society at large. Changing public policy alone will have only a temporary benefit at best if there is not enough character within individuals to support new responsibilities previously held by the state.

Family Government

The second sphere of jurisdictional government is family government and is God’s primary building block for society. The Bible gives fathers, mothers, and children their own definite instructions and parameters in which to operate. When these are followed, strong healthy families result, which in turn produce new strong and healthy families. Thus, the single most important function of the family is the care and training of children.

The state, according to God, does not own the children! It has no biblical authority to indoctrinate them or even to determine their fate through abortion. This subject will be addressed in depth [later], but for now suffice it to say that when the state assumes the role of God and claims ultimate ownership of the children, we open ourselves up to huge problems. This usurpation of power is more commonly known as tyranny, and will always produce devastating results.

Although Chairman Mao may have meant well, his Cultural Revolution was a failure for many reasons, not the least of which was its open assault on the biblical framework of the family.

Church Government

The third sphere of jurisdictional government is church government. This sphere is unique among the other four in that it is the primary function of the institutional church to train individuals to function in their daily lives within the other four spheres (Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV) as well as to reproduce church leaders.

For example, the church is responsible for training individuals to be self-governing citizens able to communicate and demonstrate Christ’s love to their fellow citizens.

Second, the church is responsible for providing training for families, including among other things marriage and child-rearing counseling.

Third, the church is responsible for training individuals regarding the biblical principles of finance and business. Karl Marx observed the great injustices taking place in early 19th-century England and jumped to the false conclusion that “business” was inherently wicked. What he didn’t realize was that it was a cold and cowardly church primarily responsible for not confronting the moral decadence of Marx’s “bourgeoisie.” In other words, the church was doing a terrible job of teaching the people biblical standards for business.

Finally, the church is responsible for training statesmen who love God and understand how to apply the Bible to public policy. This is considered by some to be the area of the church’s greatest failure of the modern era. While the church as an institution is not to rule over society or dominate civil government, it is to be the primary training ground for communicating God’s love and His plan for the nations in every sphere of government.

Business Government

The world of finance – and more basically, the ownership of private property – is a predominant theme of the Bible. Most of Jesus’ teachings and parables dealt in one way or another with this issue. When the individuals within a nation learn how to handle God’s resources according to the biblical pattern, great wealth will always result.

Conversely, when the biblical pattern is ignored, poverty and suffering will always result. This applies both to the individual just beginning a small business as well as to corporate giants such as IBM and General Motors.

This particular sphere should be of vital concern to us as we move toward a market economy, and we will explore it in more depth in a future letter in this series later this year.

Civil Government

Finally, God has very definite instructions about how civil government should operate, the most noteworthy quality being that its responsibilities are very limited. These limited responsibilities are mentioned on page 6 and will be discussed at length later in this series.

Civil government, according to the Bible, is to be a servant of the people (hence the term “public servant”), not a dictator. It is not to control business or own industry. It is not to infringe in any way on the sovereignty of the family, and is not to control what people say, think, or believe. The moment civil government infringes upon any of the other spheres, the wheels are put into motion that produce death, destruction, poverty, and misery – every time.