The Creation of the 3 Spheres of Family, Church, and State

The Creation of the 3 Spheres of Family, Church, and State

With the recent “dust-up” of 2020, terminology such as “sphere sovereignty” has become more familiar in recent interactions and discussions. By “a sphere,” we mean a particular institution created by God wherein He granted a realm and a measure of self-determination without the mixture or interference of the other spheres. Without question, there are numerous explanations and caveats attached. For instance, what happens when a husband violently abuses his wife? Well, the sphere of the civil magistrate has a duty to step in to that family sphere, restrain the evil, and punish the husband. That would not be a violation of sphere sovereignty but the very role in which the civil magistrate was created by God. But before one can talk intelligently about sphere sovereignty, we must first establish that God, the Creator of the universe, Himself created the three primary spheres of the family, the church, and the state.

1) God Created the Family in Genesis 1–2

The sphere of the family is perhaps the most important sphere of the three, anthropologically speaking. It was created before the fall, and thus it is a necessary component for humans to thrive in their creation mandate as well as to encourage proper roles in the other two spheres of church and state. In that way, we could say that the sphere of the family is the foundation upon which God has chosen to flourish human societies. It is the sphere in which the image God has borne upon humans will reproduce and thrive. Show me a collapsing society, and I will show you a crumbling institution of the family.

We see God’s creation of the family most clearly in Genesis 1:27–28. The first notion of the family is the binary of the husband and wife relationship imbedded in the sexes of “male and female.” And it is the family that is established in Gen 1:27, for verse 28 will give the important mandate that requires both male and female: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over [the animals].” Having settled the role of husband and wife, the pair now corresponds to father and mother as they are charged to reproduce and fill the earth with more image-bearers who would reflect God’s glory back to Him as statues are intended.

The sphere of the family is the foundation upon which God has chosen to flourish human societies.

The home is further set apart in Genesis 2. In that chapter, there is a more direct description of the process by which God made both husband and wife. Noting that man was not meant to be left alone, God says in Gen 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The familiar story goes on to tell how God took from Adam’s side in order to make Eve. From this, the apostle Paul will interpret a vital theological truth that sets the home apart and the orders the home with male headship, 1 Cor 11:8–9, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

To solidify this sphere, God binds the man and woman together in the profound little poem of Gen 2:23, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” The union now pronounced by God Himself, he charges the family as a sphere unto itself saying, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). At the union of a husband and wife, the leaving of the previous home is for the purpose of establishing a new family. This implies a sphere unto itself.

2) God Created the Church in Genesis 3

Yet shortly after the creation of the family sphere, and while there was only a sinless existence in the world, Adam as the covenant head of his own family sphere as well as the entire human race will sin against God and plunge humanity into the fall. Curse is brought upon the physical creation (Gen 3:17–18) as well as upon the newly created family sphere (Gen 3:16). And though this is tremendously bad news, the initial curse of the Serpent was also ironically a promise of blessing. The proto-evangelium or “first gospel” as it is often called was announced in Genesis 3:15. God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Many recognize this to be the first prophecy of a Messiah to be born to a woman and defeat the devil. The seed or offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ, will bruise the head of the serpent. This is, after all, the most vulnerable yet dangerous part of a snake. And in the process of this skull-crushing seed’s victory, the serpent will simultaneously bruise the heel of the woman’s seed. This is a forecast of the sufferings and death of Jesus on the cross. It would be through this promise of good news that Adam, having just sinned, would claim a hope for himself and all who would believe. After receiving the curses, Adam would then name his wife “Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). Rather than humanity surely dying, as God had warned (Gen 2:17), God instead was merciful. He held out a promise of deliverance in the seed of the woman, whomever that Seed may be.

And in display of such infinite grace, God seemingly killed some animals so that He might cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21). There is now a depiction of both a redeemer in the seed of the woman and the means by which redemption will occur—sacrifice as a substitutionary atonement.

With this gospel held out in type and shadow, Adam and Eve would believe in such a hope for the forgiveness of their sins. Thus the sphere of the church was created, it being defined in the 2nd London Confession of 1677/89 §26.1 as “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof.”

It is crucial to distinguish that God did not create the church before the fall, for that would confuse Law and Gospel; the Covenant of Works with the Covenant of Grace. Rather God created the sphere of the church, the redeemed community of God, after the fall of humanity. In the Covenant of Grace, God initially revealed it “in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (2LCF §7.3). As God’s revelation of the Covenant of Grace and entrance into the redeemed community was progressively revealed, the administration of the church, whether in the OT or the NT, was dictated by the covenant under which the church was dispensed. Thus, the Confession speaks of the old covenant “ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected” (§21.1). Now under the new covenant, the church having reached its eschatological fulfillment point (at least its initial stage of fulfillment, though she await its her consummation), Christ can say to his disciples “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).

God created the sphere of the church, the redeemed community of God, after the fall of humanity.

And just as the church of the Old Testament was directed by the old covenant commands which regulated its worship in the “ceremonial law,” so likewise is the church under the new covenant to adhere to the dictates of the new covenant commands of Scriptures found in the New Testament. This is often referred to as the “regulative principle of worship.” That is, when it comes to the method which God is to be worshiped, the church must follow the mandates of Scripture, only doing what God commands.

3) God Created the Civil Magistrate in Genesis 9

It may seem surprising to some that if the church was created shortly after the fall, then wouldn’t the sphere of the civil magistrate not also be created shortly thereafter? Whatever the reason in God’s decreed ordering of creation and providence, He chose to allow humanity to grow into chaos and violence. So much so, that by the time we get from the next chapter after the fall, Genesis 4, we only make it to Genesis 6 before the violence of unrestrained humanity wreaks havoc over the earth. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Rather than filling the earth with image-bearers who would reflect worship and glory back to God, as the creation mandate called for (Gen 1:28, “fill the earth…”), instead “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:11).

We have to ask: why was violence the key feature of humanity’s rebellion before the flood? This question would be answered after the flood when God created the final sphere: the civil magistrate. If the purpose of the magistrate is to restrain the wickedness and violent disposition of depraved humanity (cf. Rom 13:3–4 and 1 Pet 2:13–14), then the lack of restraint before the flood would be best explained in that the magistrate was yet instituted by God for humanity.

In this sense, it is helpful to see the flood as a de-creation and do-over. Afterwards, Noah is depicted as a “new Adam” figure. Just as Adam was created from the dust or the adamah (Gen 2:7), so also was Noah described as a “man of soil” or literally a man of adamah (Gen 9:20). Indeed, the charge given to Adam to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen 1:28) was repeated to Noah in Genesis 9:1. Nevertheless, Noah, like Adam, would likewise fall into sin with fruit, end up naked, and have a son who intensifies sin (Cain kills Abel; Ham dishonors his father).

And between this new story of humanity, God says to Noah in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Here, the inverted wording is intentional and illustrative for the meaning of this text. God moves from shed -> blood -> man | man -> blood -> shed. This reversal of the words implies a reciprocal judgment. If a human man sheds the blood of another, then by mankind in the sphere of the magistrate is evil to be restrained and the murderer to be punished. This is founded upon the dignity of the dead one in that the verse concludes, “For God made man in His own image.” Capital punishment carried out by the civil magistrate is to restrain the earth from being filled with violence as before the flood as well as to punish any evil-doer who might kill what God has especially marked with His image.

The implication is that the civil magistrate is a sphere created by God in this newly restarted humanity project. The family continues in Noah, his wife, and his sons with their wives. The church continues in Noah and the elect of his descendants. And now, for the good of civilization as well as to make safe the entrance of the seed of the woman, God has established the final sphere: the civil government.

For more teaching on these topics, order Dr. Timothy Decker’s new book: A Revolutionary Reading of Romans 13 at press.founders.org.

Timothy Decker has 10+ years of experience in pastoral ministry and is currently one of the pastors of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church. He holds a BA and MA in Biblical Studies from Piedmont International University as well as a ThM from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a focus on New Testament and Greek. Recently, he completed a PhD in Biblical Studies at Capital Seminary & Graduate School. He has also published articles in various scholarly journals. He currently serves as the Adjunct Professor of New Testament at IRBS.
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