Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kuyper and Sphere Sovereignty

I have often found myself appreciating Abraham's doctrine of 'sphere sovereignty.' Basically in his book Lectures on Calvinism he lays out his chapter three a lecture on Calvinism and Politics. He argues that there are three God-ordained spheres of power in life each one governing a different area: church, family and government. So for example the church has doctrinal responsibilities that include church discipline for wrong beliefs but this area of 'sovereignty' is not granted to the government. Nor is the church to punish murderers with criminal penalties--that is governments job. Similarly family has responsibilities that government cannot reproduce--nor should it because if it does it is overstepping its God ordained boundaries.

This is why I find Collin Hansen's concluding statement here so helpful:
I give thanks that so many Christians look at the social decay around them and want to make a difference. We should remember, however, the wisdom of theologians who have gone before us. In particular, Abraham Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty" distinguishes between the responsibility of the state, society, and the church. What we see now in the West is a breakdown of society, which includes families, voluntary organizations, and local communities. The government has overstepped its responsibility by seeking to occupy this sphere. Our financial crisis and political stalemate should disabuse us of any notion that the government is capable of replacing these so-called mediating institutions. 
But neither can or should the church bear this burden; otherwise, it will lose sight of the unique mission Jesus gave us. And that would be a critical loss indeed for all who need above anything else to hear and believe his liberating gospel. Perhaps if we trust God to demonstrate the power of this gospel to save, he will rebuild the fabric of our torn society.
The issue of 'what is the mission of the church' will not go away. Indeed it could be the next area of debate where respondents are already staking their claims. What has God ordained the church to do? What has God not ordained the church to do?

Similarly I've been reading a little in economics and politics lately and find myself more and more drawn to views of limited government that enhance liberty. This leads me back to questions that Kuyper's sphere sovereignty sets the grid for: what is the God-ordained role of government? Are there things that civil society and communities should be doing that are collective goals that do not need to be run or overseen by government (so long as they are done legally)? 

What about the family? What is the role of the family? Certainly the family does to varying degrees submit to both the government and the church. But what is the family as an institution that the government and the church are not? Certainly the church values the family but the church doesn't replace  the family. The church should seek to enhance families--and even be a second family for those who family life is suffer or lacking. But what is there in the family that is irreplaceable and cannot be duplicated or engineered by the government and the church? 

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