Can Temporal Sovereignty Disappear?

Why is this (Obama’s intended massive government growth) significant for the vitality of religion in America? A recent study of 33 countries around the world by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde, political scientists at the University of Washington, indicates that there is an inverse relationship between state welfare spending and religiosity. Specifically, they found that countries with larger welfare states had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, had higher rates of citizens indicating no religious affiliation whatsoever, and their people took less comfort in religion in general. In their words, “Countries with higher levels of per capita welfare have a proclivity for less religious participation and tend to have higher percentages of non-religious individuals.”

W. Bradford Wilcox
More Government, Less God: What the Obama Revolution Means for Religion in America

First, as is our custom we must point out that it is not possible for people to become “non-religious individuals.” We understand what Wilcox and the study he cites is getting at but it is unfortunate that the impression is given that people ever somehow become less religious. What happens when the state grows geometrically is that the religion of the people becomes statist (humanist).

In Scripture we find at the very least three different spheres of authority (some would posit more). Those three spheres are Civil, Familial, and Ecclesiastical. Even within those three spheres sovereignty is distributed and so is not located absolutely in any one place or person. In the Civil realm sovereignty is distributed vertically between Federal and State authorities and then is distributed horizontally between legislative, executive, and judiciary in both Federal and State arrangements. In the ecclesiastical realm when ordered according to Scripture, sovereignty is distributed between consistory, classis and synod. In the familial realm sovereignty is held by the Husband and Father but that sovereignty is necessarily informed by the wisdom of the wife that God has given to the head of the home.

God has ordered reality so that no one sphere should hold unlimited sovereignty over other spheres and he has ordered reality so that no individual sphere has a place or a person who holds absolute sovereignty.

While we should confess that God’s sovereignty is infinite and unlimited, we should try to think of temporal sovereignty as being finite and limited. Temporally speaking, there is only so much sovereignty to go around between the spheres we have mentioned. The upshot of this is that when one sphere enlarges its sovereignty it always does so at the expense of the sovereignty of some other sphere. So when Wilcox informs us that the consequence of sovereignty increasing in the state means sovereignty being diminished in the church we should not be surprised. When the state grows in sovereignty (and dimensional growth of the state is akin to its growing its sovereignty) it does so at the expense of the sovereignty of the church (and dimensional shrinkage of the church is akin to its sovereignty being diminished). Since temporal sovereignty is limited and finite, when the state grows the welfare state it can only do so by shrinking the church and the family.

In the article cited above Wilcox goes on to mention the effect on the family when the state becomes behemoth. This is a subject we’ve covered here before many times but briefly when the state grows it results in taking on responsibilities of the family. In stealing these responsibilities (sovereignty) of the family the consequence is that natural family ties are loosened. Families have no need to have reliance on one another since the state takes upon itself what families are normatively responsible for. The consequence of this is that parents no longer teach children turning them over to the state for the state to fulfill that parental responsibility. The consequence of this is that children no longer feel responsible for elderly parents since the state will take care of them. The consequence of this is that wives no longer sense a need for husbands since the state will take care of them and the children if the husband is absent. The consequence of this is that husbands no longer sense a need to protect and provide for their wives and children since they know that the state will take up those responsibilities in their absence. When the state grows its sovereignty it grows it by sucking the responsibility out of the other spheres.

Eventually what happens in such a scenario is that the state becomes the family and the church to the point that the state not only aspires to all limited and finite sovereignty but also it begins to aspire to all unlimited and infinite sovereignty. In short the state desires to usurp God. This is the story of all collectivist states. In collectivist states the state seeks to create the context that in it, its citizens live and move and have their being.

This is why the growth of the state that the Obama administration is pursuing is such an anathema of Christians. Long before Obama showed up Christians have been convinced that the Federal state was already idolatrous, and with this move by Obama to massively grow the state into a collectivist hive all right thinking Christians are (or should be) apoplectic.

The final explanation for why the church and family shrinks when the state grows is that the state becomes the defacto church and family. When the state grows the way that Obama is trying to grow the state it fills the whole horizon so that the state becomes everything. It is not as if people become less religious or less family oriented. It is only that people’s religion and family are located in the state. Family and religion haven’t diminished, they have merely been relocated into the Unitarian state.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

3 thoughts on “Can Temporal Sovereignty Disappear?”

  1. “This is why the growth of the state that the Obama administration is pursuing is such an anathema of Christians.”

    A quibble, and unfortunate that it must be made, but the words “should be” must be inserted so it reads should be such an anathema of Christians,

  2. However, he doesn’t seem to make the case that it is the people that are making for themselves a Tower, not the other way around.

    “Long before Obama showed up Christians have been convinced that the Federal state was already idolatrous, and with this move by Obama to massively grow the state into a collectivist hive all right thinking Christians are (or should be) apoplectic.”

    So all 17 of us… lol! Remember it was the Church that help put him there.


  3. David,


    All I can say is … “despise not the day of small beginnings,” and, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.”

    Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
    One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
    Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,-
    Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
    Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

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