It has now been nearly two months since we had school at school, and each day brings a new surprise of some sort. I spent a good deal of time trying to decide what I would write, and I could think of nothing novel (another word that’s thrown around a lot these days). I think that part of the reason for this is because this is more of a season of application than it is a season of instruction.
There are times to learn about how to scale a cliff under enemy fire, and times to apply that learning. There are times to learn that God is sovereign, and there are times to apply (or rest in) that knowledge. There are times to learn that God installs fallen men as political leaders…men who are prone to grasp for power and to make mistakes…and that it is the duty of faithful Christians to respectfully obey as far as we can. I happen to believe that right now is a time to apply that particular lesson.
But the soldier who is scaling that cliff while an enemy is sawing at his rope from above may need reminding of his training as the bullets whiz by his head. It’s true: times of application are also times when review is in order.
At the risk of preaching to the choir, I want to review the very basics of sphere sovereignty. I suppose some of you are very familiar with this concept, while others have never heard of it. But it is a formula for human flourishing that has been the hallmark of healthy Western culture…and it’s something that we teach at ECS.
In brief, sphere sovereignty recognizes the proper autonomy and mutual dependency of the various spheres of authority. In his very helpful book, Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper talks about a bunch of spheres that ought to operate with a degree of independence from one another (including the spheres of Art, Education, Politics, Science, and the Church).
I’d encourage you to read the book, or buy and watch this video series, or sit in the next time Omnibus V is talking about the stalemate between Henry II and Thomas Becket (I’m still not sure who won…). I think sphere sovereignty is a really great thing…and so does God…or else He would have blurred the lines of authority. We see evidence of this all over Scripture; consider two quick examples.
First, while laying aside judgmentalism, Christians are actually to judge other Christians in order to keep the Church pure; the Church has a degree of authority to decide who belongs in the her pale and who does not (see Mt. 7:1-2, 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12). Christians are not called to judge unbelievers (that authority belongs to Christ).
Second Christians are not called to be the boss of civil authorities, even though we are to try to influence them with the gospel. (See the example of Paul in Acts 25-26; cf. Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-25.)
We could go on, but Scripture is not silent on sphere sovereignty; rather, it teaches it.
But what does this look like on the ground?
When the Church looks after her own, a society flourishes. It’s supposed to look like this. Christians gather en masse on Sunday morning and assault the gates of Hell with our worship (have you ever heard the Raggants sing Psalm 94?). We consciously behold Christ for a couple of hours, becoming more like Him in the process, and we are taught from God’s Word. Great. Then we leave…different. We go out into our communities as faithful, informed ambassadors of Christ in the other spheres and we do a good job, because we’re constantly being shaped and grown into more Christlike people by our worship. The Church’s job is (among other things) to train up people to go operate in the various spheres.
But notice that the Church’s job is NOT to tell the other spheres how to operate. She can make suggestions and recommendations and offer advice, but the Church’s job is not to try to run or operate the different spheres. And if a pastor tries to tell a mayor how much sales tax is biblically allowable, the mayor ought to ignore him.
But this cuts both ways, and you can probably see where I’m going with this. Just as the Church has no authority to try to operate the government, likewise, the government has no authority to direct or operate the Church…or to tell her how or when to operate or not.
Now, it must be acknowledged that common sense is no threat to sphere sovereignty. If your younger brother tells you that it’s raining outside, you don’t leave the umbrella behind just because he has no authority over you. If the State (informed by smart doctors) recommends that folks at church keep six feet apart because a particular virus can leap five feet, we don’t dismiss the State out of hand because they have no authority in the sphere of the Church.
But that is a very different thing from ordering the Church not to meet at all. The exchange of recommendations, advice, and ideas between the spheres is wise, healthy, and good; ordering other spheres around is not.
So what about school? Sadly, in the current situation, we do need the governor’s permission to assemble as a school. And unlike the Church, the school is not its own sphere, and the school does not have explicitly enumerated rights in the First Amendment. (I like to think that peaceable assembly is a matter of perspective. Ha.) So the case to meet as a school in disobedience of the governor’s order is difficult to justify on constitutional or biblical grounds, let alone how we would be received by our neighbors (and all of that is if Reclamation Church would even allow us to do so). Nevertheless, we hold out hope that somehow we’ll be able to assemble at school before the end of the semester.
ECS is not a church, but we do comprise churched families who are trying to make sense of all of this input, and ours is the ongoing and relentless job of training our kids to process the current cultural madness and to respond accordingly. I hope this little primer on sphere sovereignty helps to that end.
And let us never forget: RISUS EST BELLUM!