Self Government & Family Government


Gary DeMar



"What is government? When this question is asked, most people respond by equating government solely with a centralized state. Even our language reflects the confusion: "Government? It's in Washington," or "The government will take care of its citizens through its many programs." Both of these statements reflect a misunderstanding of the true nature of government. They portray the idea that the only governing institution is a political one. Historically, however, the term "government" was always qualified in some way, unlike our present-day definitions.

Our educational system reflects the same confusion. A generation ago high school classes dealing with state government were given the title "Civics." The emphasis was on the function of government in civil matters. This is no longer the case. Such classes are now given the broad title of "Government," implying that the many governments are absorbed into one all-encompassing government. Before World War I, textbooks dealing with national government were qualified with the title "Civil." An example of this can be seen in a textbook used in 1903: Elements of Civil Government. According to its author, "The family is a form of government, established for the good of children themselves, and the first government that each of us must obey" (p. 18). The book continues by defining five areas of civil government: "the township or civil district, the village or the city, the county, the State, and the United States" (p. 18). The term "government," as the older educational definition indicates, is broader than the state. Textbook writers were aware that there were personal, family, church, school, and civil governments, each having a legitimate realm of authority. The state was seen as only one government among many.

To deny the validity of the many governments and the responsibilities that each has under God, would be to deny the authority that belongs to each of them in the realm of their activity. If we as individuals neglect our personal governing duties, then we can expect the state to assume the role of all other legitimate governments and claim to be the sole government, while labeling all others as counterfeits. Therefore, to see the state as the only governing institution "is destructive of liberty and of life" (R.J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity, p. 332).

The concept of the multiplicity of governments was as old as our country, because the principles were extracted from biblical principles. Noah Webster's definition of government in his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) reflects the biblical concept of the diversity of governmental authority. Webster defined government in this way: "Direction; regulation. 'These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.' Control; restraint. 'Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.'"

While Noah Webster, in 1828, defined government in terms of personal self-control, most modern definitions largely limit government to the realm of institutions, especially civil or statist governments. This is made evident by the fact that the definition for civil government is placed first in modern dictionaries. Nowhere are self and family governments even listed. For example, Webster's New World Dictionary (1972), defines government in this way: "The exercise of authority over a state, district, organization, institution, etc."

Noah Webster, in the older definition, even goes on to include family government as part of the complete definition before he deals with the government of an individual state or nation. He defines family government as: "The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. 'Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents.'" According to the Bible, it is the duty of parents to govern in the home: "And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). It is not the duty of a civil government to interfere with the affairs of the family. Too often, however, parents neglect their God-given duty to raise their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." When this happens, we can expect the state to take an increasingly dominant role in family affairs. Such a role is to the detriment of the family. The state on many occasions has even claimed ownership of children.

If generations continue to be indoctrinated with the modern definition, as they have been, they will neglect their own personal, family, church, and local governing duties. They will believe that these duties are outside their area of authority and responsibility. Each generation will become more dependent on the "benevolent" state for care and security. We are beginning to see such a trend. "Today, most Americans have lost their faith in Christ as Savior, and they expect civil government to be their savior. They have no desire for the responsibilities of self-government, and so they say to politicians, 'Do thou rule over us.' Instead of Jesus Christ as their good shepherd, they elect politicians to be their shepherds on a program of socialistic security for all" (RJ. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty, p. 61).

Government, then, in our American Christian heritage which was formulated from biblical principles, begins with the individual and extends outward to include all institutions. Presently, however, most Americans are unaware of the varied nature of government. The civil government has assumed responsibility to be the government. It is sad to say that many Americans are thankful that Washington has relieved them from what they believe is the heavy burden of governing themselves, their families, churches, and schools. If the people of the United States do not once again establish self, family, church, local, state, and national governments to their proper places of power and authority, our nation is doomed.

The central focus of all realms of government is the regenerating work of Jesus Christ. Institutions and civil governments are made up of people who are governed by the condition of their heart. If the heart is in rebellion against God, we can expect undisciplined and ungovernable people. If the heart has been made new in Christ, we can expect a people who will govern their lives according to the governing principles of Scripture. A.A. Hodge speaks of the essence of the new heart, regeneration, as consisting of "the implantation of a new governing principle of life-from the fact that it is a 'new birth' [ John 3:3], a 'new creation' [2 Corinthians 5:17], wrought by the mighty power of God in execution of his eternal purpose of salvation, and that it is as necessary for the most moral and amiable as for the morally abandoned" (A Commentary on the Confession of Faith, p.238)."


God and Government; A Biblical and Historical Study. Gary DeMar. Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc. 1749 Mallory Lane, Suite 110, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027. Volume 1; pages 3-6.