Who has authority? Specifically, when dealing with ecclesiastical issues, who has authority delegated from God? Are their differing authorities over different areas? What degree of authority do these individuals possess?
These are questions that have plagued mankind from the Fall of Adam forward, and we should make clear from the outset that all authority resides in God. Some authority God delegates to others; some He doesn’t.
We see from the uniform testimony of Scripture that God has three institutions that govern all of mankind in one way or another. These institutions are (1) the family, (2) the state, and (3) the church. Each of these plays a unique role in the sovereign plan of God, and they are the only permanent institutions that He set up, and are both necessary and sufficient for the public governance of man. Note well that all of these institutions are God’s creation, and He is the one that gives them areas of human life to manage, under His final authority. The areas that these institutions are to manage are mostly distinct from one another, although there are occasionally areas of overlap—usually where sin is concerned. By the precepts of Scripture, God has defined each of these institutions for us, and has defined what “good” is in relation to the family, the state, and the church. He has also therein defined the goals, methods, and boundaries of each of these institutions.
The mandate in Scripture to the family is to be productive and to be fruitful, filling the earth and subduing it (Gen. 1:28, 9:1-19, 17:15-16, 24:60, 26:24; Psalm 127 and 128; Mal. 2:14-15; Eph 6:5-9; Col. 3:22; 1 Tim. 5:8,14). The family is responsible for the bearing and raising of children, teaching children about God, preserving the chastity of its children, and providing mutual help and support.
While the authority of parents is profound, it is also quite narrow. Its profundity is found in its responsibility to train children in all things (directly or by delegate). Its authority is narrow in that parents are only responsible for their own children, not the children of others.
The state was instituted by God to promote the public good and punish evil. When it no longer does so, it ceases being an instrument of God because it’s no longer obedient to God. It should also be pointed out that since all that comes to pass does so due to the predestination of God, then it is ultimately God that raises up governments—whether they be good or bad. Good governments are obeyed because it is our moral duty to do so. This is the case because good governments are servants of God (ethically speaking). While people may obey a wicked government, but not out of moral duty. It will be obeyed instead out of fear. But whether good or bad, governments should only be obeyed insofar as they command that which is good, and forbid and punish that which is evil.
That raises another question of course: namely, what is good and what is evil?
Good and evil are what God has defined as such in His word, or anything that is found to be so by good and necessary consequence from the explicit statements of Scripture.
The Church is the instrument of God that exists to teach and preserve His truth. It is the place where gathered worship (rather than individual worship or family worship) takes place. It is where the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Table) are to be observed. It has the means to discipline people who are unrepentant by suspending them from communion, and removing them from membership. Though all of God’s institutions are necessary, it is the most important of them, as it alone has the responsibility for promulgating the Gospel. It is the only one of God’s institutions that will never end. Elders rule, deacons administer mercy/finances, and pastors preach and administer the sacraments, limited by the Word.
Each of these institutions is limited to what God has given them as their areas of activity. The State may not usurp the Church or Family. The Church may not usurp the State or Family. The Family may not usurp the State or Church.