The Family and the State (Kline)

According to Genesis, the institution of the family came before the institution of the state. Adam and Eve had a family before cities were formed and before the sword-bearing state was founded in Genesis 4:15 and 9:5-6. This is God’s order: he instituted the family and then later the state. I appreciate how Meredith Kline explains this order and relationship:

When, presently, the state came into being it was then as a complementary institution alongside the previously existing family within the common grace order. From this biblical datum of the complementarity of family and state as alike institutions of the same common grace order, the two assuming between them the full compass of cultural functions given at creation (adapted now to the new order [after the fall]), we derive our basic orientation for determining the proper responsibilities of the state in society.

Clearly the state was not introduced to challenge the previously existing family, whether by usurping its God-given functions or in any way undermining it or eroding its sphere of authority. By reason of its prior presence as a discrete sphere of sovereign responsibility established by God, the family set bounds on the sphere of the state’s functioning. At the same time, the family presented the state with positive obligations, namely, to recognize, protect, and preserve the rights and role given to the family as an associate common grace institution. The state was to provide a supportive framework for the life of the family. Likewise the family was in turn to recognize and honor the state in its God-given task. The public and private institutional spheres each defined the other’s limits.

…The state’s supplementation of the family in a function that belongs primarily to the family must remain just that—supplementation, a secondary and exceptional role. When the state expands the bounds of its limited, marginal, substitute-family assignment by assuming responsibilities where the family itself is prepared to fulfill its God-given primary responsibility, the state is guilty of an act of usurpation and contradiction of the divine order. For the state thus to move towards the suppression of the family is to repudiate the very grounds and purpose of its own existence, which are found in its origin as a supportive institutional companion to the previously existing family within their shared framework of common grace.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p. 173-4; 176-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015