The Divine Institutions

One of the doctrines that I heard a lot growing up was the Divine Institutions. These are institutions ordained by God for the preservation of all of mankind. Why do we need protection in the form of the Divine Institutions? Well, the reason is that fallen man is self destructive and needs the structure of the Divine Institutions to stabilize society.

Before I get any farther into this I want to make sure you all understand that the Divine Institutions apply to all of mankind which means both believer and unbeliever. The institutions are meant to stabilize all of human society.

It is my understanding that the development of this doctrine was originally done by Reformed theologians. I do not own a copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion but my guess is that he discusses what I call the Divine Institutions in it at length. [See Bobby Grow’s comment below. I now believe that he is correct and Calvin did not have anything to do with the Divine Institutions that I have outlined here.]

From my studies and web searches I don’t see that there has been much teaching of the Divine Institutions since World War II. I know of two men that have taught it during my life time and I am going to give a short summary of their particular version of the doctrine below.

R.B. Thieme, Jr.

The Divine Institutions were always being mentioned by Colonel Theme as a basic doctrine that every believer should understand. You can find follow this link to a short one page summary and I will also provide an even shorter summary:

  1. FREE WILL: The right to be dependent upon God, or to act independently of God.
  2. MARRIAGE: Basic organization in a national entity.
  3. FAMILY: The institution set up to raise and train children as far as respect for authority, for the rights of others, for the privacy of others, to respect common law, to respect the property of others, plus many other principles.
  4. NATIONALISM: Genesis 10, 11. Nationalism is the means of protecting and preserving the human race, so that no segment of individuals gets enough power to destroy the rest of the human race, and eventually themselves.

Charles Clough

I have also heard Charles Clough speak of the Divine Institutions in his Biblical Framework series (you can follow the Biblical Framework link in the sidebar for information on that series). He uses a slightly different set of institutions than Colonel Thieme [Charles Clough was ordained by Colonel Thieme]. Once again it is difficult finding documentation on Pastor Clough’s version but I did find a short discussion of it in a four page paper called COVENANTS AND DISPENSATIONS Part V by Thomas Ice (Dr. Ice credits Charles Clough in the article). Once again, here is a short summary:

  1. The first divine institution is responsible dominion (Gen. 1:26–30; 2:15–17; Ps. 8:3–8), which is the area that an individual is responsible to God.
  2. The second divine institution is marriage (Gen. 2:18–24). This institution is deduced from the original marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.
  3. The third divine institution is built upon the first two and is that of family. “In the Bible it is the family, not the individual, that is the basic unit of society (property, for example, is titled under Mosaic Law to families).”
  4. The fourth divine institution is civil government whereby God transferred to man through the Noahic Covenant the responsibility to exercise kingdom authority in order to help restrain evil after the Flood (Gen. 9:5–6).
  5. The fifth divine institution is tribal diversity, which was also established after the Flood in order to promote social stability in a fallen world (see Gen. 9:25–27 and compare with Gen. 10—11 and Deut. 32:8). Notice this is not racial diversity but tribal diversity. This divine institution does not involve race but tribes or families.

Charles Clough holds to a more Calvinist theology than Colonel Thieme did so it should not be surprising that he de-emphasizes free will by replacing it with responsible dominion as the first Divine Institution.

So What?

There are actually a lot of applications of this doctrine but the one facet of this doctrine that I want to emphasize is that the institutions are hierarchical. Each divine institution builds on the previous one. Nations cannot be strong that do not have strong families. You cannot have strong families if you do not have strong marriages. And last, but not least, you cannot have strong marriages unless you have individuals that making good decisions (not doing drugs, not cheating on your mate, etc.).

At a time when our society seems to be breaking down and nobody seems to have any answers I will say that there are answers. The problem is that the answers aren’t what most people want to hear.

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3 Comments on “The Divine Institutions”

  1. Bobby Grow Says:

    Hey Glenn,

    I would just say that the Divine Institutions as you’ve outlined them here have nothing to do with Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion; except for the fact that they share the designation of “Institute.”

    I think, as you’ve outlined them here, that these are “Institutions” sound like derivations from ‘within’ the dispensational framework. Calvin’s Institutes follow this order Book I. Doctrine of God, Book II. God as Redeemer, Book III. Holy Spirit, Book IV. The Church.

    Completely different animals 🙂 .

  2. Glenn Says:

    Hi Bobby,

    You are probably right about that. I went and looked at the quote in Ice’s article again:

    “The term ‘divine institution’ has been used for centuries by Christians, particularly in Reformed circles, to describe the fixed, basic social forms,” according to Clough.

    I think I read too much into that. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Sh82n Says:

    Make It Become what It Hates the most, teach it to Love Itself “..A Beloved”


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