A Charlotte Mason Education, Christianity, Citizenship, Paradigm Shift, Parenthood, personhood, relationship
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Authority in Perspective by Tara Schorr

I have been giving considerable thought lately to the administration of authority.  I have been grieved by some of the things I have seen done in it’s name, and have been pondering questions and Scriptures.  What is a healthy expression of authority?  How is it that Scriptures are employed to back up practices or systems that are clearly abusive?  Where is the balance between boundaries and anarchy?  How can Truth be proclaimed to set captives free from both slavery and rebellion?

As it so often happens, while I considered these things I realized how much it correlated with Charlotte Mason and the way she described the treatment and training of children.  Mason hit the nail on the head when, discussing a mother who mishandled her role, she wrote, “She confounded the two principles of authority and autocracy” (Vol 3 pages 13-14).  Certainly autocracy, having absolute rule, domineering and controlling another human being created in the image of God, is wrong.  Yet, to various degrees, that is often the presumed understanding of how authority is implemented.  Further on she states, “Mrs. Hare, like many another ruler, would appear to have erred, not from indolence, and certainly not harshness, but because she failed to define to herself the nature of the authority she was bound to exercise” (Vol 3 page 15).

Defining the nature of authority seems to be the best place to start.  Mason reminded us that even Jesus came as a servant to do His Father’s will, and that any form of authority here on earth is entrusted to us for definite tasks.  This imposes mandates and limitations, according to the accomplishing of the assignment.  Paul talked about this very thing in 2 Corinthians 13:10 when he stated, “Therefore, I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.”  If Paul had used his title or position of being an apostle to tear people down, it would have been an illegal use of his authority, not given to him or endorsed by the Lord.  This clearly shows boundaries in the expression of authority.  Mason not only applied those limitations to severe examples that would normally cross people’s minds, but also to the too lenient ones.  For instance, it is an unauthorized use of authority to allow children to skip doing their lessons, to play too many video games, or eat too much junk food, because that is harmful to them and our commission is to ensure their best welfare.

Another important thing to consider is the intended paradigm and structure.  We have a tendency to apply these kinds of principles with an hierarchal mindset.  The gift of teaching, along with the other gifts, was given by God to help equip others, and it was meant for a Kingdom of Heaven cultural context.  In other words, the relationships are modeled after a loving family, not a boss and employers.  It is supposed to be enabling and releasing, not managing or using.  Jesus addressed this when He told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant.”  Paul further illustrated this in 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8 by saying, “Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.  But, we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.  So affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”

Blessed are the meek, especially those with positions of leadership.  The word meek literally means “strength, or power, under control.”  The greater the sphere of influence or rule, the greater the power one has to restrain.  Mason used the charming example of Queen Elizabeth [I], admirably citing, “the meekness of one who has been given an appointed work, the readiness to take counsel with herself and with others, the perception that she herself was not the be-all and the end-all of her functions as a queen, but that she existed for her people, and the quick and tender open-minded sympathy which enabled her to see their side of every question as well as her own––indeed, in preference to her own” (Vol. 3 page 17-18).  It takes a trained and concentrated effort to hold yourself back and to prefer those in your charge, when you could just lay down the law and be applauded by the world for doing so.

Paul was trusted with more authority than we can imagine.  His teachings are still being used to transform lives all around the world.  Yet, by accepting the call on his life, he knew he was signing up for great hardship.  Nobody understood that better than Paul, since he was most zealous to persecute and kill believers.  Each day he walked out his calling he acquired more enemies, and suffered more.  That kind of commitment helps to purify motives.  I believe that kind of pouring out of our life is the pattern held up for all to live by.  After all, the One who has and will have the greatest authority forever, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, was the One who sacrificed the most.

There are commands given to temper those who rule, as well.  Fathers were instructed not to provoke their children to anger.  Even though offenses are inevitable, Jesus warned those that caused children to be offended that it would be better to have a millstone around their neck and to be thrown into the sea.  God is pretty particular about how children should be treated, and we would do well to take the time to assess ourselves.

These are the principals that should inform our daily lives, actions, and decisions.  Are we being watchful over our students so that they are challenged in a positive way?  Are we impatient and expect things from them that we haven’t properly trained them enough in?  Do we care about their feelings, even if they seem insignificant from our adult perspective?  Do we put them first, above our own comfort and convenience?  Do we really listen to them?  Are we nurturing and affectionately loving them through the fun, the tedious, and the challenging?  Are we regularly weighing and adjusting according to their development and growing maturity?  Are we being tender when bringing correction?  Do they feel safe with us, and know that in all things we have their best interests in mind?

I’m taking a fresh look at these things, and at my interactions with my children.  The busyness of life and the pressure of goals can eclipse some of these more important issues.  They need to be intentionally brought to the forefront at regular intervals.  This is what determines the kind of relationship that will exist between teacher, mentor, or parent and child.  This is what will either crush, or cause a child to grow in wisdom, character, vibrancy of life, and thrive.

© Tara Schorr 2012


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Natalie says

    What a lovely article! These are such important things for us to think about as parents. It is so easy to misuse parental authority, thinking that you’re in the right to lay down the law with our kids, but really we’re in the wrong.

    I think in our day it is the serious Christians who think that the hierarchal view of the authority is the biblical one. I’ve come across quite a few families who almost worship authority as an idol because they believe the highest thing we can be before God is in submission to authority, and as long as we are we won’t have any trouble. It’s so easy with this view to force authority upon our children and things become law-based rather than grace-based. We become harsh and unyielding because we feel our authority is at stake and our children’s very souls are at risk of they don’t submit.

    I’m still exploring God’s heart about this and certainly don’t want to error into permissiveness, which you touched on in your article as well. I look forward to more and more dialog about this. Thank you for a well-written article!

  2. Thank you for your post Tara. I love the biblical references you use to illustrate Charlotte’s principle of authority. When I first read Charlotte’s Principle 3, I was a bit confused by the notion of authority and docility going hand in hand. However after some research, I came to realize the context of authority Charlotte was referring to. Your references really helped to drive the point home.

    Many Blessings,

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