A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3
The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…
The ideas of authority and obedience in Charlotte Mason’s 3rd Principle probably seem obvious to most parents. Of course parents are in authority over their children and children ought to obey their parents (although to look at today’s culture, perhaps that is not so obvious anymore). Mason speaks thoughtfully and at length about this principle. She discusses what authority is for both parent and child, what it looks like in homes and schoolrooms, and how to gain the obedience of the child. For the sake of length, I will restrict my discussion today to considering parental authority, and next week, Lord willing, I will discuss authority as it relates to the child.
Parental Authority Is God-Given
Our authority as parents is given to us by God. This is foundational and central to Mason’s principle of authority. Your authority finds its source in God. Stop and think about that for a minute. This is profound. When we truly understand where our authority comes from, it informs and affects everything else that comes out of our parenting. As a gift from God, our authority is to be used wisely for the good of the children and for His glory. Because it is from God, it is not absolute authority. We are not an authority unto ourselves. Mason describes our authority as deputed, meaning it is delegated. We are, in a sense, made His representatives in our homes. We have been deputized to fulfill the duty of raising our children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our children are not ours, but have been entrusted to us for a time to love and disciple and “train up in the way he should go.” It is for a purpose that God has entrusted this role to us. He has given us this authority as ones also under authority. Mason urges parents to make known to our children that our authority is given by God and we are under His authority just as they are. Mason stresses the importance of this because she believed children will more readily accept and understand their role to submit to our authority when they know it comes from God.
Parental Authority Is Not Arbitrary
Since we are under God’s authority and our authority comes from Him, it should not be arbitrary. This means our authority should not be wielded on a whim or without reason. It should not be unrestrained authority for its own sake, ruling from a height with no intimacy with the children, like some authoritarian dictator. We should not bark out orders like a sledgehammer, with a harshness that shows no care for the hearts and minds of these precious images of God, or encroach on their personhood.
Instead, we should parent in humble recognition and obedience to the God whose authority we are under. Our authority is to be born out of love for God and love for our children.
“Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognise it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.” Vol. 3, pg.24
Parental Authority Serves
Our role as ones in authority is one of service. Our authority is not self-seeking. It is “…neither harsh nor indulgent,” but is an authority that is “gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because [it] is immovable in matters of real importance.” (Vol. 1, pg.17)
Mason paints a wonderful picture of how biblical authority in the home provides the best atmosphere for a child to thrive.
“Authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic.” Vol. 1, pg.23
Parental Authority Is Not To Be Abdicated
Not only is our authority not to be arbitrary, it should not be abdicated. Parents can be tempted, for the sake of ease or the favor of their children, to abdicate their authority in the same way that a king might abdicate the throne. They can be tempted to give over their God-given authority and obligation to another. This could be by expecting the school to deal with all aspects of raising your child, beyond their education, or defaulting your authority to another family member, or worse still, leaving the child to themselves. We must remember that it is our duty to be good stewards of the authority deputed to us by God, out of loving obedience to Him, for the good of the child.
Parental Authority Is For The Good Of All
Biblical authority is necessary for the good of the child. Our authority is integral to the development of character in children and instruction in right living. If a child is left to themselves to pursue the way that seems right in their own eyes, folly is sure to follow. It is good for the children to “…’faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey’ their natural rulers”(Vol. 2, pg.14). It is an example of how we are to serve, honor, and humbly obey God.
“parents hold their children in trust for society.” Vol. 2, pg.15
Parental authority is also necessary for the good of society. It is necessary for raising good citizens. When parents abdicate their authority, the result is not only disastrous for the children, but also to society.
“…the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.” Vol. 2, pg.17
This does not, of course, guarantee children will heed the instructions of their parents and live godly, productive lives in the service of others, but it gives them the best opportunity and fulfills our God-given role to teach them to love Him and serve others. This is certainly not the message of today’s culture to children, which seems far more concerned with personal happiness than instilling a willing service to others.
Parenting is a difficult yet rewarding vocation. It can sometimes feel like a battleground. But when we look to God as the source of our parental authority, knowing that we too are under His authority, we can be comforted. Because He is good and just, and because He has deemed it so and thus ordered it, He will give us the grace and means to fulfill His God-given purpose for us as parents.