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The Christian Understanding of Authority and Obedience

Father Nicolás Schwizer explains how God placed authority on the level of service and that love proves its authenticity in obedience.
by Father Nicolás Schwizer | Source: Schoenstatt Press

A practical aspect on our journey to God is composed of a correct application of authority. This is an aspect which has been greatly affected by the Father-crisis in today’s world. It has caused a crisis of authority everywhere.

Mistaken concepts of authority

A privilege. For many, authority is simply a privilege. Authority is self-serving. This ideal makes many do everything possible to achieve power in order to dominate others and become wealthy. Power-hungry people promise anything to achieve a position of authority; later, the promises are forgotten and the leader’s true face is shown. In the family, the same mistaken style of authority is commonly used. Many fathers like to think of themselves as a master who has all rights and privileges and the other members of the household must obey him. This misunderstanding of what authority is supposed to be in God’s plan has surely been the most influent factor in slandering the concept of authority altogether.

A heavy burden. For others, authority is a heavy burden which is taken with a grudge and exercises a type of police force. There must be order and everyone and everything must be controlled. Everything must be the leader’s personal control. To investigate, to repress, to order and to correct seem to be the words contained in authority. Wrong!

The right to order. Many simply and plainly confuse authority with power, that is, with the right to dispose of others. It would seem as if authority would be confused with the power to order. The majority thinks that the one who orders is the one with the most authority.

The word authority brings two things to today’s mentality: order and obedience. Authority appears as a limitation of freedom, and therefore, it has become hateful in our times which are more inclined toward freedom.

The Gospel concept of authority

Service. Jesus Christ presents the matter in a diametrically opposed way. He tells us: “Those who govern nations, rule them and call themselves benefactors. You should not be this way… The one who wants to be first must be the last.”

He demonstrates his example saying that himself did not come “to be served, but to serve.” This means that God placed authority on the level of service. A flagrant contradiction exists between the Gospel concept of authority and the concept which rules in our times.

Etymologically, authority comes from the Latin word “augere” which means to make grow, to increase, to bring forth, to originate. From there comes “auctor esse” which means the person who generates life in each one. Already in its origin, the word authority means service to life.

Freedom and obedience. A community cannot be fruitful without a spirit of obedience. It deals with seeing God behind all legitimate human authority. It means that I do not bow before the authority of a man or woman, but that I bow to the authority of God which is manifested in him or her. Therefore, obedience for the love of God. “Obedience motivated by love makes us free,” assures Father Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Movement. The more we advance in obedience to God’s will and his manifested authority in our brothers and sisters, the freer we will feel interiorly. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2: 3).

Obedience is the great sign of love. Love proves its authenticity in obedience. Basically, it is the fusion of “me” with a “you.” The proof that that fusion is not something sentimental is that it expresses itself in my desire to unite myself with the other’s will. It is the children’s great proof of love. It is Christ’s basic attitude: “My food,” Jesus said to them, “is to obey the will of the one who sent me.” (John 4: 34) It is also the fundamental attitude of the Virgin Mary: “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” (Luke 1: 38) Obedience, key attitude of Christ and Mary, is also the key attitude for all Christians.

Questions for Meditation
1. Is it easy for me to obey?
2. How do I act when I have authority?
3. How can I be more Christlike when I am leading?

If you wish to subscribe, comment on the text or give your testimony, write to:

Translation: Carlos Cantú
Edited by:

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