Introductory Note:

How does authority work in a “community of mutual submission?” If Christian fellowship is a place of equality and mutual servanthood, free from the ambitions and hierarchies found outside of God’s kingdom, what place is there for one to direct another, or for this one to obey that one? 

Dallas Willard offers a beautiful vision here of deep fellowship modeled after Jesus. In the completely different order of God’s kingdom, wise authority is a gift —an act of service—offered from the one with experience to the one in need of that experience. It requires humility on the part of the one who recognizes her need for a wise guide, and humility on the part of the leader who recognizes that any authority she has is simply God’s gift at work in her, developed through her own submission to Christ.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Excerpt from The Spirit of the Disciplines

The high­est lev­el of fel­low­ship — involv­ing humil­i­ty, com­plete hon­esty, trans­paren­cy, and at times con­fes­sion and resti­tu­tion — is sus­tained by the dis­ci­pline of submission. 

In the let­ter to the Hebrews we read: Obey them that have the rule over you, and sub­mit your­selves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief” (13:7). In 1 Peter those old­er in The Way are told to take the over­sight of the flock of God, not by being forced to do so and not as lords over God’s her­itage, but as exam­ples to the flock (5:2 – 3). The younger are then told to sub­mit them­selves to this gen­tle over­sight by the elders, and all are caught up togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty of mutu­al ser­vants in mutu­al sub­mis­sion: Yea, all of you be sub­ject one to anoth­er, and be clothed with humil­i­ty: for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the hum­ble” (5:5; see also Eph. 5:21).

The order in the redemp­tive com­mu­ni­ty here implied obvi­ous­ly is not a mat­ter of an iron hier­ar­chy in which unwill­ing souls are crushed and dri­ven. Instead, it func­tions in the pow­er of truth and mer­cy inhab­it­ing mature per­son­al­i­ties, being the expres­sion of a king­dom not of this world (John 18:36) — but tru­ly a king­dom nonethe­less. Oth­er­wise the church would revert to the mod­el of pure­ly human gov­ern­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we see this actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in cer­tain mis­guid­ed attempts at Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. The Way of Jesus knows no sub­mis­sion out­side the con­text of mutu­al sub­mis­sion of all to all. (Eph. 5:21, Phil. 2:3)

Sub­mis­sion, though, is a call for help to those rec­og­nized as able to give it because of their depth of expe­ri­ence and Christ­like­ness — because they tru­ly are elder” in The Way. In sub­mis­sion we engage the expe­ri­ence of those in our fel­low­ship who are qual­i­fied to direct our efforts in growth and who then add the weight of their wise author­i­ty on the side of our will­ing spir­it to help us do the things we would like to do and refrain from the things we don’t want to do. They over­see the god­ly order in our souls as well as in our fel­low­ship and in the sur­round­ing body of Christ. 

But these wise” peo­ple will not be look­ing at them­selves as lead­ers” actu­al­ly. Their being exam­ples we sub­mit to is but one aspect of their sub­mis­sion to ser­vant­hood. It is a case of true lead­er­ship, not of the dri­ver­ship that so often pre­vails in sec­u­lar soci­ety and in some church groups where those in con­trol” do not know of an alternative. 

How tru­ly blessed is this free order that is in beat­i­tude.”1 Here are the begin­nings of that king­dom cut out with­out hands” (Dan. 2:34), which will in time fill the earth and make the king­doms of this world into the king­dom of our God and of his Christ!

  1. This mar­velous phrase is from St. Thomas Aquinas, Sum­ma The­o­log­i­ca, Part One of the Sec­ond Part, Ques­tion 90, Arti­cle 2, Objec­tion 3. ↩︎

Excerpt­ed from Dal­las Willard’s The Spir­it of the Dis­ci­plines. Cour­tesy of Harper­One (New York, 1998).

Text First Published May 1999 · Last Featured on January 2023

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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