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Theology > Church > Church Government > The Headship of Christ


Christ is the Head of the Church. Paul writes: “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; see:  Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 5:23); a nearly identical statement appears in Colossians: “He is the head of the body, the church” (1:18; 2:19).

This image gives prominence to the unity of believers with Christ, a unity which is spiritual and mysterious. It is a unity that can be discussed but it cannot be defined. The words “head” and “body” denote this unity at the most intimate level, with head and body being distinct and yet one. This unity of Christ and the Church is incomprehensible.

The image also speaks of the believer’s dependency upon Christ as the Head. In the biological realm the head has authority and gives orders to the body; and Christ, as the Head of the Church, controls the Church—it must constantly look to Him for its life and conduct. He is the Head of the body.

As the Head Christ gives directions to the body, directions to which the body must submit. In the physical body there is no instance where the hand does its own thing, independent of the head, and there is no occasion for the Church to act independently, pursuing its own course. The body—the Church—must function in harmony and union with the Master of the Church, who is its Head.

Authority resides in God’s Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign), and the Father has given authority to the Son: Matt. 11:27; 28:18; Jo. 5:22, 27; 17:2; Rev. 2:27. In the book of Revelation the Lord of the Churches is Christ; and there is the account of seven churches, or seven lamps, with Christ in the midst of them, with the ministers of the churches in His right hand (Rev. 1), meaning that He is the Head of the churches. The right to rule belongs to Christ, and to Christ alone. He is Sovereign over the Church.

Christ has given authority to the Church: Matt. 10:1; 16:19; 18:18; 28:18-20; Lu. 10:19; 24:46-48; Jo. 14:26; 16:13-15; 20:21, 23; Acts 1:8; Eph. 4:8, 10-11. The authority is spiritual and moral, and relates to the doing of God’s will on earth in the life of the Church; the authority relates exclusively to the Church in its spiritual understanding and application of God’s will. This authority resides in the Giver of the authority, and it resides in the power of the message which has been by Him to the Church, that is, the power of the Gospel.

It should be noted that this authority cannot be understood in terms of secular society. The authority of the Church must be understood in spiritual terms for it relates to Christ and His Church, having to do with the Head and His body. The believer must keep in focus the distinct difference between Caesar and the Church, the City of Man and the City of God. The goal of the Church is not to interact and rule with Caesar, or to influence Caesar in order that the Church may prosper.

Other images in Scripture speak of the position of Christ in relationship to the Church: “the good Shepherd” (Jo. 10:11, 14); “the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20); “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20); “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (I Pet. 2:25); and “the Chief Shepherd” (I Pet. 5:4). Each of these in various ways affirm the Headship of Christ.

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the word;
From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
with His own blood He bought her,
and for her life He died.
Samuel Stone,
The Church’s One Foundation

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