Christ, the Head of the Church

by Bob Douglas

Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 16:18

The Apostle Paul said, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
Ephesians 5:23

A truth that is regularly missed or only nominally addressed by many authors of church leadership is the fact that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. He is the Savior who gives believers eternal life and communion with God (1 Cor 15:1-4). Christ has power over heaven and earth, and complete authority over all believers and the church (Matt 7:21-23; 28:18). Christ is the Savior who freely gave himself for the church and is the unquestionable Head of the church (Eph 5:23, 25).

  • He determined when the church began (Acts 2:1-47)
  • He is the Chief Shepherd of the church (1 Pet 5:4)
  • He chose the apostles and appointed them as the church’s first leaders (John 21:17)
  • He determined the church leadership structure (1 Tim 3:1-13)
  • He grows his church at his pleasure (Matt 16:18)
  • He sanctifies the church (Eph 5:26)
  • He loves and nourishes his church (Eph 5:29).
  • He intercedes for his church at the right hand of the Father (Rom 8:34)
  • The church is to follow Christ’s leadership (Eph 5:24)
  • He will return for his church (John 14:2-3)

Christ has never abdicated, to finite man, his role as Head of the church. It is not man’s position to “take the reins” and redesign any aspect of Christ’s church, including the form and structure of its leadership. Few understood this better than the sixteenth century reformer, John Calvin. He considered the God-ordained leadership offices of the church as primary, not secondary, or tertiary or negotiable as many believe today. In his Institutes, clarifying the office of deacon, Calvin wrote on this subject, warning believers,

Now seeing that in the sacred assembly all things ought to be done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:40), there is nothing in which this ought to be more carefully observed than in settling government, irregularity in any respect being nowhere more perilous.[1]

In other words, to mess with Christ’s church leadership structure is dangerous. For instance, in today’s contemporary evangelical church there is a growing trend to abolish the office of deacon. No local church or pastor is allowed to whimsically decide, “We don’t need deacons.” 

Neither the church or its leaders have the authority to change any element of the position or purpose of an elder or deacon.

Sadly, many churches have done just that. Christ is the Head of his church. He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). He is the Bridegroom (Eph 5:25-27); He is divine (John 10:27-30). He is infinite and eternal (John 1:1-5; Isa 40:6-31). Man is finite and fallen (Ps 90). Christ gave specific instructions to the apostles on the structure of church leadership. Today it is the job of elders and deacons to properly understand the truth of God’s Word and follow the leadership of Christ as under-shepherds and servants of his bride, the church. Elders and deacons are servants of Christ. They tend to the flock of Christ’s sheep (John 21:17) and will give an account to God the judge for their service (Heb 13:17). Neither the church or its leaders have the authority to change any element of the position or purpose of an elder or deacon. Christ presently rules by the Word of God. Scripture was his defense when tempted by Satan (Matt 4:1-11). The Bible was his weapon when addressing false teachers (Matt 12:1-8). And in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us that all will not be completed until every single letter, and every little jot of God’s Word is accomplished (Matt 5:18). It is abundantly clear that Christ requires the precise application of Scripture.

The precision in which we handle God’s Word, therefore, is enormously important. The last command of the New Testament is witness to this responsibility:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Rev 22:18-19

This next few articles in this series are about church leadership and, specifically, the position and role of deacons. Our study will be focused from God’s Word and Christ’s instructions for his deacons, as opposed to human tradition, denominational precedents, or contemporary pragmatic business strategies. We will look at how Christ initiated the office of deacon, how he universalized the office and what he expects from the ministry of his deacons. Stay tuned!

*This article is adapted from the forthcoming book, Deacons: Clarifying the Biblical Role, by Bob Douglas.


NOTES

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), IV.3.10.

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