Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus did build his church. The church which Jesus built has Jesus as its head. This image is very important for our understanding of who Jesus is and how we should relate to Jesus. Jesus, the head of the church, is the one who rules and represents his people.
THE HEAD IS THE RULER OF THE CHURCH
Jesus is the head of the church. He is the one who rules the body. Perhaps, everyone who professes to be a Christian would say that Jesus is the head of the church. When we speak of Jesus as the head of the church, we are saying that he rules his body like our bodies are ruled by our heads. Our body, when it is properly functional, does what our head directs it to do. If, or when, our body does something that our head has not instructed it to do, then we have a serious physical problem. When the body of Christ acts without its Head, then problems of a most serious nature are present. When the body of Christ functions as the Head directs, then there will be the most excellent success for God’s glory.
Competition for Jesus Authoritative Headship
Unfortunately, there are often competitors to his reign. Historically, the Catholic church has stated that the Pope is the vicar of Christ. To them, this means that he is in the place of Christ. It is the same root word from which we get vicarious. This language manifests a competition for authority. The Catholic Magisterium and Pope are given equal authority with the Scripture in Catholicism. In this system, Christ may be viewed as head but the Pope is in charge.
Protestant groups also fall into similar problems. Councils and Creeds can become authorities above what Christ has said. We do well to appreciate the views of others if they are current or historic figures. We do well to appreciate the conclusions of others if those conclusions are in the historic creeds or other statements today. While those creeds and councils may be helpful, they cannot be placed close to the Word.
Finally, we often try to be the head of the church ourselves. We can, perhaps unconsciously, become our own spiritual authorities. When we see what the Scripture says and decide differently, we are the authority over our lives and not Jesus. When one individual, be it an elder or influential person, rules the church, Jesus’ position has been supplanted. These individuals are more dangerous than the dangers associated with creeds, councils, or para-church organizations. Individuals who make themselves to be the spiritual authority in their area or in their congregation reject the helpful opinions of other people and the authoritative Word of Jesus himself.
God Has Given Christ to be the Authority
The authoritative headship of Christ over the church is clearly seen in Ephesians 1:22, “He has put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (NKJV). God the Father has designed the church with Jesus as the authoritative Head. Just as all things are ultimately submissive to the Father through the Son, so the church submits to and glorifies the Father through submission to the Son.
The authority of Christ is clearly stated in the Great Commission. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Note that the authority was given to the Son by the Father. That authority extends over every created thing. To rebel against Christ’s authority in rebellion or negligence is surely a most grievous and foolish act.
1 Corinthians 11 presents us with an important discussion about authority in relationships. Paul said, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). We want to be careful to remember that there is no qualitative difference between the Father and the Son. There is a qualitative difference between divine beings (Father, Son, and Spirit) and created beings (men, women, husbands, and wives). Paul has shown us that Jesus is the Head of the church. Just as the Son has submitted to the Father, the church is to submit to the Father through the Son.
The authority of Jesus is preserved in the New Testament. By inspiration, the apostles and prophets gave us the authoritative word of Christ (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:21). Submission to the New Testament is submission to Christ. The word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is still authoritative. It is still the voice of Christ speaking to us. Although some would reject it, “pattern theology” is important because it is the submission of the creature to the Creator.
THE “HEAD” IS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE CHURCH
The head of a body represents the entire body. This is true of a person’s physical body and it is true of organizations as well. The concept is seen in Paul’s words to the Jews who rejected him. He said, “Your blood be on your own heads” (Acts 18:6). The responsibility was upon them. Their “head” represented their entire person—body and soul. As our head, Jesus represents us.
Colossians 1:18 tells us that “he is the head of the body, the church.” This section of Scripture emphasized how everything found its “fullness” in Christ. “In him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). All things are reconciled to him through him (Colossians 1:20). Everything created thing finds its purpose in Christ. Everything is summed up in Christ.
Christ’s work as the representative head is dominant in passages which speak of the church, the body of Christ, standing before the Father and the overarching theme of God in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ is the representative Head of those who are saved. They, his body, are seen in His representation.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we to “grow up into Him who is the head—Christ.” “This growth of the body has Christ as its goal: he is the one into whom we are to grow.” We are his subjects. We are his body. We serve him. We work for him. We at his disposal. Maturity is found by being like him.
THE “HEAD” IS THE REASON FOR THE CHURCH
It may be difficult for us to think of Jesus as the reason for the church because we are in the habit of thinking we are the center of the universe or the reason God acts. God certainly blesses us in his actions, but he acts for himself and it is good that he does act for himself. We are blessed to get caught up in the wake of his glory.
Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 tell us to do everything for the glory of God. Since it is a sin to do one thing which is not for the glory of God, we see that everything we do, in some way, should be for God’s glory. Would we think that God, in his Trinitarian economy, would act in any way that would not bring glory to the Triunity? The Bible, the revelation of the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), reveals that everything we do should be for God’s glory. Glorifying God is a great, perhaps the chief, purpose of God’s actions.
Paul preached “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) so that he could help “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). The purpose of the church is to make known the manifold wisdom of God—to glorify him through his purpose. The excellent glory and beauty of God is the foundation of religion. Thus, the glory and beauty of God is the foundation or reason for the church. The church glorifies God by rejoicing in him, praising him, being doctrinally faithful to him, being benevolent for him, and preaching him.
Just as the wife is the glory of her husband, the bride of Christ is the glory of Christ. Jonathan Edwards described it this way:
The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse, towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified.
God the Father glorified God the Son in giving him the church. The Son will present the church to the Father for his glory (1 Corinthians 15:28). All people, especially the church, will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Romans 11:36 declares that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). The church, therefore, exists for the glory of God now and forever.