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“And He is the head of the body, the church…
that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
As the church assembles, it is the Father’s supreme desire that the Lord Jesus Christ would have the preeminence in all things. Central to this desire is the establishing of the Lord Jesus as the functioning Head of the Body in the gathered assembly. He is the One the church is to assemble under and be led by as it gathers in His name and in the power of His Spirit. The church must meet according to the principle of the Body so that Christ may have a corporate expression of Himself in this world. Every member is, therefore, called to submit to Christ as Head, and through Him to serve the Body according to their unique giftings and callings, by the leading of the Spirit. This is what a Biblical gathering of the church is to embody.
This reality of the Headship of Christ in the church is something that needs to be diligently sought, cultivated and grown into. It is not something that will naturally develop unless there is a collective vision for it and a persistent pursuit of it by a committed body of believers. It will require spiritual men and women who have God’s ultimate objective as their sole passion, and have forsaken lesser things to pursue an expression of the church that is according to God’s central desire. It will require a breaking with long-held traditions and religious pre-conditionings as to what the church is and how it is to meet, and necessitate a radical and enduring commitment to a new way of gathering where Christ is given His rightful place as the functioning Head of His Body.
Because Christ’s Headship has not been generally sought or made room for in the midst of His people, the Church at large is not accustomed to its reality, nor expectant of its outworking. We, therefore, need to learn the first principles of what it means for Jesus to personally lead His church and to harmoniously work through His many-membered Body as it meets. It is the purpose of this teaching, therefore, to discuss some of the primary characteristics and principles of the gathering of the church when it meets under the Headship of Christ.
Let us look at a few foundational principles that are associated with the Headship of Christ in the assembly of the Church:
1. The Headship of Christ is administered by the Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit is the Divine Agent through which the Headship of Christ is administered in and through the Body. He is the One who takes the things of Christ and makes them known to us. He is the One who works within our spirit, quickening our inner man and working within us all that is flowing from the Head. Only a people who are indwelt, filled, and led by the Holy Spirit, can know and experience the Headship of Christ in the Church. An utter reliance upon the Spirit’s working and leading is essential if the Body is to be connected to and responding to the Head. The natural man, therefore, needs to be dealt with by the cross in all of its self-significance, self-sufficiency and self-wisdom. To the degree that God’s people are truly spiritual and not natural is the degree to which the Church can begin to know the sovereign Headship of Christ in their midst.
2. The Headship of Christ works according to the principle of the New Covenant – The New Covenant is an “inside-out “covenant. It is a covenant of Life, and it flows from the inside out. Just as in the natural body, the connection of the head to each of the members is internal, so also in the Body of Christ all of the impulses from the Head are internal to the inner man. Through the indwelling of the Spirit, we are quickened by His life, illuminated by His light, and moved by His love and compassion. As we learn to respond to these impulses individually, and then collectively, we begin to enter into the reality of Christ expressing Himself through His many-membered Body. Each of us has a part to play in this manifold expression, and all of our parts are varied. We are His workmanship, and each of us is created to be the unique member that God has ordained us to be. We are all “wired” in a certain way and as He fills us with Himself we each respond to Him according to our unique giftings and callings. When the Body is functioning properly, therefore, there is something “supernaturally natural” about its expression. In one sense, the members are fully themselves, and yet on the other hand they are individually and collectively expressing their Head by the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is the nature of the Headship of Christ according to the principle of the New Covenant.
3. The Headship of Christ operates providentially as well as immediately – The Headship of Christ pertains not only to His present manifestation in His Body, but also to the preparation of His body for yet future manifestations. The word “providence” literally means, “seeing before”, or “foresight”. It means, “Care or preparation in advance.” (American Heritage Dictionary) The Lord is working not only for the moment, but also for the future. If we are to experience the Headship of Christ in the gathering of the church we need to be continually pursuing and living in the providential working of His Headship, as well as His immediate Headship during the meetings. Both are necessary for the fullness of Christ in the church.
The majority of what the Lord wants to do in the midst of His people He will work into them ahead of time. Those who are called to speak, for instance, will have His Word worked into their hearts hours, days, weeks, months, even years ahead of time. He wants His Word to dwell in us richly through diligent study and meditation. He wants to give us experiences and testimonies to confirm and establish His truths within us. He desires His Word to become “flesh” in us so that it comes forth with substance and authority. Likewise, He is working providentially in others to equip them for works of service, hospitality, giving, encouragement, or creative forms of ministry that require advanced preparation. All of this comes together under His immediate Headship in the midst of the gathering as He directs the flow of a gathering. Only as we abide in His providential Headship will our gatherings be full of His abundant provision in all things.
In addition to this, Christ’s immediate Headship in the gathering of the church works spontaneously through the Holy Spirit’s leadings, revelations, and spiritual giftings. There is always something living, fresh, and unpredictable about the immediate Headship of Christ. This characteristic is what lifts the gathering out of the realm of man’s control and demonstrates the reality of the living and present unseen Head of the body in the midst of the assembly.
The Headship of Christ, therefore, is a sovereign blending and balancing of that which is done in preparation ahead of time and that which is spontaneous and immediate in the gathering. That which His providential Headship equips for in advance, His immediate Headship administers during a gathering so that all things are of Him, through Him and to Him. Both the providential and immediate aspects of Christ’s Headship are to be diligently pursued and increasingly known if the church is to experience and manifest Christ corporately.
4. The Headship of Christ balances spontaneity and orderliness – “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17) Where the Headship of Christ is manifested there are two opposite yet complimentary attributes that are found: restraint and liberty. The Lordship of Christ exercises great restraint on the natural man, while it concurrently exercises great liberty in and through the spiritual man. The authority of His Lordship seeks to bring an end to the independent actions of his people, so that the power of His Spirit may be released in and through the responsive interdependent actions of His Body. It is only by the restraint of His Lordship that there can be found the liberty of His Spirit, and thus of His Headship.
In 1 Corinthians 14 we have the most detailed instructions on the functioning of a Christ-led gathering in Scripture. In it we see a meeting that is open, participatory, Spirit-gifted and Spirit-led. Freedom and spontaneity abound as all are exhorted to contribute to the gathering, and as spontaneous spiritual gifts are manifested and exercised. In balance to this, however, there is much careful instruction as to the proper restraint and orderliness that is in keeping with the nature of a godly assembly, “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33) The principle of “two or three” abounds so that the over-functioning of any one individual is restrained. Likewise, checks and balances are put in place for the proper exercising and testing of spiritual gifts so that false ministry is curtailed. Responsibility is given to every member to ensure that things are done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40), and those who exercise spiritual gifts are accountable to do so according to the apostolic guidelines given (1 Cor. 14:32). Underlying these constraints are the Christ-like attitudes of mutual love, respect, honor, submission and accountability.
Those who desire to gather under the Headship of Christ, therefore, must be diligent to cultivate and guard a balanced environment of spontaneity and orderliness. Spontaneity must be cultivated so that Christ may have His way, by his Spirit, among His people. Orderliness must be preserved so that the flesh, and even the devil, may be restrained from derailing, disrupting, or dominating a meeting. In this environment, spontaneity is balanced by orderliness, and orderliness is balanced by spontaneity. If the balance becomes disrupted, there ensues spiritual chaos and disorder on the one hand, or spiritual death and deception on the other. These two complimentary aspects of spontaneity and orderliness, therefore, must be carefully sought after and preserved in the assembly of the church.
5. The Headship of Christ expresses the authority of Christ in the Body – In the natural body as well as in the spiritual Body, headship and authority go hand-in-hand. As all authority resides in Christ the Head, so the necessary relationship of every member to the Head is one of submission. Likewise, as the Head indwells and works through the many members of His Body, the relationship of each member to all the others is, of necessity, one of mutual submission. The hand must submit to the authority of Christ in the foot, and the foot must submit to the authority of Christ in the hand. If the Headship of Christ is to be manifested in the Body, each member must submit themselves to Christ directly, as well as to Him indirectly in the other members, as the vessels of His authority. Independence in either regard violates the principle of the Body and introduces disconnection from the Head. If the Body is to be filled with the authority of Christ then it must be filled with submission in all aspects. As the church gathers, therefore, let every member seek to submit themselves in the first place to Christ, and the direct workings of His Spirit, and secondarily to the members of the Body, and the “indirect” workings of His Spirit through them. In this way they will submit themselves fully to, and be faithful instruments of, the authority and Headship of Christ in the gathering.
6. The Headship of Christ gifts the Body with equipping ministries and servant leadership – The practical Headship of Christ is something the Body must continually grow into. Because this is so, there is a need for equipping ministries and Christ-like leadership to enable and foster that growth. Some believe that the Headship of Christ necessitates the nullifying of all human leadership so that Christ alone may be the sole leader. Although this appears spiritual, this is simply not born out in Scripture. Christ has given to the church “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12) He has also given servant leaders to the Church to feed, lead and care for the flock. This is consistent with the Scriptures, and therefore, consistent with, and not in contradiction to, the Headship of Christ in the Church.
A few principles may be helpful in incorporating the functioning of equipping ministries and servant leadership into the Church without usurping Christ’s functional Headship:
· Leadership is primarily functional, not positional. It is called to serve and lead by example. It is given to the church to encourage, equip, edify, and enable the body to function so that it continually builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)
· Leadership always tends toward plurality which provides a safeguard of mutual submission and accountability, as well the fostering of greater spiritual balance and fullness in the Body.
· Leadership is called to be the most sensitive and submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leadings and operations in the gathering of the body. They are to lead by example as to what it means to be submitted and responsive to Christ’s Headship, and to discern His workings in others for the full functioning of the Body.
· Leadership is not to monopolize the gathering so that others become passive or are prohibited in functioning. They may have a larger or more prominent part to play at times, but this is to the end of equipping the body to ultimately function more effectively.
· The other members of the body are not to become slack in their responsibility concerning the meeting because of the presence of leadership. Every member is as responsible as the next for the full functioning of the body under Christ’s Headship. Each believer must seek the Lord and be sensitive to His providential and immediate Headship prior to and during a meeting so that the whole church may be responsive and responsible to the Spirit’s working.
Leadership, therefore, is given to the church to foster the full functioning of Christ’s Headship in the Body. It is unto this end that they are called, and on account of this calling, are to be recognized and received as Christ’s gifts to help equip and mature the church (Eph. 4:7-16).
As the local Body commits themselves to the persistent pursuit of these fundamental principles of the Headship of Christ, they will begin to experience the reality of Christ’s manifest presence, power and purpose in their midst. This is the calling of the Church as it assembles, and to this end we all must labor. May the Lord Jesus receive the Headship of His Church back in this final day!
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
© 2013 David Bolton – christcenteredchristianity.com. This article may be reproduced/reprinted without prior permission providing it is done so free of change, free of charge, and with this copyright notice attached. For any other inquiries, please contact David Bolton at david[at]christcenteredchristianity[dot]com.