Jesus, Head of the Church

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Colossians 1:18 KJV

Throughout the New Testament, there is a subtle distinction between the headship of Christ and the lordship of Jesus.

The headship of Christ virtually always has in view Christ’s relationship with His body (Eph. 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19). The lordship of Christ virtually always has in view His relationship with His individual disciples (Matt. 7:21–22; Luke 6:46; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9, 13; 1 Cor. 6:17).

What lordship is to the individual, headship is to the church. Headship and lordship are two dimensions of the same thing. Headship is lordship worked out in the corporate life of God’s people.

A believer may truly submit to the lordship of Jesus in his or her personal life. He may obey what he understands in the Bible. She may pray fervently. He may live self-sacrificially. Yet at the same time, these people may know nothing about shared ministry, mutual submission, or corporate testimonyTo be subject to the headship of Jesus is to respond to His will regarding the life and practice of the church. Submission to the headship of Christ includes obtaining God’s mind through mutual ministry and sharing, obeying the Holy Spirit through mutual subjection and servanthood, and testifying to Jesus Christ collectively through mutual sharing and corporate witness.

Submission to the headship of Christ incarnates the New Testament reality that Jesus is not only Lord of the lives of women and men—He is also Master of the life of the church. One of the moments where this became strongly apparent was through the life of a young brother in Christ who came as a visitor to one of our open-participatory church meetings in which I was a part.  The young man was saved before he visited us. And from what I could tell, he had a strong devotional life. But he would show up once in a while for our meetings, and when he did show up, he was quiet through most of them.

He continued to visit our gatherings on and off for several months. Then he moved away to another city to attend college there.

Several months later, he returned. Through a  series of poor choices, frustrating events, and personal convictions, he ended his academic career. With a broken voice, he communicated that more than anything he simply missed being a part of the church. I found this interesting as he wasn’t exactly devoted to the group when he was in town, and he never really participated or functioned much.

The next week, however, he threw himself into the life of the church. If there was a practical need, he was helping with it. If there was an opportunity to pursue Christ with others, he showed up. If there was a decision-making meeting, he was there and he participated. He even started to function in our open meetings, and his contributions were edifying. Then slowly, we began to see his friends coming to the meetings. His friends were inspired by his story of redemption, faith, and community. And they were drawn to “come and see.”

This young man’s life was changed forever by simply seeing a group of people responding to a Jesus he didn’t know too well. He was seeing Jesus in corporate expression. But it took his going to college, having a bad experience there, and coming back again to realize he needed Christ and His body. He was awakened to the fact that He needed face-to-face community.

This little story is so familiar and common that it can be multiplied by many who have been part of churches that are strong on intense community and mutual sharing. The young man’s story is an example of what it means to make Christ head over one’s life.

Interestingly, Paul said that when Christ’s headship is established in His body, He will become head over all things in the universe (Col. 1:16–18).

by Frank Viola, author

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