Lesson 4 The Lord Of The Church

“He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22,23).

What might be the most comprehensive title of our Lord? He is the blessed and only potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6:15). Jesus is Lord . He is the ruler of all things and the King of His people. Therefore, He is Lord of the Church, which is His Church.

In the Old Testament, Israel was a theocracy, a God-ruled nation. God was the true King of Israel. He guided and protected them through the wilderness and established them in the land of Canaan. He provided for their every need after saving them out of bondage. Then they turned against Him. They came to Samuel and demanded, “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:5-7). Though God accepted their arrangement, it was not pleasing in His sight. He saw in the plan a desire to escape from looking to Him daily as their true Leader, the invisible ruler.

Christ’s Authority As Head Of The Church

It is no less true now, in the Church age, that the Lord is the rightful Head of His people. When someone asks, “Who is the head of your church?,” what do you say? We may recall that Ephesians 5:23 declares that Christ is the Head of the Church. Some forget that it is used to instruct married couples that the husband is the head of the wife, according to divine order, and that marriage symbolizes the relationship between the Lord and His people. Is this Headship in name only, or is the passage teaching actual, operational leadership? Is Jesus Head of the Church as a mere figurehead, a title only? Or does it mean something in the practical government of the church?

He is the Head of the Body, the Church (Col. 1:18). This signifies an intimate, living connection between the members of the group and their Leader. Body is a group concept, indicative of interdependent function. Life is to be derived from dependency on the Head, just as branches draw life from a vine, as seen in the illustration given by the Lord Jesus in John 15:1-8. In the practical exercise of His Headship over us, He is able to impart spiritual life.

Some would argue that this is a beautiful theory, but how could it work in practice? Is it not difficult to consult an invisible leader? The people around us cannot see Him, nor do we, except by faith. With such reasoning, men have established means by which they often bypass the Head of the Church, just as individuals make decisions without consulting the Lord. Church leaders have set up a visible rulership the same as that demanded of Samuel by Israel. We have earthly organizations with headquarters that actively govern congregations. Often they designate and approve a local church leader. One can have a pastoral head, or a dominating elder, or another leader with little accountability either to the Lord or to others. The church or its leaders can feel quite free to make any decisions that seem expedient at the time, without serious prayer or seeking of the Lord’s mind through His Word. There may be little practical significance to the idea that Christ is the Head in such situations.

Some of the doctrinal confusion in the church at Colossae came from not holding fast to the Head (Col. 2:19). They did not see His centrality and the need for dependency on Him.

How will leadership work with Christ as Head? It begins with careful study of, and adherence to, the Word of God. It is the Church’s operating manual, not just an inspirational book. It must take seriously the need to present matters to Him for guidance, through serious prayer, with an open mind. There must be obedience to every authority instituted among men (1 Pet. 2:13), and subjection unto the higher powers that are ordained of God (Rom. 13:1). Heads of families are human instruments of Christ’s Headship (Eph. 5:22; 6:1). Elders of the church are to be honored and obeyed (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:13). In every sphere of life there is authority. There is human government, church government, family government, and occupational government. The invisible head is to be consulted in persevering, believing prayer. His word is to be strictly obeyed. Godly leaders are to be heeded, and even unsaved leaders are to be shown respect.

An independent or unteachable spirit among men is a mark of the same attitude toward God. The concept of following some so-called personal leading of the Spirit while disobeying God’s provision for exercising His rulership is questionable. We should not obey that which is immoral or illegal or is a violation of conscience. We should be very careful in justifying our disobedience, using the principle that we ought to obey God rather than man. This reasoning should be invoked rarely, and never rashly.

Ultimately headship implies accountability to the Lord first as our highest authority. It means consultation with God followed by obedience to our unseen Head as we rely upon the Scriptures and prayer. Only then can we seek godly counsel from leaders or Christian family heads. We should not accept a church leadership structure which effectively bypasses the Headship of Christ, or practices which deny it. Even so, we should be respectful, not defiant or rebellious.

Christ’s Authority As The Basis Of The Church

“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

The Lord told a story of two men who built houses, one on a rock and one on sand. It was the wise man who built a house upon a rock which could withstand the storms and endure. It was the foolish man who built upon sand (Matt. 7:24-27). The story was told to illustrate the necessity of not only hearing but obeying Christ. It also stressed the need for proper support for all we do. A foundation is that upon which one builds for fundamental support. The spiritual foundation of the Church, like that of the individual believer, is Christ alone. The poet wrote, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Christ is the only acceptable foundation upon which we can build the house of life (1 Cor. 3:11-15). How we build our house (what we do with our lives as Christians) will be reviewed at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).

The Church is God’s household and is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). This chief cornerstone of the foundation is plainly Jesus the Messiah according to 1 Peter 2:6-7, which is a quote of Isaiah 28:16. It was a stone which the nation of Israel would stumble over (Isa. 8:14).

The meaning of the Lord’s statement to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel is often understood in a way which is quite different from this. The Roman Catholic Church sees Peter, not Christ, as the foundation stone of the Church. This church teaches us that Peter was the first Pope (Father), and that he began an unbroken chain of Popes to follow him. Such Popes believe they are exercising the full authority of God on earth in behalf of Christ. Indeed, they call the Pope the Vicar (representative) of Christ. How could this church come to such a conclusion? In great measure, it does so by tradition. Only one Scripture is used. The Lord Jesus asked His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). It probed their understanding of His identity. Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus’ answer to him was, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter (petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:17,18). Here our Lord uses what is known as a play upon words, a turn of expression to make a point. Peter was a name given by the Lord, meaning a fragment of rock (petros). This Greek word is in the masculine gender. The Lord then says, “upon this rock” (petra), meaning a massive boulder. This word is in the feminine gender. The rock which the Lord refers to is Himself as the object of Peter’s confession. This is the one upon which the Church will be built, as the other Scriptures verify. In terms of Greek grammar, the feminine gender petra cannot refer back to the masculine gender petros, and therefore does not indicate that Peter is the rock. The words have different meanings and different genders.

Therefore, Peter is not the foundation of the Church. That honor belongs only to the Lord Jesus. Peter is only one of the twelve apostles whose names are linked with the chief cornerstone (Christ) because of their collective work with Him in the formative days of the Church. Even so, he is only one among the twelve, not the chief. The keys of the kingdom, mentioned in Matthew 16:19, giving the apostles the power to bind and loose offenses against God, are equally available to all who act authoritatively in the church in accordance with God’s word (Matt. 18:17,18). The real employment of the keys of the kingdom is in the proclamation of the Gospel, which, when men believe, looses them from their sins. When they refuse, their sins remain with them.

Peter is the most obvious example of a mistaken foundation. People also may place confidence in certain leaders and rest their souls upon the teachings of these men. Millions have depended upon a national, traditional, or ethnic church to get them to heaven through faith in baptism and church membership. They may depend upon some hierarchy of priests, claiming to have received their authority through God. People may depend upon their personal reasoning as the correct guide to supreme truth. However, God’s Word, the ultimate authority, says that Christ alone is the foundation of the Church.

Christ’s Authority As The Leader In The Midst

In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the midst of His people in the central place of worship, known as the Tabernacle. Part of His gracious condescension to His redeemed people was to be willing to do this, rather than live only in a remote and invisible world. His presence was signified by a pillar (or column) of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21,22).

In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus indicates a new order of gathering around the presence of God. He says, “For where two or three have garnered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Here a Person becomes the center, not a holy building. In His post-resurrection ministry Jesus stood in the midst (John 20:19,26). Even on the cross, among transgressors, Jesus was in the midst. In a symbolic description in the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus stands in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, expressive of the local churches (Rev. 1:13,20). His direct authority over each local church is shown in the seven stars in His right hand, each being associated with a local church (Rev. 1:20). This clearly suggests that each local church is directly responsible to Christ as its head, not to any other person or intermediary.

The gathering of His people around Himself represents a deep desire of the Lord. It also brings to mind His words, “Remember me,” when He established the Lord’s Supper. He placed the elements of bread and the fruit of the vine before His disciples and called them to ever hold in mind His great sacrifice which made fellowship with God possible. Matthew 18:20 speaks of three things: There is a gathering together of His saints. There is a gathering in His Name. Finally, there is the promise of His presence. These three things show that here is no random company of religious persons. It is the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15). The Lord is there and His people are around Him, just as in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The ekklesia, or called-out company, is made up of those called out to fellowship with Him. Thus it becomes the assembly of Christ.

Conclusion And Application

Since Jesus is Lord of the Church, head of the Church, foundation of the Church, and the center of gathering in the church, He ought to be recognized as such by every gathering of believers. The world of those outside of Christ cannot easily detect those who are the people of God. One reason is the diversity of names. Instead of just being believers (Acts 5:14), disciples (Acts 20:1), saints (1 Cor. 1:2), or Christians (Acts 11:26), we are called by denominational or sectarian names. Instead of meeting around the person of Christ, in sufficiency before God, people often have other church traditions upon which they focus.

The desire of each local church should be to operate as those who are ruled directly by the Lord Jesus. The church should see Him who is invisible; by faith it should be able to turn by prayer and supplication to Him for guidance, just as we do for individual guidance. Leaders should operate under the one true leader, the Chief Shepherd of our souls. The church’s accountability must be directly to Christ, not to some central council or governing body. The local church may work together with other churches, but it must be responsible directly to the Lord for its own condition and practices.

The figures of Christ as Head to the body, or Foundation to the living stones, or Bridegroom to the bride, show that a relationship with Christ is the basis of church fellowship. Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). It has been said that each local church ought to be a colony of heaven, a representation of the life of the Lord as its ruler. As Caesar or some other king ruled the colonies of the ancient world, so Christ is to rule His colonies of spiritual life. His colony is made up of those who are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people (1 Pet. 2:9). This is not the same as the local branch of some earthly church organization.

The understanding of Christ’s headship in all matters of spiritual life can make real the concept that we are more than just co-members of the same religious group. Rather we are fellow-heirs, fellow-members, fellow-partakers with the Lord Himself, as those who have been made alive together. Christ is our life. Christ is our Lord. Christ surely is willing to be the active ruler in our midst, if we look to Him to do this. Then we can become a functioning monarchy rather than a pretended democracy. The Lord desires to be an active, much-consulted leader in our midst, not just a mere titular head.

Lesson 4 The Lord Of The Church

1. Read 1 Samuel 8:4-7. Why do you suppose that the Israelites were so eager to have an earthly king in place of a heavenly one?

2. What was the importance or value of God living in the midst of His people in the Tabernacle in the wilderness?

3. How can we express, in a practical way, the truth that Christ is the Head of our local church?

4. Colossians 2:19 describes a group of believers as not holding fast to the Head. What were they failing to do? How, in both attitude and practice, can we look to His headship?

5. What does it mean to be gathered together in Christ’s Name (Matt. 18:20)?

6. How can we, as a church, show to others that we are a colony of heaven representing the Lord Jesus here on earth?

7. Opinion: What do you think is the proper thing to do if you believe the elders of your assembly are not operating according to Christ’s Headship?

8. Is there anything in this lesson about which you are not clear?