How Heavenly Headship Directs an Earthly Congregation
AFTER Christ Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended to heaven, who took over leadership of the body of disciples on earth?
No one person did. Jesus had earlier told his disciples that they should not be called “‘leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.” (Matt. 23:10) Yes, though ‘seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places,’ Christ Jesus has been made “head over all things to the congregation.” “He is the head of the body, the congregation.”—Eph. 1:20, 22; Col. 1:18.
But how could Christ Jesus exercise headship from heaven? Did he send messages on a regular basis by angels? If not, would he not need some man, such as Peter, to serve as his chief representative, a vicegerent (substitute manager), on earth?
The Bible record shows that, although angelic messengers did bear occasional instructions to the young Christian congregation, this was not the main means of Jesus’ exercise of headship. And, though certain ones of Jesus’ apostles and disciples were assigned to minister to their brothers in a particular area, as were Paul, Peter and others, yet no one person was assigned to supervise the congregation on an earth-wide scale.
But did not Peter figure prominently in congregational affairs both before, during and after Pentecost of 33 C.E.? Yes, it was he who brought up the matter of a replacement for unfaithful Judas, advancing Scriptural reasons in favor of this before the assembled disciples. He was particularly prominent on Pentecost, and afterward he acted more than once as spokesman for the disciples (at times along with John) and apparently presided as chairman at certain assemblies. (Acts 1:15-22; 2:14, 37; 4:8-20; 5:1-9, 27-32) But did this make him the congregation’s visible head? Were the other apostles and the disciples earth wide all subject to his assignment and control?
No, this was not the case. For example, it was not Peter who selected Judas’ replacement for the body of apostles. The assembly selected two candidates, and Jehovah God then manifested his choice. (Acts 1:23-26) Money contributed was deposited, not with Peter, but “at the feet of the apostles.” (Acts 4:34-37; 5:1, 2) When a serious problem threatened division within the congregation, the body of apostles made appointment of men to solve the difficulty. (Acts 6:1-6) And after Philip’s evangelistic work in Samaria produced many disciples, the account at Acts 8:14, 15 tells us: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they dispatched Peter and John to them; and these went down and prayed for them to get holy spirit.” Thus Peter did not act unilaterally, as a “prince of the apostles,” but was himself subject to assignment and direction of the apostolic body. He served as their representative in such assignment.
HEADSHIP EXERCISED THROUGH HOLY SPIRIT AND GOD’S WORD
Christ Jesus had promised his disciples that he would send them a “helper.” Was this some man? No, but it was God’s holy spirit or active force, which would enable them to remember what he had said and done and would guide them into all truth. (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:13) It would empower them to accomplish their assigned ministry. (Acts 1:4, 5, 8) That promise was fulfilled, particularly from Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. onward. As the Overseer of the Christian congregation, Jesus employed God’s spirit in a governmental way, guiding in the selection of men for special missions and for oversight in local congregations. (Acts 13:2-4; 20:28) By it he indicated to them where to concentrate their ministerial efforts in evangelizing, both moving them and restricting them. (Acts 16:6-10; 20:22) Was this all automatic with no effort on their part? No, although that spirit could be had by each one as “the free gift” of God, at Pentecost they had to get baptized and have the apostles lay their hands upon them afterward. After a baptism with holy spirit, these anointed Christians wanted to bring forth the fruitage of the holy spirit. And so they could ask their heavenly Father for it, earnestly seeking it.—Acts 2:38; Luke 11:9-13.
But having Christ’s direction through the holy spirit required something more. It required continual recognition of Jehovah God’s sovereignty and submission to it. As the apostle Peter told the Jewish supreme court or Sanhedrin, God gives holy spirit only “to those obeying him as ruler.” (Acts 5:32) This likewise calls for recognition of the headship of God’s Anointed One, the Lord Jesus, as is seen in the case of certain Ephesian disciples who did not receive holy spirit until “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:1-6) This also implied wholehearted adherence to God’s Word, which Jesus had declared to his disciples and in which he had taught them to put implicit trust. To fail to let that Word rule in their lives and decisions would be to resist the holy spirit. (Acts 7:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:8) But by humbly and sincerely availing themselves of these divine provisions, God’s spirit and his Word, the disciples would remain in union with the Head, Christ Jesus, and remain in his love.—John 17:6, 20, 21; 15:7, 10.
HEADSHIP EXPRESSED THROUGH A CONGREGATIONAL ARRANGEMENT
Jesus likened his individual disciples to branches joined to him as “the true vine.” (John 15:1-5) Since it is true of Christians that “the head of every man is the Christ,” does that mean that a Christian can maintain a separate and independent relationship with Christ Jesus as his Head, apart from the rest of Jesus’ true disciples? (1 Cor. 11:3) Not at all. As the apostle Paul wrote: “Let the peace of the Christ control in your hearts, for you were, in fact, called to it in one body.” (Col. 3:15) We show our union with Christ Jesus by “earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace. One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all persons, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:3-6) So Christ Jesus expresses his headship to individuals through a bodylike congregational arrangement. To separate from it would mean rejection of his headship. It would indicate either that one doubted Christ’s ability as Head to control the body or was discontented with the way he did so.
Even as God could speak of fleshly Israel, while faithful, as “my servant,” so also spiritual Israel, the Christian congregation, became a composite “servant” class. (Isa. 41:8, 9; 43:10) Christ Jesus described it as his “faithful and discreet slave” or “steward.” And while, at his second presence, individuals might prove “faithful over a few things,” he promised that this servant class of anointed Christians would be appointed “over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 12:42; Matt. 25:21, 23) How would spiritual Israel carry out this stewardship over all Christ’s earthly interests?
We can appreciate how this is done by remembering the way in which Christ’s headship was exercised in the first-century Christian congregation. As has been seen, the apostles initially served as a governing body and they were later joined by others who qualified as “older men” or elders in the Jerusalem congregation. In the clearest picture we have of one of their meetings, the power of God’s spirit and Word in guiding their decision is most notable. Though the meeting, held to discuss the question of circumcision, began with wide difference of opinion, those two forces, God’s spirit and Word, brought the disciples to a unanimous conclusion.
First, the apostle Peter told of the spirit’s being granted to uncircumcised people of the nations. Then Paul and Barnabas gave testimony of the spirit’s operations in their ministry among such persons. Finally James, the half brother of Jesus, his memory of the Scriptures doubtless aided by holy spirit, directed attention to the inspired prophecy foretelling that God’s name would be called on people of the nations. It would have been easy for the disciples to go simply by the past, the ‘way things had always been done,’ as it were. But all the thrust or drive of God’s spirit and Word pointed in one direction, calling for a readjustment of their thinking. When James presented a resolution to settle the issue, it was therefore adopted with full unanimity. Had Christ exercised headship through holy spirit? This body knew this was the case, and in their letter setting forth their decision they said: “For [first of all] the holy spirit and [second] we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things.”—Acts 15:1-29.
This letter was then transmitted to Christian congregations in general by men representing the governing body at Jerusalem. The congregations appreciated and accepted this decision and thus manifested their sincere recognition of Christ Jesus’ headship. This brought them rich blessings, firmness in the faith and increase.—Acts 15:22, 30, 31; 16:4, 5.
Are you benefiting from that headship of God’s Son? What congregation today manifests the adherence to God’s Word and submission to his spirit’s guidance that demonstrates this headship? Why not investigate the evidence of this to be found among the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses?