Do You Submit to Christ’s Headship Today?
IN THE first century of our Common Era Jesus Christ gave the apostle John a divine revelation. In it he revealed his active headship over Christian congregations at that time. The revelation showed that Christ was personally carrying on inspection of conditions within the congregations. He was concerned as to their spiritual health, their Christian works and activity. But he was not only inspecting. He was prepared to take appropriate action according to what his inspection revealed concerning the response to his counsel.—Revelation chapters 1 to 3; see also The Watchtower of December 15, 1971, page 751.
Christ Jesus continues to exercise full headship of the true Christian congregation earth wide today. And, just as he did back then, he uses earthly agencies to express that headship. The first-century Christian congregation had a governing body composed of apostles and elders at Jerusalem. A similar body of anointed Christians functions now. This governing body is the administrative part of a “faithful and discreet slave” or “steward” class concerning which Jesus promised: “His master . . . will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 12:42-44) So, recognition of that governing body and its place in God’s theocratic arrangement of things is necessary for submission to the headship of God’s Son.
LOCAL BODIES OF ELDERS IN HARMONY
As was true in the first century, however, each congregation has its local body of elders. Of such men, the apostle Paul wrote Christians in his day: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account.” (Heb. 13:17) Or, rendering the Greek word used by the apostle more literally, they should be obeying the ones “governing” them. (See Kingdom Interlinear Translation.) Does this mean that each local body of elders formed a separate governing body operating independently of the governing body of the ‘faithful and discreet steward’ class?
No, that could not be. Why not? Because that would mean disconnecting themselves from the headship of Christ Jesus. The connection of all those composing the Christian congregation with their Head, Christ Jesus, is likened to the ways the members of a human body are joined to the head. Of Jesus, the apostle writes: “From him all the body, by being harmoniously joined together and being made to cooperate through every joint that gives what is needed, according to the functioning of each respective member in due measure, makes for the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:16) So, the Head, Christ Jesus, has various arrangements for ‘joining’ the individual members of the congregation to him, and these cannot be disregarded.
What if someone should become “puffed up” due to a fleshly, rather than spiritual, frame of mind and want to ignore these provisions? He would fit the description the apostle gives of one who “is not holding fast to the head, to the one from whom all the body, being supplied and harmoniously joined together by means of its joints and ligaments, goes on growing with the growth that God gives.” (Col. 2:18, 19) So, for any of us, whether Christian elders or not, to be linked with Christ Jesus as our Head requires our harmony with his congregation as a whole. It requires our cooperating with all its parts, through the “joints and ligaments” that connect and bind the congregation into a united whole, the means and arrangements for supplying spiritual nourishment and communication and coordination. This is what brings spiritual “growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Yes, love produces humility and a spirit of unity, not independence or self-importance. Do you show your recognition of Christ Jesus as your Head by thus being harmoniously joined together and cooperating in love?
LETTING SCRIPTURE, SPIRIT AND CHRIST’S EXAMPLE PREVAIL
Bodies of elders show that they are ‘holding to Christ as Head’ by deep respect for God’s Word, which Jesus taught, letting it control and direct their thinking. When they do this they are not misled by what may superficially appear to be “practical” or by methods that seem to work best in the world as it is presently organized. Additionally, they seek God’s spirit and its guidance in applying Scriptural principles. They must be in harmony with that spirit, producing its fruitage, not “grieving” it by obstinacy.—Eph. 4:30.
And in yet another way they must manifest their attachment to Christ as Head. They must imitate his example, reflecting his personality and ways. The example of Christ’s apostles aids them to see how to do this. (Compare Philippians 4:9.) By these means they can achieve the greatest possible harmony with their fellow elders and with all their brothers and sisters.
Where elders thus look to Christ Jesus as Head they can be confident of his direction. Their sincere devotion and submission show that these elders truly do ‘bend the knee’ in the exalted “name” that Jehovah God has given to his Son. Though only two or three of them are met together in Jesus’ name, they have his promise: “There I am in their midst.” (Phil. 2:9-11; Matt. 18:20) So gathered, they will be very conscious of his headship in their discussions and deliberations.
Working together as a body requires humility and a deep concern for the prospering of the Master’s interests. No single elder, then, will feel that his way, his viewpoint or preference must prevail and that ‘otherwise nothing will get done or turn out right.’ He may have greater ‘seniority’ than others in years as a Christian or he may have had more experience in shepherding than others. This is to his credit. It should add weight to his word in the judgment of his fellow elders. But he does not thereby become infallible. His knowledge, judgment and experience can never equal that of the Head, Christ Jesus, nor surpass the wisdom found in God’s Word. His submission to the Head will be seen in his willingness to work with other elders as a body and to recognize that the congregation’s Head can use them as well as him.—1 Cor. 3:5-9, 21-23; compare Romans 12:3-8.
Modesty and holding of others in due esteem, granting to each the measure of human dignity he deserves—these qualities lead to fruitful, productive discussions within any body of elders. The “wisdom from above” is peaceable, mild and reasonable and allows no place for empty wrangling or bragging of one’s accomplishments or abilities, things that show a lack of God’s spirit and a fleshly outlook.—Jas. 3:13-18; 1 Cor. 3:3.
When a discussion among elders seems to falter or one feels that the trend of its course is deviating from that of true wisdom, what can he do? He can always offer silent prayer that God’s spirit through his Son be manifest and prevail. Then his personal contributions to the discussion should reflect his confidence in Christ’s headship. A lack of faith in that headship would be implied if he felt he must ‘force’ a matter through or in any way attempt to coerce others to accept his view. He wisely follows the spirit-filled apostle’s counsel: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Rom. 12:10.
OBEDIENCE TO THE “LAW OF THE CHRIST”
Christians are urged to be “obedient to those who are taking the lead” among them or governing them. (Heb. 13:17) But this, of course, does not mean that bodies of elders will be enacting their own laws or formulating rules according to their own personal viewpoints and then requiring all in the local congregation to conform to these. Rather, these elders take the lead by setting an example of faithful adherence to what the apostle called “the law of the Christ,” the “law of faith,” found in God’s Word. It is to obedience to this law that they exhort their brothers. (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 3:27) They also receive guidance in applying that law of faith through the governing body and the agencies it employs.
Elders, for example, are to exercise good judgment when inviting congregation members to share in presenting information from the platform in Christian meetings, and this could include exercising care that the individual’s appearance not be such as would have an adverse effect on the congregation generally. But they should certainly not attempt to control what congregation members wear in their own homes or in their daily activity, unless, of course, their manner of dress is so extreme as to cause public reproach in the community.
Yes, they will realize that in matters where personal conscience dictates what one does, they should wisely follow Christ’s example, as did the apostle Paul. When Paul said, “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ,” he had just been discussing matters of conscience. In some cases Paul knew that others had a wrong viewpoint due to a weak conscience, yet he did not try to superimpose his conscience on them and he counseled others against doing so, saying that they should rather “bear the weaknesses of those not strong.”—1 Cor. 10:25-33; 11:1; Rom. 14:1-23; 15:1.
With all of us, there is a need to assure ourselves, not only that we are right in our stand on a matter, but also that we are proceeding in a right way, following Christ Jesus’ example. The spirit with which we deal with one another does so much for attaining the loving harmony that brings spiritual growth and increase.
Christ Jesus now leads all his disciples earth wide in a mighty work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making. Not only human lives are at stake but also the honor of God’s name and that of his Son. Now is the time of all times for us to be “of the same mind and have the same love, being joined together in soul, holding the one thought in mind, doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind.” Let us thereby show that we have ‘the mental attitude that was in Christ Jesus’ and that we do indeed submit to his headship today.—Phil. 2:1-8.