Benefiting from Christ’s Headship
NO MAN or group of men but Jesus Christ alone is Head of the Christian congregation. He did not take this honor to himself nor did he gain it by popular consent. None other than his Father granted it to him. Writing to fellow believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul stated that God ‘made Jesus head over all things to the congregation.’—Eph. 1:22.
It is only right that Jesus Christ occupy the position of head toward the congregation. His teachings and life course, particularly his sacrificial death, constitute the very basis for the congregation’s existence. No one can be a member of the congregation apart from Jesus Christ. “I,” said Jesus, “am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—John 14:6.
Is Christ’s headship ever oppressive? To the contrary, the way in which he handled matters while a man on earth proves that his exercise of headship is loving and compassionate. He patiently explained difficult things to his disciples, never burdening them with more than they were capable of comprehending. Lovingly he looked out for their needs, endeavoring to see to it that they got necessary rest and privacy. On one occasion, when there was “no leisure time even to eat a meal,” Jesus said to his disciples: “Come, you yourselves, privately into a lonely place and rest up a bit.” (Mark 6:31) Finally, Jesus laid down his life for his disciples. As he himself had expressed it, “no one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.”—John 15:13.
Jesus Christ’s exercise of headship never implied that he distrusted his followers. He expressed confidence in their wanting to do the work and the will of his Father. There was, for example, the time that Jesus said: “He that exercises faith in me, that one also will do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these.”—John 14:12.
How encouraging it must have been for the disciples to hear these words! As individuals, none of Jesus’ disciples could come close to doing all that their Master did. Yet, collectively, they were able to do greater works. In God’s due time, they were able to bring the “good news” to Jews and non-Jews far beyond Judea, Galilee and Perea, where Jesus had preached. They were instrumental in making far more disciples than Jesus had made during the three and a half years of his earthly ministry. Jesus’ confidence in his true disciples had certainly not been misplaced.
JESUS’ EXERCISE OF HEADSHIP TODAY
The fact that Jesus Christ is not present in the flesh today has in no way diminished his influence toward his disciples. They have his help, guidance and protection just as if he were right here on earth. (Matt. 28:20) How is this possible?
For one thing, the Christian congregation has a reliable record of Jesus’ teachings and life course from four separate sources—the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The remainder of the Christian Greek Scriptures also focus on Jesus Christ and convey the spirit of his teachings. So when we read those inspired Scriptures and apply them, we show our recognition of Christ’s headship.
Furthermore, Jehovah God has granted his Son authority over a powerful force—his holy spirit. This is evident from what the apostle Peter said about the outpouring of that spirit on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E.: “This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses. Therefore because he was exalted to the right hand of God and received the promised holy spirit from the Father, he has poured out this which you see and hear.”—Acts 2:32, 33.
Since Jesus Christ poured out the spirit on the disciples, he can also direct them by means of it. Hence, when faced with perplexing problems or trials, true Christians may rest assured of help from their Master. He can, through God’s spirit, bring to their minds appropriate Scriptural guidelines and enable them to see the right course to take.
Thus elders who consider one another as equals and who look to Christ as their head are aided to make sound decisions as they prayerfully consider congregational matters. Their right view of one another and their full recognition of Christ’s headship permit God’s spirit to operate freely on them. (Eph. 4:15, 16) This serves to counteract the effect that the imperfect human element, including inclinations toward personal pride or ambition, might otherwise have when they are trying to solve problems or to make weighty decisions as a body.
Besides God’s spirit, Jesus Christ can use angels to help his congregation. While on earth, he had authority to call on angels for assistance. He said to Peter: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53) A legion of that time usually numbered 6,000 men. So Jesus could count on the immediate aid of more than 72,000 angels.
The tremendous power of these angels may be appreciated when we note that just one of them, in the time of Judean King Hezekiah, struck down 185,000 of the Assyrian host in one night. (2 Ki. 19:35) By means of his powerful angels, Jesus Christ can protect his disciples from vicious opposers and see to it that his command to make disciples is carried out despite the worst of opposition. That the angels are being used to help the congregation is confirmed by the fact that bans and terrible persecutions have not stopped the disciple-making work. Members of the congregation can say, YES, to the question raised at Hebrews 1:14: “Are they not all spirits for public service, sent forth to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation?”
ELDERS’ POSITION IN RELATION TO CHRIST
Jesus Christ also exercises his headship in the use of men to serve the worldwide congregation, composed of thousands of groups of disciples throughout the earth. (Eph. 4:7, 8, 11-13) Each of these groups or congregations of disciples making up the one congregation usually has a local body of elders. When these elders strive to imitate Jesus’ example and truly reflect the mind of Christ in their teaching, counseling and correcting, the individual congregations are, in effect, being taught, counseled and corrected by Jesus Christ. The person who acts on the wholesome admonition of the elders, appreciating its Scriptural basis, shows that he recognizes Christ’s headship. He is aware of the fact that, because of holding to the Scriptures, they are not speaking on their own authority.
But does this mean that whatever an elder may say should be regarded as if it came from Christ himself? Not necessarily. Like any other member of the congregation, an elder is an imperfect human, subject to making mistakes in word and action. As the disciple James acknowledged: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (Jas. 3:2) In view of their weaknesses and imperfections, elders therefore must be careful that they do not allow their personal views to influence their teaching, counsel or correction.
Were elders to handle matters on the basis of personal opinions, likes and dislikes, they would themselves be guilty of ignoring Christ’s headship. They would be lifting themselves up above Jesus Christ, implying that there is something incomplete about the guidance he is giving to the congregation. They would be saying, in effect, that their personal views are needed to supplement Jesus Christ’s teachings.—Compare 1 Corinthians 3:4-11.
What if an elder thus failed to recognize Christ’s headship? It would then be the responsibility of the other elders to help him to get a proper estimation of himself in relation to Jesus Christ and his brothers. (Phil. 2:2-5) An elder who has made such a mistake would certainly want to heed the Bible-based counsel of his fellow elders and give evidence that he does indeed recognize Christ’s headship. Would the mistake disqualify such an elder from continuing to serve in that capacity? Only if he continued to ignore his fellow elders’ Bible-based correction.
That a serious mistake in judgment would not automatically disqualify one from serving as an elder is well illustrated in the case of the apostle Peter (Cephas). When he wrongly withdrew from association with Gentile Christians, the apostle Paul reproved him. With reference to this, Paul wrote: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class. The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barnabas was led along with them in their pretense. But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: ‘If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?’” (Gal. 2:11-14) Peter accepted this discipline, applied it and, therefore, continued serving as a faithful elder and an apostle.
But what if you are not an elder and feel that one or more of the elders in your congregation are beginning to impose their personal views on others? Consider prayerfully whether you are really looking at matters Scripturally. If there truly is a problem, be confident that Jesus Christ will not allow the congregation to suffer any real spiritual injury. He knows what is happening. (Compare 2 Timothy 2:18, 19 and Revelation 2:2-7.) If your conscience continues to disturb you, you might talk to one of the elders about it with a view to settling your heart and mind. Keep on praying that you will continue to be able to conduct yourself as a loyal disciple of Jesus Christ and thereby to benefit from his exercise of headship.
There can be no question about the fact that Jesus’ headship toward the Christian congregation is real. (Col. 1:13, 14, 18) Our recognizing this is attended by marvelous benefits in the form of protection, guidance and other help. (1 Cor. 11:3) May we, therefore, submit to our Master and continue to experience blessings from his exercise of headship.—John 14:23.