Jesus, the head of the church

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead.’ Colossians 1:18
I suffer from sleep apnoea. What this means is that sometimes when I am very relaxed my lungs do not respond to my brain’s instruction to breathe. As a result I wake several times during the night with a gasp and often get out of bed in the morning with a headache, feeling more tired than when I lay down to sleep. My poor wife not only has to adapt to snoring but also to periodic protracted silences followed by loud gasps!
Jesus is the head of the church, the Body of Christ. When the church does not respond to its head then it too experiences pain and exhaustion, a sort of ecclesiastical apnoea.
Most, if not all Christians, accept that Jesus is the head of the church, and that we are meant to respond to His headship, but what do we understand by this and how do we evidence it?
If we view the church as an institution, then perhaps we understand Jesus’ headship as titular and ceremonial. The Queen of England is the ‘head’ of the country but everybody knows that the prime minister and his government direct the affairs of the state. Some church denominations are hierarchical with a pope-like figure right at the top. Who is the effective head – the official, or Jesus? Many local churches are equally hierarchical with a single pastor as the chief executive. Again, who is the effective head of such a church, the pastor or Jesus?
Of course the Bible describes the church as a body, not an institution, and an extended family rather than an enterprise. Leaders in a church body are not substitute heads but rather parts of the central nervous system that conveys inputs from the brain and feedback from the various parts of the body. In terms of this analogy, any hierarchical system of leadership creates either a two-headed creature or a human-headed organisation. Two-headed creatures are unnatural and dysfunctional. Also, anyone who has been in business management knows the problems with one-on-one management structures. By this I mean a structure which has a manager (manager one) over only one subordinate (manager two), who in turn has the remaining managers under his or her control. This generally gives rise to one of two scenarios. Either manager two filters everything to and from manager one and generally gets in the way of efficiency and productivity, or she becomes the effective boss and manager one becomes an interfering and unwanted piece of corporate baggage.
Some churches try to eliminate all and everything between Jesus, the Head, and the people, the Body. In this model, direction, policy, priorities, and so on, are set by the full membership of the church in general meeting. The result is often paralysis, where the body can’t grow or change fast enough to sustain health and functionality. Alternatively, the congregation elects leaders and hands over effective headship to them. Often in cases like this they endow one Pastor with most of the authority and attempt to hold him periodically to account. In effect they evolve into a sort of pseudo-hierarchy.
So what is the solution? In my opinion the best form of church government is a plurality of Elders. This is a group of three or more men who have been approved by the members and who are mandated to manage the church together as a team. One is appointed as Lead Elder and given the responsibility of leading and envisioning the team. However, the team together seeks direction from Jesus, the head of the church, and together comes to full agreement on policy, direction, and so on. When they make important decisions, they announce it in the same way as the Elders and Apostles in the days of the early church – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28).
I don’t suppose any system of church government is perfect and without flaws. However, our task is to search the scriptures and attempt to ascertain which form of government will best honour and implement the effective headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over the church. If we do not attempt to do this then in effect we are saying that Jesus isn’t the head of the church in any real way. What do you think of this statement? Please comment and let me know how you would set up church government so that Jesus, the head is best glorified.

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Christopher Peppler



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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.