Jesus: Head or Figurehead?

By Royce Frederick

Queen Elizabeth II recently celebrated her 50th year as Queen of England! She is highly honored and loved. However, the nation is now primarily governed by elected officials.

Jesus “ the head of the body, the church…” (Col. 1:18). But some men want to take control — and give the church a “head transplant”! They are “...not holding fast [firmly] to the Head...” (Col. 2:19).

Is Jesus truly Head over the church where you attend, or merely a “figurehead”? If we praise Him in sermons and songs, does that make the church truly His church? He asks, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46).

Many sermons are aimed at helping us follow Jesus as Lord of our life. We need those. But our life includes our participation in the local church. By our giving, labors, and attendance, we endorse and support the local church. If you or I see the church departing from the will of Christ, we must speak up — in kindness — and help correct the wrongs. (See 1 Cor. 12:12, 26-27; 2 Jn. 9-11; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; Eph. 5:11).

Our HEAD tells His church how to BEHAVE. Jesus said, “ one another...By this all will know that you are My disciples…,” and He prayed, ...that they all may be one...that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21). Division and strife dishonor our Head. When we cling to God’s will and each other, many more will come to Christ.

Our HEAD tells His church what to TEACH. There are two choices: (1) walk by opinion, following men’s teachings — treating Jesus as a figurehead, OR (2) walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), following God’s written word, for “ comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17) — honoring Jesus as Head.

Our HEAD tells His church what to CALL itself. What religious name do you wear? What is the church called where you attend? Can you find those names given to the Lord’s people in the New Testament? Christ gave one name to His people: “Christian” (1 Pet. 4:16). He did not give a name to the church, but uses terms such as “body,” “temple,” “church of God,” and “churches of Christ” — and often includes the location (Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 3:16; Rom. 16:16; 1 Thess. 1:1). God owns everything, but gave all authority to Christ (Matt. 28:18). So, the church primarily belongs to Christ. Why name the church after Paul, John, any other man, any doctrine, or a feast day (1 Cor. 1:10-13)? Christ died for the church, built it, and owns it (Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:18). He is its “head” and should have “preeminence” in all things (Col. 1:18), including what we call His church.

Our HEAD tells His church how to WORSHIP. His word instructs us to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, sing, pray, give, and listen to His word (Acts 20:7; Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15-16; 16:1-2). If we added incense, musical instruments, candles in front of images, or bananas in the Lord’s Supper, we would not be following our Head, because His word does not tell us to worship in those ways.

Our HEAD tells His church how to ORGANIZE. To lead the local church and its work, the Lord’s plan is that we have elders in every church” (Acts 14:23; see Titus 1:5). The New Testament also calls them “bishops” (overseers) and “pastors” (shepherds). And we should select deacons to help with special labors (see Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). Every time the New Testament mentions a church and its elders, at least two elders are leading the church. But many churches have departed from the Lord’s plan, omitting the elders. Some are overseen by one man, others by a “board” of men, and some by men in distant places.

Will you honor Christ as Head by obeying His will in your daily life and in the church?