CHRIST, THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
T. Pierce Brown
(Second in a two part series about the nature of the church)
In our first article,”The Church, the Body of Christ,” we discussed what is involved in the term “body” as it relates to the church, and concluded that the term refers in the New Testament to a group of persons whose essential nature is that they have become partakers of the Divine nature, and not merely to a “body” of people who recognize Christ as their leader. Now we want to examine in a little more detail some implications of the term “head” being used with reference to Christ.
Most of the sermons and articles I have read on the subject emphasize that Christ being the head of the church involves his authority over the church somewhat similar to the president of a corporation (a corporate “body”) or the head over our bodies telling those bodies which way to move.
There is no question that we need strong emphasis that Christ IS in authority, and is THE FINAL AND ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY over the body. But is that the primary thing involved in his “headship”? It is my judgment that most of us do not examine carefully the implications of the statements about the “head,” and therefore do not properly appreciate some greater and more fundamental truths than that Christ is our director.
If the average Christian, or even preacher, were asked if Ephesians1:22says that God made Christ the head of the church, I have an idea that most would say, “Yes.” It does NOT! Christ IS the head of the church (Col. 1:18), but what Ephesians 1:22-23 says is that God has given Jesus, Head over all to the church which represents his nature.
I am suggesting that as “body” is more than simply a “body” of persons controlled by Christ, so “head,” in the thinking of Paul, means more than the part of the body that is on the top of the neck and seems to direct the body. It means more than the “head” of an organization that sends down directives. It is true that as you look in the Bible at the use of the word “kephale,” translated “head,” by far the largest number of times it is used referring to the top part of the body. But that in no way proves that this was the basic idea of the original word. When we try to trace “kephale” and the equivalent Hebrew term “rosh” back as far as we can find them, we find that the word’s basic idea seems to involve the sum or source. The head of a river was where it all came from. The Greeks would add a column of figures and put the sum at the head or top of the column. They thought of it as if this sum, or “kephale” were the source of all the other numbers. If any of my readers are older than I am, you may remember when you were young of hearing of some accountant “heading up a column of figures”.
Do you see the slight, but significant difference in conceiving of the sum of a group of numbers being produced only after those numbers were put together, and the sum of those numbers having to exist in thought or in reality before the parts that make up that sum could exist, or be put together? At any rate, this was the philosophical Greek concept: There had to be a primary source from which all the numbers you could add together would get their value. Is not this philosophical idea very similar to the theological concept the Bible gives us about God? Did the world, and all its little bits exist first, or was there an uncreated SOURCE from which “all things were made, and without which nothing was made that has been made”? (Cf. John 1:3, Col. 1:16-17).
If you will check the Hebrew word “rosh,” you will find that in addition to it being translated “head” 347 times, it is translated “beginning’ 14 times and “sum” 9 times. Surely you can easily see why the term “head” would be used to refer to the top part of man’s body. it is the part of man, which most aptly expresses the sum total of his being. It is the apparent source of his personality, power, etc.
When God is spoken of as the Head of Christ, we suggest that God is represented as more than the ONE OVER HIM–a sort of Boss. God is the sum total of His being. God is His source. “In HIM dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). When Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:3 that man is the head of the woman, he means more than that he is in authority over her, although this is certainly included. He means to include what he DOES include in verse 8, “For the man is not OF the woman, but the woman of the man.” He is the source from whence she was made.
If you wish to check other forms of the word “kephale” to see the idea of sum or source, see Acts 22:28, where Paul says, “With a great sum (kephalaiou) I obtained this freedom,” and Hebrews 8:1, “Now of the things we have spoken of, this is the sum (kephalaiou)”. Ephesians1:10has, “–to sum up (anakephalaiosasthai) all things in Christ.”
One of the wonderful things about this kind of article is: If we should be wrong about our understanding of the basic meaning of “kephale,” we are still right about the conclusions to which they lead us! For we know that Christ is far more than merely the Director of a Divine Organization! The Organism which is His essence–the expression of His nature–has come into being with Him as its source, or Head, and we are partakers of His Divine Nature! Each one of those truths can be proved independently of this study, and most of my readers already are aware that there is a difference in thinking of the church of our Lord as an ORGANIZATION and as an ORGANISM. We might even argue that the church is not really an organization at all! It may be organized, unorganized, or disorganized. The organization is merely the means by which God ordained that the ORGANISM function more adequately.
Let us try to bring to a head (kephale) or sum up what we have been trying to say in these two articles. The Bible idea of Christ as Head of His Body means far more than that He is the Director of a Divine Institution, or more than a mere figure of a human “body” with a “head” at the top of its neck. It means that He is the very Source of its being, the infinite reservoir of all its power, and the sum of all its qualities that glorify God. It means that every member of that “body” is not merely attached to, or a member of an Organization, moved along by its Director, but is a “partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), so that is “no longer we who live, but Christ living in us” (Galatians2:20).
If I had time and space, I would give you examples of how these two different philosophies or ways of looking at the church and Christ effect the lives of people. But most of those who have read this far are already aware of some of the differences in the responses of those who think of themselves primarily in terms of being members of a Divine Organization where salvation is found and in terms of being in a living, loving relationship with the Son of God, who is the Source of our being, and the very essence of our lives.