Pastor Tim Bixby prepared the following in brochure format for his church, Cleveland Park Bible Church, in Spartanberg, SC. Tim has the dubious distinction of being my brother and, in my brotherly opinion, his preaching is one of the best kept secrets in the greater Greenville area.
Who’s In Charge, Anyway?
Authority in the Local Church
Pastor Tim Bixby
Cleveland Park Bible Church operates under the firm conviction the Christ is the Head of the Church, which is His body (Eph 1:22; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:30). But what do we mean when we call Him our “Head”?
Though the image of Christ as the Head of the Church is used to teach several important lessons, the primary one is that Christ has absolute authority.
Colossians 1:18 states clearly that besides being the image of God, the Firstborn over all creation, and the Creator and Lord of the universe, “He (Christ) is the head of the body, the church.” The context emphasizes, not some organic relationship between the Head and the body (though this exists) but His supremacy. Christ is the Sovereign Leader of the Church.
John Calvin, a careful expositor of Scripture, says of Colossians 1:18:
“Some consider that many things are included under the word “head.” And certainly [the Holy Spirit] later uses the same metaphor in [other senses]…. Here, however, in my opinion, he speaks chiefly of government. He shows, therefore, that it is Christ who alone has authority to govern the Church, that it is He to whom alone believers should look and on whom alone the unity of the body depends…. As Christ claims for Himself this title, so He truly exercises the office.”
That last sentence is important. This Headship is not just a title Christ assumes, but a role that He actively fulfills even today.
Christ’s active authority over the Church is also taught in Ephesians 5:21-24 where Christ’s Headship is pictured in the human institution of marriage. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore (because of this headship) as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
Here, as in Colossians, headship equals authority. However, while the husband’s headship is delegated, Christ’s is sovereign.
Just as Christ is the Head of the body universal, so He is Head of the body local. This is one reason that we as a local church can be independent of any denominational authority. Christ is the Head of Cleveland Park Bible Church. This Headship is not only His official title, but, as mentioned above, His active role. Christ actively exercises authority over this local assembly!
Having answered the question, “Who’s in charge?”, the question remains, “How do we submit to the One who’s in charge?”
- How Do We Actively Practice the Headship of Christ over the Church?
We believe that Christ actively exercises His Headship of the local church:
* through inerrant revelation given in His Word,
* through guidance given in answer to prayer,
* through the leadership of Godly men, and
* through the endorsement of a Spirit-filled congregation.
With that in mind, we may actively practice the Headship of Christ over His church in the following ways.
By obeying His Word
If the Headship of Christ means anything, it certainly means that when His Word (the Bible) addresses an issue, we obey the command!
If our Head tells us how to run our church, we had better obey Him! If He tells us who qualifies for leadership and who does not, we cannot not dismiss His Word. If He tells us what doctrinal truths to hold, we must hold them. We don’t vote on doctrine. We submit to God’s doctrine.
When a question or issue comes up in our church, we need to have our minds preformatted to ask, “Does the Bible say anything about this?” And if it does, that’s the final word!
We must always resort to prayer—real, serious, humble prayer, praying that the Spirit of God will guide us. This necessity is consistently illustrated in the life of the early church (Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 4:31; 6:6; 12:5;13:3; 14:23, etc.). Prayer is an admission of our need of guidance, and of our willingness to follow the guidance given.
By Submitting to Godly Leadership
The Scripture is clear on this point as well: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
Just as God has delegated authority to husbands over their wives and to parents over their children, so He has delegated authority to certain men over the local church. The limits and functions of the authority is different in each case, but the principle remains the same. The church is not a democracy. Because the identity and function of the men in leadership over the local church is so important, this topic is discussed separately in another pamphlet.
By Depending on Congregational Endorsement
Congregational endorsement is mentioned last, because it is the least emphasized in Scripture (being illustrated rather than explicitly taught) and thus the least significant of the four steps to practicing the Headship of Christ. It is nonetheless important.
Congregational endorsement is illustrated in several places in Scripture. One example is found in Acts 15 where the great Jerusalem council was called to discuss the issue of Gentiles and circumcision. The Scripture records that at the end of the council, a letter was sent to the churches to inform them of the council’s conclusion. “It seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch … And they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders … ’” (NASB). Notice that it was the apostles and ruling elders who actually sent the letter, because the authority of the conclusion rested with them (v.23). However, the Scripture is careful to point out that the letter, and thus its content, was endorsed by the whole congregation (v.22). Following this model, we can say that in issues the Scripture does not directly address, we ought first to pray, then to submit to the leadership of Godly men, all the while depending on the endorsement of a Spirit-filled congregation.
If God is capable of leading a group of elders, is He not capable also of leading the entire congregation? Congregational participation and endorsement are essential to the direction of the church in general and to matters of great importance in particular. If the leadership of this local church makes a recommendation and then brings it before the congregation for a vote, it is not to ask the congregation what it wants. It is because the leadership believes that the Spirit of Christ (who is our Head) can lead and direct our assembly through the congregation! In other words, we believe that the Spirit of Christ can confirm His leading through the endorsement of the whole congregation.
Back to the central issue: Christ is the Head of this church. We must acknowledge that fact in every situation. And He actively exercises His Headship over Cleveland Park Bible Church through His Holy Word, through the guidance He gives us in answer to prayer, through the leadership of Godly men, and through the endorsement of a Spirit-filled congregation.
We want it to be obvious to all who’s in charge at Cleveland Park Bible Church. It is not the pastor, not the board of elders, not the congregation, but Christ! Christ is in charge!
Filed under: Tim Bixby |