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Jesus: The Head of the Church

  • May 2019 Issue
Theology Matters

We often use the label Christian to help people understand what the church is all about. The church is considered Christian because it has its origin in Jesus Christ. He is its founder (Matt. 16:18). The church promotes the teachings of Christ (Luke 6:47). And the church preaches the gospel of Christ, the message of forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Cor. 2:12).

But Christ’s relationship to the church is much deeper than that of its founder and teacher. In the book of Colossians Paul explains that Christ is the head of the church (Col. 1:18; 2:10, 19). We associate the term head with authority. The head is the boss or the person in charge. While this is certainly true of Christ, Paul also means more.

The apostle is emphasizing the vital connection between Christ and the church that is both ongoing and life-sustaining. Jesus is to the church what a physical head is to the body. Christ is not merely the church’s organizer and primary teacher. The church derives its life from Christ and acts as His agent in the world.

While the image of the body speaks of mutual dependence among those who are a part of the church (Rom. 12:5), the image of the head indicates the church’s complete and utter dependence upon Jesus Christ. Just as the body cannot function without the head, Jesus sustains the church with His own life. He alone is the source of its growth and provides direction.

Jesus is more than an important figure in the history of the church. He is supreme over the church. The church belongs to Christ (Matt. 16:18). It answers to Him (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The church cannot exist apart from Christ (John 15:1–4).

No human authority can overrule Christ’s authority over the church. No earthly wisdom or human effort can provide what Christ supplies to the church. Commentator William Barclay observed that without Christ, “. . . the church cannot think the truth, cannot act correctly, cannot decide its direction.” To call the church Christian is far more than a label. It speaks of a unique relationship no other organization or community can claim. If you remove Christ from the church, you no longer have the church.

To learn more, read He Is Enough by Asheritah Ciuciu (Moody Publishers).

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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