Friday, August 13, 2010

The Head of the Church

The very first verse of the book of Acts gives us a very important concept for the church. It is foundational to the proper understanding of what the church is and how it is to operate. In that verse Luke refers back to that first book that he wrote; he refers to it as the account of that which Jesus began to do and teach. The implication is that this second volume contains the account of what Jesus continues to do and teach. Luke then proceeds to give a purposeful and detailed account of how our Lord forms and builds His church. This is perhaps the simplest, and yet the most important building block on which to build our thinking about the church; namely, it is His church. Of all the problems that the church has today they could probably be traced back to a failure to recognize in some way or another the proper position of Christ as head of the church.
I believe it would be expedient for us at this point to line up our hearts to this principle, to submit every thought we have concerning the church to His headship. We ought to be thoroughly convinced that Christ’s plan for the church is perfect in every respect. We would probably all agree on this point if we were asked; nevertheless, there are two common tendencies among believers that show that this truth has not fully inundated our hearts. We must be aware of these tendencies and guard against them. The first is to circumvent (or in some cases blatantly oppose) some aspect of Christ’s plan that we do not understand. The wisdom of God is unsearchable, and we cannot enter in to every aspect of His plan. It may be that God will ask us to do something as a part of His plan, the full purpose of which is beyond us. If we truly believe that God’s plan is perfect we will believe and obey. The second tendency is to add things to God’s plan of our own construction. If God’s plan really is perfect why do we sometimes think we can improve on it? We think that if we put Christ in the center of our program we are honoring Him, but I beg to suggest a different perspective. (I credit my father with this statement) It is not enough to put Christ in the center of our program; we must see to it that we are in the center of Christ’s program.
It is important as we consider the headship of Christ that we get our thinking right concerning what it means to submit to Him. We are not just talking about the commands of Christ. Sometimes we are tempted to say things like, “Well the Bible doesn’t say I have to do it this way,” or “It doesn’t say I can’t do this.” But that is really the wrong sort of question to ask. John in his first general epistle gives us a progression of maturity as regards our relationship with Christ. 1 John 2:3-6 says,
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
Here is the progression, keeping His commandments is good, but if we really love Him we will want to go beyond that. We will want to do everything that He says regardless of whether it is stated as a command or not. We will act on the principles found in His word. As we progress even further in our relationship we will want to walk just as He walked. We will want to do everything that He does, and remember the things found in the gospel accounts are only the things which He began to do and teach.
There are many practical things that I believe the Lord has incorporated into His pattern for the church that help us to keep thinking rightly of Christ in His place as head. We will begin to discuss these in next month’s article.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


We will now take a look at the outline which we are to follow throughout this series of articles. The outline will present six foundational principles that the church must understand (by the way these are not six things that I just thought up. Even the structure of the outline itself is taken from Scripture). Before we enter into discussion of this outline, however, I would like to ask the very basic question, why should we spend so much time studying the church? I hope to show throughout these articles that our Lord has laid down in His word a very simple but very important pattern for His church, but first:
Is this a topic worthy of our serious consideration? Does it matter how we operate the church? I submit that it is, and it does. One of the primary reasons that it matters so much is that the church is a thing very near and dear to the Lord. In fact all of His activity on the earth in this age is centered around the church. Let us consider the following question by way of illustration: What are the earthly things that you have that are most important to you? If you were to make a list in answer to this question, I think that at the top of your list would be things like your family and your body, and perhaps just below that might be your home. I do not think it is coincidental that the three primary ways in which the Lord describes the church are as His bride, His body and His temple (dwelling place). He chose to picture His church using things that would communicate great value. That in itself suggests how important the church must be to the Lord. It becomes much clearer when we actually read what the Lord has to say in His word about His temple, body and bride.
“If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which is what you are” (1 Cor 3:17).
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord does the church” (Eph 5:29).
If this is what God desires for His church, then perhaps we ought to desire the same, and perhaps we ought to carefully consider whether we are structuring the church and functioning in the way that brings most glory and honor to God. There is much more that could be said on this topic, but I leave that to your further consideration and study.
Now we are ready to see what are the principles that the Lord knows are most important for the church. I believe these principles are outlined for us in the book of Acts, and then expounded in the epistles. The book of Acts is not merely a collection of things that happened in the early days that Luke thought were interesting enough to be written down. This is the account, I believe, of how God taught the early believers what they needed to know to transition from their Jewish thinking to what God wanted the church to be. What follows is the outline of those principles. It will serve as a road map for this series of articles.
I. United Together with the Risen Christ (Acts 1:1-2:47)
II. Strength to Endure Opposition (Acts 3:1-6:7)
III. Equipped for Spiritual Service (Acts 6:8-9:31)
IV. Called to Holiness (Acts 9:32-12:24)
V. Sent to Preach the Gospel (Acts 12:25-19:20)
VI. Prepared for the Defense of the Gospel (Acts 19:21-28:31)


Throughout the history of the church it has been necessary for believers to reexamine the scriptural foundations of the church. It would seem that we as human beings have a tendency to fall into certain patterns of behavior and to stick to those patterns, losing sight perhaps of the original reason, or why these behaviors were adopted. To put it another way, mankind has a tendency to go their own way (Isa 53:6). This can be true even of believers.
Let me offer an illustration; I heard a story once of a young, newly-married woman who was preparing a roast one day for her family. At one point her husband saw her cut off a few inches from one end of the roast before placing it in the crock-pot. The husband asked, “Why do you cut off that part of the roast?” “That’s the way my mother always did it” was her reply. When they got a chance they asked her mother why she did that. She said that her mother always did it that way. Finally they asked the grandma what the reason was for cutting off that portion of the roast. She said, “Oh, I only did that because my crock-pot was too small to hold the entire roast.”
Now let me give an example of something that actually happens in some churches today. In the days before air conditioning (which some still recall) the meeting places would get quite hot in the summer. In order to compensate for this heat people would often open the windows to let some breeze pass through the building. In addition to letting in some fresh air, this would also often let in some flies. These flies would inevitably find the bread and sometimes end up floating in the wine (or grape juice). This renders these emblems somewhat unpalatable. A simple solution was found of draping a cloth other the emblems. In some assemblies, however, this ritual has survived even though the reason for it has ceased to be applicable. It seems to me that if our Lord gave us visual reminders of His body and blood then it would be preferable that we should be able to see them.
I propose to present a series of articles in which we examine the foundational principles of the church as found in the scripture. I want to carefully explore what is part of God’s pattern, and what is not. My purpose for this is as follows. There are many things which we might be practicing that are very important for the proper functioning of the assembly, yet if we do not know where they are taught in Scripture or understand why they are important, then they will be lost in successive generations. There might also be some things that are practiced that are not taught in Scripture and that are even hindrances to the proper functioning assembly. These may be things that run contrary to God’s principles, or they may simply be man-made things that are not the best. Thus in the language of Scripture we want to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
One further comment, this series of articles is for Bereans only. When Paul preached to those in Berea we are told that they searched the Scriptures daily to find out if those things were so (Acts 17:10-11). I have no intention of presenting my view on things. I hope to study the Scriptures carefully with the readers, and come to an understanding of what God has to say on the subject of the church. This may require from time to time setting aside what “we have always thought,” or even setting aside what “seems reasonable” from our human perspective. Thus throughout this process I welcome comments, questions and responses, especially when someone does not think that I have given sufficient Scriptural justification.