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When the Body Usurps the Head's Role
27 December 2013
Earlier this week I was browsing the Web site of a large and well-known missions organization in order to explore the possibility of service with them. On one of the pages of their site, they have a list of questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you are ready for such a step. Under each question are some paragraphs explaining what the requirements are for serving with that organization.
The first and foremost requirement, besides being a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), is that you are actively involved in a local church. According to their point of view, you must be a church member in order to continue your journey with Messiah. They state that the following things take place as you participate in the local church:
Because I am churchless and pastorless (both in the human sense), my application would be practically guaranteed to be rejected. In their eyes, my lack of participation in the conventional religious system disqualifies me from being a true follower of Yeshua. They don't want to take the time and make the effort to really get to know me truly and deeply — they simply judge me from outward appearances and from what I've written on the application. This avenue of service and meaningful employment turns out to be a dead end street for someone like me.What struck me about this mission organization's explanation of requirements is that they imagine that all of the activities listed above happen primarily in a church setting. I would definitely take issue with that viewpoint. In fact, I would say that most of these activities should and will take place all day long in normal, everyday life, and not during a small number of hours per week in an artificial church setting.
I think you are much more likely to learn God's Word during daily reading of His Word than you are during an hour-long sermon once a week. And you can always supplement your Bible reading by the daily reading of books by the best Christian teachers from around the world, from the present as well as the past. I think you are much more likely to have opportunities to live out God's Word and grow in faith and spiritual maturity in your daily life than you are in a limited church setting. I think there is much more real need for works of service outside the institutional church than within. And if your relationship with Yeshua is pursued primarily within the structured church, then I think you are definitely following the wrong Master!
If the institutional church is the primary place you learn and live out God's Word, grow in faith and spiritual maturity, perform works of service, hear and follows God's calling, and pursue your relationship with Yeshua, then I think your relationship with Him is defective and in big trouble! This is one of the main reasons many Christians are so weak in their faith and have so little influence on the pagan world around them.
This belief that the church is the be-all and the end-all, and that you can't be a true follower of Yeshua without being committed and actively involved in a local church is dangerous, because it ends up with the church replacing Yeshua as each believer's source of life. The body usurps the role of the Head, which is a role it is completely unable to fill. This leaves Christians malnourished and cut off from their roots in Messiah.
Yeshua stated that HE is the True Vine, that we are the branches, and that in order to "bear fruit" we must remain intimately connected to HIM (see John 15:1-8). He NEVER said that the church is the true vine, and that we need to stay connected to IT in order to receive life and bear fruit. The other members of the church are only other branches, which also need to be connected to the True Vine. But after more than 1,700 years of false teaching, the church continues to usurp that role from the only One to whom it rightfully belongs.
I shared quite a number of excerpts from the book So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen. Here are some more excerpts from this profound book which relate to the topic at hand:
"Why do people go to your church, Jake?"
"Because we're supposed to have fellowship. We need it to be fed, to stay accountable to others, and to grow in God's life together. Are you saying that's not right?"
"So if someone doesn't attend anymore, what happens to them?"
"They should find another local church and get involved, or they will wither spiritually or fall into error."
"Listen to yourself, Jake. You're using words like 'need', 'should' and 'supposed to.' Is that the body life God's called you to?"
"I thought so."
"Scripture doesn't use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers. Our dependency is in Jesus alone! He's the one we need. He's the one we follow. He's the one God wants us to trust and rely on for everything. When we put the body of Christ in that place, we make an idol of it, and we end up wrapped in knots over such a situation. Religion survives by telling us we need to fall in line or some horrible fate will befall us.... No church model will produce God's life in you. It works the other way around. Our life in God, shared together, expresses itself as the church. It is the overflow of His life in us. You can tinker with church principles forever and still miss out on what it means to live deeply in Father's love and know how to share it with others."
"That's not how I learned it," Laurie offered. "How are we going to know how to live in God's life if someone doesn't show us?"
"That's where religion has done the most damage. By making people dependent on its leaders, it has made God's people passive in their own spiritual growth. We wait for others to show us how, or even just follow them in hopes that they're getting it right. Jesus wants this relationship with you and He wants you to be an active part in that process."
"But can we do it on our own? Don't we need some help?" Marsha asked.
"Who said you're alone? Jesus is the way to the Father. As you learn to yield to His Spirit and depend on His power, you'll discover how to live in the fullness of His life. Yes, He'll often use other people to encourage or equip you in that process, but the people He uses won't let you grow dependent on them. They wouldn't dare crawl between you and the greatest joy of this family — a growing relationship with the Father himself.... The church thrives where people are focused on Jesus, not where they are focused on church.... Just keep living, loving, and listening, and He will lead you to whatever expression of church life best fits His plans. Don't be concerned if it's nothing you can point to and say, 'That is the church.' You are the church. Don't be afraid to live in that reality."
"If church can be this simple, John, how do leaders fit in all of this? Don't we need elders and pastors and apostles?"
"Doesn't someone need to be in charge and organize things so people will know what to do?" Marvin was almost beside himself. I cringed inside, knowing he wasn't going to hear what he wanted.
"Why, so people can follow someone else instead of following Jesus? Don't you see we already have a leader? The church gives Jesus first place in everything and it will refuse to let anyone else crawl up in His seat."
"So leaders aren't important either?"
"Not the way you've been taught to think of them. One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with his vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God's people so passive most can't even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Then we wonder why our spirituality falls so painfully short. Read through the New Testament again and you'll find there is very little focus on anything like leadership as we've come to think of it today."
"But there were elders and apostles and pastors, weren't there?"
"There were, but they weren't out front leading people after their personal visions. They were behind the scenes doing exactly what you have on your heart to do, Marvin — helping people to live deeply in Christ so that He can lead them! Elders won't end up managing machinery but equipping followers by helping them find a real relationship with the living God. That's why He asked us to help people become His disciples and why He said he would build His church. Let's focus on our task and let Him do His."
Pagan Priests Called Pastors which shares extensive excerpts from a chapter of the challenging book Pagan Christianity? Here are a couple of paragraphs from that article / chapter which pertain to our discussion today:
The contemporary pastorate/priesthood rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God's people, a place that is reserved for only one Person — the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only head over a church and the final word to it. By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ's headship by setting himself up as the church's human head.You can read more from this book in my article Pagan Temples Called Churches. Better yet, buy your own copy of the book so you can read (and reread) the whole thing!
For this reason, we believe the present-day pastoral/priestly role hinders the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose. Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ's headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the Body. As long as the pastoral office is present in a particular church, that church will have a slim chance of witnessing such a glorious thing.
Finally, in researching this article I came across an interesting article called Undermining the Headship of Christ by John MacArthur. I don't particularly appreciate its strong anti-Catholic tone, because although the Pope and the Catholic church ARE guilty of usurping Yeshua's role as Head of the church, Protestant churches are JUST as guilty in their own way, even though they give lip service to Messiah as the Head. Unfortunately, Protestants fail to practically live out the Headship of Yeshua as much as the Catholics do.
In fact, there are numerous ideas in this article I don't agree with at all, but there are enough true and helpful ideas that I want to share some of them with you. As I always say when reading Christian literature: "Eat the meat and spit out the bones!" Here are a few relevant excerpts:
Colossians 1:18 Paul says Christ is the head of the church. And in Colossians 2:19 he repeats it again — Christ is the head of the church. In Ephesians 1:22-23 he says it again — Christ is the head of the church. In Ephesians 4:15-16 he says it again — Christ is the head of the church. And in that very familiar portion in Ephesians 5:22-23 he says that Christ is the head of the church, again in reference to understanding that women are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to its head, who is Jesus Christ. Clearly it is foundational to the understanding of the church that we recognize the lordship of Christ in His church, the dominance of Christ in His church, the headship of Christ....
You know, we say Jesus Christ is the head of the church and we say it with familiarity and we say it with ease and we don't realize that that doctrine sailed down to us on a sea of blood through the centuries. In fact, John Hus in his boldness argued that Christ alone was the head of the church, that the pope was not the head of the church. And he said of the pope: "He through ignorance and love of money is corrupted." To rebel against the popes, said Hus, was to obey Christ, the true head of the church. Well, he was executed for believing that Christians make up the church, the Bible is the authority, and Christ is the head. No wonder he became a hero to Luther....
So the truth of Christ's headship may be a rather benign idea to us because it's so familiar, but this is a truth that has been assaulted and attacked and is continuing to be attacked in the same way it was in the day of Hus and Luther when they tell us that the pope is still the head of the church. Luther said this, "I am persuaded that if at this time St. Peter in person should preach all the doctrines of Holy Scripture and only deny the pope's authority, power, and primacy, and say that the pope is not the head of the church, they would cause him to be hanged. Yes, if Christ Himself was again on earth and should preach that the pope is not the head of the church, but that He Himself is, they would crucify Him again." So said Luther....
When we talk about Christ being the head of the church, we mean He is the sole ruler of the church. I know; none of us grew up in a monarchy, none of us Americans. We've never had a king. Never been slaves and had a master. We've never had a dictator. We kind of get outraged about one-man rule. You better get used to it, it's coming — the Millennium. We seek to free the world from one-man rule, from kings and masters. We have no experience of absolute sovereignty. We were born in a revolution against it. That is exactly, however, what God claims Christ possesses in His church. Christ is King; Christ is Lord; Christ is Master; Christ is Head of His church....
I suppose He could have decided that angels should rule the church. I suppose He could have decided that men would rule the church. That's what false religions do. He didn't give us angels; He didn't give us men; He didn't give us the apostles to be the head of the church; He didn't give us pastors to be the head of the church. He certainly didn't give us bishops, cardinals, and a pope. Do you know who God gave us to be the head of the church? The One who is already Head over everything, the sovereign of the entire universe, He gave as Head of the church. This is the most glorious language that the Holy Spirit can use to express the love of God for His redeemed church. He desires His best for His church, the best and richest blessings, the greatest and most secure protection, transcendent eternal wisdom and knowledge and revelation.
He didn't give us Gabriel. He didn't give us Michael. He didn't give us ten thousand super angels. He didn't give us the apostles. He didn't give us the most gifted preachers and teachers. He didn't give us John Hus and Martin Luther and John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon and all the rest to be the head of the church. He gave us to be the Head of the church the One who is already the Head of everything, the Ruler of the universe....
He is for us. He is over us. He is in us. So I say, "Fall on your faces, you popes, fall on your faces you kings and queens. Fall on your faces, you self-appointed lords of the church who lead in your way and not His. Humiliate yourselves, you who don't take His Word and proclaim it to His people. Take your place on the ground, all of you who put your cleverness, creativity, your will, your wisdom, and your teaching in place of the Head of the church!"
This article is 26th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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