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Which Is the Head?

by Tim O'Hearn

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. (Eph 5:22-23)

These days, perhaps throughout all time, this has been a controversial passage. I don’t intend to add to the controversy. At least, I don’t intend to do so in the normal thinking on this passage.

The most blatant violation of this passage, however, is not the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is not the large percentage of single parent families in America. It is not the henpecked husbands around the world. Instead, it appears that the worst violation of this passage is the elevation of the church over Jesus the Christ. This passage says that the authority in marriage is a reflection of the authority in the church. Christ is the head; the church is the body. Christ is the savior; the church is the saved.

The elevation of the church over Jesus is not new. It is not the result of modernist thinking. In fact, it may be the parent of such thinking. How can we know when a church has been elevated over Christ? There may be several symptoms. Any one of these may be cause for alarm. If more than one is true of a church, it is probably elevating church over Christ.

One symptom is putting church doctrine over the Bible. I regularly have people ask me, “What does the church say about” something? We see churches that publish their own catechism or creed. Instead we should be asking what the Bible says or what Jesus says about those subjects. When someone brings up a scripture that opposes what a church wants to do, which takes priorityЛthe scripture or what the church says? (Even if church and Bible doctrine agree, which is considered more important?)

Another symptom is that members separate church from daily life. “I will get drunk on Friday night, but not on Saturday because I can’t be hung over for church.” “Church is church and business is business, and never the twain shall meet.” Anyone who leaves his Christianity in the church building when he leaves is guilty of putting the church over Christ. This can be at a personal or even a congregational level.

When a church elevates membership, and gaining membership at all costs, they should be worried that they are putting the church over Christ. Does a church advertise that a celebrity is a member (or preacher)? Does the racial or ethnic make-up of the church matter? Even if the who doesn’t matter, some churches elevate the how many. A congregation of thousands that don’t follow Christ is less impressive than a congregation of five who live for him. Related to this is how the numbers are obtained. Jesus said, “I will draw all unto me.” (Jn 12:32) Paul said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1-2) When a congregation or a church uses anything but the gospel of Jesus Christ to gain membership, they are elevating the church. Does the church advertise Bible-based preaching, or the gym? Do they emphasize the (entertaining?) method of the teaching and singing, or the message taught?

When facilities become the first priority, Jesus loses that position. Which is more important, a new building or new members? Does the congregation insist on a building, when a storefront or a rented school is more appropriate to their membership and programs? Is the church building only used for Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night assemblies (and the preacher’s office where he hides)?

The church of Christ (in the Biblical sense, regardless of what name it wears) is just that. The church which belongs to Christ. He is not the Christ of the church. When we make him that we are standing the church on its head.