Head of the Church

A line drawing of Jesus with arms outstretched.

40 Names of Jesus in 40 days of Lent — Day 22

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.

Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18 ESVUK

Henry VIII gave himself the title Supreme Head of the Church of England, a title passed down to every English monarch, and since 1701 every British monarch. Roman Catholics claim that the Pope is the visible head of the Church. These are only denominational leaders, but who is really the head of the Church?

Some will point to their local pastor as the head, but they are only the head of a local church or group of churches, but who is the head of the universal Church?

The Bible makes it clear that the only head of the church is Jesus. That does not disqualify local church leaders denominational leaders from their roles, but a local church or a denomination is not the Church. That consists of all who have ever been Christians, all who are Christians now and all who will be Christians in the future. Jesus is the head of this universal Church and by extraction the head of all the denominations, local churches and any subdivision you wish to mention.

Jesus being head of the Church is connected to his resurrection, being the first born from the dead as it says in the Colossians passage. Ephesians takes this further, saying that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the Father’s right hand in the heavenly places. In the resurrection Christ’s ministry was vindicated, in the resurrection he was given a position of power. Jesus Christ is reigning over all creation now, and we can live in his kingdom if we wish to.

What about Peter?

Peter is often cited as the head of the Church. Jesus never said that directly but answered an answer to a question.

Jesus: Who do people say I am?
Disciples: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
Jesus: But what about you? Who do you say I am?
Simon: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Jesus called Simon the Rock (translated Peter) because of this. That the Holy Spirit could speak through him in this way. Jesus said that this (channelling of the Spirit) was the foundation of the Church. For the next 15 years, Peter was the leader of the Apostles, preaching at Pentecost and being responsible for non-Jews being part of the Church. Having been the foundation for the Church, both for Jews and Gentiles, he then went on to missionary work. Peter’s preeminence lasted until the foundations of faith were established. It was temporary.

Jesus is the only head of the church. The Bible makes that clear.

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