Biblical Headship (04) - In the Church

Date: 9/19/2010
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Biblical Headship in the Church

In this series biblical “headship” we have already seen the foundational example of covenantal headship in Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:12ff). The principle of headship is clear in the very first marriage (Adam and Eve), along with a complimentary relationship in marriage. Headship extends also to leadership in the family. Fathers, specifically, are to raise their children in faithfulness and the key insight Paul provides is not to  provoke our children to anger (Col. 3:21).  We also want to consider the principles of headship as they relate to leadership and ministry in the Church. Of course, Christ alone is head of the Church. “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18). How has Christ delegated His leadership in the Church?

Congregational leadership in Scripture is a plurality of qualified, representative “elders” and “deacons” (1 Pet. 5:1; Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 5:17, Tit. 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3). In Reformed tradition, the Session is the called meeting of the elders/pastors in which they act corporately to rule in the church of God (1 Tim. 5:17) and the “Consistory” includes ministers, elders, and deacons. For example in one of the earliest Reformed Church Orders, by John Knox (1560) we read that Knox, also had ministers "consisting" in session with elders and deacons.

OF THE DEACONS. 19 carefull for the fiocke, wise, and, above all thynges, fearing God. Whose office standeth in gouverning with therest of the ministers, in con sulting, admonisshing, correcting, and ordering all thynges appertayning to the state of the con gregation. And they differ from the ministers, in that they preache not the Worde, nor minister the Sacramentes. In assemblyng the people, nether they withoute the ministers, nor the ministers withoute them, may attempt any thing. And if any of the juste nombre want, the minister, by the consent of the rest, warneth the people thereof, and finalye admonissheth them to observe the same ordre which was used in chosing the Ministers.

The New Testament uses the term “elder” synonymously with “bishop” and “pastor” to refer to the same class of officers (Acts 20:17-28). Yet, distinctions in the “ruling” and “teaching” ministry of elders are made in Scripture (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 2 Tim. 3:17-4:2). Hence, “pastors” or ministers of the Word represent the Lord in proclaiming His will in the public preaching of the Word and in leading in the administration of the sacraments (baptism and communion). The office of administrative service is “deacon.” The diaconate collectively manage the financial, physical, social, and benevolent functions of the church (Acts 6:2-4). Such responsibilities include preparing and administering the annual budget approved by the session, building maintenance, fellowship meals, administrative review of subordinate ministries, office support, and administration of benevolence funds.

The principle of headship does not stop with the leadership offices. Household leadership is recognized in our congregation, as well as other CREC churches. Membership is normally reckoned by household, as opposed to individual members.  “Those members who vote in church elections are called electors. Electors are the heads of member households (whether men or women) and those granted voting capacity by the session” (Constitution). This alleviates any number of practical problems and is designed to promotes family unity on key decisions (e.g., church voting). This is the basis for our monthly Heads of Households meeting.

Our practice of congregational leadership and household membership leads to several implications. 1) We must intentionally train and seek representative leaders from the congregation. 2) We must cultivate an atmosphere when men, specifically, are growing to maturity in leadership in their homes and in other ministry settings. 3) We must hold each head of household accountable for representation and oversight of their own households.

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more