HONORING THE HEAD
Proper behavior in the house of God firstly means that above all else we honor the One whom God has exalted. It is God’s intention that there be no other head among His people. In the Old Testament economy there were kings who acted as head over the people of God. Not so in the New Testament.
Do you think that Peter was the leading Apostle? He may have been listed first when the Apostles’ names were given, but a careful reading of the four Gospels will make plain that it was never the intent of the Lord Jesus to make Peter number one. Even though Peter’s natural disposition was to take the lead, the Lord was always making things hard for him. He may have been the first to jump out of the boat and into the water, but in the end he began to sink and was reproached for his little faith (Matt. 14:28-31). He may have been the first of the disciples to speak out on the mount of transfiguration, but even before he finished he was stopped by the Father’s voice from the cloud (17:4-5).
You have probably noticed that when the women went to the sepulchre after the resurrection, they were told, “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee” (Mark 16:7). Surely you do not think that the little phrase “and Peter” means that Peter was first among the Apostles. If Peter was foremost, he was foremost in denying the Lord (14:66-72). No other disciple denied the Lord three times. This phrase “and Peter” was the Lord’s way of telling Peter he was forgiven and would be welcomed back.
Peter’s temporary role as leader in the Acts we have already discussed in Life Message Fifteen.
The relationship among believers in the house of God again touches the headship of Christ. How should the church be “organized” (to borrow a word which does not really apply)? Throughout the twenty centuries of church history this problem has never been solved. Myriads of people are involved. On just one day three thousand were saved and brought into the church (Acts 2:41). Soon after, five thousand more were added (4:4). What could be done with so many people? In time there was not only the church in Jerusalem. There was a spread into Samaria, into Antioch, from there to Asia Minor, and then to eastern Europe. In the house of God there were not only believers, but also apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers. There were also elders, deacons, and deaconesses. How could all these interrelationships be worked out?
Most of you realize that there is no more need to organize the church than there is a need to organize the physical body. Who organized your two eyes? Why are your arms where they are? The church is organic, an entity of life. It is not many pieces, devoid of life, organized into a unit by human hands.
From the second century Christianity’s history has, alas, been one of organization. To impose such a structure on the church is an insult to the headship of Christ. Were your arms voted into place? Has your nose won an election? Could your arm be fired and a replacement hired?
Yet we still need to resolve how the thousands upon thousands in the church should be related. With saints scattered in different places and then coming together in their respective localities to be local churches, how could the practical matters be arranged and carried out? I have been told that seminaries offer a course on the way to organize a church. The “organization of the church” is surely not a term found in the New Testament.
Well, you may ask, what is wrong with organization? It is a basic principle that organization leads to hierarchy, a leadership having one rank subordinate to the next. This insults Christ’s headship.
The Catholic Church demonstrates this in its organizational setup. The papacy began with the recognition of Peter as the unique representative and successor of Christ. Peter was later called the first pope, and the subsequent popes were called the head of the church. What an affront to Christ! Then their local congregations have leaders responsible to a bishop who heads up a district. In the New Testament the word bishop means overseer (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-2; Acts 20:28) and refers to the office or function of an elder. The Greek word for elder means an older person. The elder’s function is to oversee. Thus these two words, elder and bishop, refer to the same person. It was Ignatius who brought in the wrong teaching that a bishop is higher than an elder. Once the church accepted this teaching and set bishops over the elders, the hierarchy developed with archbishops over bishops and cardinals over archbishops. The cardinals select one of their number to be pope. This pyramid of rank—elder, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope—is a contradiction and insult to Christ’s headship.
(Life Messages, Vol. 1 (#1-41), Chapter 18, by Witness Lee)