Among any group of people there is a need for organization. Though we say the church has none, there are practical matters to be taken care of and relationships to be worked out. Who will open the doors of the meeting hall? What relationship should there be among the churches in the Bay area? Who should take the lead among the elders in a local church? What is the relationship between the church and the work?
All these matters, which apparently concern organization, in the church are related to the headship of Christ. Any relationship that insults or damages the headship of Christ is wrong. We cannot work out these relationships properly without understanding the meaning of His headship.
THE UNIQUE HEADSHIP
Of all the members of our physical body, only one is the head. Is the shoulder the head of the arm? the arm the head of the hand? the hand of the fingers? the fingers of the nails? No! There is no subhead in the body, as medical doctors will confirm. The head gives orders even to the fingernails directly.
God will not allow anyone to share the headship with Christ. The elders should be careful about claiming to express His headship; they do not have even an indirect share in that headship. The Catholic teaching that the popes represent Christ as the successors of Peter is a blasphemy. But the denominations and even the small Christian groups also insult the headship of Christ by having a head.
A SHIFTING LEADERSHIP
Was not Peter the leader in the early days of the church? Yes, he surely was, but please notice that his leadership was not official, nor permanent, nor organizational. When Peter stood up with the eleven on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14), he was the leading one. When his name is mentioned with the other Apostles in the Gospels or in the first part of Acts, it is always first (e.g., Matt. 10:2; Luke 6:13-14; Acts 1:13; 3:1; 5:29). The reason was that during those periods Peter’s spiritual measure exceeded that of the others.
However, notice the order of names in Galatians 2:9: James, Cephas [Peter], and John. Why has James replaced Peter as the first one? Peter, as the rest of the chapter recounts, slipped in his spiritual standing out of fear of the Jews. Though he well knew there was no difference between the Jewish and Gentile believers, he withdrew from eating with the Gentiles when the Jews came down from Jerusalem. Paul, who was younger in the faith, rebuked him to the face for this failure to walk according to the truth of the gospel. At this point the leadership was in the hands of James.
In the account given in Acts 15 again James was the leading one. In that conference Peter had something to say and so did Paul, but it was James who gave the final word in verse 19: “Wherefore I decide that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God” (Gk.).
Another example of this shifting leadership is the case of Barnabas and Saul. It was Barnabas who brought in Saul (Acts 9:26-27) and whose name was mentioned first when they were called by the Holy Spirit to the work (Acts 13:2). But the sequence of names changed in verse 43, indicating that between the two apostles the leadership depended upon the spiritual measure, not official appointment.
(Life Messages, Vol. 1 (#1-41), Chapter 15, by Witness Lee)