PRACTICING THE CHURCH LIFE BY SUBMITTING TO THE HEADSHIP OF THE LORD
Sometimes elders have come to me, saying, “I simply cannot understand how to be an elder, so I want to resign from the eldership.” I have answered such brothers according to the same principle, asking, “Do you feel that at this very moment you are under the headship of the Lord? There is only one way to be an elder, and that is to submit to the headship of the Lord. The more you submit yourself to the headship of the Lord, the more you are qualified and equipped to be an elder.”
Once when I delivered a message about the headship, I illustrated it with the need to have an order between a husband and a wife. The husband is the head, and the wife is the one who must submit. That message was very much under the anointing, and a certain brother who heard it was very moved. He regretted that in the past he had not been the proper head in the family, so he prayed, “Lord, help me from today on to be the head.” After the meeting he went home and told his wife, “From this time on, I am the head,” and he began to practice being the head day by day. Not long after this, trouble came because his wife could not tolerate it. She came to me and asked, “Brother Lee, what kind of a head are the brothers? I simply cannot submit myself to this kind of head.” Eventually I learned that neither of this couple was under the headship of Christ. The husband was not, and neither was the wife. There was no real headship, so there was no order. I asked the brother, “While you are assuming the headship, are you under the headship of the Lord?” It is wrong for us to practice any kind of authority if we are not under the headship of the Lord.
Ephesians 5 tells the wives to submit to their husbands, but it tells the husbands to love their wives, not to rule over them. The elders should care for the saints in the same principle. In 1934 I was very young, but since Brother Watchman Nee was absent for a long time, the Lord put the responsibility of the church and the work in Shanghai into my hand. One day the elders came to me and told me about some problems related to the brothers and sisters. I realized that these elders were trying to exercise their authority as elders and were neglecting to show love to the saints. I brought this matter to the Lord. While I was before the Lord one day, the Lord revealed to me in His Word that the husband is the head, but the husband is told not to rule the wife but to love her. The elders have the authority, but they should not exercise their authority. Rather, they should exercise love toward all and extend love to others. This is simply to submit themselves under the headship of the Lord.
The headship of the Lord is the authority in the church. If we want to practice the church life, we have to learn the lesson of always submitting ourselves to the headship of the Lord. The Lord is the Head, and we are all members under His headship. If our relationship is wrong with the Head, we will be wrong with the Body, and to be sure, we will be wrong with the other members. It is when we are right with the Head that we are right with all the members and with the Body. If we are not under the headship, we have no ground to say anything to the brothers and sisters in an adjusting way. If we want to say something to them, we must submit ourselves under the headship of the Lord. To not submit to the headship of the Lord and yet say something to the brothers and sisters simply means that we are rebellious. We are rebellious to the Lord and rebellious to the Body, the church. Please do not think that it is easier to deal with the churches in the Far East than with those in the West. I emphatically say that it is not. Many times certain ones in the Far East came to us to speak about the church in a rebellious way.
We must realize that if we are going to practice the real church life, we must submit ourselves under the headship of Christ. When we are about to say something to the brothers and sisters, we must first test and check whether we are currently under the headship of Christ. If we are not, we should stop. If we are not under the headship, and we say something about the church, we are speaking in a rebellious way. No matter how nice our attitude is, it is false and hypocritical. Our real need is to submit ourselves under the headship of Christ. If we are under the headship of Christ, we will have a pure motive and a right attitude, even if we speak very frankly. But if we are not under the headship of Christ and simply pretend to be nice, we are being political; we are playing politics among the saints.
We must be sincere, open, and frank. Of course, we must also be polite and nice, but we should not pretend. A person who is under the headship of Christ is true, real, and sincere. We may open our heart to a brother to speak something in a serious and frank way, even with heavy words, but if we are submitting ourselves under the headship of the Lord, the Holy Spirit within his spirit can testify for us that our motive is pure and our attitude is right. But on the contrary, if we are not under the headship of the Lord and come to a brother, pretending that we are so good and spiritual, we are playing politics and are a hypocrite among the saints. In this case, the Holy Spirit cannot testify for us. The church has been constantly damaged by these political maneuvers. We must have no political maneuvers. All of us, especially the leading ones, must submit ourselves under the headship.
When the people of Israel rebelled, Moses and Aaron did not play politics and they did not maneuver. They simply knelt and bowed down before the Lord, taking the Lord as the Head, realizing His headship, and letting Him come in. What they said after that, they said in a frank, open, and straight way. This is the right way to realize the headship, the lordship, of Christ as the authority in the church. We do not have a pope among us as the Catholic Church does, to whom all the saints must submit. To exercise authority in this way is devilish; it is from Hades and not from the New Jerusalem. Rather, we all must realize the headship of Christ. The best way to glorify Christ and honor the Lord is to take Him as the Head, praying, “Lord, You are the Head. I take You as the Head, and I speak and act in a genuine way. I am under Your headship.”
It is not only the younger ones among us who must submit to Christ and remain under the headship of Christ. Even the oldest ones must submit themselves under the headship of Christ. In the church, if we all realize the headship of Christ, there will spontaneously be a wonderful, spiritual order among us. There will be a situation in which each one knows where he stands and what is his right position in the order of the church. If in a family with many members, all the members are real, sound, spiritual Christians, realizing and submitting to the headship of Christ in their home, there will be a nice, spiritual order in their family. In such a family, even the youngest one will know what his position and standing is, and each one will be right with the order of the family. It is when no one in the family takes the headship of Christ that they fight and quarrel with one another. Then, even the least desires to be the greatest, and the last desires to be the first. There is disorder in such a family simply because they are not under the headship of the Lord.
(Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)