Archive: Jesus is Our Head

Condensed from an address by Kenneth W. Copeland Bishop, Houston (Texas) Area, United Methodist Church

At press time we learned the Bishop has gone to be with the Lord in glory.

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body. This is the message Paul is affirming without any reservation whatsoever. The Church has been at its best at those times when it has been most committed to this irreversible truth. When the Church fails to be the Church, when it fails in its witness to the world, it is because it fails at the point of recognizing and responding to Jesus Christ as Head of the Church.

Today the divine call is for the Church to see with the eyes of Christ, to hear with the ears of Christ, to think with the mind of Christ, to love with the heart of Christ, to heal with the hands of Christ and to speak with the voice of Christ. If I read the mind of this Convocation correctly, I believe that is why we’re here. And what we believe the mission of the Church is all about. I believe this truth is absolutely basic to everything we talk about, hope for, pray and work for with respect to the renewal of the Church. What does concern us is that the Church will make a vivid and vital rediscovery of Jesus Christ as its Head and recommit the message and mission of the Church to His will in our day.

There is far more in these verses than any one human being can fully comprehend. However, it is both our duty and our privilege to examine what Paul is trying to say here under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

First, Paul is proclaiming the supremacy of Christ, the preeminence of Christ. The Layman’s Bible Commentary paraphrases part of verse 18 in this manner: “Christ is the source of the Church’s life, since He rose first from the dead that others might rise through Him. Thus in all things, in Church as well as universe, He shows Himself supreme.” How very important this is—and always has been—to any adequate understanding of the Church and its witness in the world! In the days of His flesh, our blessed Lord confronted His disciples with this question, “Who do you say I am?” On the answer to that question, the Christian and the Church either stand or fall. Nothing else matters very much if that question is not answered correctly, within the limits of our own humanity and the limits of our faith. No creeds, no activism, no philosophy, no resolution, no dialogue, no restructuring of organizations, no church program nor policy will avail much which does not arise out of a firm conviction that “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It makes a great deal of difference who we believe Jesus Christ is. Here is the profound and decisive difference between the Christian faith and all other religions. It separates them not in degree but in kind. Religions are man’s search for God; the Gospel is God’s search for man.

The Revised Standard Version has it that “in everything He might be preeminent.” Everything! “For in Him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.” The Greek word translated “fufness” means totality. That is, the totality of divine powers chose to make their abode in Him. This phrase, therefore, claims full deity for Christ.

There’s a difference between divinity and deity. Not many people debate the divinity of Jesus Christ. Divinity is an attribute of God. Therefore, love is divine. Truth is divine. Beauty is divine. The Christian home is divine. The Church is divine. Divinity is an attribute of God, but Deity is God. The incarnation is the one great irreversible fact of history. God revealed Himself in the human dimensions of Jesus. Witness the question of Philip, for example, at the Last Supper, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). Jesus answered, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father…”

Dr. John Lawson is Professor of Church History at Candler School of Theology. In his book An Evangelical Faith for Today, he said, “The evangelical must insist that a further essential to the Christian system (without which the whole falls and upon which there can be no compromise) is that our Lord is the unique, divine incarnation in the full historic sense of the word. He’s the divine son made man, fully human, fully divine, one real Person, the permanent union of God with His handiwork, and the personal entry of God into the history of this world.” Let us reaffirm our unquestioned belief in the supremacy, the preeminence of Jesus Christ. The effectiveness of the Church’s witness in the world, in both the personal and the social dimensions of human life and society, depends upon the full acceptance of this truth, and our obedience to it.

Another great truth which comes to us from this Colossian passage is the power of Christ. It’s not accidental, my dear friends, that the Great Commission of our Lord is predicated by Jesus’ affirmation that all power had been given to Him, both in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Then follows His promise that He will be with us always, even unto the end of the world.

The intimacy of His divine companionship and the promise and provision of His power are set within the context of mission. Now let us add to the promises inherent in the Great Commission, the promise that He gave His disciples just before His Ascension to the Father: “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and you will be witnesses unto Me in all Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The greatest need of the Church today is this power Jesus promised us we could have. Yet perhaps no dimension of the Church’s life and ministry is quite so misunderstood. It is popular, relevant and contemporary to talk about power structures within the Church. It’s also popular to demand a “piece of that pie.” For some, it is the “in” thing to organize our own power structures to fight the established power structures, fighting fire with fire. The end result is that all of us are severely burned in the process, and the Kingdom of God grinds down to a slow walk.

I hold no brief for persons who seek to dominate the program and the progress of the Church. I do not believe in dictatorships of any kind, whether of bishops or boards, of pastors or presidents, of lay or ordained persons. It would be presumption of the worst sort for any one of us to assume that he or she could take over the powers of the Head of the Church. One thing is clear: we’re on a dead-end street if we believe that’s the way to become empowered. The Church cannot grant power to persons. I want to say this again because you’re going to have to think very deeply at this moment The Church cannot grant power to people-that is, the kind of power Jesus was talking about, and the kind of power the Church must have to be the Church. The Church itself does not empower persons, it cannot empower ordained or unordained persons, laity or clergy, women or men, youth or age, white or nonwhite, rich or poor. The Church does not empower; only the Holy Spirit empowers.

The Church does, however, have the right and responsibility to grant authority to certain persons to speak and act in the name of the Church, in the pursuit of its witness in the world. The discipline of our church spells out these areas of authority and responsibility given to ordained and unordained persons, and we’re cautioned in Christian conscience to give a good account of our stewardship of this authority. However, at no point in the Discipline nor in the practice of the Church does the Church promise it can empower any one of us.

The power I speak of here, of course, is that power that Jesus promised would come—the power of redeeming, reconciling, recreating love. In relation to this power our lord affirms three great truths. First, He possesses it: “All power is given unto Me.” Second, He promises it: “You will receive power.” Third, He provides it: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

A bishop cannot increase a minister’s power by moving him or her to a larger parish. A person does not suddenly come into possession of this power when elected and consecrated a bishop. The opportunity to serve on some board or agency of the Church may give a person an enlarged opportunity to let the power of God flow through him or her in different and sometimes more creative channels. However, serving on boards and agencies of the church does not, in itself, grant a person spiritual power. Neither can spiritual power be gained by a struggle or a shrewd manipulation of the minds and wills of other persons for our own selfish ends. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. This is the pathway to power, the only pathway.

It should be clear to those who read the Scripture and study the experience of the Church that the Holy Spirit is a gift from the Father. Read those precious promises in the 14th, 15th and 16th Chapters of John’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit’s coming. Let me just pick out phrases: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another to be your Advocate.” And then again He refers to the Holy Spirit “whom the Father will send in my name,” and still again, “when your Advocate is come whom I will send you from the Father,” and then again, “When He comes, who is the Spirit of all truth.”

These are promises of a divine gift from the Father, not of something one earns, works for, deserves, or for whom ritual preconditions must be met. The Holy Spirit is a gift! The power of God is a gift!

However, He must be received through faith; in confidence that He meant what He said, and He will do what He promised. That He initiates the offer of Himself, that He stands at the door and knocks, that He will come in if we but open the door, that He will sup with us and we with Him. Blessed, blessed promises, indeed!

The Holy Spirit comes as a gift from the Father and must be received through faith. Then He will abide in our hearts, and in the Church, and empower us and the Church as we obey Him. Jesus declared that the standard at the judgment would simply be “inasmuch as ye did it or did it not unto one of the least of these my brethren, Ye did it or did it not unto me.” Here are both the personal and the social, the individual and the corporate, both the local and the world-wide implications of the Gospel. These have never been separated; they are dimensions of one Gospel, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

We see in this picture of Christ as the Head of the Church, not only preeminence and power but also His place in the unity of the believers. Paul emphasizes Christ’s headship of the Body, His Church, in his Colossian Letter, and emphasizes the individual responsibilities of the various parts of the Body in his 1st Corinthian Letter, Chapter 12. Three things need to be said quickly about the different parts of the Body as this truth applies to the Churches. First, the parts of the body have different functions and different responsibilities. The hand can do many things the foot cannot do. The foot has individual responsibilities other parts of the body cannot perform.

So it is with the Church—not only with different persons of the Church but with different ministries and different congregations. The gifts of the Spirit differ. Some are given the gift of prophecy. Others have the gift of proclamation, others the gift of teaching, others a diversity of responsibilities. This we come to call “pluralism,” at least in some applications of the term.

However, the individual parts function only as they remain within the Body. In his Corinthian Letter, Paul emphasizes the fact that a body is not one single organ but many. And no single organ is the whole body.

No Christian has either the right or the authority simply to “do his own thing” without regard to what it means to the Body. Pluralism is one thing; polarization is another. The one cooperates toward a common goal and brings all the diversities together, making its own distinctive contribution toward that end. But polarization is divisive, hostile, and ultimately destructive.

This truth needs to dawn anew and afresh in our hearts this day, my dear friends. We need to pray for renewal of the sense of belonging to each other. Let us, in the name of God, cease this cold war that exists among us.

The Head is the center of unity for all the parts. For 2,000 years the Church has read and reread our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed that they might all be one, even as God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son are one.” I do not speak here of organic union, even though I could do so without apology, for the United Methodist Church and its predecessors have long been in the forefront of discussions of organic union and actualizations of union. We’ll continue to dialogue with our Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations about these possibilities.

However, far more important than organic union is the unity we already have in Jesus Christ. No reshuffling of the structure can compensate for the rejection of that unity. No amount of mergers can substitute for unity in Christ. And I’m sure that those who are most committed to the ecumenical movement believe this as much as we do here tonight.

We need not unite in customs or cultures. The Church of Jesus Christ does not require its members to have political or philosophical sameness. No race has any right to attempt to swallow up another race or subordinate its culture. However, all of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ had better learn what it means to come together in the Spirit of Jesus Christ and work together under one banner of His redeeming love-and we’d better do it pretty soon or the forces of evil will destroy us before we know what’s happening to us. It is only “in Christ” that there’s no East nor West, no North nor South, no bond or free, no male or female. Equality is in Him, unity is in Him. And when any two of us come close enough to touch Him, we’re close enough to touch each other. The saints have done it; God’s people can do it again.

Finally, it seems to me that Paul’s picture of Christ as the Head of the Church has to do not only with his preeminence, His power and His place as the center of unity, but also with His peace. Here the apostle is speaking about a cosmic Christ. Let me quote it again, “His is the primacy over all created things. Through Him God chose to reconcile the whole universe unto himself, making peace through the shedding of His blood upon the cross” (Colossians 1:20).

He charges us to be ministers of that peace and reconciliation. If – you read II Corinthians in the New English Bible, you will read these words, “The love of Christ leaves us no choice.” He’s the author of peace in the inner life, for He brings the peace of God to dwell in us through faith. He’s the author of peace between persons by breaking down the middle wall of partition that we’ve allowed our selfishness to build. He’s the author of peace in our world through His lordship of all of life. It remains now for us to let him do his perfect work through us and through the Church, His Body!


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