Tuesday, November 30, 2010

no other head

Yesterday, on my scripture blog, I reflected on the claims of the Christ hymn of Colossians 1:15-20, specifically on the claim embedded in its center that "he is the head of the body, the church" (v. 18). That Christ is the "head of the body, the church" is particularly relevant in light of much pastor-speak I have heard in this country about headship. For example, Charismatic pastors are particularly keen on emphasizing their importance in/over the church. I have heard on a number of occasions that Satan particularly targets pastors because to destroy them is to scatter the flock that they lead. I have been a part of prayer services in which a visiting pastor brings the pastor of the congregation up front to be prayed for precisely on the basis of this rationale, that Satan is out to get him more than others. That the evil one would target the pastor seems, in these presentations, almost as a validation of the individual in the role of pastor, as if without it either the pastor initiating the action or the pastor being prayed over is not a legitimate pastor. Another variation which I once heard of this theme is more explicit. "If someone wants to kill a snake," the proverb goes, "he does not whack its tail, but rather its head." The analogy, of course, was that the pastor of the church is the head of the snake which the evil one tries to destroy in order to kill the church.

There is something to learn in all this. Pastors matter a great deal. Good leadership is as "yeast leavening the whole batch of dough" for good, while bad leadership is a leavening of the dough for bad (1 Cor. 5:6; Mt. 13:33). It should be a topic of discussion in churches which are especially suspicious of hierarchy whether the pastor--if he or she is even afforded such a title--is recognized as a person blessed with special gifts for leading a people toward "the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It is likewise cause for concern, on the other hand, if the biblically-legitimized role of pastor becomes cause for seeing the pastor of the local church as having the same measure of authority of the one alone whom our text proclaims is "the head of the body, the church". In such a situation, the pastor is feared as though God, and, in effect, becomes a mediator between "God and humankind"--between the one head and the body--where none but Christ Jesus is intended (1 Tim. 2:5). In such a case, the body's growth in realizing the fullness of God's spiritual gifts to many is stunted in deference to the one posing as head in place of Christ.

If Christ is truly recognized as head, however, the body will not fear even though its pastor be removed. If the body knows Christ as head, and not a mere human (though Christ himself shares our humanity), it will rejoice, though it suffers, knowing that the One who fills the church also suffered yet rose from the dead. If Christ is head, the one who died and was raised to life, not even "the gates of hell will prevail against the church" (Mt. 16:18); they did not prevail against the head--they shall not prevail against his body.

The proverb of the snake is therefore misapplied; there is no head which can be struck by which the body may die. Rather, at the appointed time, let the pastor be removed, and " 'let another take his position of overseer' " (Acts 1:20).

The pastor who knows that his days are numbered, who has learned to "count his days" (Psa 90:12), who knows who she is in light of her Creator, is the one to lead God's people toward the fullness of Christ.

-Joe



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