18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Who is the head of the church? Perhaps a more familiar way to ask this is “who runs the church?”
Well, I’m sure if you are vaguely familiar with local churches you may be inclined or react with an answer such as “this family runs this church”, “the deacons run this church”, or even “a pastor runs this church”. One group of professing Christ’s would say that the Pope as the vicar of Christ (replacement of Christ) runs the church.
However, the Biblical reality, per Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:18, is the Lord Jesus is the head of the invisible catholic (all Christians from all ages) church, which Paul calls the body. This thereby means that it is ultimately the Lord Jesus who runs a true local church, which at its core is a local manifestation of the universal church in a specific region and time.
How does Christ run the church?
The imagery of a head and body conveys how Christ governs the church. A head, particularly the brain, sends commands and signals to the body for the body to move, react, etc. Paul uses this imagery to the Colossians Christians to convey that it is the Lord Jesus whose communication alone governs the actions and activities of His body, the church. The question is “how does this work?” How does Jesus govern and lead His church as our head? The answer is by His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 28:19-20). The Lord Jesus leads, shapes, and guides His people as our Head per the Word of God. Ephesians 2:19-21 (emphasis mine) states:
“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
The local church is built on the communication of Christ entrusted to the apostles per Ephesians 2:19-21, which ultimately is our New Testament that fulfills our Old Testament. All of the Canon of Scripture (Old and New Testament) is ultimately Christ’s communication to His people. We are led by Christ Himself, and He has communicated that the local church is to be governed by a plurality of under-shepherds (pastors, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Acts 14:23, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-5, Titus 1) and served by a board of deacons (1Timothy 3:8-13). The church functions in its gatherings as the Head of the church commands and conveys, namely from what we see in the Scriptures concerning what the local church is to do in its gatherings such as preach the Word, sing the Word, the read the Word, gather per the Word, and practice the Word, the sacraments (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Timothy 4:13-16, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2, Ephesians 5:19, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, Matthew 28:19-20).
Christ Jesus is the head of the church and the local church’s structure as well as activities are governed by the communication, the Word of God, given by Christ Jesus the Head of the body, the church. The regulative principle of worship (the church only does in its gathering and structure what is commanded or prescribed in the Scripture) is connected to this truth. The church if it is to function rightly is governed by the communication of its Head in all its actions.
Who is the head of the church? Christ Jesus is alone the head of the church and runs it per His commands found in the Scripture alone.