What Does it Mean That Christ Is the Head of the Church?

If Christ is the head of the church, that means we can't just run it any way we want to. So, what does the Bible say about Christ being the head of the church, and how what we should do as a result?

Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 10, 2023
What Does it Mean That Christ Is the Head of the Church?

“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18)

The church’s status today can often leave us frustrated or disappointed. I can’t speak for the church globally, but I will speak about the church here in America. There are many areas where the church has veered off course, and we need a course correction to get back on track. A good place to begin would be to remember Christ is the head of the church. 

Everything the church does—whether done by you, your local church, or the church universal—should be for Christ and about Christ. Too often, we have made church about personalities, programs, politics, and entertainment… and left Christ, the head of the church, out of the mix. We may mention his name, but we don’t want his influence and leadership to manifest themselves. What if it threatened our position? The problem not only shows in some of the things that happen on Sundays. The problem is also clear in how we, Christ’s followers, behave outside the church sanctuary. The time is now for the church to return to her roots, recognizing Christ is the head of the church. We must recognize his leadership in everything we do, not just pay him lip service. 

But how do we do this?

What Does it Mean that Christ Is the Head of the Church?

The word for “head” used in the Colossians 1:18 passage is kephalē. Here is what this word means.

- Superior 

- One with preeminent status 

- Cornerstone (i.e., the important stone for building a proper foundation)

Christ, as the head, holds a position that no one else can occupy. He is the superior figure of the church. He is the essential piece in building and maintaining the church. Without him, we end up with a weak, dysfunctional church void of any power or influence. I know we like to blame the culture for this, but the church must also shoulder some of this blame. We have moved away from Christ as our sure foundation. We have made church about something else other than Jesus.

Four Reasons Why Christ Is the Head of the Church

To say that Christ is the head of the church—not our favorite pastor, not our regional church administrator, not our conscience—is a big statement with big consequences. So how do we know that Christ is the head of the church? Here are four particular reasons we know this to be true.

1. Christ is the head of the church because he purchased it

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

To redeem means to buy back. If you are part of the church, Christ purchased you with his blood. Jesus laid down his body and spilled his blood for the church. He didn’t do this grudgingly, but he did it willingly because he wanted to redeem a people all his own. Without Christ and his sacrifice, there is no church. Since he purchased the church, he has rights of ownership over the church, which solidifies his position as head of the church.

2. Christ is the head of the church because he is building it

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus made a definitive and declarative statement. 

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

There has been considerable debate over the years over what this statement means. Some people have interpreted this verse to mean Peter is the essential figure upon which the church is built. I could debate that with you, but I will save that for another day. There are five critical words Jesus spoke that matter today. “I will build my church.” When you read these words, two things should be crystal clear.

- Jesus is the one building the church

- Jesus is building his church and not someone else’s (this ties back to those rights of ownership)

Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:19-22), and he is also the chief builder of the church. The whole thing falls apart without him as the foundation and the builder. There is no church. When churches leave Jesus out, what kind of building are they making? The church is bought by Christ, built by Christ, and sustained by Christ. Yes, he works through individuals to do the work. That’s where you and I come in, but we are simply servants following the instructions of the chief architect who is building his church the way he wants.

3. Christ is the head of the church because he is Lord 

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Here is my big request. Can we please stop creating Christian superstars? Even the name alone is ridiculous when you consider who Jesus is. There is only one whose name stands above every other name. It is sad, but we have exalted servants of Christ and made them greater than Christ. We have looked to men and forgotten Christ is the head of the church. He is the one who sits on the throne. The last time I checked, thrones only have one seat, and he is not planning to vacate that seat. The throne is his forever. Christ is the head of the church now and will be the head of the church for all eternity. He alone is the one who is worthy of our worship and adoration. He is the head. He is Lord. He is the only superstar in Christianity, and nothing will change that.

4. Christ as the head of the church levels the ground beneath him

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Because Christ is the head of the church, we must recognize that you and I are not. From our vantage point, the ground is level. There is no one in the body of Christ greater than the next person. We all have an important role to play. Sometimes we confuse responsibility with importance. A particular person may have more responsibility, but everyone holds equal importance in the body. 

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-22)

When you forget Christ is the head of the church, you can easily go on a major ego trip and inflate your importance. However, when you see Jesus for who he is, it helps bring us all back to reality.

What Does Knowing Christ Is the Head of the Church Mean for Us Today?

As important as it is to recognize Christ as head of the church, you must go one step further. Christ must not only be head of the church universally but also the head of your life personally. With him as the head of your life, everything works together. Without him, it all falls apart. When you think of Christ as the head of the church, ask yourself, “is Christ the head of me?” The answer to that question is key to getting the church back on course.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Ig0rZh 

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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