Summary: Jesus lived the Christian life by the Divine Life of the Father in and through Him. When Jesus entered His second many-membered Body, the way that Divine Life is expressed, and the type of behavior that results, did not change. The only way this can be experienced is if Christ is leading by His Life through the whole Body. But churches that focus too heavily on human leadership tend to abandon this.
When Jesus Christ was on earth, how did He live the Christian life? Where did His ability to do what He did come from?
No, it wasn’t through learning a set of laws, formulas, or principles and trying to live by them in His own human power. It was through living by the divine life of His Father (John 6:57).
As Philippians 2 teaches us, when He became a human He emptied Himself of His own divine power as God, and then lived by the Divine Life of the Father in and through Him.
Essentially, He showed us how the first Adam was designed to live – by eating of the Tree of Life, which contained Divine, Uncreated, Eternal Life.
When we look at the behavior Jesus displayed and expressed, it gives us a look at the nature of that Divine Life, for that’s what motivated Jesus to do the things He did. That behavior culminated in washing feet and completely giving of His human life as a servant and slave that would transfer that Life to others.
He, as Philippians says, “took on the very nature of a servant,” and did it to the point of “even death on a cross!” There’s no lower status than that.
A healthy church behaves like Jesus did
When He finished His work in His first body, He came back to earth to live inside of His 2nd many-membered Body. The only thing that changed was His location. The way that Divine Life is expressed, and the type of behavior that results, did not change.
God’s eternal purpose was for the Church to display and express His Divine Life to each other, the world and the spiritual realm in the same way the single-human-body Jesus did when He was in that first body (Eph 3:10).
Now how do you know if that’s happening? By choosing, observing and experiencing the same behavior within the many-membered Jesus Body that we saw with the single-member Jesus Body.
A healthy church is a group of people that learn to live by and express Divine Life evidenced by its similar behavior to the single-member Jesus Body.
Here’s how Jon Zens, author of 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers relates this to the topic of church leadership…
One of the key ways the ekklesia displays the Life of Christ on earth is by embodying His Body dynamic—“you are all brothers and sisters”—and rejecting the top-down model of rule—“not so among you.” Without doubt, the most fundamental and pervasive words used in the N.T. to describe believers were connected in the 1st Century to the very bottom of the social ladder. These words depicted people who took care of the needs and did the bidding of others, like waiting on those reclined at a table.
Of course, these same words were used of Jesus. Words like serve, servant, and slave are used hundreds of times to portray the posture and function of believers— “serve one another in love,” “you serve the Lord Christ.” Following His steps, the brothers and sisters are a realm of table-waiters. This is a kingdom where no one is on the top rung—except Jesus. In fact, in the ekklesia there are no rungs because Jesus said, “You are all brothers and sisters.”
Churches that focus on human leadership
Now most Christians would certainly give lip service to the truth that Christ is the Leader of His Church. You’ll get no debate on that matter. But unfortunately, this truth gets abandoned functionally more often than not. And if it gets abandoned functionally, then what’s the point?
You see, the only way this can be true in the life and practice of a church is if the whole Body leads together by the Life of Christ within it. Christ is the Leader, the Father, and the Head; and He’s doing that leading when His Life is expressed. A leader doesn’t give contradictory direction and instruction to those they’re leading, a father doesn’t do so with their children, and a head doesn’t do so with its body.
If a head told one part of its body to go one way and another to go another way, it would be perpetually injured.
But it’s been widely observed that something happens when churches focus too heavily on human leadership. They tend to abandon Christ’s whole-Body leadership.
They tend to shift the control of the direction and decisions for the Body – from Christ through His whole Body to specific chosen appointed humans.
Human control feels more comfortable
They tend to be like Israel in the Old Testament – wanting a King so there’s some layer of human control between them and God. They create a layer of humans to be more in charge of the church than other humans – and Scripture is used to justify it.
Certain translations of Bible verses don’t help with this either. Verses that talk about being a “servant” like Jesus was use words like “minister” that humans erroneously think mean a special layer of humans between the church and Christ (I Tim. 1:12, I Cor. 3:5).
Now what I’m NOT saying here is that there is no point when elders should be recognized in a church. That happened in the first-century church when they were ready for it and should happen in churches today when they are ready for it.
What I’m saying is that churches, and the individuals that would be recognized as leaders/elders, are only ready when the recognition wouldn’t cause a church to abandon Christ’s leadership through the whole Body.
Taking the step in a church’s life of recognizing leaders/elders was a major step. That’s why that step was mentioned in the NT repeatedly (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), and why it was always taken VERY carefully.
That step shouldn’t negate the foundation of whole-Body leadership by the Life of Christ through mutual submission between all of the brothers and sisters.
If it does, a church has taken this step prematurely and there are big-time consequences to that. The reason is those given the recognition that haven’t really developed into a fully mature servant and slave that behaves like Jesus did naturally and consistently – they will undoubtedly use their recognition as a license to take over more control of the direction and decisions of a church.
When they do so, they thereby quench Christ’s direct and functional Leadership, Fatherhood and Headship through the whole church in unity by, sometimes unknowingly, creating division (layers of humans).
As I mentioned in the first post in this series, they haven’t quite died enough to themselves and embraced the cross in relation to their fellow church members to truly continue to take on the very nature of a servant at a high enough level consistently.
What happens is the principles of Body/Family Life in Christ that get talked about end up not really being fleshed out practically, and it cuts off the leadership of Christ in His church.
Leadership doesn’t mean control in the Kingdom
Then those “leaders” use Bible verses like Hebrews 13:17 that says…
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority…”
They use these types of verses to nudge saints into relinquishing more control over the direction and decisions of their lives and the church because they apply erroneous, out of context meaning to them.
Allow me to expand in more detail what the author really means in that verse…
Let yourself be persuaded by or give more of a listening ear to people that you know extremely well (I Thess. 5:12) and have proven themselves to you over time and in many situations to display the Life of Christ (as a servant and slave) to a large and consistent degree throughout all aspects of life.
There is no relinquishing control from the less mature to the more mature here. The less mature are simply being encouraged to discern whose perspectives they should consider more in their equal status in the direction and decisions of the church.
Zens goes on to say…
While church leaders will milk Hebrews 13:17 for all it is worth, you never hear them talk about the implications of Hebrews 12:15. In Hebrews 12:15 the whole body of believers is to participate in the “oversight” of one another.
How whole-Body leadership works
The apostle Paul explains to us how whole-Body leadership is supposed to work in I Corinthians 12. Here are some snippets of his main concepts in that chapter…
- Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…
- Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
- We were all given the one Spirit to drink
- But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division (layers of humans) in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for one another.
Is the apostle Paul painting a picture of a special group or layer of humans within a church that have more control over direction and decisions? Obviously not.
Now, some go on to verse 28 in that chapter (and others like it in the NT) that says…
And God placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers…etc.
Verses like this are used to claim that God “ordains” or “appoints” certain people to become those who would have more control over the direction and decisions of a church or church network because they’re more mature and have those particular giftings. Of course, then people try and practice those giftings when they don’t have them so they acquire more control. It’s a downward spiral.
But this is not what Paul is saying here. He’s saying that God grows specific gifts in the church by His Life; not to take more control, but to help it to function as He describes earlier in the chapter; as one Body where each one is functioning as Christ is leading the church for its common good as each one manifests the Spirit in their particular and unique ways.
Those with other gifts should actually end up feeling more important. That’s what Paul means when he says “giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it.”
When the specific gifts that Paul calls out here manifest themselves in increasing measure, the people manifesting them never give up their status as servants and slaves to Christ and the Body. This would violate the way the Spirit manifests itself. This is made clear by Paul throughout his NT letters (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1) as he calls himself a slave to Christ (which includes His Body).
They don’t become more important or earn more control in the name of “protecting the flock.” They protect the flock by their equal participation and persuasion in word and example. But they never seize more control than anyone else.
In fact, they refuse to take more control because they understand that would be quenching how the Spirit wants to express Himself throughout all the Body parts.
When you assemble
Then a couple chapters later, Paul describes how Christ’s whole-Body leadership plays out when a church assembles together when he says…
When you come together, each one of you has…. (I Corinthians 14:26)
The whole Body and each of its parts contain the same rights and level of importance when it comes to participation, direction and decisions in healthy church life.
This reality should inform how we interact, how we gather, and how we set the direction and make decisions in a church.
If you spot people taking more control over any of these areas in the name of “church leadership,” Christ’s loving leadership is being abandoned.
The rest of the posts in the Servants and Slaves series are here.