Headship: Introduction (Part 1)
by Barber, Clive
The Importance of Headship
I don’t have to educate any of my readers that we live in a distorted world where the flavour of the day is rebellion against God. Truly, in mainstream western society, “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18), and biblical principles that were once upheld are being cast out at an alarming pace. While Christians will acknowledge that the Bible is the Word of God, there is an increasing trend to ignore or even jettison certain parts of it that conflict with what society and culture may endorse. We see this with issues such as LGBTQ, women’s rights, abortion and the opposition to the discipline of children, to name a few. If we want to find answers to these pressing difficulties, it is important for us to understand the biblical doctrine of headship. A true appreciation of this subject would fortify us, like Peter and the apostles, to say, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Act 5:29).
There is no one-liner that will suffice when coming to an understanding of headship, but a simple starting point would be to see that headship is the distinct appointment of God-given roles. If we see headship as divine Roles, we may also understand lordship as divine Rule, fellowship as divine Relationship, discipleship as divine Regulation and worship as divine Reverence. We will perceive the importance of headship when we see that it touches every sphere of creation, every dispensation of men, and every part of our lives, reaching up to the very throne of God. Within the Godhead itself there are distinct roles performed by divine Persons.
The Institution of Headship
The institution of headship actually precedes the creation of the human race, taking us into heaven where we observe the distinction of roles given in the angelic realm. Ultimately, it takes its precedence from the very throne of God, where we find headship clearly displayed. The first chapter of the Bible immediately introduces us to the doctrine of headship. God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:26-27). God gave the role of dominion to man, placing a distinction not only between mankind and animals but also between the roles of male and female. Headship is not a doctrine to be scoffed at, nor does it introduce any thought to our minds of inferiority or inequality between persons. This will become increasingly clear as we progress through this subject, appreciating the wisdom of God in these distinctly different and divinely appointed responsibilities.
The Interception of Headship
So fundamental is this subject of headship to the heart of God that the devil knew if he could attack this first he would ruin the entire human race. His cunning attack was to lure the woman in the Garden of Eden through various means, tempting her to discard the role given to her as helpmeet and to take a place of leadership that had been divinely given to Adam. It clearly states in Genesis 3:6, “She took of the fruit thereof, and [she] did eat, and [she] gave also unto her husband with her.” Adam sadly surrendered his place as head as the woman took the reins of control.
The Bible teaches us that the enemy of our souls has nothing new in his attempts to lure people away from God (1Co 10:13). One only has to read secular history to find there have been numerous specific efforts, by both men and women, to attack headship and challenge the order that God set into creation.
In July 1848, a movement commenced in Seneca Falls, New York. Originally known as the “Seneca Falls Convention,” it was to discuss the political, social, cultural, financial and personal rights of women in society. Advancing into the modern feminist movement, it continues to this present moment with relentless passion, particularly in the developed world. To gain some idea of what lies behind this agenda one only has to observe the symbol that fronts the movement (see image below). Developed in the 1960s and inspired by the Roman goddess Venus, it is an upside-down cross, with an upstanding clenched fist, surrounded by a circle representing global unity.
Those upholding and promoting feminism have hidden behind a thin veil, believing that the movement will eliminate female suffering at the hands of abusive men. This thought has even permeated Christian thinking, influencing some to abandon the doctrine of headship, particularly in the local church. Feminism is not the answer to human sin – the glorious gospel of Christ (which feminism opposes) is. The Bible teaches (and Christ clearly taught) that women have an intrinsic value equal to that of men. Unlike feminism, the gospel does more than just attempt to liberate persons from perceived peripheral difficulties in this life. It deals with the root cause of our sin, enabling men and women to live in harmony as God intended for eternity!
The Imperativeness of Headship
In a world that is utterly hostile to the mind of God, we as believers have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Word of God. We must first recognise that although God requires nothing less than obedience, cold mechanicalism and form will reduce us to nothing more than robots in this life and rob us of reward in the next. Because of this prevailing attitude our Lord Himself gave a solemn warning to the assembly at Ephesus regarding the swift removal of their testimony (Rev 2:5). Has such coldness left many Christians without a true appreciation for the precious subject of headship?
We must have solid biblical answers ready as to why practices are being upheld in the local assembly, such as the distinct differences in the roles of men and women. Does what is being practiced in the assembly correspond to or conflict with my manner of life in the home, marriage and work place? It is the writer’s desire that in this present generation we recover a true understanding of this precious truth that will lead us in heartfelt willingness to practice and uphold all that our God desires.
Headship: The Trinity (Part 2)
But I would have you know … the head of Christ is God” (1Co 11:3).
It is with astonishment and reverential awe that we contemplate the display of headship within the triune Persons of the Godhead. As mentioned previously, the purpose of headship is not to teach inequality or inferiority between persons. Rather, God clearly illuminates the distinction and difference in divinely appointed responsibilities.
Headship in the Incarnation of Christ
The distinction of divinely appointed roles within the Godhead is beyond dispute as we look into the Word of God. That the Jews understood God as a Father is clear from many Old Testament Scriptures and verified by their statement in John 8:41: “We have one Father, even God” (cf. Mal 2:10). The Son of God was prepared to take a veiled place, allowing the spotlight to shine upon the Father. As we turn the pages of the New Testament, we discover the truth of Hebrews 1:2 that God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” In the present dispensation the Holy Spirit fulfils His ministry upon earth. There are distinct roles within the Godhead.
We’re not long turning the pages of Luke’s record when we arrive at the account of our Lord as a twelve-year-old boy tarrying behind in Jerusalem as Joseph and Mary unknowingly made their way back to Nazareth without Him. Upon seeking and finding Him in the temple, Mary, amazed and perplexed, asks Him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luk 2:48). Respectfully, yet in order to communicate vital truth, our Lord highlights two matters.
The statement “thy father” in relation to Joseph had to be corrected. Our Lord gently reminded her that God was His Father, and with the unique dignity of Sonship, He must be occupied in the things of His Father. Second, while equal within the Godhead, part of this great work was to demonstrate unique dependence in manhood to His God. The following statement bore testimony to that incredible truth, “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them …. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luk 2:51-52). The acceptance of headship is perfectly displayed in the life of Christ.
Likewise at Calvary, divinely appointed roles were perfectly executed in the great work of dealing with sin. Both Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) record Christ’s words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We take note that the cry was not “My Father.” Scripture is replete with teaching that this was God dealing with man. Jehovah laid the stroke of divine judgment upon Christ (Isa 53; Zec 13:7).
Note further, it is only the Synoptic writers who record Calvary’s impenetrable darkness. John, the writer who mentions the Father some 144 times in the New Testament, omits these details. Neither does John recount the transfiguration experience. In a record that highlights the deity of Christ, we recognise that God cannot be transfigured. This behoves us to be careful in our language while engaged in worship at the Lord’s Supper. It would be inappropriate to thank the Father for punishing Christ. We must display some measure of spiritual understanding in our language; these details may seem insignificant, but they perfectly uphold in its right place the doctrine of headship.
Headship in the Exaltation of Christ
We see the same spiritual intelligence manifested by the apostle Paul with his prayers in the Ephesians epistle. When we read “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it presents to us the humanity of Christ. Likewise, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” brings to our mind the uniqueness of His essential deity and equality within the Godhead. Paul states that Christ, having been raised out from among the dead and now in the place of exaltation, has been given to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body (see Eph 1:20-23). He then informs us that the Church actually complements Christ, teaching us that He will not be satisfied until He has His Bride by His side. Now we see the reason for the distinction. The Bride will never complement the Son in Godhead glory, but she does complement Christ in His Manhood. Further, Christ is exalted as Head over every sphere. Paul wrote to the Colossians that He is “the head of all principality and power” (2:10).
Headship in the Dominion of Christ
In the Bible, the first mention of the word “kingdom” is located in Genesis 10:10 and is in reference to the kingdom of Babylon, led by Nimrod, who rebelled against the will of God. This kingdom, along with all who follow in the footsteps of Nimrod, finds its ultimate end is destruction (Rev 18:2). What a contrast, when on the throne of this world there is seated a Man who will display total subjection to the will of God. For 1000 years this world will experience the peaceful rule of a theocracy. Christ’s sceptre will uphold perfect justice, angelic ministry will be veiled and Christ shall reign supreme (Heb 1). His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (Psa 145:13) and His throne is for ever and ever (Psa 45:6). No wonder we utter, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.”
Finally, the end of time as we know it will arrive! The blessed and only Potentate will put down all rule, the King of kings will manifest all authority and the Lord of lords display all power (cf. 1Ti 6:15; 1Co 15:24). Through Christ’s subjection to God, every foe, including the devastating enemy of death, will be under His feet!
But there is one final act in the perfect execution of headship within the Trinity. Christ will not claim the kingdom for Himself. He surrenders all into the hands of God, even the Father, that the triune God may rule and the Godhead be known as supreme, by all and for all eternity. Let us bow and freshly thank God for the perfect demonstration of headship within the Trinity. Without it, we could never have been saved!
“His be the Victor’s name
Who fought the fight alone;
Triumphant saints no honour claim,
His conquest was their own.
By weakness and defeat,
He won the meed and crown;
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.”
Headship: The Distinction of Headship in Humanity (Part 3)
It is with profound wonder that we reflect upon the great demonstration of creatorial wisdom in the early chapters of our Bible. Truly we agree with our God when He declared His creation to be “very good.” It is then with immense grief that we look upon the present conditions of our world. The degradation of moral values, disregard for matrimonial vows, and disintegration of biblical familial circles stem ultimately from a rejection of God and His Word. Promotion of same sex relationships, LGBTQ agendas, and confusion as to gender identity are only a few of the present difficulties facing the child of God. As the education system and workplace popularise the godless, secular ideas of mankind, sowing into the minds of young and old the seeds of doubt, it seems that even Christians are being affected by the original question posed by the devil, “Hath God said?” (Gen 3:1).
As we progress in our understanding of headship, it is the desire of the writer to clarify in our hearts and minds clear distinctions our God placed into creation, fortifying us to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Having already considered something of the stupendous display of headship in the trinity, we now note that this doctrine touches the sphere of creation. It’s interesting to observe the distinctions that God placed into the sphere of angelic beings. We cannot be sure when Lucifer sinned, but Colossians 1:16 informs us that in heaven, prior to his fall, God had already inaugurated rule, rank and regulation into the world of angelic hosts.
We turn our attention to the creation of the human race and see that from the beginning our God placed obvious differences between the man and the woman. When Paul outlined the submission of the woman in the local church, he explained, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1Ti 2:13). From this we learn the fundamental lesson that headship was not an afterthought or a result of sin.
Adam’s entrance into the Garden of Eden is nothing short of breathtaking! We stand in awe as we contemplate the omniscient genius of God. Having already made the entire animal kingdom, we hear the Creator say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Stooping to the dust of the ground, our God used those simple elements to construct the complex human body, utterly distinct from the animals.
Adam’s exercise as gardener and guardian of Eden was to have total dominion in the earth. Work is not a result of sin but was instituted as a basic duty from the beginning. Paul writes, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Th 3:10). In his place as head, Adam was given the responsibility to name the animals. Here we see Adam’s excellence – to name the entire animal kingdom without a word of advice from the Creator is simply awe-inspiring! Upon finding no companion among them, we hear the Lord’s voice, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). Within a deep sleep, God wondrously brought from his side the woman to be his bride. With Ephesians 5:22-33 in mind, we understand why the man was brought in first as head and the woman in submission as his help meet. This was not a random act by God for He had Christ and His bride in mind!
Having noted the distinction between mankind and animals, we now view stark contrasts between male and female. In physical appearance, their bodies are unique. Reproductive organs, heart, lung size, brain shape, hormonal systems and skeletal structures are uniquely different. The face of the male is distinctive in his ability to grow a beard, and 1 Corinthians 11:14 states that by Creatorial design (“nature”) the man had short hair and the woman long.
There is distinction in physical apparel. The command of Deuteronomy 22:5 was that “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth [apparatus = implements/weapons/tools] unto a man [warrior], neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment [to assimilate the shape]: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” A man purposing to appear as a woman or vice versa (transvestite/crossdresser) is abhorrent to our God. We see why it was never God’s mind for women to go to war in Israel, which leads us to distinction in physical activities. The rebuke given to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19 was in the context of work and the field. The rebuke for Eve was in context of the womb and the family. God’s mind was that the primary place for the man would be as bread winner and the primary place for the woman would be the family. The New Testament completely validates this; how sad when godless societies disregard it.
Following Adam’s wedding vows (Gen 3:23), we hear the celebrant (God) declare in verse 24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” As Adam had no earthly father or mother, we comprehend that the institution of marriage was not limited to this first couple but was to be upheld throughout the course of the human race. In order to preserve purity and uphold the mind of God, it was only after those vows and upon the grounds of matrimony that the Holy Spirit is careful to record that they were “both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (2:25).
In all this we see Adam’s example. With man and woman so exquisitely distinct from the animal kingdom and from each other, it is with bitter anguish we witness the arrival of Adam’s enemy. Into the garden entered the devil with desires to destroy the beautiful order of headship. We are now confronted with Adam’s error. Although the devil deceived the woman, Adam bore ultimate responsibility as head (cf. Rom 5:12). Adam gave his explanation (Gen 3:10-12), but the effects of abandoning his role as head and allowing the woman to usurp his authority were devastating – a world of confusion where theories of evolution are propagated, gender distinction is clouded, and mankind worships and serves the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever (Rom 1:25). May God give us a fresh appreciation for the distinction of headship in humanity.