Who’s in Charge of the Church?
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Who’s in Charge of the Church?

Colossians 1:18  (ID: 2181)

Within every organization, someone is charge. So who is in charge of the church? Alistair Begg shows us from the book of Colossians that the answer is Christ Himself. A right understanding of this truth is crucial for us to comprehend as we consider our attachment to the church and how our willingness to submit to the headship of Jesus Christ affects His body.

Series Containing This Sermon

What Is the Church?

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23901

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Colossians 1:15. You’ll find this reading on page number 833 if you choose to use one of the Bibles around you in the pews, and if you’re unfamiliar with your way around the Bible and find difficulty in locating Colossians, then the page number should be a help to you. 833, Colossians 1:15. Speaking of Christ, Paul says:,“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. 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. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved out from the hope held out to you in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Thanks be to God for his word.

Now, before we study the Bible together, let’s ask God’s help.

Our God and our Father, we come now with a sense of expectation, because of all that your word promises, that when the Bible is truly taught that your voice will be really heard. It is this which gives significance to the moments that we now spend, which brings a crushing sense of responsibility to us, that we might pay careful attention to your word, and which also fills us with a sense of wonder that you, the Living God, should speak in such full and final and saving way and bring it home to our lives and hearts today, as we seek you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, my text this morning is essentially the opening phrase of Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church.” “He is the head of the body, the church.” In this brief study in the doctrine of the church upon which we have embarked, we asked last time, “Who or what is the church?” And we ask this time, “Who is in charge of the church?” It’s not uncommon for people to walk into any kind of establishment and after a moment or two, to say, “Who’s in charge around here?” And when we think of the church as it is expressed both in terms of its local framework, as it is found in a variety of fellowships and associations and denominations throughout the whole earth, the question, “Who’s in charge of the church?” is a valid question. The answer to it leaves us in no doubt whatsoever; any existing confusion is due to man’s interference, and the clarity with which Scripture speaks is succinctly before us here in this 18th verse: “And he,” namely Christ, “is the head of the body, the church.”

Now, the context in which that little phrase comes is, of course, the first chapter of a letter that Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians. The church in Colossae, a fledging church, was facing the threat of harmful teaching that was coming its way as a result of rather puffed-up instructors who were full of specious philosophy and high-sounding arguments. Paul is therefore concerned to warn these believers whom he loves and whose faith he affirms, just in case they would be in danger of succumbing to these fine-sounding arguments, lest they would be taken up with these hollow words and with this empty philosophy. It’s not within the orb of our study this morning for me to set this in all of its context—perhaps you will take my word for it when I tell you that the Colossians were living in a religious framework that was syncretistic in the extreme. So much of the information that was hitting them on a daily basis threatened both the purity and the stability of their fledging faith. Now, that should, for the thoughtful, immediately strike us because those who are alert in going through their days will recognize immediately that there is some immediate parallel between Colossae in the first century and Cleveland in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the great challenge to the church in our pluralistic and syncretistic age is to ensure that we, like the Colossian believers, do not fall foul of the high-sounding arguments and the hollow words and philosophies that depend not on the word of God, but on the basic traditions of men. And indeed, the call of verse 8 in chapter 2 is a call most necessary for us as it was for them: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Now, how are these believers to see to it that they’re not captivated by all this silly nonsense? Because, you will notice, it is an exhortation that is given to them. It is something that they are to do. They are to ensure that this doesn’t happen. They are to see to it.

How then do believers in any generation ensure that they are not caught by that which is bogus? Well, the answer is clear: by an understanding of what is true, and that the greatest antidote to false philosophy and to human speculative thought is a thorough-going, experiential grasp of basic Christian doctrine—that the believers in Parkside Church would be those who increasingly know their Bibles, understand who Christ is and why he’s come, have begun to put together this great compendium of truth, in all of these sixty-six elements in the two testaments of Scripture, and are able, when the people come to their door or when they confront them via television or radio, to say to themselves, “Aha! This is a hollow philosophy that depends on basic tradition. This is not the word of Christ.” Now, it is to that end that we labor in the privilege of pastoral ministry, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. And this, of course, is Paul’s great urgent concern with these Colossian believers.

We shouldn’t think, incidentally, that it was unique to the first century and then jumped twenty centuries and has now reappeared on the edge of the twenty-first. No. If you read church history, you will find that the church has faced this in every generation, just about. In the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth century, the church was in a poor-looking state. It had lost any sense of authority. It was being buffeted by the rationalists in the seventeenth century and by the deists in the eighteenth century. And a number of the church leaders at that time said, “You know, the only way that we’re going to be able to show ourselves strong and authoritative is to take these people on at their own game; and we need to become far more intelligent, and we will defeat them with their rationalistic thought; and we will speak to them in that way, and their deism we will tackle, and what we’ll do is we’ll have these lectures and we’ll let them lecture, and then we’ll lecture, and then the people will be able to deduce for themselves.” And it was a horrible mess, and it was an ensuing chaos. And what the lectures failed to do, God did himself. And a lady had a baby and his name was Charles, and his last name was Wesley, and God said, “Here we go.” And a lady had a baby, and his last name was Whitefield and his first name was George, and God said, “Here we go.” And a lady had a baby, Mrs. Edwards, and her son was Jonathan, and God said, “Here we go.” And what did he do? Well, he raised up men in a generation to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ in order that the church may bow beneath the authority of Christ.

You go to the nineteenth century, both in Britain and America, you find the exact same thing—the emergence of higher criticism, people saying, “The Bible doesn’t mean what it says. You shouldn’t treat Genesis 1 to 11 as truth. There’s no reason to believe that these numbers are correct. The prophets are all over the place. The kings, we don’t know who they are.” And all of this high-sounding philosophical speculative superficial thought washes over the church. And the church stands up and tries to defeat it, embracing some of these ideas and reaching out into Anglo-Catholicism and saying, “Well, we’ll show we’re strong by virtue of our numbers,” and what they’re unable to do by higher criticism and by the embracing of Anglo-Catholicism, God again does as he comes to revive his church in the midst of the years—and in Ulster and in Wales and across this great nation, God comes to a body threatening to become a corpse, to a moribund church, and he revives it in the face of its glaring lack of authority.

Now, I ask you this morning—you’re sensible people—do you think the church is authoritative at this point in the twenty-first century in America? Do you think we speak with authority? Do you think that there is any sense in which the culture really looks to us, that we would take a lead? Not for a moment—so, what are we going to do? “Oh well,” says somebody, “we’ll just get a few more people elected.” Silly idea! What are we going to do? We’re going to do what they had to do in Colossae, and that was bow down beneath the headship of Christ and examine ourselves to see whether we are securely attached to he who is the head of the Church, and then, if we are, to ensure that we are prepared to do unequivocally what the head of the church demands of his body.

The church is ruled by the headship of Christ. The Colossian believers need to understand that he is supreme and that he is sufficient.

Well, that is essentially the orb of what we have to say this morning. It is simply this: that the church is ruled by the headship of Christ. The Colossian believers need to understand that he is supreme and that he is sufficient. In these verses that we read, the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ just emanates from it. Look at it in verse 15 and 16 and 17: “The Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, “is supreme in all of creation. For by him all things were created.” The world doesn’t believe that. Half the Christians don’t believe that, for goodness sake. People do not believe that. But we do. Why? “Because the Bible says so: “By him all things were created.” What? The things in heaven and the things on earth. The things we can see and the things we can’t see. The thrones and the powers and the rulers and the authorities—all of these things were created by him, and they were created for him. What is this for? For Christ. Who made this? Christ. What are we supposed to do with this? Offer it up to Christ. You see how radically this differs from the average social studies class? Do you see how important it is that we become students of the Bible? We cannot argue our pagan friends and neighbors into these convictions. We must be prepared to recognize that they think we’re absolutely Neanderthal, that they think we’re the silliest people they ever met. That we would be prepared to raise our hands and say, “You know, I believe that the world was created by the Lord Jesus Christ.” And people say, “Hah, hah, hah. Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, I was just coughing.” “No, you weren’t coughing. You thought it was the daftest thing you ever heard.” “Yes, I did.” And furthermore, everything was created by him, and everything was created for him. He is supreme. He is supreme in his church, as we will see. He is sufficient, in that God’s fullness has dwelled in him, verse 19. He is sufficient in the work that he has done for his own, in that he has reconciled all things to himself. And it is in the context of the church that we ponder the wonder of his absolute supremacy and his absolute sufficiency.

You remember now that we said last time that the church is not a human institution thought up by a group of religious individuals who thought it would be nice to have an association, or a kind of religious club, a sort of theological or spiritual Rotary Club, you know, or the Kiwanis Club with a little bit of Jesus. But that the church is a divine institution, it is a spiritual institution, and that our attachment to the church comes as a result of being attached by grace through faith to Christ, who is the head of the church. “Therefore, if anyone,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.” And this is the great question with which we concluded last time: Am I included in Christ? Am I attached to Christ? Have I been included in Christ as a result of hearing his word of truth—the gospel that has been proclaimed—and bowing before his greatness?

Christ is the Organic Head of the Church

The church as an entity submits to Christ is a result of individuals submitting to Christ.

Now, we move from that to the question—not “Have I been included in Christ?”—but, “Am I submitting to Christ, who is the head?” You say, “Well, this is a very corporate question in that we’re studying the church.” Yes, of course it is, but the way that the church as an entity submits to Christ is a result of individuals submitting to Christ. And these Colossian believers were buffeted by error, and Paul needed them to know that they derived all of their growth and all of their guidance from Jesus, who is the head. They would have looked at one another, fledging in their faith, and said, “You know, I wish Paul would write to us or send us something, because after all, the things that people are saying seem to make quite a bit of sense to me.” It’s not that the things that people say sound senseless—so much of what they say sounds actually very reasonable, and that’s why it is imperative that we know our Bibles: so that we will be able to discriminate between that which is specious and bogus and that which is truth. And so Paul writes to them, and he says, “Listen, I want you to understand that Jesus is absolutely supreme. There is no one greater or higher than he, and Jesus is absolutely sufficient. Christ is the head of the body, the church, and as our heads control both our growth and our guidance, so Christ does the same for his body.”

Now, the little that I have learned about human anatomy, and you know that I am no scientist—my only interest in science as a schoolboy was in biology, and my only interest in biology extended to human biology, and that was merely out of a sense of self-preservation, because I actually had some of the things that were in the drawings, and I was possessed of some of the systems that were supposed to be working. So, I thought I might as well pay attention to this. As for the way in which stems are fitted to seeds and other things like that, I had to leave to my more intelligent friends, and they told me about it when I went home—but as to the issues of the human anatomy, I had a measure of concern for that. And I remember discovering the pituitary gland. When I say “discovering it,” I don’t mean that I was rooting around in someone’s head and I found a gland, but rather that a member of the congregation that I was serving in Edinburgh at that time, had begun to grow. He was actually a physician at the infirmary in Edinburgh, and he began to grow. He wasn’t supposed to grow, because he was fully grown—at least, he was a lot bigger than me to start with, and nobody should be growing any bigger than that. It made me feel worse than I do. So, I noticed one day when I shook his hand, I said, “Man, does he have big hands!” And I looked again and I said, “Whew, does he have big feet!” And then, over a period of time, I said, “You know, the distance between his nose and the top of his forehead seems to be increasing,” and it wasn’t because his hairline was receding. And, of course, I discovered what he in turn discovered, and that was that there was a malfunction in his pituitary gland, which secretes the growth hormone, as well as other hormones, and it was causing him to grow at a rapid rate even though he was a man in his mid-thirties. So they went in, and they did things in there, and while he was not able to diminish his hand size, certainly it was arrested at that point. And as a result of that—because I’m relatively intrigued by these things—I began to examine how in the secretion of this growth hormone, there is an impact on the connective tissue and upon cartilage and upon bone. Just in the last few weeks, I had the privilege of traveling for a week with somebody who was a neurosurgeon. I made a nuisance of myself by asking him all kinds of questions, simply again because I was intrigued by what he did, and I found out, for example, that it is in the cerebrum that we have the central center, which controls our various body parts. Those of you who are medics know as well that it is in the cerebellum that we have the coordination and the harmonization of all of our muscular action, and those of you who sneeze almost routinely on Sunday mornings when I’m preaching, should know that that has to do with the medulla, which is taking care of all your winking, coughing, chewing, swallowing, and sneezing—provided you are correctly attached to the head. I’ll just leave that there.

Now, it is from that physical picture and metaphor that Paul then moves to say, in the same way that the physical head is in control of both the organic element of life and the rulership or guidance of the individual (so that it doesn’t just walk off in all directions) so he says, “You Colossian believers need to be under the headship of Christ. Indeed, you’ve been placed into Christ, and it is under his headship, that you will grow.” Incidentally, and we’ll come back to this in later studies, Christ mediates his rule through a plurality of godly men, whom he has given as gifts to the church, says Paul in Ephesians 4, who are themselves pastors and teachers who have been given the responsibility of edifying the saints, so that they might be enabled to do the works of ministry.[1] God has given those who are the servants of the headship of Christ to be servants of the gospel of Christ, so that in the faithful exercising of that giftedness, the people of God may be correctly attached to the head.

I’m preparing a study that I have to give on Tuesday in Atlanta, entitled “Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Preacher.” It has kept me up at nights, fascinated and intrigued, and going to bed depressed and discouraged at the vastness of his capacity and the brilliance of his mind and the sensitivity of his soul. And in the course of my research, I discovered that in 1926, when he was still twenty-six—his birthday was December the twentieth—his fiancée at that time, thinking that she’s about to marry a physician from Harley Street in London, she herself being a medical doctor, discovers that the stirrings are in the heart of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, her fiancé, to become a preacher of the gospel. She has never heard him preach. Indeed, he preaches only twelve times before he is invited to preach with a view to becoming the pastor of a little mission center in Aberavon in Wales. And his fiancée, Bethan, says to him in the course of this journey, she says, “You know that you can do medicine. How do you know that you can preach?” And do you know what his answer was? “I can preach to myself. Therefore, I can preach, I think, to others.”[2]

Together we bow beneath he who is the supreme one, and the all-sufficient one, and he who alone is the head of the church.

Now, here it is, my dear friends, and listen carefully to this: the only foundation and basis upon which those of us who have been called, through the teaching of the Bible, by the enabling of the Spirit, to mediate the rule of Christ’s headship among his people, is as we have the Bible preached to ourselves, and unless it comes in power to us, it cannot come in power through us. Therefore, no man can exhort you to submit to the headship of Christ with any sense of realistic integrity unless that man himself has been so beset upon by the necessity of his bowing to the headship of Christ. So, it is not some monarchy that God has established, where with kings and popes and princes, he has established some hierarchical structure, and in the midst of that, you have the proletariat, you know, in Colossae or in Cleveland or in Corinth, and they are called upon to do what the leaders say. No. It is that together we bow beneath he who is the supreme one, and the all-sufficient one, and he who alone is the head of the church. So, if you never heard it before, you heard it here this morning, on the twenty-second of October, 2000. “Who’s in charge around here?” Christ. Christ. He has given it to no one else to be in charge—neither to a pope, not a prince, not a king, not a pretender to the throne. So we stand on the common ground at the foot of the cross, as sinners saved by grace, irrespective of the function and the gifting and the place that we are given in the economy of God’s purposes.

Now, loved ones, it is imperative that those who are given that stewardship then are proving faithful. John Stott in his addresses to the Keswick Convention in England earlier this year, in July of this year, said this, “It is very easy to be unfaithful stewards and I’m afraid that we have to admit that there are many such in the Christian community… [now] rejecting the authority of the Word of God; preferring their own teaching; [now] neglecting to study it, failing to relate it to the real contemporary world; [now] manipulating it [in]to mean[ing] what they want it to mean; [now] selecting from it what they like and discarding what they don’t like; [now] even contradicting its plain teaching and substituting their [own] threadbare speculations; [and now] flagrantly disobeying its ethical teaching.” No wonder,” he says, “the church is languishing in many parts of the world.”[3] Because its leaders do not bow to the supreme authority and headship of Christ.

Now, when we begin to think the implications of this out, it takes us in many directions. Can I take you just for a moment again from the physical to the spiritual? Many of us have experienced this, either firsthand or with members of our family. I certainly have had occasion, and still have occasion, in my life to push around in wheelchairs members of my immediate extended family, those with whom I played soccer when I was a tiny boy, who now find themselves imprisoned in a chair; those who carried me around on their shoulders, whom themselves now need to be carried around. The reason is that there is some malformation between the head and the rest of the body. I’ve observed a number of things in relationship to that physical condition: number one, such individuals are unable now to move properly; number two, they’re easily frustrated because they know what they want to do, but they are now unable to do it; thirdly, they tend to be rather clumsy in achieving even the simplest task; fourthly, they normally have difficulty in communicating, since their speech is either impaired or increasingly nonexistent; and fifthly, they’re easily tired out, and they’re often unable to continue even in the least demanding of exercises.

Now, when I was a student at LBC, my pastor pointed out in one memorable sermon that there are some distinct parallels between that physical element and the spiritual aspect of it amongst the body of Christ. So, let’s just apply them and think it out. If the body of Christ, in its local expression as we think of it here at Parkside, is in any way disconnected from the head, is in any way doing anything other than submitting to the headship of Christ, then number one, it will become apparent that it doesn’t move easily or with confidence and authority in ministering with relevance to a godless world. When you’re disconnected from the head, you will not speak freely, and relevantly, and impactfully to your pagan friends and neighbors, because you’ve lost, you see, the connection necessary. Secondly, such a church will constantly display a frustration at the gap between what it should be doing and what it’s actually doing. Thirdly, it will seem to take forever to respond to and complete even the most straightforward of tasks. Sometimes I wonder, “Why does it take so long to get anything done around here? If this was any other place, this thing would be bankrupt, you know. What is going on here?” Well, it’s not the only answer, but one of the answers is that there’s a disconnection, you see. The information is not flowing from the head in the way that it needs to flow. Fourthly, the communication of such a fellowship will often be vague and jumbled. No one will actually know what it’s saying, or even if it’s saying anything at all, and after any unusual exertion, it will be exhausted and protest that it needs time to be given to it to recover.

Now, all of this is a failure on the part of the body to submit to the head. It would be nice, somehow or another, if we could go in and then give a variety of explanations as to why the body and the head would be disconnected. There is never any possibility of disconnection from the head to the body in relationship to the headship of Christ. Therefore, it is all from here to there, and it is all addressed in one simple word, and the word is “sin.” Sin. If I am disconnected from the headship of Christ, the answer is sin. If you doubt that, read your Bible. When you think of the word sin, most of us are so familiar with it, we say, “Sin, what is sin?” Well, first of all, sin is not a deed. It’s a condition. It’s a state of being. It’s a mentality, It’s an approach to things, but it expresses itself in a variety of different ways, and that’s why in the New Testament we’re given all kinds of words to indicate the nature of sin. It’s a long time since I’ve shared them with you. I want just to reiterate them this morning in order to make this point most clearly.

The first word, or the first word on my list, at least, is hamartia, which is the transliteration of it into English. It’s a shooting term, it’s from archery—we’re familiar with it—we know it to be that “missing the mark.” We all fall short of the glory of God.[4] We miss the mark. We know that we’re not what we ought to be—sin. The second word is parabasis, and it means to step across the line. Those of you who fought your friends at school, and then made up very quickly, will remember those times in the playground when some character determined that he would dare you to step across the line. And then he made a line, often drawing it in the dirt with his foot, and he said, “I dare you to step across it.” And every so often, we were foolish enough to step across it, and we lived with the consequences, as we clutched our noses and ran home to tell our mothers about the evil that had been done to us. But we stepped across it deliberately, intentionally, premeditatively. Listen and listen really carefully: when you and I look the instruction of the headship of Christ straight on, when we understand where the lines are drawn, and we say, “I know I shouldn’t say this, I know I shouldn’t do this, I know I shouldn’t be there,” and we say it, do it, and go there, then we engage in willful sin, and the idea of being able to enjoy the full flow of the communion and guidance and growth of the headship of Christ, simultaneous with that, is a feat that is uncountenanced in the whole Bible. Anybody stepping over the line willfully?

The third word means to slip across the line, paraptoma. This is something that is impulsive, it is un-premeditated, it is unintentional. We find ourselves saying, “I’ve no idea why I did that. I didn’t mean to say that. I didn’t want to do that.” And we did it. The fourth word is anomia. Nomos is Greek for “law,” “a,” the prefix, as in “anomaly,” a-nomia, anomia … lawlessness. “I’ll do what I want. I’ll think what I want. I’ll go where I want.” It’s just total rebellion. And the last word is opheilema, and it simply means “a debt”—when I fail to give God and other people what is their due.

If there is any disconnection between the head and the body, it’s as a result of sin.

Now, do you understand this? It’s very simple, isn’t it? If there is any disconnection between the head and the body, it’s as a result of sin—sin that works its way out in my life in lawlessness, in stepping over the line, in slipping over the line, in incurring a debt to God that should be dealt with as I come to him in confession. And you can’t take the cumulative impact of that amongst the company of God’s people and expect that the power of the Spirit of God will be pulsing throughout the body, you see. That’s why our sins as individuals are not individual sins. For none of us sin to ourselves, no more than we live to ourselves or we die to ourselves. But we live and die to the Lord, and we sin and it impacts everybody else. So the sin of Achan was closing down the development of the events of God’s unfolding plan, until finally he comes forward and says, “Hey, I put it there. I hid it there. I’m the man.” And the evil one comes with the insinuation and says, “You know, nobody knows. Nobody sees.” Don’t believe that for a split second. Wait until you get to tonight. Luke, chapter 12. Jesus says the things that are whispered in the secret behind closed doors are going to be shouted out on the rooftops. He said the things that are done whereby we believe we’ve got them perfectly concealed, they’re going to be made known to everybody.[5] The devil comes and says, “Don’t worry about that stuff. Don’t you have to worry about that. That’s not going to happen. You just go ahead and do what you do. I mean you’re going along—you’re there. You’re at church. I mean you’re in! You’re sitting there, the person next to you doesn’t know. It doesn’t affect them.” It does! The impact of Parkside Church, in terms of its growth to maturity and its ability to affect the unconverted community of Cleveland, is directly related to our preparedness, willingness to submit to the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. And sin can only lead the body one way, and that is via the mouth. You understand that? If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin. But if we sit on our sin, if we hide our sin, if we run away from our sin, if we think that simply the passage of time deals with sin—“You know, that was a long time ago and it doesn’t matter now”—yes, it does matter now! Until you and I come and deal with that which breaks the communication between the head and the body, then we live with the implications of all that potential dysfunction. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? That’s why he uses the metaphor: “Christ,” he says, “is the head of the body, his Church.”

Christ is the Ruling Head of the Church

Now, I’ve spent the majority of my time there, in fact 85 to 90 percent of the time. Let me just say a word about the fact that he is not only the organic head of the church, in terms of governing its life and its growth, but he is also the ruling head of the church. He is, as we’ve said, in charge. He alone is the Supreme One. It doesn’t fall to any other individual. Now, those of you who come this morning from a Roman Catholic tradition have been taught all through the years that Peter was the head of the church, and as a result of that, he’s been the head of the church and his successors are in control of the whole church throughout the whole world for all time. All I need to say to you is just read your Bible. If you read your Bible, you’ll discover that Peter had a significant place amongst the twelve, but he was just one of twelve. It’s questionable whether he came out top in his dialogues with Paul in the book of Galatians; it’s certainly questionable whether Paul himself regarded himself in submission to Peter at any point. Certainly the other disciples were able to give as good as they got. And as the church unfolded throughout the early centuries, no one would have said very much concerning the primacy of Peter. That emerges throughout the later ages. It’s really an interesting idea, is it not? Why, because he was the leader of the twelve, would he be the leader of the whole church throughout the whole world? You ever seen a beehive? You see the queen bee? The queen bee’s in charge of the hive. If you could interview the bee, do you think the bee would say that she was in charge of all the hives within a hundred square miles of her beehive? Do you think that she would say that just because she was the head of this beehive, she was in charge of all beehives? No, clearly not. Do you think if we had the opportunity to interview Peter that he would have said as a result of his privileged position in leadership within the twelve, such as it was, that he was now going to be the foundation upon which the whole church was established? He, the foundation, he to whom Jesus is to say, “Get you behind me, Satan?” “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” And he said, “That’s right, Peter, and upon that rock I will build my church.”[6] What rock? The clear testimony of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

That’s the rock. There is no foundation that any man can lay, save the foundation, which is there in Jesus Christ. Isn’t that what Paul says? Listen, loved ones, there is no foundation—either in the Roman papacy, nor in any structured denominationalism throughout the history of the church, nor in any local church with all its pretending little popes, as we may emerge, there is no place for primacy and supremacy and authority and headship to be given to any individual, save to Jesus Christ. And that is why I say to you all the time, “You are sensible people. Read the Bible for yourself and see if these things are true,” so that you may become students of the Book, because your ability to understand the Bible will be the greatest preventative measure from anybody rising to a position of authority or authoritarianism or autocracy or domination or manipulation. That’s what happens in the cults, and the reason is that nobody knows anything. Nobody knows what should be or what shouldn’t be. They have no substantiation. They have no book from which they’re working. They’re simply basing the authority on the personality and the power of the individual. But that’s never the case within the church. Any authority that is granted to leadership within the church is a derived authority. It is by the Spirit, through the Scripture and under the headship of Jesus Christ. And individuals do themselves great harm when they begin to see themselves as unchallenged founts of wisdom and instruction. Now, I want you to know that neither I, nor any of my colleagues here, regard ourselves as unchallenged founts of wisdom and instruction, but we do believe that we have the immense privilege of dealing from the Holy Scriptures, which are an unchallenged fount of wisdom and instruction.

The real question is “What does God’s word say?”

You see the answer … The little bracelet is quite good you know, “What Would Jesus Do?” but it’s not the best question, because nobody knows in certain circumstances what Jesus would do, you know, for example, I was coming up the stairs in the snow in Cleveland in the middle of the winter and it was snowing like a blizzard outside, and I was following a lady and she had a tag on her back, and it was a “What Would Jesus Do?” tag. And I said to her, “So, what would Jesus do?” And she said, “Well, I don’t know.” And I said, “Well, at least you’re honest.” The real question is “What does God’s word say?” ’Cause the only way we know what Jesus would do is in the strength of what Jesus has done, and then what Jesus as the head of the Church has instructed the Church to do. See, you and I could come up with a lot of answers to the questions that would be wrong, unless we take out the Bible and adjudicate from the Holy Scriptures. I can’t tell you how crucial this is—the loss of authority in the Church at this point in the twenty-first century is staggering in its implications.

When I was a boy in Glasgow—and I’ll just finish with this illustration—when I was a boy in Glasgow, in the Glasgow Central Station, before they had electronic scoreboards—not scoreboards, but electronic … you know, the train coming here and there and all that jazz. They used to have what was essentially a huge big bay window. It went way down, oh, 120 feet, and then ’round a corner, and there was a man who just put boards up there. I’m sure you had it at Penn Central and all the other stations here as well. And they put the boards up—the trains going to Glasgow, the trains going to Edinburgh, the trains going to Carlisle, and so on—and there was also a man, I don’t know if it was the same man, I think probably another man, and this man used to announce. And his voice would reverberate around the hallways, and you would hear it just sort of back there, you know, “The train’s now coming …” and everybody just going about their business, just not a thing. And I’d stand there as a small boy and I’d say to myself, “I wonder what it feels like to be that man?” You know, you stand up there and you think you’re the—you know, “The train now …” And the people just couldn’t give a rip. I wanted to say, “Wouldn’t it be great if just once, you know, we’d say, ‘Hey, SHHH! The whole station! Listen!’ and the guy would say, ‘They’re listening to me—they’re listening!’” Now, the metaphor and the analogy breaks down at so many points to be shameful, but listen. There is a sense in which the average church feels that all is well—the train’s on the track; people are getting on at the station; they’re getting off at the station; they’re going to their class; they’re going to their group; they’re doing their thing; they’re reading their Bible; they’re coming to the thing; they’re ticking the box; they’re doing the thing. And Christ is giving instructions from above and everything goes on, without any attention to him at all. And someone says, “Oh, it would be great if we could just all listen for a moment, and if we might hear from him.” That’s the thing. The staggering thing, loved ones this morning, is not that there is such rampant declension within the twenty-first century church. The staggering thing is this: that most twenty-first century morning congregations are totally oblivious to the fact. What is the future of the church? It is in bowing to the headship of Christ. “Who’s in charge around here?” He is. Let us pray together.

Oh God, our gracious Father, out of a multitude of words, we pray that we might hear your voice, that you will take that which is in error or which is unhelpful, which is counterproductive to the unfolding of your purpose, and you will help us to readily forget it. And we pray that you will take that which is of yourself and you will engrain it within us. Cleanse us, we pray, from our sins, from playing around with stupidity and ideas that are wrong. Fill us afresh with your Spirit. Revive your church, O Lord we pray, in the midst of the years, and remind us that Christ is the only foundation, that he is the cornerstone, that he is supreme in and through it all. Unite us then, to him we pray, by grace through faith, and bid us submit all of our lives and our futures before his authority and his love.

And unto him, the one who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy—to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and along the journey of our uncertain life and pilgrimage, and until he comes, and then forevermore.[7] Amen.


[1] Ephesians 4:11–12, 16 (paraphrased).

[2] Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 108.

[3] John Stott, John Stott at Keswick: A Lifetime of Preaching (Colorado Springs: Authentic Media, 2008), 408-409.

[4] Romans 3:23 (paraphrased).

[5] Luke 12:2–3 (paraphrased).

[6] Matthew 16:15–19 (paraphrased).

[7] Jude 24–25 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.