Every Church is a Christocracy

Every Church is a Christocracy

If the last few years have forced evangelicals to reconsider anything it is the nature of authority in the world and in the church. On Monday, March 16, 2020, President Trump announced that a corona virus was spreading throughout the world in such a way that we were facing a pandemic of epic proportions. He and federal health officials proposed a “15 days to slow the spread—or flatten the curve” of the virus in hopes of minimizing the impact of the looming disaster.

As we know, those 15 days quickly expanded into months, and then years of governmental officials restricting the activities of citizens, businesses, and institutions—including churches. Very soon, governors began issuing executive orders telling churches that they could not meet, or that they could only meet according to governmental guidelines—which often included restrictions on singing or having no more than 10 people present (as in the case of Virginia).

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam held a press conference December 10, 2020 and said,

“Christmas is two weeks away. The holidays are typically times of joy and community. We gather together, we celebrate our faith, and we celebrate with family.”

“But this year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building? For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” Northam said. “Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”

He called on faith leaders to “lead the way and set an example.”

Similarly, Governor Gavin Newsom in California issued an executive order forbidding churches from meeting. Later he said that churches could meet but under very severe restrictions. His restrictions continued until Grace Church and Pastor John MacArthur successfully won a judgment against him in the Supreme Court.

These, and similar actions by civil authorities, forced churches and church leaders to reconsider what Scripture teaches about how the church relates to the state. Specifically, who has the right to tell churches what they can and cannot do, when they can gather, and how they can gather?

Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He and He alone is Head of the Church as well as the Head of every local true church.

Though that was a painful process for many churches, and some negotiated those challenges better than others, I think it is safe to say that for many it helped clarify what has always been true but can no longer be taken for granted, and that is that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He and He alone is Head of the Church as well as the Head of every local true church.

I am confident that no church would deny that as an article of faith, but learning afresh to consider what it means practically—and what it may cost to honor His lordship in the face of opposition or persecution—has been a blessing to many churches.

Jesus Christ is Head of the church. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of the living God,” Jesus responded by saying, “On this rock I will build MY church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Paul introduces the idea of Jesus being the “head of the church” in six passages in his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians. In Ephesians 4:16 he says that as we mature in sound doctrine and learning to speak the truth in love, we are able to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” In Ephesians 5:23 Paul writes, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”

In Colossians 2:19 Christ is called “the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

Christ is Head of the church in the sense that He is the One “who stands over it” in the sense of being the basis of its existence, the source of its life, and the authoritative Ruler over it.[1]

What this means is that every church—regardless of its polity—is ultimately a Christocracy. Jesus is Lord of the church. He is the Head of every true church. This truth, rightly understood, rightly guides church leaders in both addressing a church’s internal affairs and determining its mission.

Internal Affairs

When questions, challenges, or controversies confront a congregation the primary goal in responding to them should be to determine the mind of Christ. What does the Lord Jesus have to say on this? What is the way of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17) to resolve this? Christ’s mind and ways are revealed to us in Scripture. There the job of church leaders and church members is to discern what the Bible says a church should do in any situation.

Granted, some situations are clearer than others, but no decision of any significance should be taken without first grappling with biblical teaching and principles. We do this because Christ is Head of the church.

Christ is Head of the church in the sense that He is the One “who stands over it” in the sense of being the basis of its existence, the source of its life, and the authoritative Ruler over it.

One clear example of how this works out practically is in the area of corrective church discipline. Matthew 18:15-20 unambiguously outlines normal steps for dealing with sin in the church. Since Christ is Lord of the church, true churches understand that they do not have the option to ignore these instructions. That is likewise true of the more urgent and immediate command to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13; read the whole chapter) when a public, scandalous sin is being committed by a church member.

If a church sees itself as a Christocracy, it will obey the Lord Jesus in this area, even when it is painful and unpopular to do so.


How the church goes about making disciples is also governed by the Headship of Christ. Our starting point is with the exalted position of our crucified, risen Savior. Jesus Himself prefaces His great commission with this reminder: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Only after asserting His universal lordship does He issue the command to His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Churches own the mission to evangelize the nations. We preach Christ both personally and publicly, formally and informally; in pulpits as well as coffee shops; on the job site as well as the playground. There is no place nor any person who is outside the scope of our concern. Why? Because as Head of the church our Lord has “all authority.” His authority extends everywhere.

As Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:22, God“put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Jesus is not only Head over the church but also, over “all things.” All principalities, powers, governments, institutions, and individuals are subservient to our sovereign, risen Lord. God made certain of that by raising Jesus from the dead and giving Him, in the capacity of our risen Mediator, to the church.

So our evangelism, while full of compassionate pleading with people to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, is never to be carried out as if our Lord is dependent on human power for disciples to be added to His family. He is Lord of lords and King of kings and we, His ambassadors, go out in His Name, calling all people to come to Jesus Christ and be saved (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Our evangelism is never to be carried out as if our Lord is dependent on human power for disciples to be added to His family.

The early church had this understand of Jesus as King and the church as a Christocracy as they carried out their mission. We know this by the response of their opponents to their efforts. In Thessalonica, the response to the preaching of Paul and Silas was so profound that hostile Jews dragged some of the new converts before city officials. There they charged them not with becoming Christians, but with proclaiming the kingship of Jesus. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

Could it be that one reason so many churches seem to be making so little difference in the world today is because we have lost sight of the kingship of Christ? He is Lord. He is Head of the church. God has raised Him from the dead and made Him head over all things for the church. We carry out our marching orders to make disciples because all authority belongs to Him and we are His ambassadors.

Pastors and elders must teach their congregations to recognize every true church is a Christocracy. We do what we do in obedience to our Lord. We conduct our affairs and carry out His mission in the Name of our King Jesus. Perhaps, as the Lord grants us grace and courage to live this way, we will, like the early church before us, have reason to be charged with turning our world upside down.

[1] Heinrich Schlier, “Κεφαλή, Ἀνακεφαλαιόομαι,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 679.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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