Headship: The Display of Headship in the Local Assembly

Having looked at the Demonstration of Headship in the Trinity, the Distinction of Headship in Humanity, and the Delight of Headship in Matrimony, we now conclude with the Display of Headship in the Assembly.

Christ as Head Over All

As a conqueror returning from victory, the ascended Christ took His appropriate place at the right hand of the majesty on high. Peter informs us that He is “gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” (1Pe 3:22).[1] Paul likewise states that He is “head of all principality and power” (Col 2:10). Every knee, from every sphere, will bow before Him (Php 2:10).

Christ as Head Over the Church Which Is His Body

Without question, this dispensation is unique, and as Christians we find ourselves with the inestimable privilege of being included in the Church. A great mystery since the world began was kept in silence, concealed in the heart of God and looked for by the righteous of former dispensations. The apostle Paul was given the responsibility to expand on this subject, teaching us that Christ is, in a very unique sense, “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness [complement] of him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). In Ephesians 5, he parallels this to the marriage bond, no doubt alluding to the great truth that the Church will one day take her place as the Bride of Christ (Rev 19).

The Display of Headship in the Local Church

During His earthly ministry, our Lord introduced, among many things, the truth of the local church, believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the writers of the NT took up their pens to expand on these subjects. In each, a physical symbol is employed to demonstrate particular truth. In baptism the symbol is water, depicting a grave into which the believer identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. At the Lord’s Supper, the physical loaf of bread and cup of wine represent His body given for us and the new covenant ratified by His shed blood. In like manner, the Scriptures are unequivocally clear that when the local church gathers together, there is to be a physical symbol used to display the truth of headship. In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, Paul details for us the practice and purpose of this magnificent truth.

First, he teaches us the divine order of headship in the assembly: God, Christ, man, woman (v3). As noted previously, this does not denote inferiority but rather that there are divinely appointed differences in responsibilities and distinction in roles. One of the ways to display this in the local church is for the man to leave his head uncovered and the woman to cover hers. The apostle elaborates that if the man were to cover his head he would actually disgrace Christ, a serious thing indeed (v4). Similarly, the woman who refuses to physically cover her head disgraces herself and shames every man in the assembly. He goes further, stating that without a covering, it’s as though she had a shorn or shaven head, like a man (vv5-6).

There is much being communicated by this simple observance. The man as “image” is the creatorial representative, so he must not cover his head (v7). The creatorial type is to be upheld; the woman is from the side of the man (v8), pointing forward to Christ and His Bride.  The creatorial order is being displayed; man was appointed as head and the woman given to him as a helpmeet (v9). Creatorial wisdom is being observed by angelic hosts (v10); the woman must be covered.

This physical symbol is not the only feature observed for the display of headship in the assembly. 1 Corinthians 14:34-40 commands that the women keep silent. Note that it is men and women, not brothers and sisters, that are being distinguished. In verse 26 the apostle addresses the “brethren” (lit. “brothers”), yet in verse 34 he does not say “sisters” but rather “women.” The Spirit of God is careful to uphold this vital distinction, clarifying that headship is in view. Further, in 1 Corinthians 15 we find no mention of any women as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. Why? Mary definitely saw Him first (Joh 20). The answer lies in the context. The setting is the public preaching of the gospel (1Co 15:1-3,11-15). This responsibility falls to men who have been gifted to the body by the risen Head (Eph 4:11). Paul will not instruct the saints in one breath that the women should be silent in the church and contradict it in the next.

1 Timothy 2:8-15 endorses such teaching, adding that there is a dual reason for the silence of the women in the church. It’s not only the order of creation, but also because of the transgression of the woman. It was a sad day when, in Eden’s garden, the woman abandoned her God-given sphere as helper to take the place as head. God wants this precious order recovered and revealed in the church.

Just as in the Garden of Eden, the enemy of human souls is still seeking to undermine the wisdom of God, and, unsurprisingly, it seems that headship is one of the most misunderstood and disregarded truths of the NT. We live in a day of disorder and confusion in relation to basic Genesis truth. How vital that as Christians we appreciate and maintain this doctrine. In every aspect of our lives, let men be men and women be women. By doing so we will experience the blessing of God’s wisdom.

We close this subject in worship, with the doxology of Romans 11:33-36: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.