God’s plan for a local church is wonderful! Once you grasp the beauty of it, it captivates your soul. A local assembly brings together different people from different backgrounds, young and old, male and female, rich and poor. The greater the mix, the more wonderful it is.
The members are united in love under a common allegiance. They submit to higher authority: the authority of God and His Word, the pre-eminence of Christ, and the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the assembly exists for three main reasons: to worship and serve God and His blessed Son, to encourage and build up the believers, and to witness to the lost. These are the upward, inward and outward aspects of testimony. An assembly that neglects even one of these three vital components – worship, instruction or evangelism – will be imbalanced.
Submitting to God and His Word
Those whom God has raised up by the Holy Spirit to shepherd His flock do so in His Name (Act 20:28). In the Bible, they are also described as “elders,” signifying spiritual maturity, and “overseers,” denoting their need to be vigilant and prayerful. Their lives are to be exemplary (1Pe 5:1-4). They seek to lead those under their care in paths of righteousness. Theirs is a delegated authority: as shepherds they are ultimately accountable to the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elders are to be respected and obeyed: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Heb 13:7,17). The wise believer will avoid criticizing or undermining them. Instead, he or she will be careful to remember them and the spiritual counsel they have given. They are worthy of prayerful and practical support because of the burdens they carry on behalf of the flock (1Th 5:12-13; 1Ti 5:17). They too learned to follow before being spiritually qualified to lead.
Submitting to the Lordship and Headship of Christ
There are two complementary ways in which the preeminence of Christ is shown in the assembly: symbolically and practically. Symbols are important but they are not enough on their own; the attitudes and actions of the believers should correspond with that which the symbol portrays.
The uncovered heads of the men: The apostle Paul taught clearly that the head of the man is Christ (1Co 11:3). This is symbolized when the assembly gathers, and the men physically uncover their heads. Why? So that Christ alone may be seen. Everything that is said and done should be for His honor and glory.
The covered heads of the women: In God’s order, the head of the woman is the man. When the assembly gathers, the women cover their heads. Why? So that all that speaks of man is hidden. In picture form, when the angels look down from above upon a gathering of Christians, Christ alone is seen, and man is hidden from view (v10). How beautiful is that!
Of course, as we know, it is the men who are to lead and speak in public. The women are to be obedient to Scripture and remain silent (14:34; 1Ti 2:11-12). The whole company should be aware that the men are not to exalt themselves but in true humility they are to exalt Christ. To this the women give their heartfelt assent.
Submitting to the Leading of the Spirit of God
All of the activities of the local assembly require preparation and are to be carried out with godly order. This follows prayerful exercise, that God by His Spirit will lead and guide. Confusion and disorder in the assembly will dishonor the name of the Lord, as was happening in the assembly at Corinth in Paul’s time. The local assembly is not a “free for all,” where any man can say what he likes whenever he likes. Neither is it to be a “one-man ministry,” where a single individual dominates the proceedings and seeks to bend everyone to his will.
Elders take the lead but are willing to share the burden of the various ministries in the assembly. They are responsible to ensure that other brethren who preach and teach the Word do so profitably. They also recognize and encourage the development of gift among those who are younger.
Shepherding the flock is a heavy responsibility, but to be united in this work with likeminded brethren is a great blessing. The burdens elders carry mean that at times there are sleepless nights, sadness and tears. The Holy Spirit is not only a guide; thank God He is also a Comforter who draws alongside in such a time of need.
“But what if …?”
What if the elders of your assembly, in your opinion, are not up to the mark? What if you feel that they are hindering progress? You may privately, humbly and graciously present your concerns before them. Having done so, you must leave the issue there. Never speak disrespectfully about your elders or make character judgements on hearsay (1Ti 5:19). Keep in mind that you may not know the whole story. Experience has shown that often those who complain have considered only one side of a story; godly elders will have a fuller knowledge and also will take into account the needs of the whole assembly.
This brief series has attempted to highlight the importance of submission to God’s authority and order, even in the present day when the devil would seek to create disorder. His goal has always been to frustrate the purposes of God by instigating national rebellion, strikes in the workplace, breakdown in marriages and families, and division in the church. Submission, as we have seen, can easily be misrepresented as forced subjugation by oppressors. “Rise up and rebel!” cries the world; “Bow down and obey” say the Scriptures.
In the Bible, submission is supremely an act of love. Those who are consecrated to God seek to please Him and delight to obey Him. They find joy and fulfillment in His will. To us all who are followers of Christ, whatever our role is in life, we should be marked by a spirit of submission and humility in our dealings with others: “Be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility” (1Pe 5:5); “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:21). This does not mean compromising truth, but it does mean gentleness and lowliness of spirit – in other words, being more like Christ.
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.