Spiritual Decapitation

By Steve Wolfgang

Judging from the rash of recent articles on the subject, it seems to have become fashionable for some of us who preach to ask questions such as, “Are we converted to Christ or to the Church of Christ?” Recently I have heard this question expressed in several different ways; if the truth were known, I would have to own up to asking and preaching about the same sort of question.

There is nothing inherently wrong with asking this or most other questions. If our intention is simply to indicate that our ultimate loyalty is not to any group of human beings, even those who as Christians compose a local congregation of God’s people, but rather to God and His dear Son; or, if we are merely trying to teach that (as one younger preacher said in an article I saw recently) “to overemphasize the church and under emphasize Jesus is to make a very gross blunder,” then I would concur wholeheartedly. In fact, I suspect it would be difficult to find a gospel preacher who would disavow such a statement or such sentiments.

However, we need to recognize an equally gross blunder into which we may fall: overemphasizing a hazy, mystical “Jesus” at the expense of under-emphasizing or failing to teach the clear truth of God’s word regarding His church. In this regard we need to beware lest we become guilty of “spiritual decapitation,” that is, separating the Body from the Head to which it is connected. If we truly “love the Lord,” we will also manifest our love for His church, which He loved so much that He died for it (Eph. 5:25), because the church which is Christ’s is, in the words of Eph. 1:22, “His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (NASB).

This “tension” between Christ (the Head) and the church (His body) which has recently been emphasized by some writers and preachers “among us” is not solely the concern of gospel preachers; even some denominational writers have comprehended the point. While in the course of corresponding with a fellow younger preacher about this subject, I happened across a comment from the pen of a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville. Of course, whether a Baptist theologian says something is so or not so matters not in the slightest as far as I am concerned, but given the reverence for denominational “scholarship” on the part of many of those who denigrate Christ’s church while professing love for the Head, I found the following comment to be quite interesting. It comes from the Fall, 1974 issue (Volume LXXI, No.4) of the Review and Expositor, published here in Louisville (but in fact actually printed by the same firm in Berne, Indiana which prints Truth Magazine). According to Dr. Frank Stagg, who is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, the type of thinking described above “exaggerates the distinction between ecclesiology and Christology, for just as for Paul to be ‘ in Christ’ is to be in his church, the body of Christ. . . , so for Luke to persecute Christians is to persecute Christ. . .so inseparable are his people from Christ. Neither Luke nor any other New Testament writer knows a Christology which does not look to the formation of a people, whether termed church’ or otherwise” (p. 453).

Again, while any man’s say-so does not make a certain thing spiritually right or wrong, it is an interesting and, indeed, pathetic state of affairs when a denominational theologian can see and express a point which some professed gospel preachers either claim not to see or even totally reject.

Let us work together to commit our own lives and those of the many in spiritual desolation to Christ. Let us continue the difficult struggle to keep our thinking -and actions truly undenominational and to guard ourselves from becoming simply another sect. But let us remember that the Head to whom we must be loyal above every human loyalty is yet attached to His body, and that the spiritual body and its proper functions cannot be neglected, de-emphasized, or ignored if we are to be faithful in preaching the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:26-32). As with the case of “love and marriage” in the old song, “you can’t have one without the other.” If we truly love Christ let us cherish His church, as does Christ Himself (Eph. 5:29).

Truth Magazine XXII: 11, p. 178
March 16, 1978