“Where are the Headquarters of the Church?”Categories: Authority
Written By: Collin Stringer
Brooklyn, New York. Salt Lake City, Utah. Rome, Italy. These are answers that some give when asked about the location of the headquarters of the church. How would God answer?
An organizations headquarters are the center of its operations from which orders are issued. So, where is the center of operations for the Lord’s church? From where does the church receive its orders? If we answer these questions correctly, we have found the headquarters of the church.
As we go to the Bible for answers, we must understand how the word church is used. It may refer to the universal church which is the body of saved people in fellowship with Christ (Hebrews 12:23; Ephesians 5:23). It is composed of individuals, not churches, from all over who are known only to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:19). A local church, on the other hand, is a group of believers in a location who are in submission to and in fellowship with one another (Ephesians 1:1; 5:21).
When some refer to the church, they are thinking of neither the universal church nor a local church, but rather a group of local churches which is distinguished from other groups by their common name and shared beliefs. Such a church is a denomination, something foreign to God’s word. We can easily identify the headquarters of denominations. In the cities mentioned above, you can locate the center of operations for certain denominations. In these organizations leaders will legislate and pass on decisions they expect to be accepted and followed in their churches.
When we speak of the headquarters of the church in scriptural terms, though, it is the universal church that is in view. The Bible tells us how this church is organized. Read carefully: “He raised Him (Christ) from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, … And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church …” (Ephesians 1:20–23).
Christ alone is head of His church. He rules His people from His throne. While earthborn men wield their power and authority from denominational centers, Christ reigns far above their ignoble dominion. Isn’t it clear that the center of operations for the Lord’s church is His throne? Since Christ has issued orders from there, the headquarters of the church cannot be on earth—it is in heaven.
Since “all things” are under Christ’s rule, men on their own have no authority. The Lord, though, has authorized elders to rule over local churches (1 Timothy 5:17). Their oversight is limited to the local church which they shepherd (1 Peter 5:2). They do not legislate for the church; they lead them as they themselves are led by Christ’s word. In His word we find no organizational hierarchy between Christ our head and the local congregation. Each local church, apart from any human institutions, is authorized to do things such as appointing their servants, ordering their worship, and controlling their finances (Acts 6:3; 1 Corinthians 14:40; Acts 11:27–30).
Not only do earthly church headquarters violate the law of Christ, but by regulating congregations they also impinge upon the privilege of the individual Christian to walk by his own faith. Paul writes, “We live for the Lord … we are the Lord’s” and, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (Romans 14:8, 22). Each one who is the Lord’s should be living by his own faith, not by the dictates of a denominational head. The church belonging to Christ is indeed a “priesthood of believers” who get direction directly from their head through His word.
The headquarters of one denomination makes this bold claim about itself: “It is God’s sole collective channel for the flow of Biblical truth to men on earth” (The Watchtower, July 15, 1960, p. 439). Can we trust the purity of a such a flow? When we debate over divisive religious issues, we may be torn and troubled as we seek to know the truth. We should find assurance in knowing that we must not wait upon the ruling of a synod or conference of an earthly headquarters to determine truth for us. We can open our own Bibles, draw our own conclusions, and then walk by our own faith—a faith arising from and grounded in the word that flows from our head who reigns in the heavenly headquarters of His church.
Originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Christianity Magazine.