The last section of Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 25 (“Of the Church”) deals with a point of doctrine which many readers today might consider as bordering on the irrelevant. It says,
“There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.6)
Simply put, we believe and confess that there is only one true head of the church – the Lord Jesus Christ. No one else can rightly claim such authority, not even “the pope of Rome.”
In Ephesians 1:22-23 the Apostle Paul writes the following regarding the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ:
“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (ESV)
Similarly, in Colossians 1:18 Paul writes,
“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (ESV)
So the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ is the one true head of the church. How then, does He exercise His supreme authority in the church? In his commentary on the Confession of Faith A.A. Hodge notes that Christ does so through the following:
- His Inspired Word.
- His Apostolic Institutions (i.e. the ministry, sacraments, and ordinances).
- His Own Spiritual Presence. (p.318-319)
And so even though the Lord Jesus Christ is not now physically present on earth, He nevertheless rules over all things for His church from the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He needs no earthly vicar (a title often ascribed to the pope) to act as head in His place.
David Dickson notes that for the church to have any other head alongside Christ Himself would not be unlike thinking of her as a “monster” with two heads (Truth’s Victory Over Error, p.202).
The seven letters to the seven churches (found in Revelation chapters 2-3) portray the Lord Jesus as the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 2:1, ESV). The lampstands are the churches (1:20). And so Jesus is clearly portrayed, not as an absentee ruler, but as a very present King, walking among His churches and watching over them.
In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ needs no vicar, no pope, no other head to help rule over His church in His place. He is with us always, even to the end of the age, even as He Himself has promised (Matthew 28:20).