Part 3: Original headship

God’s government in heaven
Headship was a reality before sin, when “peace and joy, in perfect submission to the will of Heaven, existed throughout the angelic host” (4SP 316). We don’t know how long this happy state lasted, but it “existed for ages before the entrance of sin” (4SP 316).

Though our knowledge of this period of time is limited, we know that “Lucifer was the covering cherub, the most exalted of the heavenly created beings; he stood nearest the throne of God, and was most closely connected and identified with the administration of God’s government, most richly endowed with the glory of His majesty and power” (ST 4/28/1890).

Before the fall, God’s government was organized and structured. There was a council where Lucifer was an honored member (GC 669). We need to pause on this point for a moment.

God the Father is not alone—the highest council is the Godhead, with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is its Head. This is the highest Council, and one that never included Lucifer. After this came the various angelic councils, Lucifer served as an honored member of the highest angelic council in heaven. Every head had an associated council.

Lucifer was not a puppet. When God gave Lucifer a throne, God gave him power, authority, and command. Before sin Lucifer gave commands and “angels delighted to execute his commands” (PP 36), obeying them with “alacrity” (1SP 18). Lucifer “began his work of rebellion with the angels under his command” (1SM 222). Sin did not change the strict organization in heaven.

The desertion and rebellion of a third of the angels required a reorganization of the angels who remained loyal. This was done at the very start of the war in heaven (Revelation 12:7). These loyal “angels were marshaled in companies, each division with a higher commanding angel at its head” (EW 145). Though reconstituted, God’s government remained the same. Despite Satan’s charges, it was not defective and needed no change in its law and organization.

A very simplified organizational flowchart in heaven before the fall would show:


As previously mentioned, each head was associated with a council. Heads are not autocratic and independent; they work with councils. There is interaction, input, and then united action. This is the heavenly model.

God’s government in the home
In the home we see the same united governmental structure. God’s word is the standard. The Father as CEO or president is the house-band, but his major advisor is the wife and mother, who serves as the COO and in some cases the CFO. This house-band/wife team have a parental council so they can have a united approach when dealing with the children. Both the husband and wife, of course, are subject to God’s Word.

The goal of the parental council is to understandingly and unitedly follow God’s Word. If children join the family, the parental council continues, but in addition there is also a family council. This also promotes communication, harmony, and unity. And the goal is, again, for all in the family to understandingly follow God’s Word.

Since we pray that God’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven, the church has been given a similar governmental structure. There is a church leader, with representative members making up church councils. Neither the leader nor the advisors and representatives are above God’s Word. They are meeting together to better understand and follow God’s Word.

God’s government in the church
This is how God organized the early church. We see this in the first General Conference session—the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.

"There they were to meet delegates from the different churches and those who had come to Jerusalem to attend the approaching festivals. Meanwhile all controversy was to cease until a final decision should be given in general council. This decision was then to be universally accepted by the different churches throughout the country.” (AA 190).

This is God’s system of organization. In some quarters, however, this heavenly system is being called dictatorial, authoritarian, Catholic. But is God’s system dictatorial, autocratic, demanding, Catholic, or against the New Testament?

God has warned leaders:

"The greater the responsibilities placed upon the human agent, and the larger his opportunities to dictate and control, the more harm he is sure to do if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord and labor in harmony with the decisions arrived at by the general body of believers in united council." (AA 199).

It is those who refuse to follow God’s system that are dictatorial and controlling.

“The creation of our world was brought into the councils of heaven. There the covering cherub prepared his request that he should be made prince to govern the world then in prospect. This was not accorded him. Jesus Christ was to rule the earthly kingdom; under God He engaged to take the world with all its probabilities.” (Ms 43b-1891).

Satan’s proposed flowchart was God the Father ➙ Lucifer ➙ Jesus ➙ Angelic Host ➙ Sons of God on Unfallen Worlds. Practically, however, Satan’s plan put him above God, since he was telling God what to do. 

Note: Beware of those who exalt Christ’s headship alone, but will not accept His delegated authority in the church or family.

God’s leadership system in heaven
Though angels are equal in value, they are not identical in personality, gifts, or office. For example, some are taller (EW 168), stronger (AA 154), or smarter, just like there are taller, stronger, or smarter humans. They each have their own unique collection of talents.

There are different orders of angels. The Bible speaks of seraphim and cherubim. A covering cherub is the highest order for “Satan was of the highest order of angels” (3SG 36). From The Great Controversy, we discover that a covering cherub is a seraphim (GC 669).

We don’t know the number of covering cherubs, but Lucifer was the head of these angels. Gabriel is of this order of angel. Because of his position, Lucifer was the most honored (GC 493). Lucifer was not more capable than Gabriel, though their specific talents and personality were different. Angels that were given less exalted positions (TDG 256) were not necessarily less capable. Although Lucifer had a brighter glow than other angels (SR 13), this—like Moses’ glow (Exodus 34:35)—reflected his proximity to God and was not something he inherently possessed. “Cherubim were on either side of the mercy seat, .… and they glowed with the glory that enshrouded them from the presence of God.… These holy beings sang forth the praise and glory of God with lips unpolluted with sin” (RC 338).

God’s leadership system in earth
Just as God established order and headship in heaven, God established order and headship on the sinless earth at creation. Though, like the angels, all humans are equal in value, they are not identical in personality, gifts, or offices.

“He who set the starry worlds on high and tinted with delicate skill the flowers of the field, who filled the earth and the heavens with the wonders of His power, when He came to crown His glorious work, to place one in the midst to stand as ruler of the fair earth, did not fail to create a being worthy of the hand that gave him life.” (PP 44).

Just as Lucifer’s rulership in heaven was not independent of God, Adam ruled as a “vicegerent” of Jesus, his Head (DA 129). This is the position of every truly Christian father. Adam was given an equally capable assistant. He ruled as king and Eve ruled as queen. Both king and queen are rulers, but in different capacities. And in these different capacities, they should be united.

“As united rulers of the home kingdom, let father and mother show kindness and courtesy to each other.” (CT 128.3) “The father is to be the houseband of the family. This is his position, and if he is a Christian, he will maintain family government. In every respect his authority is to be recognized.” (RH 3/13/1894).

Some have asked, “Why would Eve need Adam as her head since both had the same perfection of character and mind?” This question is troubling because it is the essence of a question Satan raised, “Why did angelic beings created with perfection of character and mind need a head?” Satan’s implication was that headship for angels was unnecessary.

But leadership is a good thing, a necessary thing—which is why God created it this way. Even perfect beings and organizations need heads. Furthermore, the same question could be asked after the fall, “Why would modern Eves need Adams as a head today, since they both had the same imperfection of character and mind?” Again, the answer is the same: because leadership is a good thing.

The father has no more value than the mother or the child. But he has been assigned the responsibility to unite them, care for them, and protect them in God’s stead.

There are those who do not believe in headship. But in this they are attacking the plan of God.

 “In every department of the work there should be an acknowledged head.” (Ms8-1879).

That is the early church model. In selecting the deacons, they first chose the head deacon. “Stephen was chosen first …. He was … considered the most proper person to stand at the head, and have supervision …” (3SP 292). James was the head elder (LP 208).

In the church today, as at the beginning, there are head elders and head deacons. Our church model of head deacon and head elder is completely biblical. The early Adventists rightly called this “Bible order.” It was not received as some relic of the Catholic Church.

Leaders and their councils
But in God’s system the head is not an autocratic dictator. The above quotation from Ms8, 1879 continues: 

“. . . and yet that head is not alone sufficient to control matters of an office like this. The head needs a council. All who are in responsible positions, who have knowledge and experience, who fear God and respect the truth should share the responsibility of all the plans that may be devised and arrangements made for the prosperity of the office.“ (Ms8-1879).

God’s governmental model is detailed for the church. There is an “overseer” (1 Tim 3:1, ESV), a head.  The gospel minister, as head, is not of more value than the janitor, or the cradle roll Sabbath School leader. But the church, under the direction of God, assigns a man who meets the Bible qualifications, holding the responsibility to unite the church, care for the members, and protect them in God’s stead.

But the leader must be “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2). Then Paul lists what would bring reproach: multiple wives, intemperance, disordered homes, etc (1 Tim 3:2-7).  A well-ordered home gives training for leading that will result in a well-ordered church.

There is a word that arose out of the French Revolution: egalitarian. Egalitarianism seeks to obliterate gender differences. It was Satan, not God, who inspired the French Revolution. The Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy are crystal clear, God’s government is not egalitarian in the home or in the church. There are gender distinctions in the leadership of home and church.

We live in a society when God’s principles of government are under attack in the home, church, and the nation. We live in a society that is seeking to obliterate the gender distinctions that God created between men and women in dress and activity.

Like Sunday-keeping, this too is a direct attack on God’s governmental order (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; 1 Timothy 2:13). Culture is boldly attempting to remove every trace of God’s original order in both the home and the church.

When the church removes God’s distinctions between men and women, and the distinction between their spiritual roles, it joins Satan in his attack on the government of God, and thus the church assists in preparing the way for the removal of distinctions between male and female—even in “marriage.”

But God has a system of government, and God will have a people who are harmony with this system, His laws, His leadership. His people will have peace in their hearts, peace in their homes, and peace in their churches. This is part of God’s preparation for the end-time.

“The principles of God’s government—the only principles that will endure from everlasting to everlasting—are to be followed by those who are seeking for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.” (20MR 154).

Four principles of God’s government:

  1. The Reasonable/Truthful Principle: His system is never arbitrary

  2. The Deferential/Servant Principle: All His leaders are like Him, gentle, with a mild rule and voluntary, never forcing service

  3. The Protective-Law Principle: He offers complete freedom within necessary limits

  4. The Accountability/Council Principle: All leadership, but His is delegated authority

But it is not enough for us to simply know this intellectually. “It was not enough for the disciples of Jesus to be instructed as to the nature of His kingdom. What they needed was a change of heart that would bring them into harmony with its principles.” (DA 437).

“If men would be obedient, they would understand the plan of God's government. The heavenly world would open its chambers of grace and glory for exploration. Human beings would be altogether different from what they now are, for by exploring the mines of truth men would be ennobled.” (COL 114).

This change of heart alone will prepare God’s people for Satan’s end-time attack on the government of God, for “in order to endure the trial before them, they must understand the will of God as revealed in His word; they can honor Him only as they have a right conception of His [1] character, [2] government, and [3] purposes, and [4] act in accordance with them.” (GC 593).

In closing, we must simply ask, Do each of us desire the change of heart that brings us into harmony with the principles of God’s kingdom?


Dr. Phil Mills, sometimes called the “Dr. Phil of Adventism,” is a retired dermatologist living in Blue Ridge, Georgia.  He and his wife Sherry are leaders of the My Bible First ministry, which produces Sabbath School material for children and youth.  He is a sought-after seminar speaker on such topics as family life, gender authority, marriage preparation, and other issues.