Why Do We Call It Membership? Is this a Club?
This will be the longest blog because it sets up so many of the promises that are coming. Hang in there with me.
Some people see church “membership” and they think of it as a way to belong to another club, as if you have your Sam’s Club card, your YMCA card, and then your Church Membership card. But, the idea of membership finds a much more profound meaning in the New Testament. The idea has nothing to do with belonging to a certain club, but living as a necessary part of a body.
Let’s just look at a couple places the Bible mentions this principle. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is talking about the importance of everyone in the church using their gifts in a way that builds up the church and this is how he reasons for that idea:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
As the body has many members that combine to be one, unified body, so Christ has a body and it is the people of his church. Paul goes on to make the point more explicit:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)
It doesn’t matter what part you play, you still belong to the body! And without you we would missing an important part. This has important implications. You are not a part of a club. You are a part of a living body. A body that needs you to survive and thrive as well as it can to the glory of God. This means church is not just showing up on Sunday to worship, but finding your role in the body. It means you should work to know the other members that you depend on and that depend on you. It means you should always be prayerfully considering what ways you can minister and be ministered to. It should mean that you are eager to dive in to help our body grow and have no shame when you need help yourself. This is what the church is. Not a workout club or a book club, but a living body in need of each member! And let’s just be clear that when Paul is saying this, he is not talking about the Church all over the world, but the local body you are a part of:
To the church of God that is in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Paul is writing to a local body of believers. A local body of people who have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” (1:2) that is, set apart by the death and resurrection of Christ to be a holy people, a “temple of God” (3:16-17).
The local church, as an expression of the global Church, made up of weak, foolish, and saved (1:26-31) people is the way God intends to fulfill and bring about his purposes of redemption in the world. It is the way he intends to advance his gospel to unbelievers and to grow and keep believers.
This purpose of Christ for his church and our need for each member of the body has at least two obvious applications:
1. We should prioritize the “body” more than other clubs or activities. Our good and others good depend on it. This is not a desire to get more numbers. It is a NEED for spiritual health of our church, of each member, and of our hope to reach out into a broken world together with the various and needed gifts each member brings. Do you see the church as a living body to which you play an extremely important part? Have you asked God lately what part you should play? Do you feel a responsibility to your local church? We should know each other well enough to use our various gifts appropriately. We need time together. We need corporate worship, classes, prayer meetings, small groups, and fellowship picnics to know each other’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses in order to know how to serve one another.
2. We should not be jealous of other’s gifts, but rather glad for the part they play and eager to play our own part well. There are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit that gives them to build up his church. We need your gift. You need other’s gifts. So, don’t feel the need to be anyone but who God has made you and then develop a glad-hearted joy that God will supply us with every gift we need to remain a healthy body that takes care of itself, matures, and reaches out in love to the world.
May we be the kind of body that knows, loves, and appreciates each other so much that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Eager to serve and be served by you for the glory of Christ,