Where does the term “membership” come from anyway? Why do we call this formal commitment a person makes to the church “becoming a member?”
Many people assume that the church has just borrowed the term from other organizations—the Rotary Club or Lions Club, for instance. But in reality, it’s the Rotary Club that has borrowed “membership” from the church!
The idea of being a member of a church comes from the apostle Paul, when he describes the local church as a “body” and each person within it as a “member” of that body. Yep, he actually uses that word! Look at what he says in 1 Corinthians 12:12-18: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. 13 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. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
And then, just to make the point explicit, he says to this local church at Corinth:“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Members of the church join a family or the household of God.
You join the body of Christ which means that every person is a vital part of the body. We are not a casual organization. We are an intimate family…if one part of the body hurts…the whole body knows it and seeks to ease the pain and bring healing to that part of the body.
The image Paul uses here is a profound one. Each of the members in the body is dependent on all the others. As Paul puts it, the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Nor can the head say that to the feet. (1 Corinthians 12:21)
No member of the body is independent; each depends in a profound way on all the others. So in the church at Corinth, there were some people gifted to do certain things, and others gifted to do other things. Each “member” in the church was different, yet working together they had everything necessary for the building up of the church body (1 Corinthians 14:12).
When you understand what lies behind the word “member,” you see why we ought to place so much emphasis on church membership.
In that light, it starts to sound ridiculous to talk about being a “member” of the Lions Club, doesn’t it? But “membership” is the perfect word to describe the deep and practical commitment we share with each other as members of the body of Christ in this local church.
As you can see…Church Membership is different than Community Organization Memberships
What other organization boasts to its members what Hebrews 11:25 says:”Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”
Therefore, the church not only depends on its members for existence….the church member depends on the church for his existence! We need one another for spiritual survival!
Tomorrow I will continue in this five part series on Church Membership by defining the difference between “who’s in” and “who’s out”.
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