Sunday, August 26, 2007

on membership

My church in Baton Rouge, Sojourn, apparently decided recently that they(I was not present when this call was made) should like to be know now not as members of Sojourn, but rather as missionaries.

Alas, I'm not going to go with this.

I can understand where they're coming from of course. It's not so much from a desire to be trendy or distinctive. Rather, this fits well enough in with the church's design, from the beginning, to focus on service and meeting needs. Also, there's a bit of a taboo amongst the more disenchanted of the former conservative-Christian crowd surrounding the idea of 'church membership', given the over emphasis on it by various groups, even though, as Lewis points out, "the very word membership is of Christian origin." I understand, but I'm still not going with it.

So I though I'd take this chance to explain(partly, at least) why the concept of membership is so important to me personally, and of course, I believe, so important for all believers, though perhaps unbeknownst to them.

Membership is indeed a Christian term, at least in origin, having taken on a broader, secular meaning today. It comes from, among other places, Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth in chapter 12, amdist a discussion on spiritual gifts. The apostle concludes there: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (:27) The Greek word here translated "members" is melos, translated into Latin as membra, which literally means 'limbs' and is, of course, where we get the English word member from. Paul is not talking here about 'members' as we think of them today, names on a roll or something to that effect, but of parts of a body; he is trying to explain to the Corinthians that they are somehow the actual body of Christ.

Now the idea of two things(here, Christ and the Church) having one and the same body is not new to the scriptures. We first see it in Genesis 2, most noteably in verse 24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The language in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as that in Ephesians and the imagery of the end of Revelation, all point towards this idea of marriage between Christ and the Church, the two becoming one flesh. This also reflects the Old Testament idea of the marriage of Yahweh and Israel, probably seen best in Hosea.

So the title of member serves both
1) to identify one with Christ, being a member of His body. And
2) to remind of our relation to Christ: we are "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb"(Rev. 21:9).

I think the problem that we have with the idea of membership today grows from two roots.

First, again, because of the emphasis often placed on 'church membership' in evangelicalism today, especially well seen in the SBC. The constant counting of heads and even aiming simply to bring people to events rather than make disciples of folks are leaving many younger Christians jaded.
But this is only a branch root off of the second, deeper issue: we have forgotten what it is we are members of.
The church is the Body of Christ, and it is this body that we are members of. This is forgotten, I'm afraid, by some at every level. The point of being a church member is not that you are now apart of First United Methodist or First West or Sojourn, or anything so silly. You are a member of the Body of Christ, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is what membership entails.

So we must put the issue to rest both as ministers and as church-goers(a stranger term itself). As ministers we must focus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, on God's will done, and on making disciples. Likewise as the members we must recall what it is we are a part of, and lay aside every weight of association and angst that will hinder God's Kingdom here on earth.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

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