“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
Paul uses many images to describe the church, but the one Paul uses the most is that of a body – the body of Christ, of which we are members. Yet the kinds of membership we’re most familiar with are very different than what Paul meant.
Most memberships are something we join at our personal preference. Some are explicitly designed around benefits we want; we could become a member of an exclusive country club, or a member of the “potato chip of the month club” (note: this is apparently a real thing; thanks, Google). We can become members of groups because we share an interest and want to spend time together. Or we could become a member of an organization whose focus is serving; there are lots of amazing groups in our community doing good work. Many groups meet a number of those needs – providing benefits and services we want, fellowship, and service. This isn’t a bad thing ‑ but it’s not what Paul meant.
When Paul talks about being members of a body, the image is not structural but organic – my fingers didn’t choose to be part of my body, they just are. Likewise, in Paul’s other major image of the church – that of God’s family/household – we don’t choose our brothers or sisters any more than we choose our parents; we just are! We might want to say Paul is just being theoretical, but in his letters, he uses this image while writing to local churches full of ordinary folks from different backgrounds, to remind them that when they became followers of Jesus, they were brought into a new reality, a new family, a new body together. In other words, to be a Christian is to be part of the body of Christ – a member of the church universal – whether we live that out or not in connection with a particular group of Christians. Read the rest of this entry →