Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is Church Membership Biblical?

Greg Gilbert's post on the Church Matters blog answers folks who argue that the notion of membership isn't in Scripture. Here's some historical/etymological perspective I'd never considered:
I really don't understand how some Christians can object to the idea of church membership. I mean, Paul uses the word in Scripture. It's not like we have to deduce the idea from vague emanations and penumbras.

1 Corinthians 12:27: "Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it."

I know that's a metaphor, but that's also the point---The metaphor Paul uses here is precisely where we get the idea of membership. The word "melos" means "integral part, member." I think sometimes people have the impression that the church stole the idea of membership from Columbia Records or something. Not so. In fact, Columbia Records, the Rotary Club, the Lions' Club, and all the rest stole it from us!


Alan Knox said...

I like your reasoning, as long as you continue to use Paul's statement about "members" to determine who is a "member" of the church:

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 12:13 ESV)

The problem is not with the use of the word "member" in the New Testament. The problem is that the church hijacks this term and uses it in a different way when talking about "church membership".


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the problem, as you've stated, is our modern (mis)appropriation of the word. In today's context, a member is someone who has certain 'rights' within an organization, all of which are given because he/she pays dues to the organization. However, in the Bible's understanding of membership, it is given by God and generates results in the member (i.e. spiritual gifts and good works).

Basically, we look at the church as a country club, and so the idea of a church member is one that is associated with the latter and not with Paul's admonition to the Corinthians.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

I tried to make a comment on this just as soon as you put it out but blogger ate it somehow and I couldn't get back to it till now. Too bad, because it was a Joel-like "round-the-campfire-marshmallow-roasting" type post. Don't know if I can manage two of those in one day...

Anyway, just wanted to comment that I have appreciated a good deal of Greg's thinking on this over at 9marks. I follow the RSS feed and read pretty much everything that goes on there. While we have differences in other areas, I think these fellows are right on here, and especially Greg seems to consistently post good material.

So there you have it - just wanted to give you a 'non-adversarial' type of post. There are plenty more of the other kind lurking in the wings!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


Greg thinks you are a very wise man. He told me so himself.


It might be helpful if you explained the difference between your understanding of the term and how the Church hijacks it.

Alan Knox said...


I thought that I did explain. The church often accepts Paul's use of the term "member", but rejects how Paul says we become "members". (1 Cor 12:13) I think, if we were to study all of the passages where Paul talks about us as "members" of Christ's "body", we'll find very little in common with the modern concept of "church membership".


Coach C said...

I could be wrong, but is Alan focusing on "universal church membership" and Ben is talking about "local church membership"?

Alan Knox said...

Coach C,

That is just the point. You can't take only part of what Paul said about being a member of Christ's body and throw out the rest. And, this is exactly what the church today does with the ideas of "local church membership" and "universal church membership".


Jack Lamb said...

It's pretty obvious that 1 Corinthians 12 is speaking of strictly of a local church. The only way to find a "universal" church in this passage is to read it into the text...