After reading this passage in Romans, I’m starting to question the whole idea of church membership. How can I join a church, that is, a local assembly of believers, when I already belong to the Church, the one Body of Christ?
Like you, I live in a town with many churches. Large and small, independent and mainline, the body of Christ is widely represented. However, my understanding of Romans 12:5 tells me there is only one Church in my city; we just happen to meet in different locations.
So the question is: “How can I join a particular assembly of believers and become a member of their church when I already belong to all the others?” My gifts and my life are not my own. I belong to the body of Christ, not just to the assembly that gathers under the banner of my particular denomination. Even though I am an ordained minister of a large denomination, I don’t limit myself or my fellowship solely to this organization. Furthermore, I don’t exist to promote my denomination; rather, my denomination exists to give me what I need to do the work in the “white and ready to harvest” field of the world. In other words, my denomination exists to help me promote Jesus. I don’t exist to promote my denomination.
I’m starting to think that becoming a member of a local church is like saying my arm can choose to join my shoulder. When we see ourselves as only a member of one local church, we limit our gifts and talents to that one part of the body at the exclusion of all the others. But this doesn’t make sense. For instance, if I stub my big toe, my entire body walks differently until the toe is healed. However, if a local church goes through a split or a painful episode with its pastor, none of the other churches seem to be affected. The most we can offer our hurting brethren is a quick, “Oh, I’ll pray for you.” Rarely are we given permission to be part of the healing process. I think this tells us that in most cities the churches do not see themselves as part of the same body, where each member belongs to all the others. Instead, we act as disjointed members, eyeing one another as competitive stepchildren of the same parent, vying for attention and a larger share of the inheritance.
If we see ourselves as just members of one particular church, we are mostly in competition with other churches in town. However, when we ARE the Church, we then find the other churches are companions along the way. I want to learn to work in conjunction and connection with the rest of the Body. I pray you do too. “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Yes, I understand the argument for church membership, for the need to have order in the organization. This is why I submit to my denominational authorities, pastor a church, and teach a class for new members. Still, the body of Christ is NOT an organization; it is a living organism. What I do in my fellowship should have a reverberating effect upon the rest of the Body in my town. But for the most part it doesn’t, and I’m not sure where the problem lies. Maybe it’s with me.
Therefore, I’ve decided to feel free to be myself with whatever group of Christians I happen to be hanging around with. I’ve noticed that if my finger scratches my ear, it doesn’t have to become an ear to be an effective itch reliever. Likewise, I’m going to worship wherever I find myself, associate with whomever I chose, and be an honest ambassador of Christ wherever God leads me. By thinking this way, I won’t have to join any particular group in order be a part of the Body of Christ. I already am.