The apostle Paul spoke about folks being “members” of the “body” in his correspondence with the Romans (12:5). Membership in the Church (the Body of Christ) is signified by baptism – the identification with and being identifiable in Christ (Rom. 6:1-7). Membership in the local church (the local Body of Christ) is as a result of our identity as a member of the Body of Christ. Individuals who are “members” of Christ (the Universal Church) collectively come together in “membership” in the local church (differing geographical areas, denominations, etc.) because they are “members” of Christ. In baptism Christ invited “you” to be a “member” of His Universal Body, and then “we” express Him to “others” through the local body. This is the Body of Christ.
Unfortunately the word “membership” carries with it connotations of being card carrying members of some exclusive club. Understandably many reject the notion of “membership” in the church because it has become synonymous with being a member of “club dead.” For many decades (and centuries) “membership” has been a means of alienation, division, and exclusion. Baptism means, “Now you are like us.” The qualifications for “membership” in the church have appeared to be based on something altogether different than being identified in and by Jesus Christ. It is as though the present “members” set new standards after they were accepted into the club, designed to only recruit “others” that are not those other than themselves.
Fortunately the word “membership” is hereby re-defined (actually, properly defined again). It is once again becoming a word that has nothing to do with exclusion and everything to do with inclusion; it means, rather than a wall there is a bridge between people; it says that we are not turned inward in self-preservation, but are haphazardly poured outward under a single vision with multiple expressions (1Corinthians 12). We now must come to the understanding that there are “members” who are not of our culture, who are not under our control, and are not interested in any club (Eph. 3:6). “Membership” in the Body of Christ means that we are “members” of one another (Eph. 4:25) and are going to have to live, and learn to deal, with the discomfort of everyone being different. Jesus Christ invited you into His Body (the Universal Church), not simply for your benefit, but for the benefit of humanity (the local body of Christ). “Membership” does not mean that you have made it, but that you have just begun. It is not a life where others are there to please and serve you, but you are poured out – like Christ shed His blood for you. You are not a “member” sitting in the lap of luxury, but the crucible of agony (2Tim. 4:7 – “fight” in the Greek is literally, “agony”). And all this, not because it is something you must do to somehow repay God as some sort of “membership” dues, but because this is what it means to be baptized into Christ’s death, share in His sufferings, and to express His resurrection life with power (Phil. 3:10); this is the “membership” of the Body. This is the Body of Christ.