How do you view your membership in the church? Do you think of church membership like gym membership or being a member of a grocery store rewards club? If you lost your membership in such an organization, it probably wouldn’t have a significant impact on your life. Maybe you would be inconvenienced, but not really in any major way. But when we use the word dismemberment we get a different picture entirely. The idea of dismemberment is gruesome and painful, and yet I think that image better conveys the sense of church membership than withdrawing from membership in the local Rotary club.* Paul says in Romans 12:5 that the local church is “one body in Christ” and that individual members are “members one of another.” Scripture describes the body of Christ as an integrated unit made up of many different and essential parts.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that it is God’s Holy Spirit who has formed us into this body (v.13) according to the desire and purpose of God (v.18). In other words, we do not choose whether to be a part of a local church, it is God’s will for each of us. Obedience to Christ requires that we be faithfully committed to a local church, as we cannot simply declare ourselves to be separate from the body (v.15-16), nor do we have a right to choose our place in the body (v.17-19). Neither is their room for an attitude of superiority toward others we deem “less honorable” than ourselves in the church (v.21-24). In fact, Paul says that there is mutual benefit to all who participate in the ministry of the body of Christ. With such diversity, one would assume that conflict would dominate, but when we practice genuine care and concern for one another within the church there is unity (v.25-26).
It is God’s will for every Christian to be completely integrated into a local body of believers in such a way that separation would be more like dismemberment than forgetting to renew your Sam’s Club card. The gifts that the Holy Spirit gives are to be exercised within the local church in such a way that every member receives what he lacks, even as he ministers to the needs of another. The path to spiritual maturity for every believer goes through the church, and there are no exceptions. As imperfect people, imperfectly loving and serving other imperfect people, we can grow in “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)
*This application of the image of dismemberment to the church is taken from a sermon by Dr. Timothy Jordan.