“Members” vs “Parts”
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12)
Of the 60 English translations I consulted (which, with today’s technology, is nowhere near as daunting a task as it may sound), 30 use this word “members” in describing the individuals which comprise the Church, the Bride and Body of Christ. Most of the others use the word “parts.”
I rather prefer that word “members.” The term “members” lends itself more naturally to that dual meaning Paul has in mind. As the human body has “members,” so has the Church. We speak of taking professing believers into church membership, not church partnership. “Member” sounds more like what the true Church is, a family… the family of God — not a business, an organization, or a mechanical construction.
This past Sunday after hearing their testimonies three new “members” were received into our church.
Local church “membership” is important because it identifies those present among an assembly who are recognized as being in doctrinal agreement. In the book of Acts a distinction is implied between the curious and the committed. We read, how these early believers met frequently and joyfully together in the temple and in homes, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47). There was a distinction among the populace: those who were “added to the church,” and those who were not.
As it became clearer to the fledgling believers that Christ’s return was not as imminent as they first anticipated but that they must first bring the gospel to as many as would receive it, the young church began to appoint officers and leadership, record its history, and establish fundamental creeds and statements of faith.
By these creeds (summaries of what true believers believed) heresies could more easily be identified and the “church” could more easily be kept pure. Perhaps the earliest if these recorded in scripture is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve… ” (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
Defending and defining the truth of the gospel in time became known as apologetics, from the Greek apologia, meaning “to make a defense.” See Paul’s use of this word before Festus in Acts 26:6. See also in Philippians 1:7 and 1 Peter 3:15.
From its beginning then, one function of church “membership” was as a means of identifying and maintaining doctrinal purity among the body of believers, “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).