This is the seventh post in a series about being children of God and how that informs our various roles as women. Read all of the posts in the series here.
Have you recently considered what we understand by the word “church”? We all have either preconceptions or preferences.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the church is called the body of Christ. Membership in the body of Christ, being part of one whole, is therefore the essential foundation of the Christian’s walk with God.
Consider the analogy that Paul provides in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
It is a simple but effective analogy. The church is acting under Christ’s instruction, just as the body parts obey and respond to the command of the brain. Two main ideas in the text direct us: first, the conditions of our membership, and secondly, the result and response to it.
When you take a closer look at the passage, did you notice why the different parts are unified by one body? They are all united by one head. It is the same head which gives instructions to each different part: different instructions, different parts, but one head. Alistair Begg, the senior pastor at Parkside Church in Ohio, summed it up in this way in his sermon entitled “Where Do I Belong in the Church?” He said that if Christ is the head of the body,
"it’s as a result of Christ that the body has growth, it’s as a result of Christ that the body has guidance […] We’re fellow citizens of the kingdom, we are brothers and sisters in the family, we are living stones in the building and we are parts of the body […] [I]n this gathered church, all of these people have the same king, all of these people have the same dad."
Put another way, the church is called to unity in the name of Christ. We gain access into this family inheritance by the same method everyone else did. That is, by nothing I have done, not flawless church attendance and great involvement, and not because “I’m really a good person” either. “Church” has nothing to do with old stone buildings, branded coffee mugs, shared interests, prayer books, popular music or friendship circles.
This membership is accepting the invitation and call of Christ into the body of believers (see John 3:16), and His headship. You can’t come to the party unless you accept the invitation. An invitation presupposes a relationship with the host. This is the only way you have gained access. There is a membership fee to church, and it has already been paid—and not by you (see 1 Peter 1:18-19).
So if there is only one head of the church, and He is Christ, then it’s not me. If I am the sole authority, then it is not membership in Christ’s church. But membership with Christ means that I am a fellow citizen, a sibling, a mere building block perhaps, but a part with a unique function which is nevertheless necessary to the cooperation of the whole. I function best in tandem with this family. I contribute and I serve them, as serving God.
Profound and fulfilling, this means that those who have found their place in God’s kingdom are relieved of the immense pressure of needing to quantify their success in terms of visible signs. There is nothing a thumb can do to become a nose, and we need both. We are given our status in God’s kingdom, as He ordains it, specifically because of our unique composition and purpose. There is no room for feelings of unbelonging because, as Alistair Begg puts it, “He made you exactly as you are in order to use you exactly as He planned.” I need not fear being useless, inadequate, disappointing or neglected in His plan because my abilities were given me, as I have been positioned to fulfill a role God has given me. This is the glorious peace that comes from accepting Christ as the head of the body.
Newcomers to our churches are part of a great, worldwide, multi-functioning, multi-gifted, family. You have a role to fulfill that is unique; you have a place in the family. After all, this isn’t our house, this is the house of our Father. Would you forget to notice a guest your father invited to the door? Maybe this new member has a brilliant way of dealing with kids, has the free time to organize outreach activities, has the gift of hospitality, or is a really great listener. I may never know. I don’t need to.
Begg also proposes that each person needs to assume his or her responsibility in the church, as in most churches he estimates that 20% of the people are undertaking 80% of the load. Imagine going running (an activity we mostly associate with only legs and lungs) with your arms tied behind your back, or swinging your arms energetically but without moving your feet? The image is absurd. So is a church whose members are unenthusiastic and unwilling to be involved.
The church is its body, it is Christ’s body. We are to be doing the work of His hands with our hands, to have the concerns of His heart in ours, to be going where He would go. One body together, under one head.
New Members, Same Status
Just as we cannot expect to operate without all the parts working together, we cannot estimate the worthiness of others by what we see. We cannot see what will be important twenty years from now. If you go blind, won’t the usefulness of the fingertips and ears suddenly become more apparent? We cannot all perform the same function. If everyone only exclusively prayed in church, for example, how would we fully edify each other? We must always be asking ourselves, Begg says, “Am I in the place that God has put me to fulfill the function that God has given me?” Consider that again, every day if you have to.
Even if it’s not where others expect me to be, I need to take up the responsibility of being part of the church, and contributing meaningfully to its work. It might be thankless, and I might never even know the merit. But God does. I don’t need to bother about comparing my value. I am in by an invitation of grace, and so are you. I welcome you as my family, recognizing you have a role to play, and together we are servants of the same God.