f The Wittenberg Door: Members of Christ – Part 2

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 2

Rev. Leach continues from part one . . .

But the Corinthian Christians, prone as they were to sinful individualism in a wide assortment of symptoms, had still another lesson to learn about union with Christ, and this 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them drives that lesson home.

The lesson is this: Christ died and was raised again from the dead not for an unspecified gaggle of isolated individuals who simply believe in their heart the right doctrine. He died and was raised again for a determinate church, a body—ONE body—that has, in point of fact, many interrelated and interdependent members. These members are diverse indeed, but they’re members. He doesn’t here call us people, or individuals, or men, or women, or children. He calls us members of a body, and the body is Christ.

A Corporate Faith

Now, why is this significant? Many are the western Christians who need to be reminded of the corporateness of our faith. Membership in Christ’s church is devalued today, maybe as never before. “And who needs it?” they’ll say. “I’ve got a dozen Bibles in ten different versions in my nightstand at home. I’ve got shelves full of good, evangelical commentaries. I’ve got internet access and software to learn the Hebrew and Greek. I’ve got five church services from which to choose on TV. Radio too! And if I ever find myself in a real bind and need some personal counsel, or if I just get desperate for the shaking of a real human hand or the exchange of a real human smile, I can always drive down to Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church for the occasional fix. Why should I have to take vows of membership and get my name on someone’s roster? Why not just camp on the fringes and get by as a lifelong adherent?”

The motives behind this thinking I’d be presumptuous to label. I’m sure it varies with every long-term adherent who never gets around to taking the step of membership. There is, certainly, at least a superficial logic to it: so many benefits for so little investment. It’s just easier to be an adherent than to be a member. It fits well with the advertised American virtue of rugged individualism. It keeps us out of the shadow of accountability to others and the good order and discipline of the church. It keeps the excitement of the courtship alive without facing the commitment of the marriage.

This isn’t at all to disparage the unattached or secret believer. He may not be pursuing membership simply because of a lack of knowledge, not yet knowing it to be the revealed will of God. And whether or not this sermon will reach the hearts of those with less noble motives—the deliberate maverick—at least we can address today the matter of lack of knowledge. The apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ is clear on the matter.

What is the Church?

What is the church? The apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy, the 3rd chapter and 15th verse, concisely calls it “the household of God . . . the pillar and support of the truth.” It satisfies our need for shelter, security, and mutual love. As pillar and support of the truth, it also satisfies our minds, providing us through its preaching and teaching of Biblical doctrine a complete arsenal of weaponry by which we can meet the enemy of our souls in the field and defeat him. Exactly how this is fleshed out in the doing of it is described in the Acts and letters and Revelation of the New Testament. Time would fail us to describe the life of the church through an exposition of every relevant passage. Instead let’s agree, if we can, that the New Testament gives us the portrait of a church that is at one and the same time a living, Spirit-animated organism supported by a divinely-directed organization. Both aspects of the church—organism and organization—appear in I Corinthians 12 as well as other places. The church has life; it also has officers. It has unspeakable privileges; it also has duties. It has apostles, prophets, and teachers; it also has those who aren’t apostles, prophets, or teachers.

Membership in the church has a bearing on both its organic and organizational aspects. That is, we participate as members both in the life and in the structure of the body of Christ. And we do this in a way non-members do not. I think you’ll see this more as we go on.

Stay tuned for part three!

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