The language of “membership” (or more specifically “member”) is used in several places in the New Testament (primarily in Paul’s letters) to indicate our relationship to one another and to Christ:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5 ESV)
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. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14 ESV. See also 1 Corinthians 12:18-27)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29-30 ESV)
The misunderstanding in these passages, unfortunately, is that the English word “member” carries connotations that the Greek term translated “member” above does not carry. The Greek term translated “member” is closer to the English terms “limb” or “part”.
What’s the danger? Well, someone can become a “member” of a group by decision of either the individual or the group. However, a “limb” (i.e., arm or leg) does not decide to become part of a body, nor does a body decide that a “limb” is now part of it. The “limb” is part of the body by definition… identity.
In fact, this is exactly what Paul is teaching in the passages above. If you read the context, you’ll find that are “members” of one another – we do not have to choose to become “members” of one another. We find that God through his Spirit makes us “members” of one another, the group does not decide that someone may become a “member”. While this language of choosing and deciding is applicable for the English term “member”, it is not applicable in the Pauline usage of this concept.
Thus, we cannot translate the scriptural language of “members of one another” into an organizational concept of membership, in which either party can choose or decide to become a member of a group.
If God brings one of his children into my life, then we are automatically members of one another, we do not have to decide to become members of one another. Our relationship with one another is wrapped up in our identity as children of God and, therefore, we relate as brothers and sisters with one another, and are thus responsible for one another as family.
Unfortunately, too often, the scriptural language of “members of one another” is translated and interpreted as organizational membership. Thus, we choose who will be “members” with us, even though, according to Scripture, this is not our choice. We choose to be “members” with one person or group and choose NOT to be “members” with another person or group.
We need to understand that our organizational choices concerning “membership” bear no relationship to the scriptural idea of “members of one another”. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are members of one another in Christ, and are thus responsible to live as family with one another.
We can’t choose otherwise.