by Greg Gilbert
On Thabiti's note, I really don't understand how some Christians can object to the idea of church membership. I mean, Paul uses the word in Scripture. It's not like we have to deduce the idea from vague emanations and penumbras.
1 Corinthians 12:27: "Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it."
I know that's a metaphor, but that's also the point---The metaphor Paul uses here is precisely where we get the idea of membership. The word "melos" means "integral part, member." I think sometimes people have the impression that the church stole the idea of membership from Columbia Records or something. Not so. In fact, Columbia Records, the Rotary Club, the Lions' Club, and all the rest stole it from us!
I've never seen this connection drawn explicitly (have you?---please let me know), but Paul's not the first to use the word "melos" in this way. The idea of the "body politic," and the "members" who made it up, was common and deep in Greek and Roman culture. And the Greeks and Romans knew exactly who was a member of that body politic and who wasn't---who could vote and who couldn't, who could be whipped publicly and who couldn't, who could be crucified and who couldn't. Seems to me that under the Spirit's inspiration, Paul is drawing on that same idea of the body politic and now applying it to the church. If so, then that would mean that he's deliberately drawing what would have been a very familiar picture of a well-defined body which has members and non-members, those who are in and those who are out.
So we don't need to find examples of lists in the New Testament to make the case for a well-defined membership. If we give the idea of the body and its members all the meaning it would have had for any Greek-speaking Roman, seems to me that's a pretty strong case in itself.