The Book of Members

A timeless message from a timeless document: each is different from the other, but all a part of one body for His glory.

Robert John Versteeg is pastor of the Oak Hills United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.

In a mayonnaise jar unearthed in the southwest corner of the churchyard I dis covered what appears to be an ancient manuscript of the long-lost Book of Members, Codex Cincinnaticus. The book is thought to contain esoteric commentary on the twelfth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. After years of diligently translating the document into the vernacular, I am now ready to begin making its contents available to the waiting world.

You recall that in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul assures the believers that they are the body of Christ and individually members of it. The practical benefit and the excitement of our discovery of the Book of Members is that now for the first time you will be able to identify exactly which member of the body you are.

The basics

Paul mentions first of all the foot. In the church, the foot member is basic. If you know what foot soldiers in the army used to be, you know how important foot members are. They are the troops, the marchers. They're the members we take for granted, so long as they do their job. They plod along step after step, day after day, week after week, year after year, one after the other. They carry all the weight and movement of the church. The foot people are the sole support of the church. Note, however, that foot people, like foot soldiers, have also been known to do a lot of kicking.

A specialized branch of the foot corps are the toe members. Praise God for the members who keep the church on its toes, alert to new opportunities and new directions! Unfortunately, because they are the leading members, they are often the ones who get stubbed when the church in its forward march encounters some unforeseen obstacle.

In this connection the Book of Members calls attention to the shin members very sensitive persons who seem to get bumped every time we turn around.

But if the shin members will only stay closely connected to the knee people, they'll come out OK, because the knee people are our members who specialize in kneeling, the members who keep the body in prayer and devotion. As we know from sports medicine, the knee is a vulnerable part of the body, easily knocked out of commission. Without healthy knees, the body is crippled and lame. Therefore, in some ways these are the most needed members of the body.

Hip members are those who know what's going on out there in the real world. They are in touch with the world's trends and concerns, and so they can help the church be relevant they are in the world, but not of it.

The Book of Members does not pass over the ankle members, those who along with the wrist and elbows specialize in connections. The ankles are good-looking members, pleasant to have around. Elbow people are not so good-looking, and although they are prone to be a little more pushy than ankles or wrists, they are the same sort of members, flexible connectors, and every body needs some flexible connectors; they are the ones who help the rest of the members work together.

We have tendon and ligament members the ones who hold the body together; we have muscle members the ones who make the body move; and we have skin members temperature regulators who keep the body alternately warm when it's chilly out and cool when things get hot.

No atlas of the church would be complete without tribute to our shoulder members, those responsible ones who always carry the burdens.

Backbone members keep us upright and furnish the resolve that nerves us to take a strong but flexible stand when the whirlwinds of injustice rage.

The apostle singles out the hand. What a special member the hand is! Like the foot members who support the church with underpinning, the hand members are the people who serve. How could the body do the will of its Lord without its servant members?

The torso

Now up in the church's torso are housed some important organs. Of these organ parts, the heart is essential. If it stops, everything else shuts down shortly thereafter. In biblical terms, the heart is the seat of courage and faith. No question but our members who pump up courage and faith keep our church body alive!

The stomach is a very demanding part of our body. This is the member that acts as if all the other members of the body should work to fill its needs. Of course, it's a powerful source of motivation. But even though the stomach seems to be selfish, God has so arranged things that the greedy stomach actually if unintentionally provides nourishment to all the rest of the body. You have to be careful, though, because if the stomach member becomes too prominent and domineering, it tends to deposit unhealthy fat on the hip members.

The lungs. These are Spirit-filled members who breathe in the breath of God and with it ignite energy in the body's every part.

That brings us to the organs of elimination (where Martin Luther located himself) in the bowels. Kidney members help drain off waste and poison; they purify the body. Bladder people they're the ones who really get you because they're always putting on the pressure at the most inconvenient times. But try living without them! They actually provide the body needed relief.

The Book of Members straightforwardly discusses the sex organs (you were perhaps wondering about that, or worrying about it). Yes, indeed the church body is very sexy (we're talking sex and not lust here; neither are we talking body shame). We feel sorry for people for whom sex is such a bad experience that they use its terminology for bad words. Paul speaks of our "unpresentable parts" as worthy of honor and modesty. These are our members of ecstasy, the ones who are filled and thrilled with the joy of the Lord. It's because of them that new Christians are born.

The Head

Now the Head of the church is Christ, but the Head Himself has members that Paul mentions and the Book of Members elucidates.

The eye members are the people of vision. We need them to direct where we shall go and how we shall serve. They visualize what and where and how the church should be. Without them, the church would be blind and the entire body would be in darkness. Even our dreams are visual; these are our members who see visions and dream dreams.

A seldom noted but clever little member is the eyelid. With the eyelid, God has made this body capable of winking, be cause there are some things even God overlooks. The eyelid protects the eye.

The apostle also singles out for special mention the ear. How we need members who are good listeners!

We even have nosy members, but everybody knows about them.

And we have lip members kissy-kissy, lovey-dovey types who delight or embarrass us with the smiling obedience to the biblical injunction to greet one another with a holy kiss.

The lip members like to hang around the mouth members. Mouth people, with the help of the tongue and teeth, both feed the entire body by what they take in and express the body's spirit by what they speak out. The word gossip originally denoted good speech (literally, "God speech"). What today we think of as gossip is actually nasal that is, nosy speech. The church's mouthpiece, unlike Dame Rumor's, should not be connected to the nose or even to the greedy stomach, but the church's mouth should be directly connected to its lungs so that the church may speak the Spirit of God.

Of course, we have our brainy members. We need the brain healthy so that it can be a fit instrument for the mind of Christ to do its thinking with.

But the proper carriage of the head depends upon the neck, and of all the members listed in the Book of Members, my favorite is the neck type. What is a church that can't or won't stick its neck out? There are too many broken-neck churches, paralyzed, afraid to try any thing, afraid to commit, afraid to risk. They have lost their voice and can whisper only, "We've never done that before" or "We tried it once, and it didn't work" or "If we did that, we might upset Mrs. Cochlea." Good neck people have confidence that Mrs. Cochlea will be mature enough to keep her balance. Good neck members give the church a firm, bold voice. Good neck members stick it out and thrust the head ahead, and it is a rule of body mechanics that where the head goes, the body will follow. Neck people know that if they get the body into trouble, Christ is the body's Saviour.

Some may think that the Book of Members leaves out the appendix. By no means: there it is right where it belongs, at the back of the book. The church has appendix members, too the useless ones who maybe once upon a time had some vital function but who now just hang around. In fact, they may never be seen. We used to remove them indiscriminately but now we would prefer them to remain, in spite of their apparent uselessness, just because God has nevertheless made them part of us. However, if they become inflamed and threaten the health of the body and there is no cure for it, there comes a time when they have to go.

Each needs the other

With this overview of the Book of Members in mind, I hope that you are able to identify which part of the body of Christ you are. Whatever kind of member you may be, we need each other. One member cannot be the whole body. We share one life.

Of us individual members God has created a living body. If I cut myself off from the body, I die, even if the diminished body lives on. In the worst case, if I am so essential to the body that my amputation or removal cripples it or kills it, God even so will raise it up a new body to do His will.

But God created us to be one intact body; not only some members, but all of us, each different from the other but each a part and all together.

The Book of Members amplifies one major theme from First Corinthians: You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

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Robert John Versteeg is pastor of the Oak Hills United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.

May 1992

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