Together, the followers of Jesus, are called the church, but individually are they members of the church as is customary to call them?
Of course, in the Epistles, individually, the followers of Jesus Christ are considered to be members of his body. The Apostle Paul casts an image of the church as a human body of which Christ is the head and his followers are the different members (parts) of his body. Together they are one body, but individually many different parts of that body. Followers of Jesus Christ, using the imagery of a body are members of that body.
But I do not think of Jesus’ followers as being members of the church. His followers are the church, both individually and corporately. In our culture, especially, “membership” is an institutional construct. Members can be counted. And in a culture in which numbers are construed to mean everything — including the growth and vitality of the church, the health of the church, the demographics of the church, and the number of parking spaces necessary for a church facility, to name some of the considerations numbers divulge – numbers reveal everything and probably anything except what is central to the church.
In the Reforming Church, the individuals in the church find their identity in scripture. A strong case can be made to call the individuals of the church, Evangelists. Indeed, the church, individually and corporately, is called to be bearers of the Good News – literally, Evangelists. A strong case can be made to call the individuals of the church, Saints. The evangelists who wrote the Epistles often called the individual followers of Jesus, Saints, as in Colossians 1:2, NRSV – “To the saints . . . in Christ in Colossae. . . .” A strong case can be made to call the individuals of the church, the Baptized, Baptism being the ritual sign of inclusion in the church. But in the Reforming Church, I prefer to call the individuals in the church, Followers. “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him (Matthew 9:9, NRSV). Repeatedly, the text of the Gospels speaks of Jesus calling people to follow him.
But individuals in the church are not just followers. They are Followers of the Way. Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the way. . . .” (John 14:6). In the Acts of the Apostles, the early church was first known as “The Way” (Acts 9:2, 18:25f, 19:9f, 24:14f). Jesus who is The Way called people to follow him.
Presuming Jesus’ followers believe in him, faith being the hallmark of inclusion in the salvific hope of God and the sign of inclusion in the church, a strong case can be made from scripture to call the individuals in the church, Believers.
Indeed, the faith of those in the church is a gift of God, undeserved, unmerited, and un-earnable! But the theological insistence that it is grace alone abrogates the sense that inclusion in the church is calling – requiring a response.
In the Reforming Church, those who believe in Jesus are Followers of The Way.