We never intended to have assigned seats around our family dinner table. It just sort of happened. And it’s only dinner–for some reason, we scramble our seating arrangement at breakfast and lunch.
Each person has their place. We can all close our eyes and picture where each one belongs. If one of the children is away at camp, there’s a very specific hole left at our table. Simply filling the seat with a neighbor wouldn’t fill the void, even if it filled the seat.
Membership, (and the belonging that accompanies it) is similar. If you’re walking around a shopping mall full of people, you’re not members with those people–you just happen to be in the same place at the same time doing a common activity. There’s no belonging–no true community. No one misses you if you’re not there. No one calls you because no one knows you. There’s no collective identity, no diversity of leadership or mutual service. There’s almost zero accountability to the other shoppers to a common set of beliefs, ethic, or mission.
The Christian religion is meant to be experienced like a family. Not like a mall. We invite you to have a seat at our table, please fill it whenever possible–there’s room at the table for anyone who wants to join. Bring your gifts, contribute to the common life. Experience mutual care. There’s nothing like it.
A row of identically dressed soldiers set side by side, or a number of citizens listed as voters in a constituency are not members of anything in [the Biblical notion of membership]. I am afraid that when we describe a man as “a member of the Church” we usually mean nothing [close to the Biblical idea of membership]; we mean only that he is a unit–that he is one more specimen of some kind of things as X and Y and Z. How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective way may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members or units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable. Each person is almost a species in himself. The mother is not simply a different person from the daughter; she is a different kind of person. The grown-up brother is not simply one unit in the class of children; he is a separate estate of the realm. The father and grandfather are almost as different as the cat and the dog. If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost of incommensurables.C.S. Lewis, “Membership” in The Weight of Glory, 164-165.