Scripture Reading, James 2:14-16
One of the most colorful and exciting personalities of the Unites States was Theodore Roosevelt. Following the assassination of Republican president William McKinley on September 14, 1901, Roosevelt was catapulted into the presidency where he served as the 26th Chief Executive from 1901 to 1908. Having promised to serve only one term of his own, Roosevelt turned the reigns of government over to William Howard Taft—whom he helped to elect— and went big game hunting in Africa. When he returned to the States, feeling betrayed by the polices of Taft, Roosevelt again ran for the presidency on the National Progressive Party better known as the Bull Moose Party. However, he lost this renewed bid for the White House to a democrat named Woodrow Wilson. (1913-1921)
Roosevelt once commented that the presidency was a “bully pulpit” by which he meant that the intense attention given to that office allowed a person to help shape the morals and manners of society. Any president, or former president, has a “bully pulpit” from which to speak and Theodore Roosevelt knew how to speak. For an interview in the Ladies Home Journal in 1917, Roosevelt took advantage of his national status to comment about the importance of going to church. He listed several reasons why a person should make religion a vital part of life.
Said Roosevelt, “In this actual world a church-less community, a community where people have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid downgrade. It is perfectly true that occasionally individuals, or families, may have nothing to do with church or with religious practices and observances and yet they maintain the highest standard of spirituality and of ethical obligation. But this does not affect the larger fact that those who do not go to church contribute to the complete moral disintegration of the body politic or society at large.
Church work and church attendance mean the cultivation of the habit of feeling some responsibility for others, and the sense of braced moral strength which prevents a relaxation of one’s own moral fiber.
There are enough holidays for most of us which can quite properly be devoted to pure holiday making…Sundays differ from other holidays—among other ways—in the fact that there are fifty-two of them every year. On Sunday, go to church.
Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in the Church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he stays away from church, he does not spend his time in good works or in lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper.
He may not hear a good sermon at church. But unless he is very unfortunate, he will hear a sermon by a good man who, with his good wife, is engaged all the week long, in a series of wearing and humdrum and important tasks for making hard lives a little easier.
He will listen to and take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible. And if he is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss…
He will probably take part in singing some good hymns.
He will meet and nod to, or speak to, good, quiet neighbors. He will come away feeling a little more charitably toward all the world, even toward those excessively foolish young men who regard church-going as rather a soft performance.
I advocate joining in church works for the sake of showing his faith by his works.
The person who does not in some way, active or not, connect himself with some active, working local church misses many opportunities for helping his neighbors, and therefore, incidentally, for helping himself.
Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, American society has changed in many ways.
All of life moves at a faster pace now.
People are living longer.
Health care is better.
Nationalism has given way to globalism.
The information highway is demanding that the next generation be able to operate computers.
Men have walked on the moon.
And yet, for all of the advances in science, technology, and communication, there is one thing that has not changed since the turn of the century and that is the need to be a vital member of a church.”
The council of President Roosevelt is still revenant: go to church and be a good church member, however membership is understood.
For those who seek to identify themselves with a local assembly according to the custom of the first century, according to the counsel of good men, and according to the will of the Lord, there are six characteristics to keep in mind as to what it means to be a good church member.
A good church member is someone who is serious about religion. In the final analysis, the state of the soul is the most important issue for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul? Religion is very serious.
I received a letter from a prisoner in Indiana. He wanted me to consider the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He made several statements and asked for a personal reply. Part of my answer was this: “Dear Sir, you are a serious student of the Bible in as far as you study it correctly. It is good that you are serious. But here is my final position on Jehovah Witnesses. If I am wrong in my theology on the way of salvation, and on the matter of hell, and you and the JW’s are correct, the only thing that will happen to me is that I will suffer annihilation. But if you are wrong, and I am right, then your immortal souls are at stake—and all shall be lost.”
I say the same thing to all people who are living carelessly. If you are right and life is ultimately meaningless then eat, drink, and be merry for soon you will die. But if there is a goal to life, if the chief end of man is to know God and to enjoy Him forever, then beware. You have played with your soul and tossed it away recklessly.
The story is told of a famous juggler who was on board a boat crossing the Atlantic. One day to amuse the passengers and to keep in practice he began to juggle. The items were small at first and the man was gifted. The people applauded. To impress them with his skills and confidence the juggler took out a large diamond that represented the totality of his wealth. He tossed the large stone into the air and caught it with ease. He tossed it higher and higher still catching it each time.
“I shall throw it as high as I can,” said the juggler. The people begged him not to,but he was determined. So, the diamond was cast into the air. It went out of sight and came back into view. Just as the juggler was reaching to grab it, the ship suddenly lunged downward into a swell. The juggler hands missed the stone and it dropped into the waters—lost forever. Many people are just as foolish as that juggler with something far more valuable. A good church member is much more serious with their soul. 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
A good church member understands the value of simplicity. There is something very calming about Christ and the Christian way of life. The Lord takes everything and makes it very simple in the sense that the important things in life are finally understood: be kind, love one another, do good, worship God, serve others. This is the essence of life.
When the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hearing the stomping of the Gestapo boots to take him away and execute him, he gave some final thoughts as to what kind of people the church was going to need most when the last bomb had exploded and the last solider had been killed. He wrote down his thoughts that have been preserved.
“What the church will need, what our century will need, are not people of genius, not brilliant tacticians, or strategist, but simple, straightforward, honest men and women.”
He was right. The church needs those who will be simple once more.
Simple in speech—to say what is meant and to mean what is said.
Simple in character—genuinely caring without hidden agendas.
Simple in understanding—salvation is by grace through faith alone. One of the problems that crept into the early church is that people wanted to make Christianity complicated. To the church at Corinth, Paul had to write, But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor. 11:3)
A good church member is one who has submitted to the sovereignty of God. In practical terms, this means that God has a right to rule His universe as He see fit. And, for whatever reason, God has been pleased to allow sin, sickness, disease and death to be part of the creative order. One day, all of these things shall be reverse. One day, the ravages of sin will be halted, but until that day comes, man shall labor by the sweat of his brow, women shall travel in childbirth, thorns and thistles shall grow together, and the lion will eat the lamb.
The good Christian, the good church member will submit to the Sovereign will of God realizing that sorrow and sunshine are part of the Christian experience—and there is no turning back. By submitting to the will of God, many things can be endured for Christ’s sake. So “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever.” Amen. (2 Pet. 3:18)
A good church member is truly born again. Salvation and church membership are not the same. Many a person has come into the visible church by being baptized as a baby. Others simply fill out the membership card, and they are received with no questions asked. But there is no knowledge of personal salvation. The language of heaven has been learned in the head, but has never been experience by the heart. There is no assurance of salvation, for the gospel has never touched the inner person. But a good church member can say,
“I’ve been to Calvary, I have seen the Lord!
I’ve been to Calvary, by the witness of the Word”
I’ve been to Calvary and all my sins have been laid upon Christ”.
“I’ve been to Calvary for burdens are lifted at Calvary”.
Just before he died, John Newton (1725-1807) said, “I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”
A good church member is that of being committed to the Scriptures. In the early church the focal point of the worship service was upon the reading of the Bible. Time passed and the mass was substituted for the Word. Then came the Reformation and the glory of the Bible was honored again, as indeed it should be. St. Ambrose once wrote, “As in paradise, God walks in the Holy Scriptures, seeking man.” (C. 340-397) Anthony of Egypt said, “Be astounded that God should have written to us.” (C. 251-356)
A good church member is that of finding a place of spiritual service. God has not saved people to keep them silent and unoccupied. There is a sphere of service in the King’s court. No one can do everything but each person can do something for the Savior—and the Lord will reveal what He wants done as the heart is surrendered to him.
When William Carey began thinking of going to India as a pioneer missionary, his father pointed out to him that he possessed no academic qualifications that would fit him for such a task. But Carey answered, “I can plod.” How true it is that God accomplishes mighty things for His kingdom through those who are willing to persevere, who are willing to plod faithfully through one difficulty after another in the power of the Spirit. When serious attention is given to the soul, when simplicity of life is sought, when divine Sovereignty is submitted to, when salvation is found in Christ the Saviour, when the Scriptures are studied, when spiritual service is engaged in, then church membership will become a delight and not a duty, and the heart will say,
“I love to step inside a church,
To rest and think, and pray;
The quiet, calm and holy place
Can drive all cares away.
I feel that from these simple walls
There breathes a moving sound
Of sacred music, murmured prayers,
Caught in the endless round.
Of all that makes our human life-
Birth, and the union blessed,
Of couples at the altar wed,
And loved ones laid to rest.
Into my soul this harmony
Has poured and now it is still,
The Lord’s own benediction falls
Upon me as I kneel.
Once more, with lifted head, I go
Out into the jarring mart,
The spring of gladness in my step,
God’s peace about my heart.”
~David W. Foley