On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy took the presidential oath of office. After that he began his first presidential address to the nation. I wonder how many of us can remember, or have been taught, the most famous line in that speech? It was: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” That statement strikes right at the wicked heart of the average American.
This message is the reverse of our lesson from Sunday School this morning. We gathered about two dozen things which you, as members of Calvary Baptist Church should be able to expect from your church. Tonight our theme is: what responsibilities do we, as members, have to Calvary Baptist Church. It is easy and natural for people to want to know: “What’s IN THIS for me?” “What can my church do for me?” But we need to balance that thought with its corresponding twin: “What is REQUIRED of me?”
This morning I said, that although I am your pastor, I am a member this church just like everybody else. The things which the church owes to you, it also owes to the pastor and his wife. And the truth is, that they are often the last ones to receive some of those things we mentioned. For example, while I was gone last month, how many times did you call Judy to check up on her? Not only was she without her husband, she was without her car; it was snowing; she has Minieres. It is not good enough for me or anyone else to say, “Call me if you need anything.” We need, and I include myself; we need to take the initiative and make that call ourselves. The lesson this morning applied to me as much as it did to you. And tonight I need to begin with the same statement. I am member of this church, and because of that there are things that I owe to this body. They are not things that I alone owe – the fact is we all do. But let’s primarily use me as the example tonight. I’ll pretend that you are preaching to me.
By the way, I was looking over the outline of a message on this subject that I preached in 1972. It is much the same as it is tonight. But I must say that I have learned just a little bit about people and about churches since that time. And I have also learned a little about myself in these last 40 years.
The first point of that message four decades ago was:
Members owe to their church their IDENTIFICATION.
I still believe that is true, but the idea can be just a little bit misleading and inaccurate. The members this church are already identified with Calvary Baptist Church. Like it or not, I am identified with the church that meets on the corner of 12th and Spokane. I don’t have to run around town shouting, “I’m a member of Calvary Baptist, I’m a member of Calvary.” There are a many people who know where my church membership is found. There business people who know: two banks, UPS and the USPS, people at my gym and various restaurants know that I am a Christian. And then there are the neighbors who see me and Judy leave home at the same time every week and drive up to the building service after service, week after week. And probably the same can be said of you.
This means that if I publically sin, I will do so as a representative of Christ and of this church. If I should ever swear in public, or even grin when some other fool tells a dirty joke – that identity remains. If I run a stop sign or speed down 12 avenue, forcing others to notice – I will likely be recognized. When I eat in restaurant and make a scene – my identification with this church may be recalled. Maybe I am just a bit better known that you, and your name doesn’t quite jump out in a crowd, but it will in some circles.
Every member of this church owes to this body of Christ a CLEAN identification.
What do I, as ordinary member, owe this church? How about FAITHFULNESS?
Let me paint an imaginary picture for you. It is Sunday morning and you get out of bed at your usual Sunday hour, whatever that might be. You check your email, eat your breakfast, listen to a radio preacher that you like and get dressed. Then off you go, arriving at the church at about 10:00 only to find that the door is locked. Once in a while that happens on Sunday evening or Wednesday, but never on Sunday morning. On this particular Sunday, 10:00 rolls around, and there is no pastor. Perhaps you are one of the few without a key, so you just sit there in your car with the engine running. Or maybe you decide to drive towards my house to make sure that I’ve been in a car accident. Since you don’t see my car, you drive all the way to the parsonage and there is my Sonata. Curious, you knock on the door and what do you find? The pastor is still in bed, because he has a fever of 99 degrees, or he has a few sniffles. What is your opinion of your pastor that day? He hasn’t called anyone, warning them that he wouldn’t be in the services. He hasn’t make any effort to arrange for an alternative message. And the fact is he’s not really sick; he’s only slightly dead.
Most church members demand that their pastor be 100% faithful to services of the church. Why is that? “Well, dummy, it’s because we pay you to be faithful to our church.” Brethren, you don’t pay me to be your pastor. You show me some love and appreciation by giving me a check each week. But it is the Lord who called me to be your pastor, although it was through your vote. Even if you had the worst public speaker in the state. A man who mumbled and stuttered so badly you doubted your own sanity for even coming to listen to him. If that man was preaching God’s Word, you couldn’t pay him what he is truly worth. You shouldn’t expect me to be here service after service simply because you pay me to be here. Nevertheless, why do you expect me be here, because you believe that I have a responsibility under Christ.
But in that light, what makes you any different from me? Why can you demand my faithfulness, but I can’t demand yours? Why shouldn’t I assume when you don’t come to one of the services that you are really, really sick, or there has been something serious that has come up in your life? Is it because you have nothing to contribute to the services? Actually, you contribute in dozens of ways. Nothing improves the preaching of the word like a house full of eager ears. Nothing increases the preacher’s enthusiasm like hearing a genuine “amen” now and then. Paul speaks about a building fitly framed together growing into an holy temple in the Lord. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Every brick, board, nail and light-bulb contributes to the building. Paul talks about a body, with eyes, arms, feet, ears, tongue, mind and heart. We are all the people that make up that body of Christ. One part of a body doesn’t a body make – not even if it was the neck or the head upon that neck. When part of that body is missing, it cannot function as it should. I know that there are legitimate reasons for missing church services. And the truth is I am the most forgiving and forgetful person in the world. But your empty seat is, at the time, like a diamond ring without it’s stone. It’s like a pizza without any cheese; or a beautiful book cover without any print. And I’m not sure that the Lord is as forgiving as I am. We all owe our church our utmost possible faithfulness in attendance.
And by the way, the word “attendance” can be taken in two ways. There is such a thing as bodily attendance in a church service without paying attention. Paul exhorted Timothy, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” That means actually concentrating and focusing on what is being said. I know that sometimes this is hard, depending on the quality of the preaching and the exhaustion in our bodies, but the Lord still makes it a requirement; something we owe to the church.
What do I owe our church? I owe it my TIME.
What would think of your pastor if I played three or four hours of golf three days a week? Some of you who kinder than others, might say that he must really love golf. But others would say, “Preacher, your financial support is too high, if you can afford such a hobby.” And others would think that I was wasting my time. Sure, everybody needs to relax, but 12 to 15 hours a week on a golf course, or in fishing boat, or on a ski run, is more than relaxation. As a general rule, how a person spends his time indicates the nature of his heart.
I owe the Lord, and then I owe the body of Christ, a big chunk of my time. But does anyone in town have more time in a single week than another person? Someone says, “But I have a job.” Well, in one sense of word, so do I. But the pastor’s job is the work of God. And yours is not? If it isn’t then there is something wrong with you. Every hour of every day in every Christian life ought to be dedicated to the Lord. And according to Ephesians 3:21 much of that time should be directed through His church. It is in that church that God will be glorified. I owe this church my Sundays, and my Wednesdays evenings, and so do you. We owe many other hours as well. There are 168 hours in everybody’s week. The time consumed in actual church services comes to approximately 7 hours, less than 5%. What if the Lord demanded a tithe of our time as well as our income? That would be nearly 17 hours.
And there is, of course, another real debt I have to our church, and that is my TITHE.
God has clearly, unmistakably, irrevocably, and consistently told us all that we owe to Him one dollar out of every ten that pass through our fingers. We owe him 10¢ of every dollar and $100 out of every $1000. I owe that money to the Lord, because I owe to Him my very existence. I owe that to the Lord, because every Keto cauliflower on my plate has been His gift to me. I owe my tithe to the Lord, because it was a demand upon all His people before the Jews became nation. I owe my tithe to Lord, because it was one of the things that Jesus commended of the Pharisee.
Now, every tither ought to know that tithing is more than just money. It is an expression of thanksgiving and of faith in the Lord’s providential care. I’ve never met a tither who quit because he couldn’t afford to continue; God blesses our giving. However I have met Christians who said they couldn’t start tithing, because they thought they couldn’t afford it. I don’t usually say that such people are thieves, but I have repeated what God has said.
What would you do to a pastor who didn’t tithe? You should run him out of town on a rail, covered in tar and feathers. When he preaches, telling you to trust in God, the non-tithing preacher proves himself to be a hypocrite – he doesn’t trust God with his finances.
I owe my tithe to this church. There is no such thing as a universal church, and my tithe doesn’t belong anywhere else but here. In Malachi we hear about the theft of God’s tithes and offerings. And in I Corinthians Paul said, “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” There might be some justification for sending special offerings to special servants of God. But the clear teaching of God’s word is that the tithe belongs to the Lord as represented in the body of Christ – the local church.
I owe to this church my TESTIMONY.
Since I have received the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, that has made me a debtor to every other person on earth who hasn’t received that gospel. Since the only institution on earth commissioned to share gospel with the lost is the church, then my testimony for Christ is owed in a round about way to or perhaps I should say through that institution. My testimony should be primarily focused through the church of which I am a member. What if I, as your pastor, never invited a soul to hear gospel that I preach? What good would it do for me to preach? What purpose is there for the pastor to spend 4 or 5 hours on a message and then the members of the church not care whether they or anyone else ever heard it? As I said this morning, one of the primary reasons for the existence of the Lord’s church is evangelism.
Paul said that he was a debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians. Jesus said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in Heaven.” “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We all owe to our church a genuine desire for the Lord’s continual blessings. None of us can create “success” no matter how the word is defined. But we can yearn for whatever it is by the Lord’s definition. We should pray and desire church growth, for souls to be saved, for the baptismal pool to be regularly stirred. Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. And when he had called unto them his twelve disciples, he gave them power… These twelve Jesus sent forth.”
What else did we say this morning about the debt of the church to its members?
We must remember that we are the church. The body is made up of the members of that body. So everything we said this morning could be reversed in one way or another.
I owe to our church, and the members of our church, my prayers; we all do. I owe to you what comfort, support, love, and joy the Lord has given to me. And if you have received any of these things, then you have the responsibility to share them with the rest of us as well. How many times must I forgive the people around me? Seventy times seven you say? And how many times should you forgive one another? What qualifications and limitations did the Lord place on that command to forgive?
Also, as I said earlier, we owe to one another a sanctuary from the world. As I visited the camp ground of the church in Manitoba, Bro. Brittain took me around to several buildings. When we got to the building where the word of God is preached during camp, he called it “the sanctuary.” It looked like a simple log building to me, but he called it “the sanctuary.” Originally that word meant “a sacred place,” but it has come to mean “a place of refuge or safety.” All three of those terms are appropriate for the church building of God. Certainly, we need to be able to bring our burdens before the hearts of the brethren, but there is just a lot of secular stuff, political stuff, sports stuff, which need to be left outside.
As members here, we are obligated first to the Lord and then to our church, as the body of Christ.
I don’t know about you, but I hate being in debt. Right now, I owe more money than I would like, and I am doing all that I can to whittle that down. At least, my payments are being made each month. That is a debt to men, but what a worse debt it is to be behind in payments to the Lord. Remember the scripture says, “owe no man anything” – keep your payments up to date.
When I was a member the Inland Empire Philatelic Society, there was only one responsibility: I had to pay my yearly dues. If I didn’t give them $15.00 a year, I wouldn’t get their news letter, and I couldn’t sit on the board. I could still attend the meetings and participate in other ways, but I would have lost some privileges.
Shouldn’t that sort of thing apply to church members who don’t meet their membership responsibilities? There is no way to quantitatively or qualitatively measure many of the responsibilities members have. But there are at least two which can be measured.
What should we do with members who live in the area but who of their own accord do not attend? I’m not talking about people who are sick, who are without transportation, or who may have other severe limitations. I’m talking about people who have the means and opportunity, but who make the choice to refuse to attend. How can a non-attendee contribute to the spirituality of the church services? Can we be assured of their prayers if we rarely see their faces? Can they comfort or lift us up? Can they, from a distance, join their voices with ours in praise? Without actual physical attendance, they cannot contribute to the fellowship of the body. If they rarely or never telephone or email, showing an interest in whether anyone has been saved recently or if Bro. Kjeldgaard is still coughing, shouldn’t we assume they don’t care? If they don’t care about the church, that is the people who make up the Lord’s church are they good members? If they never comment on our on-line services, shouldn’t we assume they aren’t listening? If they aren’t listening to our preaching and teaching, in what way are they a part of our church?
I think we ought to have a policy in place stating that we expect local members to be in our services at least once a month, and if they do not attend at all during a three month period we can assume they don’t want to be members. Certainly, there will be occasional problems creating occasional exceptions, and we shouldn’t be absolutely rigid. But what appears to be deliberate and long-tern negligence needs to be dealt with.
But what about those members who don’t live locally? I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect them to be with us at least once every six months or even more often. We voted some time ago, and we have in place, a fund to help people with travel expenses. Despite being as forgiving as possible, enough is enough, or little is little enough. People who never attend have forsaken one of their membership responsibilities and should be struck from the rolls. There is no benefit to either those people or to the church to maintain their names as members.
And as crass as it sounds, another criteria for examining a church member would be his giving. Certainly not me, and in fact no one, is ever going to demand a look at members’ tax returns to determine if everyone is truly tithing. There is no camera over the offering box recording everyone who drops something in. But when it comes to distant members, there is only one way for those people to tithe or give their offerings, and that is through the mail. In other words, the church knows whether or not those people care if the church can pay its bills and meet its missionary obligations. If those people are not showing enough interest in their church to be present every now and then, they should at least send their offerings on a regular basis. If our distant members care nothing about the financial condition of the church, doesn’t it say something about their love and allegiance? Doesn’t it suggest that they don’t care whether or not the church can survive? Tithes and offerings are not directly about the financial stability of the church. Tithes and offerings are more about the spiritual condition of the giver. The Lord Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” And turning it around, we might say, “Where your heart is there will your treasure go.”
I think that the church ought to have some sort of policy in this regard as well. It doesn’t have to be my standard; I’d be happy to listen to your suggestions. But the question remains: should people who refuse to support their church remain members? In secular organizations, not paying one’s dues means the loss of membership. Shouldn’t that apply to us as well? We may not have Biblical precedence, but we do have Biblical principles.
In a couple weeks, we will have our annual business meeting. I would like to recommend that we set these two points as standards for church membership: attendance and giving. If people, both local people and distant members, choose not to meet these standards, then we should take their behavior as an indication of their desire not to be members of Calvary Baptist.