Privilege and Responsibility

By Ross Engel

In the 1997 film, Starship Troopers, which pits humanity against bug-like aliens, there are several strong cultural and political messages buried both subtly and boldly into this classic film. One theme is that Federal service guarantees citizenship within the Federation. The idea behind this is two-fold. First, nations become unstable because the average citizen does not act responsibly; they live, vote, and exercise their liberties, without caring how it impacts others. Second, citizenship is a privilege which requires honor and sacrifice. To be a citizen meant a willingness to put the needs of others before yourself and also to be an active part of the Federation, taking ownership of your role as citizen. Main character Johnny Rico says, “Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now. A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility.”

In the world of Starship Troopers, civilians were not discriminated against, but they also did not have the privilege of voting and having children was not always approved. Citizens on the other hand, could vote and have children unhindered because, “every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage” (Heinlein, Robert. Starship Troopers).

Is there a place for personal responsibility and ownership within a nation when you desire to become a citizen of that nation? The question filled the radio air-waves during my morning commute this week. President Trump announced how he wishes to enforce a Clinton-era immigration law making it more difficult for legal immigrants to become citizens if they use “public benefits” and government subsistence for more than 12 months at a time during their nationalization process. From what I gather, the intent of the law is that individuals coming to America should be self-sufficient and not depend on public resources to meet their needs. They must take personal responsibility as part of their citizenship process.

Now despite where you fall in the political spectrum with immigration, whether you agree with such a law or not, the public discourse, along with having recently seen Starship Troopers, has gotten me thinking about the place of personal responsibility and ownership with regards to life in the Church. What is the connection between privilege and obligation when it comes to church membership? And what is the benefit of being a member of a congregation in the first place?

C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS), wrote extensively on the benefits and responsibilities of church membership. His thoughts are worth considering. Walther offers five rewards of church membership:

  1. Divine approval. God wants His children to unite with one another, instead of wandering about alone in the world. And doing what the Lord has commanded is good and well-pleasing to God.
  2. You will regularly hear the pure Gospel proclaimed, your sins will be forgiven, you will get a taste of Heaven itself, and receive the fatherly compassion of God.
  3. Membership brings friendly admonition to you when you are in danger of going astray, the consolation and support of others when you are in distress of body or soul, and raising you up when you have fallen.
  4. You will have the ready service of the servant of the Word for pastoral care. He will call on you in your time of need and administer heavenly comfort to your soul.
  5. When death approaches you, a herald of the Gospel will come to you with heavenly light to dispel the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death so that you will rejoice with Simeon, “Lord, now You let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word.”

While these benefits do not guarantee wealth, honor, or a life of pleasure, the promises of forgiveness, life, salvation, and being a part of the fellowship of all believers is a tremendous blessing and reward! Consider what responsibilities and duties C. F. W. Walther shares that Christians should embrace as members of God’s Church:

  1. That you will not absent yourself from worship.
  2. That you will attend every voters’ meeting unless prevented by circumstances beyond your control.
  3. That you will at all times be concerned about the welfare of the congregation and pastor.
    -Give your advice
    -Vote for what is right
    -Contribute according to your means toward the support of the church and our poor.
    -Vote in accordance with the congregation’s welfare
    -Gladly submit to admonition from the Word of God; when you see others sin, practice brotherly admonition instead of gossiping behind their backs; and in church discipline, proceed according to the Word of God.
    -Submit to the rules and regulations made by the congregation so as to promote harmony.
    -In cases of doctrinal controversy, judge strictly according to the Word of God.
  4. Pray for the congregation and your pastor
  5. Patiently bear with the weak in our midst.
  6. Remain faithful unto death.

To be a citizen of God’s family is a great and precious privilege. With citizenship comes a responsibility to others in the household of God. Certainly, there are times and circumstances when one is limited in their ability to carry out these duties, but that does not make one any less a member of the Household of God. It is by God’s grace and His gift of faith that we are grafted into His holy household and receive the benefits of our heavenly citizenship!

St. James writes, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:22-24).

Members of the Household of God: may each of us consider how we might be responsible as we enjoy the privilege of being citizens of Heaven, grafted into God’s family.