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Papers in hand, questions in mind, Hubby Dear and I drove to our local insurance agency to verify the contents of our policy, hoping to reduce the cost while maintaining adequate coverage. In his usual manner, H.D. engaged the agent — who, fortunately, is also a friend — in conversation. One area melded into another and yet another until he happened upon involvement with the Rotary Club, an area with which he was not experienced.
The questions increased, deepening as they came. Out came his pen. He would take notes, hoping I would have fodder for a column one day. Though I smiled at his obvious efforts, I was drawn to listen. Our friend spoke of a civic organization known to be the largest in the world. She said “civic organization,” but I immediately heard “church.”
She casually mentioned the required commitment to weekly meetings. In some cases, they were very early morning ones! Commitment? Requirement? Our ears perked up. Was she serious? Was it really true that members had to fulfill their obligation, without excused absence, wherever they were, and were held accountable for it? Her positive response amazed us.
Our surprise was not that it was a requirement, but that the membership abided by it without question or grumbling. Their commitment was single-minded and heartfelt. As a result, the rules were not burdensome. They were, instead, viewed as calls to conviction. They were challenges to be people who would “exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships,” as their literature notes. They would be men and women whose diverse backgrounds were honored, whose gifts were recognized, shared, and offered as means to address to address and resolve some of the world’s most challenging problems.
Paul P. Harris, founder of Rotary, was clear in his message: “Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.” Though there is no mention of God in his statement, his goal and mission might well have been taken from the holy books of most religions. Phrased differently, perhaps, the idea and ideal remains cogent.
Rotary’s mission resonates in the evangelizing efforts of the church. Don’t Christians sing a hymn that declares that all will know we are Christians by our love? Isn’t there a call for shalom and salaam in Judaism and Islam? Are we not all people of God, by whatever name, who seek to be known by the results God achieves through our presence in this world?
In the early 1930s, Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor set our to save the Club Aluminum Products distribution company from bankruptcy by changing the ethical climate of the company. He had a method that could apply equally well to our world today … to our churches today. He called it the four-way test. In the 1940s, he offered it to Rotary where it was accepted and adopted. To this day, it is both a guiding principle and a “prayer” at the start of each meeting.
The test is simple but profound. It is short but all encompassing. All choices, decisions, actions are to meet the criteria presented. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Many of us think that humanitarianism and humanism fall short of religious commitment. We even apply the term “secular” to humanism, implying its lack of divine influence or force. Too often, God’s apparent anonymity is viewed as the opening for evil, rather than good. Yet, Taylor’s four-way test may open our eyes, hearts, and minds to a different reality.
His test, offered to church communities, would cause us to pause and reflect on our choice of action or inaction, speech or silence, acceptance or rejection, inclusivity or exclusivity. Questions would pierce through our convictions. Is what I am saying, doing, being true to the deepest call of God, or, am I falsely presenting myself?
Am I, are we, being fair to all concerned or do we bend to the call of a loud minority and ignore the silent majority? Do we unfairly judge each other in our opinions, perceptions, and appraisals?
Are our choices formed and decided with the intention of building goodwill and better friendships? St. Paul described it as the edification of the church, the building up of the community. Too often, we engage in tearing it down, even if we do it without intention. We tear down ideas if they are novel or challenging, never thinking that we are eroding the confidence and denying the giftedness of the presenters.
Will it be beneficial to all concerned or profitable for a select group? Scripture reminds us strongly that all gifts are God-given for the benefit of the whole body, the entire people of God. God’s interest is unlimited: all might be made whole. The gifts are ours to receive, accept, use, share, and offer universally. No one is gift-less or useless. No one is less treasured by God than another. “Jesus loves us, this we know, ‘cause the Bible tells us so.” The challenge remains for us to love each other, ‘cause the Bible tells us so.
The four-way test will help us to live the challenge of faith. It will help us to learn the contents of love. It will move us from emotional response to effective responsibility, from apathy to empathy, competition to compassion. The four-way test, 24 simple words, gives us a homey framework on which we can hang our discipleship.
Devoid of pious language, the framework includes all and eludes none. Arguments about the veracity of one religion over another, legitimacy or its lack dissipate. Discussions to decide which theology is valid are rendered mute. All the religious trimmings are pared down to the barest necessity: the committed faith of a true believer. When we freely and truly accept the call of our Creator and allow ourselves to be made and remade, created and re-created in God’s divine image, we will live the four way test, never concerned about whether or nor we pass it.
When we live it, we will all be church together. To rephrase the words of Paul P. Harris, “Whatever church or God may mean to us, to the world they will be known by the results we achieve.”
There are no As, Bs, Cs or Ds to mark success or achievement. There is only pass/fail. It’s the test for a lifetime.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.