Summary: An overview of the Christian history of attitudes to work, the need for a renewed sense of call at work, and a renewed sense of mission
This is above all meant to be a time of encouragement – in my time as a Christian I have heard very few talks on How God sees our work. Mark Green in his book ‘Thank God it’s Monday’ did a survey and found that “over 50% of Christians have never heard a sermon on work, and over 70% have never heard a theology of work, and only 26% have been asked to consider developing a ministry in the workplace. So above all I pray that this evening is helpful – The structure of the evening is a combination of sharing, and testimony – Nick, Amy & Ralph will be sharing
There are 3 main areas that I want us to cover this evening
History of attitudes to work
Testimony 1 - Nick
Renewing a sense of call
Testimony 2 - Ralph
Renewing a sense of mission
Testimony 3 - Amy
PART 1 - History of attitudes to work
Work does not just mean – 9-5 – it can include all housework – running kids around – cleaning the car
The reason I want to look a the history of attitudes to work is because it helpfully reveals both truth and error, and also because as much as we don’t want to admit it – our own views on work our shaped by history. I will start with looking at the Greek and Roman Culture
1 - Greek & Roman Culture – Work is evil
In these cultures work was viewed as something for the underlings. We have slaves – slaves are here to do the work for us – so we can be free to develop ourselves – work is unworthy and beneath us. There was also a belief “spirit good”, “matter bad” – what was most important was the spiritual world, and their culture had a low view of the physical world.
2 - Medieval church – Sacred work good – secular work bad
During the period of the medieval church was to divide work into two great categories – the sacred and the secular. There was the religious, the monastic and the convent, aimed at perfection devoted to contemplation, and then those outside who kept the wheels of the world running at the cost of condemning their souls to a 2nd best spiritual life. You can see how actually this view is not so dis-similar from the Greco Roman view of spirit good matter bad – but here it was sacred good secular bad.
3 - Reformation/Rennaissance – The Dignity of Work
Then came the Renaissance – where the craftsman and the artist was exalted. Individual creation was lifted up and praised. But this was extended in the Reformation where they added the concept of “a calling” for all, that God called people to tasks in the world. All work was done for the glory of God – but it assumed that living a godly life was valued supremely, and work was always to the service of God and others. Actually the reformers really turned things on their head a bit and
4 - Enlightenment – Pursuit of human gain
Then came the Enlightenment which is really where the idea of the good “Protestant work ethic” came from. Service of God was perverted into a creed of personal success:
“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealty and wise
God helps them that helps themselves
If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting
Leisure is time to do something useful
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN – POOR RICHARD
It replaced a spiritually controlled work ethic with a humanly governed economic system that regarded work as a means to financial ends. This led to the distinction between the owners and the labourers, profit was God
5 - Marx – The classless society – control sin
Marx saw how this system often led to abuse – and so wanted to create the classless society – where every one had enough – This led to government control of industry – and stories of vast factories that produced things people didn’t need so everyone was in labour. Marx’s analysis of the problem that money had been made god of this world and man’s happiness had been forgotten – however Communism was a human system erected by sinful man – and so often led to abuse, injustice but also a lack of freedom.
Work as necessary evil – Have we gone full circle??
In today’s society there are a mixture of views – In some ways we have gone full circle – and work is seen as a necessary evil – somewhat like Roman society – if I only I won the lottery I could escape it all OR work is seen as a means of personal fulfillment an idol – gaining power and success. A lot of folk in P&G were in not only for their own profit, but also to be able to influence others. I work to be successful, or so that I can be upwardly mobile, bigger car, bigger house, bigger reputation. There are still some who want to escape the Rat Race with idealized views of living in the countryside ‘The Good Life’ style – but to me that somewhat smells of escapism – and is condemning any form of work in industry.