Monday, October 23, 2006

Puritan Lessons on Faith and Work - Part 1


One of the distinguishing marks of the Puritans was their fully orbed views on work. Their passion and commitment to the supremacy of God's authority in all of life extended into their work life. I thought it might be interesting examine what they believed and how they applied their rich theology in this area. What would the Puritans say to us who live and work in a digital age? They might begin with their conviction that all work is ordained by God. They would be eager to dispose of any false distinctions between secular and sacred work.

"This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use so simple an occupation. Here he did sanctify all manner of occupations." Hugh Latimer

This was in great part reinforced because they held to a view that God calls each person to a specific work or occupation.

"God doth call every man and woman...to serve him in some peculiar employment in this world, both for their own and the common good..." Richard Steele

Cotton Mather provides the following comment on how one should steward that calling.

"A Christian should be able to give a good account, not only what is his occupation but also what he is in his occupation"

Regardless of whether you share the Puritans views on work, their passion to see God honored in and through their work is commendable and inspiring. How might their conviction in the sanctity of all legitimate work inform us today? I offer a couple suggestions -

It should bring us purpose in our work. If the Puritans are right, all manner of legitimate work offers an opportunity for us to obey and honor God. In short, it provides an opportunity for worship.

It should inspire faithfulness. If you believe as the Puritans did that it is God who calls each man to a particular vocation, then faithful discharge of that work is vital if we are to fulfill that calling. Attention to faithfulness in other areas of life but not in this area would be deficient.

Even though I do not consciously subscribe to a sacred-secular dichotomy of work, I nonetheless often forget these truths in practice. By obscuring them, I may be missing opportunities for faithful worship in my daily life.

7 comments:

Alex Tang said...

Hi Andre,

Thank you for your posting. It is a good reminder to me of the importance of regarding our work as worship and faithfulness. For those of us who are not in "full time ministry", sometimes it is difficult to juggle our work, church responsibilities and family. As we become more involved in church and the level of our responsibilities in church increase, sometimes we have to struggle to decide which we need to give priority to - our job or our church?

andre said...

Alex

Thanks for your comments and I wholeheartedly agree with the challenge of juggling our varied responsibilities, especially for those of us in the marketplace.

It's going to differ from season to season and person to person. However, there is much help we can offer each other by pursuing conversations on how to do live the gospel in the context of business and culture. It's one of the reasons I started my blog and also why I'm pleased to contribute here as well.

Jack said...

I wrote this to my church YA (young adults/young ambassadors) group after reading the post on Puritan work ethics yesterday:

------------

I have to come back to office today and possibly tomorow and wednesday; I checked all my emails and now am waiting for my Engineers to come up with
today's report on an urgent project we are running. As I am waiting and recalling my sad sad slavery situation (Most of Malaysia is on holidays!!!!!!!!), I "stole" some working time to read something an Agorian sent through to my email.

*Puritan Lessons on Faith and Work
*One of the distinguishing marks of the Puritans was their fully orbed views
on work. Their passion and commitment to the supremacy of God's authority in
all of life extended into their work life. I thought it might be interesting
examine what they believed and how they applied their rich theology in this
area. What would the Puritans say to us who live and work in a digital age?
They might begin with their conviction that all work is ordained by God.
They would be eager to dispose of any false distinctions between secular and
sacred work...Read on:
http://theagora.blogspot.com/2006/10/puritan-lessons-on-faith-and-wor...


The short article came like a msg from God himself, a reminder of what he
has been teaching me all this while, whether through Scriptures or through
the great ppl whom he has placed me among. Work, whether in Intel, or Dell
or Pan-International is no less sacred than work in Bkt Mertajam Gospel
Center. Old saints like Brother Lawrence and modern day prophets like Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., knew that even the most most mundane jobs - washing
plates in the monastry or a rubbish collector - are means of service to god
and we can enjoy god's awesome presence in them.


Quite a long time ago, I overhead some Christians talking happily about life
after retirement and someone remarked "enviously" that those who are retired
are now freed to serve god while he is still "trapped in the world". But
since when are we called to be "out of the world"? The gospel is clear, we
are called to be IN THE WORLD, though not of the world. The world and
nowhere else is the platform where the whole drama of god's great production
is being played. Where else can Christians operate, live and serve god but
in "my Father's world"?


This is one of the reason why I chose to come back to work. My mentors
advised me of my talents (or the lack of it), and from their counsels and my
own introspection, I know where I am now is not where I ought to be. But I
am a curious boy, i want to "test" the theology of work. I am eager to
experiement and find out whether god is really potent. Marx
promised promised socio-economic liberation (prolektariat come of
age, overthrowing of the oppressive social class, equal sharing of the
wealth of nation). Jesus promised socio-economic liberation (everlasting
peace without war, there will be an agricultural reform - tools of war
turned into tools of agriculture, fair, and not free, trade, justice for the
poor and oppressed, homes for the homeless, bread for the hungry). If what
Jesus said remains some tiny words in tiny bibles (I own a few small
bibles), then Christianity is as good as Communism - ideals in the air. Can
"the Kingdom of God is at hand", which INCLUDES God's promises of
socio-economic reform be applicable in the life of a local graduate freshly
out of univesity? Can "be holy/perfect for your Father is holy/perfect" be
applicable to a young man in his first job? I don't know, and because of
that, I want to find out.


Six months into my job, a dear friend in the States wrote me an email. One
of her questions was "Hmm...do you feel that your work experiment was
successful/fruitful?". Well, it's only six months, I can't really be sure
(for all i know i might not even find out), but I've learnt a few things,
no, I've EXPERIENCED a few things (which many of us including me, probably
knew but perhaps never *knew* it in this strange way of through life's
exprience)


(Quoting from my email to her)
1) god's ideals, justice, morality, holiness, works! And they can be
consciously applied to our work even in a "secular" business. Our task is to
interpret afresh the work that we do to bring glory to god and to put up
god's flags (to borrow my Tom Wright!) in areas where god's kingship is not
recognized. we are to live as if in the kingdom, where the lion lies with
the kid, the lil child plays with the serpent, if anything, we are to live
as if the whole Creation is already restored because our being indeed has
been restored: we are made anew! I begin to enjoy work - oh the ground is no
longer accursed in the new morn of Resurrection - begin to act "more"
justly, more conscientiously and these difficult acts seemed at times
ridiculously natural - not because i am good, but because the bad me has
been made new in Christ. Creation has been redeemed!


2) god's providence - this is the best part! It's amazing how god preserve
us whether in trials or temptations - at times even pretty miraculously in
ways which are both intriguing and exciting (and once even "poetic").
I learn to say "amen" to god's "my grace is sufficient for you".


3) the christian man's estate - this is the tension to number 1 above. The
kingdom is after all, already and not yet. no matter how great our jobs are,
no matter how much earthly blessings god gave, there is a deep seated
longing to be elsewhere. I believe this is what my bible study teacher (mr.
lian) meant when he used to say, 'the fish that turned into a cat will now
no longer want to live under water' and may i add, no matter the great
amount of fish (food!) is there-found. We are not called to be heroes in the
world, the Hero is someone else, we're just to point the world to this Hero
and have them realized that they are in deep shit and in any case, they are
to shout "Superman help!". There is always the romantic notion which my mind
sometimes entertained - that i m the christian hero, struggling and
surviving the world. I fear if i don't realize my own estate, i may end up
being a villain - a hero-wannabe.


4) the christian man's vocation - the Holy Spirit sharpens our conscience to
make us uncomfortable where we are if we are not where god intends us to be
- in a general sense (not in his predestination sense of course). we will
end up dulling not only our gifts but also perhaps impede something grander
(i don't mean mere quantitative grandeur) which can be accomplished if we
obey god in our calling. I take my work now as not only to discover my
calling, but also to polish whatever talent god has given. Hopefully when
that one day come quickly when I'm enlisted to my intended post in the
battlefield, i am well trained and prepared.


Now, in the "misery" of slavery, in the silence of my untidy office, I can
almost hear, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people!" - strangely enough,
probably influenced by Tom Wright, in this opening of Handels' Messiah, I
heard a train of voices, each calling out: *comfort!,* each proclaiming
unmistakeably, *Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill made
low*. I can almost hear Isaiah, the Baptist, Luther King Jr. and all the
choirs of the saints singing the oratorio together. This is indeed the
morning of a new Creation, the morning after Resurrection. I am no longer a
slave of capitalism, but a slave of Christ, again Handels beautiful chorus:
*His* *yoke is easy and His burden is light*. *His* *yoke is easy and His
burden is light*.


Let a thousand flowers bloom
Let a million fowls take flight
Let all workers get down to work soon
Let us work and find delight


Happy working! it's Holy-day everyday!

Dave said...

Two Sundays ago, I fetched a young grad to a friend's church mission
conference... He is a multimedia grad and now working for a Msian film
production - doing special effects.

He has been to another church for years but out of action for a few
months. Only now decided to come back, after awhile he shared why he
consider to leave his home church....


Apparently he was told by well meaning bros and sis that there are
three jobs christians should not do...


1) Politicians - bcos its dirty
2) Lawyers - the temptation of money
3) Artists - it's spiritually dangerous to be in that business and it
doesn't help that my friend's company is now producing another
Malaysian horror flick! :D


He shared something very telling...


He felt like two persons when in church and when at work (something he
loves and enjoys).. He puts on a mask when in church which frowns at
his work, and when he goes to work happily doing his craft, he feels
unspiritual or dishonoring God...


A split personality or schizophrenic Christianity is often wat the
laity struggles with if we do not integrate faith and work.


This is also something I struggle with in my own life as well... but
imagine how much worse it is if we have not a theology of vocation for
laity in the marketplace

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andre said...

Jack

thanks for your post. Many committed believers struggle with understanding how to translate Sunday teaching to Monday morning practice.

Often the only model for living a fruitful life in the kingdom is as a pastor. It's unfortunate. We need to continue the conversation to explore topics of biblical application in the marketplace and in the broader culture

andre said...

dave

thanks also for your post. you are right - how would we navigate functioning in the marketplace without biblical truth...we wouldn't want to try.