A passage that is thrown around a lot these days, especially in Presbyterian/Reformed circles, is Paul's command for believers to do everything unto The Lord.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. - 1 Corinthians 10:31
This is a great verse and I’m glad that people are studying it! Gnosticism is rampant in the modern church and any emphasis on the sovereignty of God in all things should be embraced. That said, I would like to offer a critique of the way it is often applied.
I have often heard it said that it does not matter what Christians are doing as long as they are doing it “to the glory of God.”
“Are you a banker? That’s great! Bank to the glory of God.”
“Are you a baker? That’s great! Bake to the glory of God.”
“Are you a teacher? That’s great! Teach to the glory of God.”
You get the picture.
Now, on one level I completely agree with this approach. The doctrine of “The Priesthood of all Believers” teaches us that we have all been made priests to God no matter what our vocation is. This means that a janitor can be just as pleasing to God in his work as a minister is in his. This is a wonderful thing.
However, in emphasizing the fact that insurance sales can be just as pleasing to God as “ministry” we’ve often overlooked some more basic and sinful assumptions that we are holding. We often assume that just because a banker can be pleasing to God in their work that they necessarily are pleasing to God.
[Disclaimer: In using bankers and banking as an example I’m not meaning to pick them out in particular. The same can be applied any field of work. It’s just an example that came to me.]
But what if a bank is practicing Fractional-Reserve Banking? The Bible teaches that “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1) Is God still pleased with bankers who are operating within a system that is undermining the value of its depositor’s capitol? According to Proverbs 11:1 this displeases God…
So what do we do? Do we go around to Christian bankers and tell them that their work is an abomination to God?
I don’t think this is the best approach. But I also don’t think a wholehearted endorsement of systems that engender oppression is a good approach either. As Christians we need to find an approach to these things that is a little more nuanced.
God loves hard, honest work. So in one way a banker who is working hard and honestly within a system that is “an abomination to the LORD” is pleasing to God. At the same time Christians should be working to reform the systems.
I’ve come up with the following chart to serve as a type of “map” for understanding how Christians should view themselves in society.
The goal for Christians should always be, first and foremost, to be Godly people no matter what systems they find themselves in. At the same time, Christians should never be content to allow faithlessness toward God to exist in systemic ways.
Whether it’s banking, education, politics, agriculture, or anything else Christians should be active in reformation unto God’s glory.
“Christendom” is a utopian and teleological ideal. Christians can never truly “arrive” at a society where Godly people work perfectly within Godly systems. However, to not have a vision of such a society will lead inevitably to Apostate and Pagan societies where the poor are oppressed at the pleasure of the strong and mighty (Proverbs 29:18).
Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.