Christ First, Wood Second, Business Third

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“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)

Growing Dominion, Part 7

One of the great legacies of the Reformation is the idea of calling. Prior to the Reformation it was assumed that serving God in a serious way meant going into a monastery, or some kind of spiritual equivalent. The resurgence of this error in contemporary evangelical circles can be seen in the dichotomy that has developed between “ordinary work” and “full-time Christian work.” This ordinary work is seen as something not quite as spiritual, not up to standard, a kind of necessary evil. We need worker drones “in order to pay the tithe,” and this is wrong-headed in the extreme.

But the Reformers, with their understanding of the sovereignty of God, saw that the authority of Jesus Christ extended into everything, and that this meant that full-time service could be rendered to Him in all lawful vocations. Consequently, a man can be called to dentistry, law, medicine, woodworking or auto mechanics every bit as much as he might be called into the ministry of Word and sacrament. A shrewd handling of a backhoe can be as sanctified as a wise handling of a text. Moreover, if this teaching is obscured, and a man created by God to write computer software finds himself handing out tracts in Burma instead (because “ministry” is the only thing that God calls a man to), because he is radically out of place, his ministry is actually a form of disobedience.

This is the basis for wisdom in Christian business as well. Woodworkers are called to Christ first, the glories of wood second, and their business with customers third. Auto mechanics are called to Christ first, the mysteries of the internal combustion engine second, and their business with customers third. History teachers are called to Christ first, their historical materials second, and their students third. Moreover, this ranking does not represent any kind of competition between them, but rather a ranking of wisdom. If this order is not present, then everything in the list eventually gets short shrift, and something else comes in to take their places. And it is usually mammon that performs that service, together with all his greasy crew.

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