The Believer's Three Callings, Part 4


In the previous article, we began our discussion of the Cultural Mandate. The Cultural Mandate is based on the Creation account in Genesis and notes that God gave humanity dominion over the Earth as His stewards with the responsibility to develop it in such a way that promotes human flourishing and glorifies God. We explored how the Cultural Mandate applies to vocation, family, and community. In this article, we will explore some additional implications of the concept. Much more could be said about the Cultural Mandate, but all we can do in these articles is to sketch out some of areas in which it operates.

The Cultural Mandate and Work
After family and community, the next area where the Cultural Mandate should inform how we live is in our work. Historically, biblical attitudes toward work have been critical to the development of Western economic thought, technology, and prosperity. In most of the ancient world, work was looked down upon. Only slaves and the lower classes worked; the higher classes devoted themselves to “higher” pursuits such as governing, philosophy, contemplation of beauty, and decadence.

The main exception to this attitude was Judaism and then Christianity. Both of these religious communities viewed work as a positive good rather than a necessary evil. They recognized that work often involved toil and drudgery, but they saw that as a consequence of the Fall. The Bible taught that God worked then ceased his labors on the seventh day; if God worked, how could it be intrinsically evil?

God also gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden: Adam was to name the animals, and both were to tend and protect the Garden. For reasons explained here, these two jobs were mandates to do science, arts, and economic production. All kinds of work are thus included in God’s initial instructions to us in Genesis.

After Adam sinned, God’s judgment on him was that his work, which was intended to be a joyful, creative activity, was turned into toil—Genesis says that it would become pain. The ancient world thus understandably saw work strictly in terms of its state after the Fall. But with God’s revelation in Scripture, Jews and Christians knew that it was not intended to be that way, and Christians in particular saw new possibilities for work in light of Christ’s redemptive work. If Jesus’ death and resurrection dealt with all of the effects of the Fall, it must also have implications for our work and the judgment God had placed upon it.

The early church recognized this. Benedict of Nursia, the Father of Western Monasticism, mandated that all of his monks engage in labor as part of their spiritual discipline. As time went on, monks began to reflect on the nature of work. They concluded that work was good, but mindless, repetitive toil was bad. As a result, they argued that if an animal could do work instead of a person, that was a better choice: it freed the person up to engage in more meaningful, creative labor. Further, if a machine could do the work instead of an animal, that was even better.

Work and Technology
The result of this thinking was that the monasteries were the first to deploy labor-saving devices to mechanize repetitive tasks, starting with grinding grain. As early as the seventh century, Irish monks had developed and deployed several kinds of waterwheels. Over the next centuries new uses were developed for them; their numbers multiplied, and they spread to the secular world.

There are many other examples, but we can summarize the situation simply by noting that many cultures had technologies far in advance of Europe’s, but in most areas the technologies were curiosities for elites. Only in Christian Europe were technologies developed and deployed that were intended to make the work of the common laborer more productive and meaningful. And that difference accounts for a great deal of Europe’s long-term economic and technological ascendency.

Work as an Intrinsic Good
Although there were precedents for the idea in medieval guilds, the Reformation mainstreamed the idea of work as a sacred activity and a vocation. This was a logical extension of the recognition that God made us to work, but the excessively clerical outlook of the medieval Catholic Church tended to overshadow the idea in the minds of clergy and laity alike. In contrast, the Reformers argued that all work was sacred and that all people who were pursuing their callings to the best of their abilities were serving God.

It is important for us to understand this. Our work has value in the eyes of God in and of itself. I have talked with business owners and employees who believed that the only spiritual value in their jobs was the opportunities it gave them to evangelize others. Fulfilling the Great Commission is important as we have seen, but it is not the only value in our work. Rather, we need to see our work, whatever it is, as the fulfillment of the purpose of our Creation, as part of the process of building culture under the authority of God. This has intrinsic value apart for any disciple-making that may accompany it.

As Luther put it, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

The Cultural Mandate and Politics
Another area where the Cultural Mandate applies is in our political life. This is a very sensitive subject, but it is vitally important for us to think clearly about this subject.

Christian political involvement is based on two fundamental premises. The first is the earliest Christian affirmation of faith: Jesus is Lord. In its original context, this was an inescapably political statement. It said that Jesus was sovereign over all things and Caesar is not. Jesus’ lordship extends to all earthly powers, and thus the governments of this world will have to answer to him for their stewardship of the authority He has lent to them. And when they abuse that authority, we have the right and the duty to challenge them, especially in the modern world where we live under representative governments.

The second premise is the Great Commandment to love God and to love others, which means seeking their highest good. As we saw in the previous article, if we genuinely believe that God knows what He is doing, that we do not know better than God what is good for us, then it follows that we should do our best to see that our laws reflect his truth. To argue otherwise is to say either that we should not be working for our neighbor’s highest good, or that our ideas are better than God’s. Neither is a position that faithful Christians can affirm.

Christians therefore have a God-given responsibility to stand for true social justice, to oppose oppression, and to work to produce a better society. We will not achieve that completely in this world, but one principle of Scripture is that our expectation of eternity will shape how we live our lives today. If we are looking for a New Heaven and a New Earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13), we should be working for righteousness in the here and now. Withdrawing from the world in the expectation that we will escape it is not an option.

At the same time, we need to be wise in how we engage the political world. As Chuck Colson regularly argued, we must not try to impose our views on society by a raw act of political power, if for no other reason than what Congress gives, Congress can take away. Rather than attempting to impose our views, we should be proposing a better way of life to our neighbors. This is best accomplished at a grassroots level, since politics is downstream from culture. Only when we build a culture that reflects Christian values will those values be secure in the political realm.

There is much more to be said about this subject, but here I would only like to make one final point. Our political opponents are not our enemies. American politics has an unpleasant and ungodly tendency to demonize those we disagree with. Rather, we need to recognize that our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) Even in the political realm, demonic forces are at work. We need to pray against those, and at the same time make our case and treat our human opponents with respect however much we may disagree with them. At the very least, we need to view them as people who need to be rescued and brought to Christ rather than as enemies to be attacked and condemned.

As we fulfill the Cultural Mandate in all of its aspects, we will be acting out the implications of the Law of Love, but we will also be laying the groundwork for disciple-making by earning in our neighbor’s mind the right to be heard. In this way the believer’s three callings all come together into an integrated whole. While the Great Commandment remains the governing principle, it is impossible to live out our love for our neighbor without actively engaging both the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate, and these two also influence each other. In this way, we exhibit the Lordship of Christ in all areas of our life and in all aspects of our relationships with others.

Next steps

How do you view what you do for a living? Is it a grind, something you do just to make ends meet? If this is you, what might you do to bring it in line with the Cultural Mandate with regard to work?

BookFurther reading:
For another of Glenn’s articles on the Cultural Mandate, click on “The Image of God and the Cultural Mandate” in the Colson Center Library. For a book that includes this topic you can purchase Why You Think The Way You Do from the Online Store.



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