Believers in Business

Chuck Colson

7/18/2003 12:00:00 AM - Chuck Colson
At our recent BreakPoint "Christians in the Marketplace" conference, Fr. Robert Sirico, president of Acton Institute, began his presentation by quoting theologian Paul Tillich. "Christianity," said Tillich, "is the religion of which socialism is the practice." After all, goes the reasoning, isn’t it all about sharing, rather than working as a result of the "profit motive"?

But Christians, of course, work in a free-market context in this country. And maybe that misunderstanding about socialism is why so many of them find it hard to see their work as a calling. And yet, as Fr. Sirico said, Tillich is wrong: The notion of "making" money and private enterprise has a strong biblical grounding.

Fr. Sirico highlighted the story of the Creation from Genesis. In that text, God formed man from dust—a material substance—and breathed life into him—the breath of God, a divine substance. God looked at His creation—a combination of corporeal and spiritual reality—and declared it good.

In the New Testament, Sirico went on, Jesus commanded His followers to remember Him through the Lord’s Supper. In communion, God supplies the grain and the grapes. Man supplies the kneading and crushing—human effort, that is—to make bread and wine. This material and spiritual union of God’s creation and our effort conveys dignity to human work. God allows His creation to be molded by our effort.

This biblical understanding came under great attack from Gnostic thinking in the early Church. The Gnostics believed that the material world was made by a demi-god and was, therefore, evil. Although this idea had no basis in Scripture and was rejected by the Church, it became, according to Sirico, the most resilient of all heresies. And today many Christians fall into the thinking that if something is material, it is, if not inherently evil, very inferior to spiritual things. We see this in Christian versions of Marxism, liberalism, and socialism. It is also responsible for the notion that business is an inferior calling to "serving the Lord." Business as a calling has been lost in our denigration of material creation and work.

Christians need to re-affirm the goodness of material things and at the same time emphasize our dependence on God and moral reflection on all human action.

Only a free-market system takes the goodness of material creation and the value of work seriously. It also takes into account the social nature of humanity. In the market, those who produce goods and services offer what they have made to others in order to meet the needs of supplier and customer. This is a positive good.

There are flaws in a free market because the market reflects the sinfulness of its users—a subject BreakPoint listeners are familiar with. And we’ve often argued that capitalism can’t survive without a conscience, without the reflection of Christian truth in the market. Sirico stops short of declaring a free-market system "biblical," but he argues that it is the system most compatible with biblical values and principles when tied to religious faith.

Because material creation is good and human work and effort are good, Christians ought to see business as a holy calling. Jesus—Immanuel, God-with-us—is with us in our corporate boardrooms, our factories, and our stores.


For further reading and information:

Rev. Roberto A. Sirico, "The Entrepreneurial Vocation," Markets & Morality 3, No. 1 (Spring 2000).

Learn more about the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Michael Novak, Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (Free Press, 1996).

Visit these two "Worldview for Parents" pages: "What’s So Important about Work?" and "Fragmented Minds."

"Christians in the Marketplace," a Christian Mind in the New Millennium III conference, took place April 4-6, 2003, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and Conference Center in Colorado Springs, CO. At this BreakPoint worldview conference, speakers discussed the role of Christian worldview in today’s business sector and marketplace, how businesses should apply ethical standards to their practices, and how our work should be viewed as a calling—an opportunity to serve God in our business. (An audiocassette set is also available.)

Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Work? (BreakPoint, 2001).

Read more about Paul Tillich and his writings.

Juan de Mariana, S.J., translation by Patrick T. Brannan, S.J., "A Treatise on the Alteration of Money," Markets & Morality 5, No. 2 (Fall 2002).

"Religion, Economics, and the Market Paradox," Religion & Liberty 12, no. 1 (January/February 2002).