The practices and pronouncements of the religious establishment
The institutional church system – that global assemblage of pastors, church buildings, denominations, seminaries, etc.— ultimately must be held responsible for the inception and propagation of this lie.
In my book, Is the Institutional Church Really the Church, I note that the system as spent over $540 Billion on itself over the past several decades, and has overseen the decline in the percentage of Christians in this country, has failed to make a measurable change in the lives of its adherents, has turned off and chased away a great percentage of the population, and has instilled such antipathy in the young people that the vast majority of them leave the system as adults.
The institutional church system has:
* spent over $540 Billion on itself.
* has overseen the decline in the percentage of Christians in the US.
* has failed to make a measurable change in the lives of its adherents.
* has turned off and chased away a great percentage of the population.
* has instilled such antipathy in the young people that many of them leave the system as adults.
Like all institutions, it is more concerned with the survival and expansion of itself than it is with its stated mission. So, in order to glue its adherents more closely to itself, it has put forward a number of false ideas. The one most appropriate for this discussion is this: There is something special about the institutional church and its employees.
Church buildings are often referred to as “God’s house.” And the people who work in those buildings are often referred to as ‘clergy’ to distinguish them from us common folk ‘the laity.’ More modern denominations substitute ‘pastor’ and ‘minister’ as more palatable versions of ‘clergy.’ In other words, those things related to the institutional church system are somehow special — ‘sacred’ — and everything else is ordinary or ‘secular.’
This is, of course, a historical creation of men wanting to solidify their positions and shore up their institutions and is nowhere found in the Bible. God is not contained in a place, and the Bible knows of no special class of Christians. It teaches just the opposite – that we are all priests and ministers.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)
This is a perfectly understandable strategy that has worked for generations. If you want people to give you their money and their time, teach them that you are special and important. And, while this may have been an effective strategy to ensure the survival of the institution, the unintended consequences have been enormous.
When you claim that something is ‘special’, what are you saying about everything else? It is ‘non-special’ – mediocre and ordinary.
When you claim that something is ‘important’, what are you asserting about everything else? That it is unimportant and of no-consequence.
When you claim that some building, people, and programs are ‘sacred’ what are indicating about everything else? It’s secular and of no lasting value.
It is no wonder, then, that business people just naturally come to the conclusion that their businesses are ordinary, unimportant and ‘secular.’ It is easy to believe that since all the important spiritual stuff happens within the confines of the institutional church, nothing spiritually important can happen in their businesses.
Once again, this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. All work is sacred:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 4: 23)
Because the lie that there is something special about the institutional church system is so ubiquitous, the vast majority of Christian business people have never thought to question it. It’s just part of the Christian culture. So, the idea that there is something sacred and special about ‘church’ continues to live on, despite the clear and contrary teachings of the Bible.
The emphasis of the world’s business culture
The world’s business culture promotes the idea that a business is primarily, if not exclusively, about making money. The most deceptive ideas always contain a grain of the truth. This one does too. Business is about making money. But it is not just about making money.
From a worldly perspective, businesses are formed to provide for the economic security of the folks who own and work in that business. Since food and shelter are basic needs, a business, to be viable, must meet those needs. And it does that by providing goods and services for money. Money then becomes one of the keys to any business. A business that doesn’t create sufficient income is not going to stay in business for long.
The problem arises when the business people focus solely on money as the rationale for the business. When they do that, they miss all the other incredible benefits that accrue to themselves, their employees, their families, their customers, and to society in general.
A business doesn’t necessarily have to create profits, but it does need to be sustainable. In other words, money is important. It’s a core reason for starting a business. But profits aren’t nearly as important as sustainability. And profits aren’t just for the purpose of buying the business owner a better car or bigger home. As we saw in the parable of the bags of gold, reinvesting in the growth of the business is a biblical strategy. Profits fund and empower growth.
Unfortunately, our popular culture promotes a distorted picture of the purpose of a business. The media glorify the “self-made” millionaire, Wall Street awards huge bonuses for those who reach revenue goals, and CEOs are awarded obscene bonuses for achieving quarterly results in publicly held companies. The emphasis on making money has never been more pronounced or glorified.
It is thus easy for the business person to react to the popular culture and define the success of the business solely in monetary terms. When we believe the idea that business is just about money, we never see the powerful entity for good that a biblical business could be because we never look for it. We need to take this idea—that business is just about money—pry it off and discard it in the trash.
It is easy for the business person to react to the popular culture and
define the success of the business solely in monetary terms. When we
believe the idea that business is just about money, we never see
the powerful entity for good that a biblical business could be because
we never look for it.
The ultimate responsibility
Eventually, though, the practice of compartmentalizing business and Christianity proceeds from the minds and hearts of millions of individual Christian business people. They are comfortable in their lifestyle, and afraid to risk their material trappings for a greater impact for the Kingdom. At some level, they are aware of the risk of actually questioning the status quo. They are secure in their life-style and see no reason to question the values promoted by the religious establishment and the world’s economic system. So, they sit on the sidelines of the great struggle which describes an active role in the Kingdom.
Like a star player who has lost his motivation, they sit on the bench while the action takes part on a different part of the court, comfortable and unengaged.
Eventually, though, the practice of compartmentalizing business and
Christianity proceeds from the minds and hearts of millions of individual
Christian business people. They are comfortable in their lifestyle,
and afraid to risk their material trappings for a greater impact for the
Kingdom. At some level, they are aware of the risk of actually
questioning the status quo. They are secure in their life-style and see
no reason to question the values promoted by the religious establishment
and the world’s economic system.
If you see some of yourself in this situation, it is time to step out of your comfort zone and begin to move to a greater engagement in the fray. It doesn’t matter what the religious establishment proclaims; it doesn’t matter what the world’s system pressures you to do; the only thing that matters is you and your relationship to God and what He wants you to do.