Reconciling Business and Religion
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
For the last fifteen years, my work has demanded that I mingle business and religion, forcing me to reconcile these seemingly contradictory passions of mine into one unified purpose for my work. I can sometimes find myself approaching business problems with a religious fervor. That’s always bothered me because it seemed I was prioritizing corporate objectives more than Christian ones. I wished for a way to unify these business passions of mine: the desire for wisdom in how companies use their profits for good, manage their resources to eliminate waste, and deploy their policies, systems, and processes to develop their human stakeholders with my Christian passions of seeing people saved, growing in their faith as evidenced by their good works, and uniting with others to do good for one another and the world through the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believed there must be a way to integrate these desires. That set me on a course of discovery.
Each of us has a natural way of working on a new project. Mine is to start by gathering as many facts as possible and organizing them systematically. It's just how I operate. So, when I decided to establish a biblical reason why certain things seemed incredibly important to me (like gathering facts and systematizing them), I gathered and systematized a few biblical facts. I wanted to be certain I was on the right track toward integrating my business and religious passions. Here are the facts I gathered, fully systematized using 4 Cs.
God is interested in our character.
God is interested in our work within communities.
God is interested in our community's work to impact culture.
God is interested in the work of Christ, who is to be at the center of our character, community, and cultural work.
My fact-gathering started with important biblical truths. First, I wanted to connect the importance of character with the fact that all people are created in God's image. I wrote about my findings in "Why Christians Should Focus on Character," part 1 and part 2. Next, I wanted to explore our responsibilities in our communities. I turned to God's commands given to the first community, Adam and Eve. I wrote about that in "God's Creation Mandates at Work." My final interest was to understand the biblical role communities play in the impacting world, which I’ve written about in what follows.
It's difficult to talk about the biblical responsibility communities have in impacting the world without discussing the role of the Church. After all, the Church – the community of God's people - is the ideal model of how Christians are to work together to impact the world. If we want to know what the Church should be doing in the world, we need to start with the work of Christ in the world. After all, the Church's mission is Christ's mission. To understand Christ's mission, you need to know what it looks like upon its completion, not stopping short of His final objectives. Otherwise, the people of the Church might be dedicated to a purpose that stops short of Christ's ultimate purpose.
We find the ultimate purpose of Christ in Colossians 1:19-20, Ephesians 1:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. The mission objectives described in these passages include Christ reconciling everything in heaven and on earth to God through Himself (Colossians 1:19-20), unifying the same in Himself (Ephesians 1:9-10), and destroying all His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Once the enemies are destroyed, Christ will submit Himself, and everything reconciled through Him and unified in Him to the Father so that "God may be all in all."
The word “reconcile” in Colossians 1:20 means to return to a former state of harmony. “Unite” in Ephesians 1:10 means to sum up all the parts into an organized whole, causing all the parts to work together in harmony. These thoughts together give us a picture of Christ's mission. He is restoring everything to its original perfect ideal and organizing them to work together for their intended purpose of glorifying their Creator.
Knowing that Christ's mission entails organizing (properly ordering and uniting) everything in Him in its perfect (reconciled) form, and eliminating His enemies, allows Christians to consider their mission more broadly as the people of God in support of Christ's mission. Said another way, Christians can fulfill their purpose when the Holy Spirit leads them in making things right through Christ, organizing things in Christ, and taking a stand against the enemies of Christ.
What about the Great Commission? I recently received some pushback when I shared these ideas with a group of Christian men. They suggested that I was minimizing evangelism as the Church’s central purpose. For them, the Church's mission was to share the gospel so that people might be saved. They pointed to the Great Commission at the end of Christ's earthly ministry as evidence for their belief (see Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:46-49, and John 20:30-31). I agree that Christians should be sharing the gospel to make disciples, but that work is a means to an end and not the ultimate end. I went further, suggesting the incarnation of Christ, the sum of His earthly ministry, and even the cross and His resurrection were a means to an end. I admit, it does feel like I'm minimizing these amazing realities by saying they're a means to an end; unless you accept them as the only means for accomplishing God's universal redemptive plan (Colossians 1:26-29). There is no way for people to be reconciled through Christ nor unified in Him unless they’re saved. Hence, salvation is an essential step in Christ's mission but not the whole scope of that mission. All of Christ's work, and subsequently our work as Christians, is to reconcile all things in Christ, bringing them under the headship of Christ and continuing in that work until all the enemies of Christ are destroyed. We are to advance all things toward their perfect, reconciled state and unify them toward their divine purpose while resisting the enemies of this work.
Is there better scriptural guidance on the Church’s purpose than the Great Commission? Rather than focusing on the passages related to the Great Commission as direction for the Church's ultimate purpose, I'd offer an alternative scripture for guidance in summarizing the Church's purpose; especially as it relates to the members of the Church carrying out that work in the world. I've provided it below, using the Amplified Bible for more context.
"But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A CONSECRATED NATION, A [special] PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies [the wonderful deeds and virtues and perfections] of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Let's look at how this verse reflects on the "4 Cs" I presented earlier.
Character – a royal PRIESTHOOD: The role of a priest is two-fold. They are to represent God before people and people before God. Neither can be done effectively unless the priest is pursuing godly character. In representing God before people, they proclaim God's "wonderful deeds and virtues and perfections," as exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. How can that be done unless they dedicate themselves to living out Christlike deeds, virtues, and perfections? In representing others before God, it's the role of a priest to intercede for others in prayer. Again, if the priest is not pursuing godly character as their top priority, how can they effectively pray for others to make it their priority? Isn't it important to know how difficult it is to reflect godliness if you are praying for others to do the same? Isn’t it important to know that it’s impossible without God’s grace, mercy, and provisions if one has any hope of godliness? Christians, as priests, are to be holy before God and others and encourage others to do the same. If godliness or Christian character isn't our top priority, what else could be more important in fulfilling our "royal priesthood?"
Community – a CHOSEN RACE: God has always distributed His people in communities with those who were not. From the tribes of ancient Israel to the intuitional church of today, there has always been a mix of "chosen" and non-chosen people in the community. That has little to do, however, with the responsibility the community has for mutual accountability and care for one another. That principle applies to any community. Christians should work out their character before others in all their communities, including their families, church, workplace, and network of friends and neighbors. And they should encourage the same in the other members of their community. Toward what end? Well, internal to the community, their efforts should be applied toward helping the community to be productive in its growth and significance. They should also help organize how the community operates while holding community leaders accountable for implementing objectives, values, policies, systems, and processes that reflect biblical principles.
Culture - A CONSECTRATED NATION: The combined people of God have a duty amongst the world's nations. They've been set apart to form a pure and unified culture meant to withstand the world's influence while working together to influence the world. Christians are a diverse and scattered nation set apart by God and dispersed among the world's nations in various communities. Through their communities, they are called to "reconcile" the worldly versions of things like wisdom, justice, courage (or pride), human rights, and spiritualism to their biblical opposites as revealed in Christ, reconciling and ordering them under His sovereign rule. And they must do nothing that advances the cause of the enemies of Christ, such as exploiting people's weaknesses for their own gain.
The people of God are God's people. He owns them. They've been bought and paid for through His Son, Jesus Christ. They've been redeemed for His mission, as we've outlined above. Christians are to proclaim the wonderful deeds, virtues, and perfections of our God through Christ, participating in the work of reconciliation and unifying all things in and under Him for the glory of God in Christ and in those who are His.
Christians and their responsibilities in the workplace community. If Christians are to participate in their communities to influence the world's culture, what can they be doing in their workplace community? We offer these ideas as a starting place.
Strive for harmony: Allocate your efforts toward providing harmony to the company's customers, suppliers, neighbors, and fellow employees. Leaders should be especially interested in instituting policies, systems and processes that yield harmony in the workplace. Christ's mission entails returning everything to its harmonious state, reconciling it to its original, intended ideal. The opposite of harmony is chaos. Christians can participate in Christ's work by seeking to eliminate chaos in the workplace, taking extra care in how they provide products and services or receive the same from suppliers, and doing all they can to minimize people's frustrations and stress.
Unite with coworkers to pursue excellence: Along with eliminating chaos, Christians should unite with their coworkers to pursue excellence in all the company does. Christ's mission entails unifying everything in its proper order in Him. Christians can participate in Christ's purpose when they work together to solve problems, discover ways to operate more efficiently and eliminate wasteful efforts and needless expenses that reduce the company's ability to fulfill its mission.
Resist the enemies of Christ. Who or what are the "enemies of Christ?" The list might be long, but we have in mind that the enemies are anyone or anything directly contrary or opposed to Christ's teachings and work. Resisting the enemies implies not acting like or affirming the actions of people who disregard Christ. Christians should practice being respectful to everyone, but they can't "throw in" with those who practice evil. One way to gain traction in this effort is for Christians to interpret the company's mission statement as it relates to Christ's mission and dedicate themselves to that cause. They can also interpret the company's core values as they relate to biblical virtues, live them out, and encourage fellow employees to do the same.
Christians must do their part in delivering "harmony" by helping customers, suppliers, neighbors, and colleagues experience less chaos resulting from their interaction with the company. Christians must also unite with their coworkers to optimize their operations, bringing order and synergy to work for the glory of Christ, not only in what they produce but also in the relationships they develop in the process. Lastly, when it comes to how they interact with their coworkers, they must be a light that illuminates the character of Christ. They must encourage those around them toward the same discouraging beliefs and attitudes that stand in the way of doing what is good for the individual and the workplace community, all to the glory of God in Christ.