Do you believe the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance? The answer really depends on when in the history of the church you ask it.
Prior to the Reformation, Christians in the medieval church would have answered no. They believed only priests did spiritual work. All other activity was secular.
These men encouraged Christians to be salt and light in the world. They believed it was possible to maintain integrity of faith while injecting Christian influence within society.
They were right.
Western civilization is replete with examples of followers of Christ who positively shaped culture through their work in the fields to which God had called them.
Many American evangelicals during the last seventy-five years have let the sacred/secular distinction corrupt their worldview in such a way that they leave their faith at home when they enter the public square.
They are ambivalent about engaging with social and political matters, as the Reformers urged.
They fear involvement in such secular matters will compromise the integrity of their faith.
They are convinced faith is a private matter and best kept that way.
They have lost sight of the spiritual significance of their work.
To be sure, the risk they have identified is real. Being in the world but not of it is not easy. It is not safe. But it is what we are called to be.
These thoughts came to me recently as I was finishing Carl Henry’s Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published in 1947. In this book, Henry, an American evangelical theologian who served as Christianity Today‘s first editor-in-chief, wrote a stinging critique of Christian fundamentalism in the late 1940s.
Almost prophetically, Henry argued fundamentalists did not present Christianity as a worldview with a vision for impacting culture. Instead, they chose to emphasize personal salvation. In doing so, they offered a truncated, impoverished version of the gospel to the world. This gospel was too other-worldly and anti-intellectual to be taken seriously.
And so, in their efforts to preserve orthodox Christianity from modernity and liberalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, evangelicals lost an important ingredient that has been a powerful influence throughout the 2,000 years of Christian history. They forgot how to be leaven in the loaf. (Matthew 13:33)
The good news is that sixty years later, many of Henry’s hopes for evangelicalism are beginning to be realized. Today’s evangelicals are re-engaging many social and political issues and working together to influence culture for the kingdom.
Yet the importance of our daily vocational work in the furtherance of God’s kingdom is still lost on many believers. Many still feel they need to quit their jobs and start working for ministries or non-profits to truly make a difference in the world. They don’t. They can be salt and light right where they currently work.
Bringing faith to work or anywhere else in the public square runs many risks, but it is essential if Christians are to be leaven where leavening is most needed.
If Christianity is to once again become a positive influence in American public life, all Christians need to be present within that life as salt and light. Christians need to leave the safety of their Christian ghettos and take the risks necessary for reforming, renewing, and recalling today’s culture.
The legacy of the Reformation invites us to engage the world. It instructs us in how to do so with integrity and as public witnesses to the power of the gospel.
So, do you believe the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance?
The real question should be “Does the Bible teach that the everyday activity of ordinary Christians has deep religious significance?”
The answer is yes, absolutely yes, in any age.
Originally published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE). ©Institute for Faith, Work & Economics 2015. Used by permission.