Tag Archives: Weber

The Protestant Ethic and Its Impact on Modern Christian Ministries

It seems at first a mystery how the undoubted superiority of Calvinism in social organization can be connected with this tendency to tear the individual away from the closed ties with which he is bound to this world. But, however strange it may seem, it follows from the peculiar form which the Christian brotherly love was forced to take under the pressure of the inner isolation of the individual through the Calvinistic faith. In the first place it follows dogmatically. The world exists to serve the glorification of God and for that purpose alone. The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of God by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. But God requires social achievement of the Christian because He wills that social life shall be organized according to His commandments, in accordance with that purpose. The social activity of the Christian in the world is solely activity in majorem gloriam Dei. This character is hence shared by labour in a calling which serves the mundane life of the community… If we now ask further, by what fruits the Calvinist thought himself able to identify true faith? The answer is: by a type of Christian conduct which served to increase the glory of God. — Weber, 1905 [1].

The Church has, for the longest time, held unwittingly onto the Protestant Ethics. And in many cases, traces of the Protestant Ethics can be seen in the church’s doctrines, in ministry’s missions and visions, and amongst unsaid culture among Christian groups. Just as how the Puritans would have held onto the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, so are modern Christian organisations being stretched beyond their capacity when key performance indexes (KPIs) of unreached people’s groups aren’t reached or when churches do not meet their expected attendance. I think, there’s no need to list any examples here.

While social work and other ministerial achievements are celebrated, the unspoken pressure to “glorify God” gives individual believers certain degree of guilt and the feeling of unworthiness if they are unable to meet certain criteria. This guilt and feeling of unworthiness manifests itself not only on the micro-level but at the macro-level. Corporate ministries who are unable to meet certain criteria often have their funding cut and church’s support terminated. Many have broken off from the Christian collective to work alone, while others have terminated their services altogether.

To some degree, it appears that Christian ministry is tied to a certain expectation to “glorify God” as if God requires all these glories from His created beings. And to a certain degree, if an individual or a certain organisation has fallen short of “glorifying God” through their attempt to reach their identified (or given) goal, then they will be frowned upon by the Christian collective as if they’ve lost their eternal salvation in the eyes of the Sole Body of Christ.

I was in a ministerial meeting not too long ago when one of the leaders mentioned that God will only use clean vessels. Quoting Joshua 7, the pastor speaks of how the sin of one man, Achan, can result in the failure of the collective. At that, we were asked to examine ourselves for any potential sins within our private lives and to confess before God before the group moves on with our ministry planning. On the one hand, this made Biblical sense. However, on the other, it brings about the question of salvation and faith. Sure, we might all have hidden sins that we’ve to answer to God as individuals, but in what way will it affect the collective? Are we called to visibly maintain a Holy and unquestionable life that brings God glory so that we may be assured salvation? Are we called to maintain a visibly Holy life to be worthy of ministry? Whatever happened to salvation by faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

The thing about ministering under the Protestant Ethics, whether intentional or not intentional, brings about an immense amount of stress that often results in burn-outs. Under pressure, people often take matters into our own hands under the pretext that we “do not have time for God”. Under pressure, we veer away from God-centeredness and into meeting KPIs. Ministry and acts of worship become nothing more than a job, a task. Co-workers became labourers. Employees, slaves. Even lay-Christians feel a sense of guilt if we’re unable to make it to a worship service for a week or two.

Here’s the largest irony in Christendom: the liberative nature of Christianity becomes that that enslaves its followers. Whatever happened to dying to what once bound us, so that we are released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6)? Whatever happened to respecting God’s sovereignty? Is God not working miracles through our hands because we’re taking matters all to ourselves and not seeking Him anymore?

As I sat in my office preparing Christian leadership course materials and translating testimonies of students, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something more to it. Isn’t life more than the never-ending strive to improve relationships, career prospects, ministry goals, communication, and leadership skills? Is there more to life? Is there more to Christian life? Whatever happened to being a new creation?

It can be seen that we’re now not ministers of God but ministers of ourselves. In ministries that attempt to glorify God, we’re glorifying ourselves. We are concerned with what our donors are concerned about. We are troubled by the things we thought our donors would be concerned about. We fear to lose our “rice-bowl” [2]. We fear the impression of others more than God.

Of course, if we do not enforce the Protestant Ethics, we may end up on another extreme — an extreme where people become lethargic and not do anything. But then again, this is based on the assumption that people are treating ministry and pastoring as a form of work or a form of career where we exchange our time and effort for money. Something like a social exchange. But that shouldn’t be the case, should it?

It appears that Christendom has lost it. We’ve lost the notion of “serving out of love for God” [3]. It seems that we’ve gone backwards in the faith and in our relationship with the Creator of the universe. It appears that we’re only serving because we felt we needed to; if we don’t we’ll be overwhelmed with guilt. And if we ever do serve, it is always for the betterment of the others; some sort of social services that attempts to “bring joy to others” and to “share the love of God with them”. Nothing else. And in all honesty, that is one of the greatest tragedy of Christendom. We’ve lost God.

But here’s the thing though. There’s still a way out of all of these. A way, as simple as it may appear, back to God. As absurd as it may sound, the way of return isn’t littered with obstacles and complicated sacrifices like the Old Testament. On the contrary, it is as simple as making a decision and sticking with it. That decision is what we call “faith”. When we are living by “faith” rather than living by “sight” we are required to focus on something unimaginable and intangible. We are called to fix our eyes on the unseen, for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.

What this meant for Christian ministries or struggling churches is this: we are called not to veer away from our initial calling, but to stick with it (unless we’re certain of a new calling and direction from God). We are to hold on to a God-given methodology and to stay loyal to the One who called us by Faith. If we were to sway along with the trends of this world, then what difference are our modern services to that of clubs? What differences are our fellowships to that of community centres? What differences are our leadership courses and well-being courses to that of the corporate sector? Sure, we need to be competitive. But what is our Unique Selling Proposition? Our USP is God and the fear of Him. Our unique selling point is God being with us and for all that we do, the hands of God is guarding it all. “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (Acts 5:11). This is our USP. Not sales figures. Not attendance. In fact, great fear draws crowds and attention more than that that we can imagine. But it is also in this fear that the Name of God is magnified, not ours.

You don’t need huge attendance to affirm the presence of God. You don’t need sales figures to affirm God’s blessings. What we need, however, is the faith that God is truly with us when we stay loyal to our calling. It only takes one miracle, one event of divine punishment, or one instance of prophecy coming true, to instil fear in the eyes of the public. Such is the fear that is unlike any other. Such is the fear of eternal condemnation and eternal death. Such is the fear of being separated and rejected from the giver of Life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against mega-churches, huge attendances, and large sales figures. I’m also not against personal sanctification or the pursuit of a holy life. Rather, what I mean is that we should not be too focused on those. The focus, rather, should be on God — the giver of life. God does not need us to glorify Him. Rather, He’s given us the honour to participate in His work. Let us serve Him without any guilt of falling short of glorifying Him, but with the assurance that He’s salvation has covered it all. Through Faith, we believe that God will establish all the works of our hands.

This new year, may we welcome God back into our churches and into our ministries? Shall we let Him take the lead while we take the backseat? Let the ark go on before us while all we do is to follow it. Let the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire guide our path and light up the way. Let God guide our every step of the way while we follow obediently to His every command.

May God bless all who put their faith in Him.

Reference:

[1] — https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/weber/protestant-ethic/ch04.htm
[2] — In some parts of Asia, “rice-bowl” refers to one’s livelihood, one’s source of income.
[3] — https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/savoring-god-by-serving-the-saints

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