Theology Of Business

When one thus considers the myriad possibilities for the exercise of power in modern business and wealth creation and the ethical responsibilities which are entailed, then perhaps one will return with fresh appreciation to the spiritual warnings of Jesus. For all its positive creational and social justification, participation in the enterprise of wealth-creation does need to be balanced by other, spiritual, considerations. It is a risky occupation spiritually, as are many other worthwhile human activities. Perhaps today the increasingly global scale of business, the speed and urgency—and the secrecy—with which it is often conducted, and the sheer power which modern business offers individuals, managers and corporations, all make it an occupation which should carry its own particular spiritual health warning. Nevertheless, the modern creation of wealth also involves social, and over-riding, responsibilities which justify its pursuit in the interests of the common good. Within this line of reflection, the business of creating wealth and contributing to economic growth in and for society is then seen to be a positive and constructive social occupation for men and women, as well as an honourable calling for Christians.

Aiming to work for a fair access for all humankind to the goods of God's creation and for a standard and quality of living and working in society which respects their dignity as God's human creatures gives the men and women who are engaged in business not only an honourable programme, but also a formidable portfolio of responsibilities. So much so that the idea of business as an honourable 'calling', and of the Christian in business as responding to a divine 'vocation' of service to society, is one which many today find inspiring and encouraging.

The appeal to a vocation, or literally, the unique 'calling' which individuals receive personally from God took the form in medieval times of some individuals feeling called by God out of secular society to embrace a separate and distinct monastic or clerical way of life, in a way which expressed, and confirmed, the view that secular occupations, including trade, were morally unsuited to those wishing to live a fully Christian life. Since the sixteenth century, however, the Christian idea of vocation, as part of the Protestant Reformation, has become less elitist and has been interpreted more as a divine calling to all individuals to worship God from within the particular way of life in the world in which they find themselves, or in which they consider God has providentially placed them. The consequence of this belief in a 'worldly' vocation was twofold. One was to act as a corrective by recognizing the intrinsic dignity of many social occupations as providing a context in which individuals could devote themselves to God by pursuing their calling with diligence and simplicity, an attitude which came to be termed the 'Protestant work ethic', and which may have contributed to the development of capitalism.

The other consequence of the belief in each one's personal vocation within, rather than out of, society was to enable one's ordinary social activities to be invested with the religious motive and ideal of serving others, as the practical working out of the command to love one's neighbour and to follow the example of Christ who spent his earthly life in service of his fellows.

In one of the most famous biblical passages referring to wealth Jesus is recorded as warning that one cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). But there is a third possibility: to serve society, one's fellow men and women. If the acquiring and use of wealth in society, whether by individuals or nations or businesses, can be seen as just that, adding human value to life by creating employment, by contributing to society in the payment of personal and corporate taxes, and by the provision of goods and services of value to others, then those engaged in such mundane activities are also by that fact serving their Creator in their calling, and also cooperating with God in his continuing good work of human creation in a world whose resources he destined for the common enrichment of all.

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