BAM Perspectives: Business in the Context of Our Role in God’s Mission in the World

– H. Fernando Bullón (Costa Rica)

It is difficult to separate what Scripture specifically says about business from what God has intended and established as global values and ethics for the whole of human life. If business is taken as a human activity with its own laws functioning autonomously in contradiction with God’s values, we should be warned about trying to force scriptural support for thought, practices and life style of Western civilization – especially that of the liberal tradition in economics.

Business, Work, Life: Mission between Creation and Eschaton

To understand God’s mission in the world we need to take into account his intention for creation, at the genesis of the world and life, as well as his intention for the New Heavens and Earth that he will bring to being at the end of history. For a clear understanding of what occurs between both ends of history, we must perceive his redemptive purpose of all things in Christ, the presence of the Kingdom of God and his sovereignty in all spheres of life. His mission points to the recuperation of what was lost with the fall, as well as the attainment of qualities of life expected in the New Earth, bringing about the values and life expected for the Eschaton. The intervention in history within the focus of the mission of God is enriched by that social imaginary provided in Christian eschatology. The enacting of the values expected for the New Earth in this present life should be a motor to change human history and make this more pleasant in the eyes of God, nearer to His Kingdom values.

The church, as the new covenant people of God, the body of Christ, and a holy nation, is the community of the Kingdom of God; that is to say, the social space where the values of the Kingdom should be incarnated, as a witness to the world; but also, through its mission, the church needs to influence the world through Christian values and qualities of life. This fact introduces the need to think systemically about how we can imagine and influence the body of society, in all its spheres, including ecology, economics, politics, and social relations globally and not only individual or domestic life or micro-community experiments.

“Business as mission” is included in the more global concept of “work as mission”, considering all sorts of vocations, activities, and spheres of knowledge (the “cultural mandate”, Gen 1: 28). However, both are absorbed by the more inclusive concept of “life as mission” which considers human existence in all its dimensions (work and rest, all conscious existence) seen through the focus of the redemptive purpose of God in Christ. In trying to classify human activities, business falls within the more inclusive sphere of economics, a sphere which we are not able to take isolated from others (politics, culture, society, ecosystems). For this reason, we should not treat business or analyze its values without a systemic view of economics; and, as a truly economic theory is indeed a politico-economic theory, economic and business issues should be considered within the broader framework of political and social theories of development. We need to have a coherent perspective on businesses and economics together, and, in our case, associated with the image and values of the Kingdom of God.

Kingdom Principles, Business and Economic Model of Development: A Need of Coherence

I have written in a former paper[1] that according to “New Covenant” Scripture, the model of human life should have a spirit more of essentiality and solidarity (I will not use here of a more “socialist” type because it scares many folk, especially in this world of “liberal businesses”). In fact, talking clearly about human life, subsistence and economics, I would say there are two master economic principles which spring from New Testament scriptures; these are: sufficiency and solidarity (living simply and sharing). From these two principles, others can be derived or associated; in our Christian service, any other principle of economic activity should be subjected to these two master criteria. This should be the emphases and a priority of the BAM movement for all its efforts. It should use or develop such kind of theoretical thought that approaches more to these emphases. I would like to quote some main scriptural passages for this line of economic thought.

To point out the principle of sufficiency, two passages amongst others: “…keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread…” (Pr. 30: 8), “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…” (1 Tim. 6: 7-8). In terms of the resources existing in the world, whether it is abundance or scarcity, the criteria is to use these to cover the basic needs as a priority (a high priority, being conscious of the present environmental situation and the now well extended discourse on sustainability). From the point of view of what the human person “feels” about his needs, those feelings should be also guided by a criterion of what is essential for maintaining a moderate life style.[2] Of course, there are technical issues: How does one identify “what is enough or sufficient for life” (related to epoch, culture, and other issues related to human development)? It is possible to arrive at a technical understanding of what is this mean or medium level of basic human needs, for today’s world taking into account advances in knowledge.

Some people will say that in Scripture there is no indication of what is enough for a person, be this quantity in terms of goods or money (they quote especially Old Testament writings). They will even refer to passages about God´s desire that our life, as a result of our work and right relation with Him, be full of satisfaction and abundance (Dt. 7:13; 11:13-15; Mal. 3:6-10). That is true, however, there is a clear limit indicated again and again by God on how we dispose of our surpluses: the presence of our needy neighbor, who always will be there (Dt.15:11; Mt. 26:11). A matter of consciousness is put upon us and our resources. We are shown clearly how we should behave as Christians in the Scriptures: “What should we do then? The crowd asked; John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same” (Luke. 3: 10-11).

This connects us directly with the other principle of economic life, solidarity. This principle, according to Christian scriptural perspectives is better enrooted in the figure of the body, the Church, the new people of God. The vision of the new humanity as the body of Christ is interdependence rather than “individual freedom” per se. This implies that rather than “human inventiveness and competitiveness” for personal grandeur of one member or group, what is called for is “excellence, creativity and cooperation for the service of all members of the body and grace with the less able” (I Cor. 12: 21-27; 13: 2-3). And, associated with this vision is the strong emphasis in a virtue only understood by mature people, that of equality: “…Then, there be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have to little’ ” (2 Co. 8: 14-15). To support this strong vision of what the Church should be we discover the ideal, defined clearly for all the ages, in the events narrated in the book of Acts at its own birth: a radical communion (2: 44-46; 4: 32-37).[3]

Conversely, we are told of the danger of false appearances of solidarity, with the case of Ananias and Sapphira (“Didn‟t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God”, Acts 5: 1-11 NIV). We can also point to the case of the Lord’s Supper – the central rite of Christian faith -, narrated in 1 Co. 11: 17-34, where people were insensitive about other’s needs. This passage talks of a judgment coming from the Lord for some people within the church (vv.28-32) because of the lack of solidarity and respect in a community of people who have equal rights before the Lord. This passage does not seem to imply punishment for some other kind of “hidden sin,” as some folk interpreted it.

So, can we not bring this paradigm of values to the marketplace in order to change the system? Why defend the fact that the market can function only under “its own laws” often characterized by savage competitiveness of its greedy values? Can we build a socio-economic system for mature persons and communities, inspired by the values of the Kingdom of God? This inevitably leads us to think about the need for a coherent global model of development for society where first, the kind of business we want to promote should incarnate kingdom values, and flow into, if we don’t want to arrive at a vacuum, a kind of society which also should represent these principles and values. To think and act in any other way would bring confusion and a contradiction of basic Christian perspectives.

I would say that, the values of the Kingdom imply solidarity, without putting freedom to one side. We should endeavor to reform our social systems to form a kind of society more akin to those values. We resist, because often we do not believe that the cross is the symbol that encrypts the way and that the “utopian” ideal of the Kingdom of Heaven is the engine of history, pulling up this world to more justice and equity and welfare for all. Without any doubt, with the apostles as with the Church Fathers, our conception of society should be one where there is freedom of the Spirit and human beings, but of a more socialist type, with more rational planning for the sake of all.

Excellence, Cooperation and Grace Should Displace Destructive Competition

I want to close this reflection by pointing out how we should approach a key issue that is at the base of present liberal economic understanding: the so called principle of competition and competitiveness (“usually to survive in and/or to dominate the market”) which also embraces the whole educational system; associated with this is the use of research and knowledge. From the point of view of Scripture, in the body of Christ and in the social body that should be inspired by Christ, more than competition and competitiveness, what excels are cooperation, mutual consideration, and grace. Excellence and creativity are unquestionable principles but if they are embraced by the all compassing values of love, grace, and sacrificial service, they become real motors of human progress rather than savage and often destructive competition. We need to be aware of those who “are not so able”.

Knowledge must increase in relation to service and love (I Cor. 13:2), for the solution of needs and social ills; rather than trading science and wisdom as commodities in the stock market (or the sacred world of patents, rights, etc. to profit as much as we can). No wonder that with so much knowledge in the world there is no solution to basic problems like famine, diseases, and poverty.[4]

We need to discover clear ways of how to use excellence and knowledge, within the regulating principles of sufficiency and solidarity. Should we use our creativity targeted to produce what will lead to sufficiency (the covering of essential needs), or to produce “whatever” to increase income (even if afterwards we justify our actions because we will use part of this “to help others”)? Must we “create new artificial needs” in the minds of others using all the sophisticated paraphernalia of propaganda? Should we think of economics in terms of being regulated by the paradigmatic Pauline recommendation (1 Tim. 6: 7-8) or will we “use our creativity and competitiveness to create a whole new world to live in abundance” using all the resources of the world in our generation, even, and as we have become powerful, make war on those who do not want to trade with us (v.gr. oil) to sustain our style of life and consumption? Could we not use our special endowment of gifts, excellence and creativity to make a world that will satisfy its needs better, not so much by “increasing production and income”, but by increasing solidarity and redistributing better what already exists? Could we not subject the “ownership” of creation, production, and existence of knowledge to the principle of love and grace, promoting open sources for people to have access to ways of improving the quality of their lives?

Dr. H. Fernando Bullon is a Peruvian-born scholar living in Costa Rica since 1991, where he is professor at the Universidad Evangélica de las Americas (UNELA). He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of the Latin American Doctoral Program (PRODOLA) coordinated from Pasadena CA, USA, and of the Master on Organizational Leadership for Latin America, of The Campolo College of Eastern University, Philadelphia. His work links mission, ethics, social sciences, and development. Dr. Bullon has interdisciplinary formation combining the fields of agro-industrial engineering, anthropology, economics, education, and Latin American studies. He earned his doctorate (Ph.D., 1991) in the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies, University of Manchester, and did specialized studies in Theology and Development at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), both in Britain. He is a member of the Latin American Theological Fellowship and was part of its Continental Board from 2000-2008. He is the author of “Theological and Technical Approaches about Development in Latin America” (World Vision, 1995), “Mission and Development in Latin America: Challenges on the Threshold of the 21st Century” (Kairos, 2000), “Christian Mission and Social Responsibility “(a three-volume work, Kairos, 2009); and co-author of other books on development and education.

[1] “Kingdom Values and Economic Model of Development: Facing the issue of Poverty and Wealth”. Lausanne Conversation 2010 (http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/detail/10703#.UNOV4eS-qqk).

[2] It is amazing that in the animal world, even accepting the Darwinian struggle for subsistence, this is regulated by what is basic in life. Jesus suggested a confidence that there would be enough to cover needs in his comparison to the freedom of birds with the anxiety and the desire to accumulate of human beings (Mt. 6: 19-21, 25-26); or in the cases of provision due to effects of climate changes (the cases of the ants as well as the policies established by Joseph in Egypt), the leading principle is to have resources to cover basic needs of the population.

[3] Within the studies of ecclesiology, while accepting the changes and adaptations the Church should undergo through the ages, the critics have pointed out that in different periods of history, it has been neglected essential traits of the Church primitive model (v.gr. Hans Kung). Such is the case of the radical nature of its koinonia.

[4] I have written about this issue in “Kingdom values …” op.cit. with regard to how activities like medicine and pharmacy that should be available to human kind have become a business to enrich medical doctors and entrepreneurs.

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