God saw one thing in creation that was not good: Adam was alone. Other than my own ponderings, I have never read or heard why. But God’s response rectified the situation by creating a co-worker for Adam. Most theologians, preachers, and laity would point to Eve being created as Adam’s wife for the production of future generations but that is not how she is first introduced.
In effect, God created a market economy by introducing the division of labor so Adam (and Eve) could prosper together. That is, they could help each other by specializing in their work and thereby increasing the “wealth,” or creature comforts, of their existence by exchanging the fruits of their individual efforts. That increased comfort was to be a sign of God’s blessing, evidence of his grace.
Another little noted reality, which I had to point out to scholars working on a biblical theology of work, is that God did not command Adam to work: God created Adam to work. Read the text again. Commands to work in the Bible come only after Adam’s fall from grace as corrective instruction to overcome the influence of sin.
Vocation first, then trade, or exchange, are central to the original order and intention of creation. We often hear that work is inherently dignifying, giving a person the ability to contribute to their own support. What we miss is that their work contributes to the economic vitality of the whole world. We are, in the parlance of drudgery, simply cogs in the machine. But that perspective is exactly what the world would have us embrace over against God’s intention that we would find personal fulfillment by taking part in the economic health and betterment of all, from our households and co-workers at hand, to the farthest reaches of our tightly globalized economies.
Unfortunately, the Church has moved far away from business as being a “worldly” pursuit taking greed and abuse as the hallmarks of commerce. Should we likewise take infidelity and beatings as the hallmarks of marriage? Obviously, we answer “no” to the latter because we understand that sin has corrupted this “original” institution of God. We should embrace the marketplace just as we do marriage, bringing the redemptive grace of God to bear in the workplace and in trade.
The Church has embraced the concept of charity, that is, of giving through funds, services, and goods. That is right and good. But, though God saw a shortcoming in Adam’s existence he did not simply make it easier for Adam to thrive in Eden by directly providing everything for him. Rather, he gave him a job and created a market place, a more indirect facilitation for blessing.
So, how does this support the idea that the Church should go into business? Well, in many ways, the Church is already in business. We often think of the Church in predominantly institutional terms. But the Church is all of God’s people and the vast majority of its members enter the marketplace on a daily basis. Hence, in significant ways, the Church is already in, and doing, business, by working diligently, by applying the integrity of Christian ethic, and even in positions of empowering leadership.
The results include providing jobs and incomes, facilitating giving, and creating opportunity for growth economics to bless the lives of even more of the global poor, wresting them from the throes of poverty. And there is a significance here that can be easily missed.
When we survey the global scene, we are confronted by a myriad of hardships and striving. We have domestic racial divides and global political and religious conflicts. Interestingly, if we boil them down, nearly all are rooted in economic deprivation or strivings after economic power. Sex trafficking exists because 1) there is a market for sex (meaning people are willing to pay for it) and 2) there are unscrupulous people greedy enough to abuse others (typically the economically vulnerable) to make money.
Most religious conflicts are rooted in power struggles for influence and economic influence is most powerful of all as it affords the one with wealth to wield increasing legal and military strength. Hence we find struggles between ancient religions as they fight for cultural control and seek to extend their reach taking unto themselves more and more power via economic and political strength. No one would be aggressive in war if not for the ability to fund their supply chains and weaponry.
My point is, as we survey the Bible, we will find that there are two main ingredients at work in the devastations of humankind. First is alienation from God. The second is human autonomy due to that alienation. Because we fear deprivation, because we do not know or trust God to provide for and protect us, we hoard wealth and we fight one another. Our alienation from God reaps alienation from our own (human) race.
Why should the Church go into business? Because exchange, based in godly values, overcomes evil. Globalization has cut the rate of global poverty in half in the last twenty years. Trade mitigates strife between nations as trading partners realize the debilitating and economically draining impact of war. Jobs reduce crime in poverty stricken areas. Where more people have access to gainful employment, they are less inclined to steal to feed their families. Where education is understood to be a key element to a healthy economy, jobs proliferate and businesses thrive. Where economic provision reaches the furthest down the economic ladder, shalom, the overall well-being of society-at-large, grows.
Closest to home, we see whole sectors of our metropolitan areas marginalized where business closures and job losses, coupled with poorly run educational institutions, ill preparing youth to take part in even their local economies, lead into a downward spiral of desperation. That desperation supports illicit trade in prostitution (including pornography) and drug trafficking, both of which lend themselves to organized crime and gang activity.
Churches have an opportunity to impact their broader communities but most cloister, either as havens of escape in desperate communities or havens of excuse in wealthier ones. Sadly, most clergy have no concept of the biblical or theological legitimacy of commerce as God’s plan for humankind. It is this ignorance, and feeble preaching that does not pierce the heart to “love one another” and bless the poor, that keeps the Church in the West divided racially and economically. It is this ignorance that makes the Church’s charitable works repetitive trips to the same well, drawing deeper and deeper until the waters must be parsed out sparingly rather than overflowing in abundance.
The Church has the resources, not just of funds but of intellect (reasoning capacity), intelligence (that is, information), experience, and time to change the world, to witness to the glory of God for all the world to see, simply by self-sacrificially reaching out to bless the poor by welcoming them into the “rest” of economic viability. That witness is specifically why the Church should go into business.