Jesus Inc. What does it take to serve God and Mammon?
Richard McGill Murphy, FSB senior editor, February 1, 2006
NEW YORK (FORTUNE Small Business Magazine) – Entrepreneurs, it’s been said, are born hungry and alone. And most are quick to seek not just bread but also fellowship. Nowhere is that impulse more evident than in the growing ranks of Christian business owners, who are banding together for mutual support while they seek to express their faith through their companies. They have created at least 30 networking organizations in the U.S., about half of them launched in the past five years.
While most Christian entrepreneurs hire and do business with Americans of all faiths, a more controversial trend is the rise of local Christian business directories, listing companies that wish to attract customers among fellow believers. Shepherd’s Guide, the largest Christian-directory publisher, prints five million guides a year in more than 100 markets nationwide, up from 3.2 million in 2000. Meanwhile, the market for religious products (everything from hit movies and popular music to live-action figures of Christ and the apostles) is expected to top $8.6 billion in annual sales by 2008, according to Packaged Facts, a market research consultancy.
In corporate America today, with its emphasis on offending no one, the norm is to keep expressions of faith quiet and generic. Christian entrepreneurs are more likely to see their offices and factories as extensions of their beliefs. …on a more personal level, many struggle to reconcile the often hard-edged requirements of commerce with the teachings of Christ.
Parts of the gospels are famously hostile to the pursuit of material wealth. It was Jesus who said that a camel can pass through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich man can enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25). Elsewhere Jesus asserted that no man can serve both God and Mammon (Matthew 6:14). The rich man who keeps all the commandments must still give all his property to the poor, Jesus said, if he wants to go to heaven (Mark 10:17-23). And Jesus did not just drive the moneychangers from the temple; he also expelled “all of those who bought and sold” there (Matthew 21:2).[bold emphasis mine ]
….And in the ambiguous parable of the talents, Jesus seems to use business success as a metaphor for moral virtue. A master goes away on a journey and entrusts each of his slaves with a sum of gold talents, or coins. When the master returns, he asks each servant what happened to the money. Those who increased their capital by investing it are praised, but the servant who buried his money gets branded “worthless” for wasting a valuable opportunity (Matthew 25:14-30).
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” says Jesus, sounding to modern ears like Gordon Gekko before his first cup of coffee.
When the gospels were written, most Christians were poor, persecuted outsiders. But after the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion, Christianity became the official religion of the empire and an avenue for worldly advancement. Since then, Christian doctrine has grown more amenable to business. In the 17th century, Calvinist merchants piled up wealth in the belief that it was a sign of God’s blessing. The Pilgrims sailed to North America seeking both religious freedom and commercial opportunity. And modern evangelical business owners often measure success in souls saved as well as widgets sold.
…..they want a workplace that reflects their deepest values. Some doubtless use the gospels to rationalize business as usual.
But at a deeper level, sincere Christians have much in common with committed entrepreneurs. Both callings demand faith in things unseen and persistence in the face of dangers and doubts. They ask themselves: Is it right to lay off workers to boost profits, or only to save the company? How do you foster a Christian office culture without violating the rights of non-Christian employees? What if you can’t get a city contract without bending the law? How fast must you run to beat a camel into paradise?
There are problems with this article. Some of the glaring ones I highlighted in bold type. Why does this matter? It changes the message…. and that makes all the difference.
Although the author,Richard M. Murphy, doesn’t come right out and say it, he throws the whole idea of Christians as successful business people into doubt. As if something were sort of wrong with the whole thing, a ‘rotten in Denmark’ feel.
So let’s look at that first.
“Parts of the gospels are famously hostile to the pursuit of material wealth”. Actually, what Jesus addresses is the same message as the first commandment as given to Moses. You can only serve one master: it ought to be God. In context, the Jewish nation had been corrupted by some of the influence of the gentile culture…The Lord Jesus was correcting that, as seen in his remonstrance to not exhibit the gentile thinking of worry about what to wear or eat. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t part of life, but the manner of thinking and living was reprioritized. This is the same message in those passages quoted by the author. And this statement,”The rich man who keeps all the commandments must still give all his property to the poor, Jesus said, if he wants to go to heaven ” is just plain wrong. The context is in the question of the particular individual wanting to know what further things he must do. The Master pinpointed the place of resistance… material belongings outweighed spiritual pursuit. It was dragging the young man down. Christian doctrine has always emphasized that one must hold this material world lightly…. but not that one must let go entirely. That is the message of the ascetic and closer to Eastern forms of religious thought. Peter’s answer to Ananias and Sapphira summed up the principle:
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”-Acts 5
“The Pilgrims sailed to North America seeking both religious freedom and commercial opportunity.” is a particularly glaring mistake. Excuse me? Commercial opportunity? A largely uncharted, unsettled and wild land is .. a commercial opportunity? If the author had a working knowledge of the history of the Pilgrims, he would have known that they first fled to the Netherlands where they had a prosperous life, but were feeling they were losing their children to the culture. The Pilgrims risked all for new life in the American continent for a spiritual quest of religious freedom to build their own society according to their convictions as Christians. They were Separatists and wanted to start life away from the practices of European Christianity and lifestyle.
Another misrepresentation is within this, “When the gospels were written, most Christians were poor, persecuted outsiders. But after the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion, Christianity became the official religion of the empire and an avenue for worldly advancement. Since then, Christian doctrine has grown more amenable to business. ”
While it is true many were poor, and some were made poor through persecutions… the idea that Christian doctrine some how “evolved” is quite false. It is rather a case of changing circumstance that allowed for Christians to prosper, not changing their doctrine, but no longer holding them in oppressed circumstances of the persecuted. There were still the emphases on giving to the poor, to missions, and other Christians in persecuted circumstance or as general good works. That did not change.
There were always some wealthy Christians and this was not criticised. I.E. Joseph of Arimethea who begged the body of Jesus and buried him in a new tomb that he owned. This was someone with real wealth. Lydia, a business woman who hosted the church in her home, another example of wealth.
Wealth or Mammon was always a matter of having its proper place, and being held lightly rather than grasped tightly- as humans can be prone to do.
So is it a moral conflict for a Christian to be wealthy? No. Are there moral dilemmas to grapple with in business decisions, etc? Yes, of course.
Have families always tried to help each other and become more successful and thrive in practical ways? It’s true all over the world… and one thing the Gospel does teach is that Christians are a brotherhood; so it is so far a stretch to understand why they should band together for business purposes as well? What are many of the social benefits that Christians build, but businesses? Hospitals schools, charities, these all have components of business and wealth.
Christian Faith should inform the business practices of the Christian, and this will provide ethical direction as well as examples of diligence and practice… not at all in conflict with the idea that Christians can be successful, if that is what God directs.