Work Ethic
Pastor Sunday Adelaja

The protestant ethic and how it changed the world

Max Weber is a German sociologist, economist and politician. In the year 1904/1905 Max Weber wrote a series of essays about the evolving of capitalism in Northern and Central Europe. These series of essays were later to become the widely read book called “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

The book is now regarded as one of the most fundamental political science books on the formation of capitalism in Europe. In 1998, the International Sociological Association, listed this book as the fourth most influential book of the 20th century. The central topic of the book, is the role Protestants played in forming the new economy of the old world.

According to Mr. Weber the Industrial Revolution that gave birth to the new economy in Europe and eventually to our modern civilization, was a result of the teachings of the European Protestants.

Weber believed that when the Protestant ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, in enterprises, in trade, in savings, in investments, these gave birth to the new world economy, that is largely known as capitalism. It is upon that economy that our modern world stands.

“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” – Calvin Coolidge

Social scientists don’t doubt the fact that the European civilization which is the civilization the whole world enjoys today, was as a result of the direct teachings of the Protestants.

The need to write this article about the Protestant ethics and the role they played in the history of our civilization, becomes more and more apparent to me as I look around the world and see the kind of messages that are being preached by our modern day Protestant Christians (Baptist, Pentecostals, charismatics, etc.)

“In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility.” Titus 2:7

If the teachings of the early Christians changed Rome and the entire Roman Empire, we can’t point to any great change that the teachings coming from our pulpits today are producing upon our world in general. If the teachings of the Protestants in Europe gave birth to the Protestant ethics and the modern civilization, it becomes alarming that most of our charismatic teachings today mainly concentrate on individual aggrandizement.

The kind of gospel that our churches are preaching sometimes are not powerful enough to change the very street where this churches are located talk less of the nation where they are. We are not even going to throw the challenge of changing a whole generation before the modern day church. This generation of believers don’t even know what that means.

The basic teachings of the Protestants was all surrounding values, ethics and morals. The Protestants teachings affected the view of the populace to work. Through their teachings they dignify even the most mundane professions. According to them any profession or work that adds to the common good of man must be respected and it is dignified. They taught the Protestants that every work is sacred as long as the believer does it to the lord.

In their churches the Protestants taught believers to go out of the four walls of the church to demonstrate their love for God by how they serve fellow humans. The emphasis of the churches were not in how much work or home keeping is done in the four walls of the church itself, they rather told the Protestants to go prove their love to God at their work places through the quality of their works.

It is believed that every work you do is unto the lord and your love to God must show in the quality of your product. This led to a drive in everybody to do their best and produce the best possible qualities. As a result, these products were the best in the market. Eventually they became the best in the world, bringing revolution to the European economy.

The most revolutionary aspect of this teaching however, is the fact that the Protestants began to look for ways and means to serve God better through inventions, through discoveries, researches, sciences, factories, industries, etc. Leading to at first, up to 90% of all inventions of the world coming from the Protestant world. Up till recently 75% of all inventions from the time of the industrial revolution is credited to the countries where Protestant ethics were taught.

The dilemma of the European economy before the capitalist teachings was the fact that, when land owners employed laborers, they could not make these laborers give their best. The only incentive that was widely known and used was an increase in wages thinking that when there is an increase in wages for laborers, the laborers are supposed to view their works as more valuable and so work longer and harder. However, in the real sense, the laborers often spent less time working and not hard because they reasoned that they were been paid as well anyway. They would rather go drink and leisure.

It is this attitude that made Germany to be known as a country of lazy drunks who don’t wish to work. But the Protestant teachings changed all that, because people viewed their work as a way of proving their love to God so they tried to do their best and give the best quality to God by giving the best quality to man.

One major teaching of the Protestants that we the Protestants of today must go back to is the fact that the European Protestants did not emphasize fivefold ministry the way we do today. Today our teaching on the fivefold ministry only tend to view only those called to the fivefold ministry as those called to be ministers, while the rest of the congregation is just viewed as laity who just go to secular jobs.

The way the early Protestants taught on the other hand is that everybody is a full time minister in their various places of work. They went to the extent of saying, your job, profession, occupation is your calling. So you’re actually fulfilling your calling by going to work and giving your best. Hence, the Protestants go to work not just for the money, their biggest motivation for work is service to God and man. Not the interest to gain profit or make money.

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

The Protestant believe in the higher power through the truth they derive from the word of God. They got to know the truth and that truth set them free and they took the truth to the society and set their whole generation free.

Just like today, the Protestants and their teachings had to fight with the prevalent order of the day which taught that:

  • Work is only for making profit.
  • Make money with minimum effort
  • The culture of the day viewed work as a burden to be avoided.
  • The secular world of the time taught that you should do no more than what was enough for good living.

As we can see from this points, the sinful nature of man is the same in every generation. Man naturally moves towards entropy. We are driven towards the carnal, mundane and the mediocre. We need a higher power, force and truth to deliver us from this entropic movement to self-destruction and pull us higher to greater values.

When work is viewed only as a source of economic gain the centrality of work becomes self-indulgence, selfishness and egocentrism. There is a great advantage when work and economic gain is viewed from the perspective of moral and spiritual significance.

Another very important aspect of the Protestant teachings is that money is simply a byproduct, a natural consequence, a compensation, it is never the goal. The quality of goods and services are always viewed as more important than the compensation. If I do my best and produce the best products, that is my purpose, then I shall definitely be compensated. The byproduct will come when the product is good.

I think it would be interesting for us to know from what perspective the Protestants preached faith. They preached faith not as a means of personal gain or profit. The Protestants preached that through faith we can endure.

For example I need faith to keep on working on my product, I need  faith to give my best, I need faith to endure the process of production, I need faith to persevere, I need faith to pay the price of self-denial, of sacrifice, of repetition. I need faith to keep myself encouraged while I go through the hardship of labor.

The Protestants preached that faith is necessary to planning. They encourage their members and followers to see into the invincible world. They taught their adherents to plan into the future and believe that they are able to bring to pass that which they have envisioned.

The Protestants taught their followers that faith is needed for hard work because every hardship on its own discourages, hence you need faith not to be discouraged. The faith you have, keeps you going and makes you to pass through the valley and the mountain top.

The Protestant church today need to borrow a leaf from their actions. We need to preach the gospel not just from the aspect of selfish gains and profit, but from the kingdom perspective whereby we strive to build the kingdom of God through each believer on the earth as it is in heaven.

The European Protestants credited their values to teaching that evolved from the teachings of Martin Luther. Before then, the catholic church had presented to the believers a doctrine of back doors, where an individual who might not be living quite to the Christian standard could still have an assurance of salvation by taking the sacrament and even in death the relatives could buy him out of hell and get him a place in heaven through indulgentia.

That type of doctrine gives birth to a lifestyle of back doors, cutting corners, getting something for nothing. The consequence? Europe went through a very bad period of her history, both politically and economically known as the Dark Age. There could be no development talk less of civilization in such circumstances.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”– Beverly Sills

Europe was set free largely thanks to the Protestant reformation that began to teach that believers don’t have any assurances to salvation through the back doors. According to the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin and their colleagues, sacraments do not get you salvation anymore and indulgentia could not get your relatives out of hell fire. You now must live right and straight.

This teaching from the Protestants made the believers to sit up and work out their salvation on daily basis.

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” Genesis 2:15

John Calvin and his teachings in Geneva played a decisive role in spreading this spirit of capitalism or Protestant ethics. The cardinal point of his teaching, his doctrine of control by conscience, led to rigorous honesty in the daily lifestyle of the believers.  

John Calvin and his adherents taught that any form of waste must be frowned at, because people gave their lives to earn whatever they possess. This of course led to the view that luxury is a sin. The Calvinist did not believe in bringing all their money or worldly wealth to the church as the Catholics did. They were supposed to use it to do more good to their fellow men and the community.

These Protestants discouraged donation of money to the poor, because according to them, that could rather lead to beggary and laziness.  According to them, a man is not supposed to be a burden to his fellow man. Neither should he be a nuisance to God by not working.

“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.” 2Thessalonians 3:10-11

In their teachings, when you fail to work you fail to glorify God. The preachers laid a huge emphasis on savings that could eventually lead to investments. That gave a huge boost to the development of new economy in Europe, banking, industrialization, etc.

This led to mass productivity and production in the economy. Industrialization gave birth to wealth for an average man. Today however, mostly people are forced to work either for survival or to fulfill their greed for money. Whereas the Protestants wanted to work to please God and to serve man.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”– Aristotle

It is these values that were later transferred into the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries and continents where the descendants of these European Protestants were scattered.

Everywhere the Protestants and their descendants went, they took with them this same teachings and they got the same results – a developed economy and an advanced and civilized society. A generally more prosperous nation.

Let’s examine some of the gains of the Protestant ethics and teaching that we all still enjoy today.

  • Industrial revolution.
  • A civilized society.
  • A developed system of economy.
  • A total detachment from superstitions and magic mentality. You work for what you want, instead of hope for miracles.
  • A closer relationship between mathematics and observation.
  • An enhanced value of scholarship and education.
  • A higher emphasis on rational systematization of governance and administration.
  • An increase in entrepreneurship.

If the modern Protestant churches must maintain her place of relevance in the society, we would need to review where we missed it. How have we diverted from the teachings of the Protestants? Of course I realized that the Protestants denominations of the world have grown and matured over the years but maybe we should not throw away the gains of the old Protestants that brought us to our modern day civilization.

For those who are anxious and eager to regain the lost glory. For those who want to raise up a new generation of Protestants that would be capable of bringing reformations to their nations and societies. For those asking the question, where do we start? I wish to give you a list of the core teachings of the early Protestants:

  • They taught about the equality of all before God. Every person is equally valuable, either behind the pulpit or as a laborer in the construction site. We all are carriers of God and his image. We can all contribute
  • They emphasized the dignity of labor
  • They emphasized the principle of Justice and equality in the distribution of wealth. They strongly believe in the fact that he that does not work should not eat.
  • They believe that the principles of the kingdom virtues, values and morals of the Bible must not remain just in the church, they must be a part of the structure and the building blocks of the society.
  • The Protestants taught that the law comes from Zion and that righteousness must be at the basis of the nation, government and society in general.
  • The Protestants strongly advocated the integrity of your words. They believed that your yes must be yes and your no must be no. they taught that it is better to lose your life than not keep your word. It became the basis for contracts, business and commerce.
  • They taught that everybody has a calling and that calling is not in the four walls of the church except you are part of the clergy. Your work is your calling. Your profession is your service to God and to man.
  • Ministry is not only meant for the clergy, every believer is a minster. Howbeit they minster everywhere they find themselves on daily basis, at work, family, everywhere, etc.
  • The Protestants taught that money and wealth is a byproduct of diligence, sacrifice, hard work, faith and passion.
  • The Protestants taught that the secular work is as sacred as the clergy. Hence you do everything as unto the lord and whatsoever your hands find to do, you do to the very best.

I am sure that there might be people who might wonder why Pastor Sunday is taking his time to do all these researches and write all these articles. Well, my reasons are not farfetched, I come from a continent that is widely regarded as the Dark Continent.

Having lived in Europe for close to 30 years, more so having being graced by God to have lived, work and teach mainly white Europeans, American, Australians, Canadians, etc. I think I might just have what it takes to help my continent.

Moreover, having been privileged to consult and speak in parliaments and to the governments of some of the leading countries in the world, it would be a waste if I don’t contribute my quota and do my best to help rescue my continent from that backwardness and darkness that Africa is largely agonizing in at present.

It is my deep conviction that any person or nation can successfully duplicate any achievement that a person or nation succeeded in attaining. I am sure that Africa and other economically backward  countries that are sometimes referred to as third world countries can attain a very high rate of development much faster than the time it took Europe and other first world countries.

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”– Colin Powell

No doubts, there are a thousand and one possible factors for development and advancement of any nation or continent. Yet, I think this my submission today could definitely go a long way in contributing to the development of my beloved continent Africa and other Third World Nations of the world.

By Pastor Sunday Adelaja

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