Give ’em a Square Inch And They Take a Mile

Give ’em a Square Inch And They Take a Mile May 18, 2016

Did you ever wonder why pastors, bishops, and popes think — despite the specialization and differentiation of modern society — that religious officers are qualified to speak on any subject imaginable? Heck, my wife doesn’t listen to me on 55% of my opinions. But stick a Bible in a pastor’s hand or put a funny hat on a bishop and all of a sudden he may legitimately “pontificate” about any aspect of human existence? Physicians and attorneys don’t have that kind of pride. Shouldn’t Christian ministers do better?

The problem is an old one, namely, that the spiritual is more important than the material, or the world of morality is more basic than the realm of physical causation — the list could go on. The medieval papacy during several kerfuffles tried to assert its authority over the emperor (or monarch) by virtue of claiming a direct pipeline to God — Christ’s vicar. Protestants rejected papal supremacy but sola scriptura (the sufficiency of Scripture) simply gave to all pastors what only the pope used to have — a word from God on all of human existence.

You can see the logic for Protestantism here, though the appeal is less to the Bible than to Christ’s authority. It’s a similar move that allows a pastor, because he speaks for Christ, to speak about EVERYthing:

Since the lordship of Christ is holistic, pastors are called to equip their people to follow Christ in all of life—not just part of life. The workplace is a central aspect of most people’s lives. In fact, most of us spend more time at work than in any other single activity.

For that reason alone, pastors need to help people understand what it means to follow Christ at work. Is work just a means to evangelism? Or does it matter in itself? Is the work of an engineer less significant than the work of a pastor? Or do all occupations matter equally? How do you go about your work in a way that is informed by your faith?

People need to have answers to these questions, and part of the church’s task of discipling people for all of life includes providing those answers. Further, the Scriptures have much to say about our work (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Genesis 1:28; etc.). People need to know how to apply these truths in their own work.

As pastors and churches do this more fully, they begin to find that they are not simply being faithful to their call. They are also bringing great benefit to their people. For as congregants begin to understand that their work matters to God, it transforms their perspective on how they can serve God and others in their daily work.

The danger of such an outlook is that it nurtures a witch-doctor understanding of the pastor. He becomes the guy to whom I go for all of life’s problems. Of course, modern Christians are so modern they have enough sense not to go to their pastor when their tooth hurts or throat is sore. Looking to a pastor for physical healing contradicts what modern science tells us (though some faith-healing pastors say otherwise).

The lesson may be that the Bible doesn’t pretend to speak to all of life. Another one is that Protestants don’t really believe that the Bible tells us how to do plumbing, how to bake bread, how to solve algebra equations, or how to balance the federal budget. It was Calvinists, after all, who wrote (in the Westminster Larger Catechism):

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

If anyone think the duty God requires included accounting or selling insurance, they haven’t read the Bible.

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