Pavan and Adan, 04/22
Whatever happened to the “Protestant work ethic”?
It’s a big question, as we face the problems of a labor shortage in America. As a society, I’m pretty sure we have nowhere near the sort of work ethic that the generations before us had.
But was it really a “Protestant” characteristic?
The idea of a “Protestant Work Ethic” became popular in the 1800’s due to the writings of sociologist Max Weber, who theorized that Protestants work hard because they believed worldly success could be interpreted as a sign of eternal salvation. However, it was often seen as a way to earn salvation.
Nothing can be further from Christian belief. The idea that we can work hard enough to somehow save ourselves would mean that we don’t need the Savior, Jesus.
In Ephesians we find a better explanation for the hard work of Christians. First, it asserts that our hard work has nothing to do with earning salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Then, it goes on to explain the purpose of our work as Christians who have already been saved: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As Christians, we work hard at doing good not in order to BE saved, but because we ARE saved.
Elsewhere in the Bible, it’s described as the “working out” of our salvation – an expression of what it means to be reconciled to a right relationship with God. We are returning to the original call of Adam as caretaker of Eden before the fall, when work had dignity as a way to honor our Creator and His creation.
Christians are also motivated to work, not in order to be accepted into God’s family, but to please our Heavenly Father who has already received us because of Christ’s work on our behalf. We respond by serving God in love, and in loving our neighbors as Christ loves us.
But I also see a strong work ethic in many immigrant groups that come to America, often because they’ve had to leave much behind and build a new life here from the ground up, and not necessarily because they are “Protestant” or even Christian. I saw a strong work ethic in two international students from India, Pavan and Adan, both of whom had grown up in Hindu families and culture. For them, the main question of religion and a work ethic was not how it will lead to salvation in the life to come, but how will it prosper them in the here and now?
Pavan in particular expressed his belief in the virtues of hard work as his belief system, which for him is opposed to the impractical, unscientific and idealistic nature of religion. So he really didn’t see Christianity or religion in general as being particularly useful.
Adan, on the other hand, was more so interested in how religion might help him prosper by blessing him financially, so he did his best to avoid offending any religions, be they Hindu, Christian, or whatever. He also believes in the value of hard work, but along with any help a deity might bless him with in his efforts.
Protestant Christians aren’t the only people known for a strong work ethic, but I do believe our motivation to work can and should be different and unique. Instead of the self-serving motivation of prosperity or the compulsory motivation of earning God’s acceptance, we have the opportunity to work in the service of God and our fellow man with dignity and as an honor, if indeed we see an honest days work as the high calling that God created it to be.
Thanks, Pavan and Adan, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/J-TkyUUmJvc