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THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND HOW IT CHANGED THE WORLD (PART ONE)

By Pastor Sunday Adelaja
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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 been 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 these 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 tends 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:

  1. Work is only for making profit.

  1. Make money with minimum effort

  1. The culture of the day viewed work as a burden to be avoided.

  1. 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 these 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.