Theological Vision Guides

6. Local Context: Wisdom & opportunity: The church and the workplace

Key Theme: Local Context

Having looked at the big picture, we have seen that our role on earth is framed by our position. In authority we are located between God and the rest of creation. In time we are located between this age and the age to come. The same principles are true at the local level, as we seek to work out how to put into practice both our responsibility to promote creation’s flourishing and as we share the gospel. So as we are called to be ‘wise’ and to ‘make the best use of the time’ (Eph 5:15-16) we will be paying particular attention to the context in which we are located – both as we participate in the gathering of the local church, and as we also participate in the local expressions of temporal authority structures in this age – including that of the workplace (Eph 5:22-6:9).

The week begins with ‘the Lord’s day’, which refers to Christ’s resurrection, and we gather together each week in fellowship with him around his word and his table. As we do so we are forming a picture of the redeemed community of the age to come – an alternative, future, vision of human relationships.

We are then sent out from church back into the world: back, as it were, into the present age. Though Christ is Lord over all, his current mode of rule is that of reconciliation, and he has patiently permitted the existing authority structures of this present age to remain: rulers, employers and family authorities (cf. 1 Pet 2:13-3:7; Col 3:17-4:1). As believers we have been commanded to be subject to them for the Lord’s sake, unless our obedience to them is in conflict with our allegiance to him. That means that though we have a twofold calling to carry out both the cultural mandate and to continue the gospel mission, it is not normally appropriate to see our formal working activities – such as our lectures, seminars or research papers – as situations in which we are to proclaim the gospel. While we are always royal ambassadors we exercise wisdom as to how and when we proclaim the King with a mode of authority. We recognise that our submission to temporal workplace authorities for the Lord’s sake means that our primary focus at work is to discharge our royal stewardship in creation alongside our fellow humans. So while we are always under Christ’s authority and to be bringing his word to bear on our field, we use wisdom to discern how much we can say about the beliefs that are informing our work.

As we go about our work in that way, we will nonetheless have opportunities around our work to further the gospel mission. As we contribute to the development of just legal systems, for example, we will naturally find ourselves praising God and giving him thanks for the fact that while we are able to achieve some measure of justice in this age, Christ is the ultimate judge who will execute perfect justice in the age to come. And as we bring praise to God, that praise will overflow, and draw others in.

In other words, the key distinction between what we do in our work (while under the authority of a law firm, for example) and around our work (while talking to colleagues during a lunch break, for example) is that in our job we pursue a penultimate goal, which is to contribute to the good of this age, and around our work we pursue our ultimate goal, which is to return to God with praise and bring people with us as we do so.

This means that if we are to point people to Christ, we need to not only help people see how everything is “from him” – including for example our desire for justice – but we also need to show that everything is “to him”, so that we do not only show what Christianity has to offer to a cultural question but also that our ultimate hope is not in the things of this age but in Christ alone.

The more we place our ultimate hope in Christ alone, the more we will have natural opportunities to share with others the reason for the hope in us, which must necessarily be shared verbally since Christ is in the age to come (Rom 10:14, cf. 2 Cor 4-5). It might be in the context of a conversation during a lunch break, for example, as we find ourselves talking about our work and how our work relates to the ‘big questions’ of life. From there we might invite our friends to a local church event or a talk put on by a Christian student or professional group, so that they can hear more about Christ through the message of the gospel. This natural follow-through coheres well with our priestly calling, as those who bring the praise of creation, including the worship of the nations, to Christ (diagram 11).

As people hear more about Christ, some will respond with faith, and that will then mean they can then join us as we return from our work back to Christ, and gather around him at our weekly church meeting, and be sent out from there again (diagram 12).

Diagram 11: Being wise
Our roles in the local workplace

Diagram 12: Our local cycle
The weekly working context


Consultation Exercise

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