What is the Protestant Work Ethic?

I first heard of the Protestant Work Ethic a long time ago.

I was always curious where the idea of the Protestant Work Ethic came from, since I know hard-working people from many different cultures.

So what is the Protestant Work Ethic? The term “Protestant Work Ethic” was popularized by Max Weber’s book “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” in 1904. Scholarly criticism of the book soon revealed Weber’s misunderstanding of the foundations which preceded the Protestant movement by many centuries. It should really be called the Judeo-Christian Work Ethic. It began when God gave Adam and Eve the job of taking care of his creation in Genesis 1:28 and continued through the entire Bible.

What Does Protestant Work Ethic Mean?

The Reformation of the Christian church took place in the early 16th century.

It was brought about by Christians who protested many of the practices of the Catholic church that they saw as being in conflict with the principles of the Bible.

Those Christians who protested against the Catholic church became known as Protestants due to their protests.

There were a few main themes to this protest at the time.

The protesters said Sola scriptura (Only scripture) Sola fide (by faith alone) and Sola gracia (by grace alone).

Their claim was that the Catholic church had departed from these Biblical truths.

Then they replaced them with a works-based salvation that ignored the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ.

It could also be said that the Catholic church had become too successful.

Through the centuries, Christian Biblical beliefs had led to many advances in technology, finance, and business.

Many researchers have documented how the church even invented capitalism, making the way for billions of people to escape poverty and a subsistence life. This created enough wealth to expand the audience for the Gospel across the entire globe so many could receive everlasting life.

These advances propelled Europe -and then North America- ahead of every other world civilization and have been the subject of academic scrutiny for a very long time.

The church was both the benefactor and beneficiary of these immense increases that made life much better for all people within the church’s sphere of influence.

The church did many good things and sent missionaries to foreign lands and made life better for many through it’s successes.

One of the big surprise Europeans had upon landing in far-flung lands was how technologically advanced they were compared to the people in the lands they were visiting.

While these great advances created great benefits, they also led many people to become too powerful and arrogant.

The Bible Work Ethic

The Bible clearly teaches a strong work ethic for man from beginning to end.

Beginning with the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, in Genesis 1:28, God says to Adam and Eve:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

In this passage, we see the 3rd Commandment. Here God tells his people that he expects them to work 6 days per week:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, Exodus 20:8-9

This passage from the Book of Proverbs really clarifies the Biblical directive on work:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
    When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
    and want like an armed man. Proverbs 6:6-11

Christian Work Ethic

New Testament scriptures are no less supportive of the work ethic expected of every human.

The parable of the 10 Minas in Luke 19:11-27 clearly shows that God expects all men and women to work diligently.

In that parable, Jesus tells how the man who invested well and earned a good return was praised and rewarded.

The man who hid the investment and did not put it to work was admonished for his slothfulness and failure to even deposit it in a bank to earn interest.

So it’s fair to say the Bible teaches its readers to work from beginning to end, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or anybody else who is willing to follow it.

The Work Ethic of Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul probably could have made excuses for not working.

He had committed and dedicated his life as a minister of the Gospel.

But here is what Paul said:

Warning Against Idleness

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber’s book was published over 100 years ago, in 1904.

It remains a book of great interest to students of philosophy, economics and religion, and it is regarded as a classic.

But Weber’s scholarship has also been brought into question because most of the capitalist advances had already been made hundreds of years before the Protestant reformation.

In addition to the capitalist advances, many scientific, engineering, agricultural and literary advances also came well before the Reformation.

Certain assumptions Weber made, such as that Catholics were less likely to select college majors like mathematics and science in favor of the classics, were later found to be only assumptions.

They were not backed by hard data, as later studies revealed.

It’s easy to conclude that the Reformation was actually caused by the success of science, technology, and capitalism.

These were all incubated and fully developed by the Catholic church over a span of many hundreds of years before the Reformation.

In spite of its drawbacks, Weber’s book remains a classic that is read by many today.

The Victory of Reason

Eminent sociologist Rodney Stark chronicles the many benefits Christianity brought mankind over the last 2000 years in “Victory of Reason, How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success.”

It’s a really bold title for a book, but he backs up every claim with meticulous references and clear thinking.

Stark is an academic, but he wrote this book for the average reader.

He has a way of writing that is clear and informative, yet deep.

Stark’s references alone are worth the price of admission. This book tells so much about how we ended up at this point in history, and it has received many accolades from highly-placed reviewers.

The evidence is clear.

In the Bible, God says things that reflect reality. Followers of God’s word are bound to do well because the Bible is true.

History shows that followers of other religious systems have been victims of systems that do not reflect the truth -and to their own detriment.

This is where true reason found it’s victory.

Is your Faith Founded on Fact? Have you committed to follow Jesus?

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