The Mennonite service ethic
September 27, 2020
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Protestant work ethic is a termed coined by German sociologist Max Weber in 1905 in his book Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).
The gist of Weber’s thinking is summarized thusly in Wikipedia: “Calvinist theologians taught that only those who were predestined to be saved would be saved. Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined) by observing their way of life. Hard work and frugality were thought to be two important consequences of being one of the elect. Protestants were thus attracted to these qualities and supposed to strive for reaching them.”
Mennonites have never taught a work ethic, or that there is any redemptive value in work for work’s sake. Nor do we find any basis in Holy Scripture for such an idea. We beliee that God grants salvation only by grace, upon repentance from dead works. The evidence of salvation is not in self-serving work, but in love, joy, peace, patience, temperance and the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.
What Mennonites do teach, and always have, is a service ethic, based on the golden rule and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Of course this leads to work, but it is work that is done without feeling a need to prove anything. It is not self-centred, but other-oriented.
We are taught that this service ethic should permeate and motivate all of our relationships with others: in the home; the congregation; at work; in business; helping others in time of distress or disaster; in everything we do. We don’t always get it right, sometimes our feelings may prompt us to be impatient and demanding. The Bible teaches that at such times an apology is in order.
Other people also serve, and that is a wonderful thing. The more people who are willing to serve others, the better this world will be. We are not in competition with anyone, we are not looking for publicity or reward. The Mennonite service ethic prompts us to not think only of ourselves, but to be aware of the needs of others and do what is in our power to do to serve and make life a little easier for them.