“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (1Cor 7:20-21).
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Thess 3:10).
A personal story
Mostly as a result of my high school education, I chose the engineering profession as a career which would be likely to provide for myself and any family that might ensue. With a few minor ups and downs, this has proven true. Along the way I have striven not to involve myself with the “Defense Industry”, despite some quite attractive offers. However, even this goal was, quite unknowingly, compromised early in my career. I was charged with developing a machine for producing hemispheres of a quite incredible accuracy, to approximately the wavelength of light. I succeeded, and was quite proud when the machine shipped. I thought it was for artificial knee joints, you see. However, I later found the destination was in fact Y12, which is a facility charged with producing atomic bombs. I rather suspect that the machine was intended to produce the cores of plutonium bombs. No wonder I was never asked to help install the equipment.
I would not willingly been involved if I had known, but later, even with the best intentions, I have gotten involved on several other occasions in machines or parts that have gone to the military of the USA, from the SR-71 spy plane to parts I believe ended up in nuclear submarines.
This anecdote is to illustrate that, even if we have chosen an occupation that we hope and expect will avoid any ethical dilemmas, the complexity of modern society renders this objective almost hopeless.
Many years ago, the following question was posed of Robert Roberts:
“A brother is agent for a bookselling firm, in whose service it is his duty to supply to canvassers (among other books), works of an orthodox religious character, such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. A second brother is a deliverer in his employment, and has to carry books of the description mentioned, to such as subscribe for them. A third brother maintains that the first and second are following an occupation inconsistent with their profession as friends of Christ and agents of the truth; and refuses on this ground to hold fellowship with them. Are the two first-named brethren doing wrong?”1
The answer Robert Roberts gave was quite simple: “We are at liberty to make honest contracts of service without being responsible for the use to which the product of our honest services may be turned by the evil world in which we live.” Thus I can look back at the various events of my life, and I believe and hope will be able to approach the Judgment Seat of Christ with at least not these among my many failures.
Thus a slave could with a clear conscience engage in activities that were commanded of him, that he would not ordinarily want to perform. We think of Cornelius, a just man, and one who feared God. Almost certainly unable to easily change his occupation, he clearly was focused on being just, not stressing over the way his occupation was unsuitable for a follower of Christ.
It is all too easy to develop a conscience which is over tender over the ends to which your labors are put. You can quit your occupation: but then you have to concern yourself with the other comment of Paul: “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” It is not normally the responsibility of the ecclesia to support a member if they decide personally that their current occupation is incompatible with what they perceive is their conscience.
Of course, there are certain occupations that are incompatible with the way of life of a Christian disciple. As Robert Roberts put it:
“Christendom resists evil; sues at law; resents injury, brandishes the constable’s truncheon, and fights in the army, even if the men it is called upon to shoot are fellow Christians. If pointed to the law of Christ, it shakes its head. It speaks of “duty to society,” the “protection of life and property,” and the certain chaos that would set in if the law of Christ were in force. In this, Christendom speaks as the world, and not as “the church,” because it is not the church, but the world.”2
Thus service in a police force, or the military, or related jobs, are all occupations we would encourage members to leave if they are baptized in while being employed is such pursuits. But even so, such individuals are given time to find alternative employment. It is interesting to note that at the height of the Berean controversy in the UK, there was a member of the disputing ecclesia who attended in his military uniform.3
Potentially troublesome areas of employment
Having considered some practical problems associated with some specific areas of employment, are there any occupations that are safe from potential conflict with our faith? The fundamental principles of our life are of course summarized in the words of Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt 22:37-39). We cannot, therefore, declare allegiance to any other authority, neither can we do harm to anyone, for this is incompatible with the unconditional love we should show to any we are associated with.
We should perhaps therefore avoid occupations that might place us into a situation where there could be, or is, a conflict between earning a living and serving our true master. Not that it is always easy to do so: but perhaps I might venture a list of some troublesome occupations, some that might present problems, and others that probably would rarely present problems. I might caution, however, that even the most seemingly mundane and “safe” jobs might and can present problems, as indicated below, while others seemingly risky might, if approached correctly, be trouble free.
Policeman or soldier (See Clause 35 in footnote below!)
An armed security or prison guard — not excluded by our statement of faith, but not to be encouraged
A worker in a munitions factory, or one directly involved in making items whose only purpose is to take life
A judge, or magistrate, or one whose occupation involves the punitive legal system
Might be Troublesome, but such are known among Christadelphians
Lawyers, primarily those associated with areas remote from criminal law
Unarmed security, such as “Mall cops”, or those who monitor building etc.
Employment as a civilian worker by the defense industry
Should be safe — but not always
Teacher, but some states (and countries) require instruction in areas that are troublesome, like human sexuality and evolution
Health industry, but again there might be conflicts in the area of human sexuality
Librarian — but what does one do when asked about books on homosexuality etc.?
Salesperson, although such could well be asked to engage in unethical conduct
Scientist or engineer, although such occupations often get involved in endeavors with perhaps unintended or undesirable outcomes
Farmers, manual workers, or similar. Not likely to be troublesome, but it can be hard to support a family in such occupations
Of course, in our modern western society it is almost impossible to get a job on which one can support a family without a college education, which itself involves a whole set of potential problems. But such an education can also offer many benefits — but that topic is for another day.
1. The Christadelphian, Vol 9, p 139.
2. Christendom Astray, Logos Edition, P 433
3. The dispute in the UK was over whether a Christadelphian could join the police force, as reflected in the “Doctrine to be Rejected” # 35.—That we are at liberty to serve…as police constables.