I am a bit late adding my two cents to the debate surrounding the Benedict Option. While I have not read the book by Rod Dreher, I have kept up with the flurry of tweets, Facebook posts, and articles between Dreher and his detractors. Unfortunately, there has been some amateurish postures by Ph.Ds on both sides of this debate.
My vocation is that of a Presbyterian minister, so I have an obligation to form an opinion on the issue of how Christians should relate to the culture around them. One might say that my sermons should address that topic almost every week if I want to disciple my flock.
While there is much to be said on this issue, I want to dig into my tradition as a Presbyterian as it relates to Christian ethics. There are two scriptural imperatives which Presbyterians have historically held as binding upon Christians today: Sabbath-keeping and tithing.
I won’t rehearse the arguments from covenant theology and the perpetuity of the moral law, but follow this thought experiment with me: What if the majority of American Christians kept the Sabbath and tithed their income?
On Sabbath keeping, I wonder what would happen to the ‘consumerism’ that millennials often complain about (but don’t actually change their consumer habits). Many restaurants would change their business model and become more like Chick-Fil-A, thus benefiting non-Christian restaurant workers who are forced to work on Sunday. After all, the “Sunday lunch crowd” is populated by mostly church-goers.
In addition, sports leagues like the National Football League would need to come up with a different game plan (no pun intended). The NFL is populated with Christians, so the Sabbath-keeping of these Christians would force the NFL to perhaps play its games on Saturday and make Sunday their ‘day off’ instead of Monday.
This, in turn, would push college football games back to Friday, which would make college football a much less lucrative business. Might this solve some of the controversies and scandals which currently plague college athletics?
Given that consumerism is a blanket critique by young secular people today when it comes to American culture, the church recovering its Sabbath witness might be an attractive option to non-Christians who need a rhythm to balance their work-play-rest rhythm.
Tithing. The sad news about tithing today is that only 5% of Christians tithe their income. This means that less than 10% of Christians actually give 10%! In addition, Christians give less per capita than Christians gave during the Great Depression.
But let’s say the Spirit revived the American church and Christians began to tithe. World hunger, healthcare, foreign missions, church planting, revitalizing smaller churches, Christian schools, etc. would all be affected. Perhaps the reason the welfare state and entitlements has increased is because tithing has decreased.
It isn’t difficult to fathom how the obedient generosity of Christians could shape our contemporary culture. Imagine if this Sunday every Christian tithed their income, our culture (and the world) would be turned upside down.
The Sabbath and the tithe are just two of God’s commands to his people. Just two. Obedience to just these two commands would make the Benedict Option unnecessary. Even if you are in a theological tradition which teaches that these two commands are no longer required for Christians, it’s difficult to dismiss the fruit which would come from obeying these commands.
There are books and conference galore trying to aid the church in navigating our contemporary culture’s secular force. There are parachurch ministries trying to aid the church in jumping on this or that social justice bandwagon. There are ministries trying to help churches think about bi-vocational ministry for their Pastors.
None of these things would be necessary if the church simply obeyed these two commandments of observing the Sabbath and giving the tithe.
Perhaps the Christian faith isn’t complex but rather simple to live out. Perhaps ‘transforming the culture’ isn’t complex but rather simple and covenantal.