Working Class Heroes

    One of the hottest selling postage stamps today features a famous moment from recent history: three New York City firefighters, in their hard hats and heavy gear, hoisting the American flag at Ground Zero. In the wake of September 11, kids all over America are wearing baseball caps and T-shirts that read FDNY or NYPD. They are an expression of admiration for the men who gave their lives during the attacks on the World Trade Center. I for one am happy to join the celebration of working-class heroes -- especially today. Christians have a special reason to celebrate Labor Day, which honors the fundamental dignity of workers, for we worship a God Who labored to make the world -- and Who created human beings in His image to be workers. When God made Adam and Eve, He gave them work to do: cultivating and caring for the earth. In the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans looked upon manual work as a curse, something for lower classes and slaves. But Christianity changed all that. Christians viewed work as a high calling -- a calling to be co-workers with God in unfolding the rich potential of His creation. This high view of work can be traced throughout the history of the Church. In the Middle Ages, the guild movement grew out of the Church. It set standards for good workmanship and encouraged members to take satisfaction in the results of their labor. The guilds became the forerunner of the modern labor movement. Later, during the Reformation, Martin Luther preached that all work should be done to the glory of God. Whether ministering the gospel or scrubbing floors, any honest work is pleasing to the Lord. Out of this conviction grew the Protestant work ethic. Christians were also active on behalf of workers in the early days of the industrial revolution, when factories were "dark satanic mills," to borrow a phrase from Sir William Blake. Work in factories and coal mines in those days was hard and dangerous. Children were practically slaves -- sometimes even chained to the machines. Then John Wesley came preaching and teaching the gospel throughout England. He came not to the upper classes, but to the laboring classes -- to men whose faces were black with coal dust and women whose dresses were patched and faded. John Wesley preached to them -- and in the process, he pricked the conscience of the whole nation. Two of Wesley's disciples, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury, were inspired to work for legislation that would clean up abuses in the workplace. At their urging, the British parliament passed child-labor laws, safety laws, and minimum-wage laws. Here in America we've lost the Christian connection with the labor movement. But in many countries -- from Canada to Poland -- that tradition still remains. So go ahead: Let your kids wear those NYPD baseball caps and T-shirts that honor New York's firefighters. Buy a few of those postage stamps that show firefighters hoisting the American flag. It's great to celebrate these faithful workers. But this Labor Day, remember, as well, that all labor derives its true dignity as a reflection of the Creator. And that whatever we do, in word or deed, we should do all to the glory of God. For further reading: Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Word Books, 1998). Charles Colson, "How Now Shall We Work?", speech delivered October 2001. Richard L. Gathro, "William Wilberforce and His Circle of Friends," Wilberforce Forum, 2001


Chuck Colson



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