Did you enjoy your morning shower? Down a hot cup of coffee? If you didn’t think twice about your routine, you owe it to institutions. They make rituals routine. Now, if you think every person in the world ought to be able to enjoy a warm shower, you know why institutions matter. They matter so much, we’ve written The Clapham Institute Manifesto.
Run your shower water backwards. If it was warm, your water heater was working. Water heaters tend to be more reliable in the US because they have to meet the Standards of Safety set by the Underwriters Laboratories. The heater also had to be installed by a certified electrician. Water pipes were installed by a certified plumber and checked by a qualified inspector. Water mains installed by licensed builders connected your home to a network. Their work had to be certified. But that’s not all.
Hot water requires reliable electricity – generated, stored, and distributed to your home. Electricity is drawn from raw materials that have to be located and extracted. This requires overlapping networks of engineers and drillers using certified equipment that transport these materials by trucks, trains, and ships. But there’s more.
I love rinsing out my mouth in the shower. When I travel overseas, I don’t do this. Rinsing my mouth requires safe water. This requires overlapping networks of institutions that extract, purify, store, distribute, and recycle water. But that’s not all. You also need rule of law.
If a water heater malfunctions under warranty in a First World country, you have recourse. In other parts of the world, no rule of law exists. Although altruistic individuals might construct wells, roaming vigilantes – fearing no recourse from enfeebled law enforcement officials or an ineffective court system – routinely destroy them. The rule of law must overlap with institutions. A simple shower requires overlapping networks of organizations – and we haven’t even mentioned additional networks such as zoning and financing. Enough already. What does this have to do with the church? Everything.
The Great Commandment
Love God and love your neighbor – the two great commands given to faith communities. How do we love our neighbors? Loving them means willing good for them. Loving your neighbor means seeking their wellbeing. If, for example, you think taking a warm shower is good, loving your neighbor means making a world where they are able to take a warm shower every morning. Doing this is willing good for them – not just wishing for a better world. It is making a world where people experience shalom. What’s shalom?
The mandate to Abram was that “all people on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3), shalom. But how does shalom work? When the Jews went into Babylonian exile, they were told to build homes, plant gardens, get married, raise families – you know, ordinary stuff – and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29). The Jews’ flourishing came only as they promoted flourishing among their captors’ culture and in their institutions such as family, agriculture, and business.
Think about that for a moment.
Shalom is seeking the wellbeing of others, not just within the community of faith, but to all. It is seeking and promoting human flourishing, even in pagan Babylon. Human flourishing was making better homes and gardens – and businesses. Translated in our present day, shalom means faith communities flourish to the degree that culture-shaping institutions in the wider world flourish. How does that work?
The Jews had a template that Babylonian institutions could adopt: ought-is-can-will. It’s a definition of reality that makes businesses prosper. Since ought-is-can-will is reality, this template still applies today. Take, for example, our financial institutions. They’ve been making the news recently. What might this template mean for, say, T. Rowe Price?
If T. Rowe Price conducts its business, as it ought to, with its products, people, and policies, then people are flourishing, shalom. Remember, however, that shalom means faith communities also flourish to the degree that T. Rowe Price is flourishing in this definition of reality. Faith doesn’t flourish if it operates only in “religious” organizations.
The converse is therefore true. If T. Rowe Price does not conduct its business, as it ought to, then shalom means faith communities are also not flourishing. Think about that for a moment. This is radical – faith communities measuring their success by the degree to which public companies and communities are flourishing inside a biblical definition of reality. Shalom is at the root of our faith, since radical means “from the root.”
Shalom is how faith communities love their neighbors. But why would T. Rowe Price adopt a culture informed by a biblical definition of reality? They probably wouldn’t – unless believers saw it as their job description. That’s Part Two of The Clapham Institute Manifesto, “Why Institutions Matter” – published next Monday.