Dr. Corné Bekker is an associate professor in the Regent University School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship and an ordained minister. He previously served as the Assistant-Dean of Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg , South Africa.
Ethics of frugality or simplicity have long been part of the economic norm of most Christian and biblical traditions. The sociologist, Max Weber noted that frugality combined with the values of industry, equity, generosity, and solidarity formed the core of a Protestant Christian ethic and went on to describe it as worldly asceticism.
But within the current Western culture of progressive plenty, frugality has been portrayed as “unfashionable, unpalatable, and even unpatriotic”. But the wealth of insights from our Christian heritage tells of the power of biblical simplicity.
Two Christian counter-movements that had their start in the seventeenth century (it could be argued that both were birthed in response the religious formalism and economic excesses of seventeenth century Anglicanism) had the ethics of frugality or simplicity at part of its core values.
George Fox (1624-1691), a laymen, started a counter-movement (later known as the Quakers) centered in the belief that a time of renewal by God’s Spirit had come and that the ultimate guide of faith was the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit enlivening God’s Word. Fox encouraged voluntary simple living based on the guidance of the Spirit and did not allow any ministers to receive any form of monetary payment for ministry.
During this same time period another spiritual movement arose from the critique that the over-emphasis of “salvation by faith alone” of some the Protestant churches resulted in little interest in serious spiritual and character formation. This counter-movement became known as the Puritan revival and soon sought to balance Protestant theology with elements of patristic and medieval devotional disciplines, amongst those elements the disciplines of frugality and simplicity.
Both these Christian movements became known for the radical commitments and stances their adherents embodied, such as resistance against slavery, complete commitment to non-violence and the values of frugality and experiential simplicity. It is important to note that the discipline of frugality and simplicity were not limited to economic and lifestyle choices, such as where to live, what to wear, what kind of work to do; but also intra-personal (such as worship, introspection, etc.) and inter-personal dynamics.
Puritan and Quaker spiritualities have long influenced Christian proponents and activists of a simpler lifestyle. The Christian ethicist James A. Nash, deeply inspired by biblical and Puritan thought, argues that in order to bring a revival and reformation to contemporary Christian witness, that one needs to not only bring back the Puritan value of frugality, but also that frugality must be rediscovered as a truly biblical virtue.
The transformative, witness-facilitating, counter-cultural values of frugality and simplicity have started to make something of a comeback in larger Christianity. At the International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle, sponsored by the previous Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization’s Theology and Education Group (held at Hoddesdon, England, March 17-21, 1980) a statement was produced and endorsed, entitled, “An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle”. Amongst the many statements concerning the need and practice of simplicity, the following commitments regarding personal witness were expressed (Stott and Sider, 1980):
“Our Christian obedience demands a simple lifestyle, irrespective of the needs of others. ... While some of us have been called to live among the poor, and others to open our homes to the needy, all of us are determined to develop a simpler lifestyle. We intend to reexamine our income and expenditure, in order to manage on less and give more away. ... Yet we resolve to renounce waste and oppose extravagance in personal living, clothing, and housing, travel and church buildings. We also accept the distinction between necessities and luxuries, creative hobbies and empty status symbols, modesty and vanity, occasional celebrations and normal routine, and between the service of God and slavery to fashion.”
The biblical calls to simple living through the practice of the disciplines of frugality are counter-cultural calls to authentic Christian witness and sincere efforts to model the anti-materialism truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world steeped in an ideology of “more, better and faster”.
Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ' or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9, NIV)
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Dr. Corné Bekker joined Regent University in 2005. He previously served as the associate dean for academics of Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg, South Africa and now as an associate professor for the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Dr. Bekker teaches in the doctoral programs of the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship and is actively involved in research on the use of biblical hermeneutics and spirituality to explore leadership. He is the editor of the Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership (JBPL) and the co-editor of Inner Resources for Leaders (IRL).
Dr. Bekker is an ordained minister and has traveled in Africa, Europe, the East and North America to present at churches, ministries, seminars and academic conferences on the subject of Christian spirituality and leadership formation.
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Bittinger, E.F. (1978). The simple life: a chapter in the evolution of a doctrine. Brethren Life and Thought 23.2, 104-114.
Callen, B.L. (2001). Authentic Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Fager, C. (1971). Experimenting with a simpler life style. Christian Century 88.1, 9-13.
Nash, J.A. (1995). Toward the revival and reform of the subversive virtue. Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 15.1, 137-160.
Stott, J.R.W. and Sider, R.J. (1980). An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle. Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research 4.4, 177-179.
Weber, M. (1958). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.