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Calling of the Christian Workingman

The previous editorial in this series (Oct. 1, 2003) gave the biblical testimony calling the Christian workingman to submit to the authority of the employer as the authority of Christ. In light of this testimony, the Christian workingman—every Christian workingman—must refuse membership in the union, or, if presently a member, must get out. He must do this willingly. He must do this in obedience to the Word. He must do this out of respect for the authority of God. He must do this as an act of discipleship after Jesus Christ. He must do this in gratitude for gracious salvation. He must do this as he values his eternal salvation.

In carrying out this holy calling, the Christian workingman must be willing to suffer loss.

Servants [men working for wages], be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.

I Pet. 2:18-21

Against the testimony of Scripture, which is clear and compelling, there are two arguments in favor of a Christian’s joining a labor union. These arguments are powerful. Both of these arguments come down to this: “If I do not join the union, I will suffer.”

One argument is that the owner, the employer, the boss, management, the capitalist is a greedy, cruel, blood-sucking monster. Without unions, workers have suffered, and will suffer.

The other argument is the visceral one: “I have to eat.” If a man is unwilling to join a union, work is denied him, and then he and his family starve to death.

The Bible refutes both these arguments.

As regards the first, concerning the unjust employer, there are indeed wicked employers who take advantage of the worker. Their only concern is profits for themselves. Workers are merely disposable means to that end. Scripture recognizes such employers and damns them: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you” (James 5:1). These were the farmers for whom the Christian laborers of James 5 were working. These farmers kept back the hire of the laborers, thus killing the righteous workingmen. “The hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth … Ye have condemned and killed the just” (James 5:4, 6).

This injustice and cruelty, however, do not warrant resistance on the part of the workers—a general strike. Rather, the laborer “doth not resist you” (James 5:6). Radically different is the activity to which the gospel of Christ calls the defrauded workingman: “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7). Christ the judge will punish the greedy capitalist who has defrauded his workers. Such a businessman “has heaped treasure together for the last days” (James 5:3). The millions he gave to charity in his old age, to soothe his conscience and get a name for himself, will not mitigate his punishment in the least. Christ will also reward the suffering, patient workingman. “The end of the Lord (is) that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).

As regards the second argument, namely, that we must eat, the biblical refutation is exactly that we do not have to eat. Eating is not the “bottom line” in the life of Christians. For the Christian, what is absolutely necessary—that to which all in life must give way—is obeying God. When eating conflicts with obeying, as it often has in history, eating is given up.

Karl Marx and his disciples in the labor union movement are wrong in their teaching that the material is everything.

The man who makes eating the main thing in human life, to which all else, even the Word of God, must give way, is an idolater. His god is his belly. Some god!

Whoever takes the position, “I must eat,” will, on this basis, soon also take the mark of the beast, for without that mark in the kingdom of Antichrist one will not be permitted to buy or sell (Rev. 13:17). Whoever takes the mark will be permitted to eat. He will also drink. He will “drink of the wine of the wrath of God” forever (Rev. 14:9-11).

“Pillar and Ground of the Truth”

If the Christian workingman is to carry out his calling, the church must take a stand—the biblical stand—and instruct the workingman, as well as discipline him, if he should join a union. The church is “pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). She is pillar and ground of the truth of the godly life of her members. For the widespread disobedience to the will of God on the part of professing Christians in the sphere of labor today, the unfaithful churches are to be blamed more than the workers.

The Protestant Reformed Churches take a stand. Their stand is avowedly and undeniably biblical. This stand against labor union membership is not something about which they should be embarrassed. Rather, it is a significant part of their honor as true churches of Christ by the grace of God. True churches of Christ are identified by their confession of the truth of the Word of God. This confession includes more than only the great doctrines of the faith. It includes as well the churches’ teaching the nations “to observe all things whatsoever I [Jesus Christ] have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). As these editorials have shown, the Lord Jesus has commanded His disciples in all nations to honor the authority of the “master” in the sphere of labor. Therefore, the Protestant Reformed Churches may not hide, or downplay, their stand against labor union membership. Christ calls them to teach and proclaim this stand.

Exactly because of the stand of the Churches from their very beginning, Protestant Reformed workingmen can still get exemption from union membership, including the requirement to pay dues to the union, under the law of the land as “conscientious objectors.”

The stand of the Churches, faithfully preached and taught, guides the members of these Churches in a holy life. This is true love on the part of the Churches for their workingmen.

The Churches’ stand is also an important part of their witness to the outside. It leaves impenitent rebels against the authority of Christ in the ordinance of labor without excuse. It gains others to truth, holiness, and Christ.

The encouragement both to suffering workingman and embattled church is James’ exhortation:

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. …behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

James 5:7-10

Come, O Christ, and judge on behalf of your defrauded, but patient workingmen and on behalf of your reproached, but faithful church. Amen.

— DJE