Business Ethics and Dr. Abraham Kuyper

When did you have that first conversation about work ethics that dove into the plight of the common worker and those terrible rich business owners? Mine was as a young lad sitting on the periphery as my father, his two brothers and a couple of friends sat around playing poker. It was in the early 60’s when the height of the labor vs. management was raging through much of the industries and trades in the United States. The conversations at the card table could become pretty heated since there was an uneven split between the players of corporate/management types (two) and labor/union types (three).

My dad and his oldest brother were of the latter category while the younger brother of the former. Things could get heated as they evaluated the political as well as the monetary discrepancies of rich compared to the middle class. The poor were never a consideration in the conversations, ah, sometimes arguments. I always listened intently because I saw that on the one hand, emotionalism sustained the argument of the majority over the other hand, rational-factual retorts of the minority players at the table. What was the real basis of what was happening and when did the deeper conversation about this with Dad play out?

Well, I don’t have time to take you through a fifty plus year journey but lets suffice it to say that in that course of time, I came to a deep Faith and studied perspective of Biblical Reformation reality: All of which I substantiate from Genesis through Revelations. In the midst of this study and relatively recently, I came upon a work that was talking about Historical Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism, which of course has me actively doing a deep dive on Abraham Kuyper. I know, you are asking: So what does this have to do with your Dad and his perspective of middle class union workers? The short of it is that I was raised Roman Catholic and as noted, I diverged from that on the already said journey.

In the course of this journey to present I had broached the topic of labor and business with my Dad a number of times. You see, I not only worked as a middle class dude after getting out of the military but I eventually became an executive in the corporate world and a serial entrepreneur. With this background it opened the door to many conversations with Dad. One that would come up would be about unions and the separation of or disparity between corporate management and the worker bees.

One day we were talking about some of what Jesus talked about in the parable of the worker that came on the job later in the day but got paid the same as everyone else. Yes, my Dad has been very open to having Gospel and Biblical conversations with me. Sometimes I think he is more of a Reformed Presbyterian than many that I’ve met around the country. Ok, staying focused. So with this discussion we started looking at other Scriptures that deliver the principles of relationships between the workers and their management. Yes, you either know them or I’ll leave that you to go study. What went off like flashbulbs from the ‘60’s was that the modern union management issue was a total moral issue and a perversion of what the Word of God teaches – I do mean the ‘social gospel’ as that perversion and the nonsense that started in the mid 1800’s.

Dad and I came to the conclusion that if both the employer and employee operated according to the principles in God’s Word then there would be a whole different relationship in the business environment. Just to let you know that I’ve always made every effort in my leading of a company or starting one, that I would follow those basic principles. And yes, they do work even if the employees aren’t people of Faith.

So what about Kuyper? Well…. I found these gems that I am going to quote because most folks get all riled up over what I call fundamental Reformation Reality – better known as Calvinism. What I’ve been digging into for the last while is Kuyper’s 1898 six lectures at Princeton called the “Stone Lectures”. What I found in his exposition on the transcendence of the ‘sovereignty of God’ is his commentary on the relationship in Calvinism that has impacted even this idea of work and management. So from this point until my summation I’d like you to consider these nuggets especially if you are one of the Faithful who is a business leader, a union type or a member of the company team – employee.

Oh, this is even most important for the politician and bureaucrat!

And, I’m not attempting to convince anyone to jump on the Calvinism perspective but the principles are very sound. Ok, I’d prefer everyone get the reality it took me years to get to – that this is the common sense reality of God’s Word and the Reformation. (my emphasis added)

“…If Calvinism places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man. Hence we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talents than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. Hence Calvinism condemns not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of woman and of the poor; it is opposed to all hierarchy among men; it tolerates no aristocracy save such as is able, either in person or in family, by the grace of God, to exhibit superiority of character or talent, and to show that it does not claim this superiority for self-aggrandizement or ambitious pride, but for the sake of spending it in the service of God. So Calvinism was bound to find its utterance in the democratic interpretation of life; to proclaim the liberty of nations; and not to rest until both politically and socially every man, simply because he is man, should be recognized, respected and dealt with as a creature created after the Divine likeness.”

This sets the tone for the next nugget:

“This was no outcome of envy. It was not the man of lower estate who reduced his superior to his level in order to usurp the higher place, but it was all men kneeling in concert at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. This accounts for the fact that Calvinism made no sudden break with the past. Even as in its early stage Christianity did not abolish slavery, but undermined it by a moral judgment, so Calvinism allowed the provisional continuance of the conditions of hierarchy and aristocracy as traditions belonging to the Middle Ages. It was not charged against William of Orange that he was a prince of royal lineage; he was the more honored for it. But inwardly Calvinism has modified the structure of society, not by the envying of classes, nor by an undue esteem for the possessions of the rich, but by a more serious interpretation of life. By better labor and a higher development of character the middle and working classes have provoked the nobility and the wealthier citizens to jealousy. First looking to God, and then to one’s neighbor was the impulse, the mind and the spiritual custom to which Calvinism gave entrance. And from this holy fear of God and this united stand before the face of God a holier democratic idea has developed itself, and has continually gained ground. This result has been brought about by nothing so much as by fellowship in suffering. When, though loyal to the Romish faith, the dukes of Egmont and Hoorn ascended the same scaffold on which, for the sake of a nobler faith, the working-man and the weaver had been executed, the reconciliation be- tween the classes received its sanction in that bitter death. By his bloody persecutions, Alva the Aristocrat advanced the prosperous development of the spirit of Democracy. To have placed man on a footing of equality with man, so far as the purely human interests are concerned, is the immortal glory which incontestably belongs to Calvinism. The difference between it and the wild dream of equality of the French Revolution is that while in Paris it was one action in concert against God, here all, rich and poor, were on their knees before God, consumed with a common zeal for the glory of His Name.”

These are points from just the First Lecture on “a Life System” which I found very interesting but what hit the notes I heard at the poker table with more sensibility than even the two management types could argue.

Well, I’m getting carried away reminiscing and reflecting on my recent readings. Most importantly as a part this summation: our Declaration of Independence in these United States was developed on the fundamentals of Liberty as understood for the most part, by the Puritan Fathers. So Calvinism as a Life System was influential yet over time the core principles were lost to diversions of theology, the social gospel, and the boom of economy over Liberty. Also during this time and through the mid-1800’s the propensity of people taking care of people was a Puritan principle that became corrupted by looking to government and then the wealthy intelligentsia to take care of others.

So before all the real as well as the back-seat and couch theologians hammer me, the striking points here are that we don’t need government to redistribute wealth when Biblical principles described by Kuyper, give a systematic reply in his lectures to those business leader / worker relations which are also well delineated in these principles. For me, it is the application of the whole or as I say the extensibility of God’s Word into every aspect of life without splitting the hairs on a gnat’s hind leg that really matters.

I guess there are a lot of folks out there that don’t like Dr. Kuyper – but I kind of resonate with him in that even in 1898 he was able to articulate the principles of Reformation truth that would have solved the arguments at that 1960’s dining room poker table – if only the men sitting there would have known and believed the whole Gospel Biblical Reformation principles of the ‘Stone Lectures’. Heck, even if the churches today would get the gist of them that would be a miracle.

As a sub-note to this, Dad turns 90 this year and he get this discussion without reservation as we talk about it in all the details of God’s Word and how it applies to every area of human existence. Yup, the labor, rich man, corporate and government take care of me debate of the day all boils down to a moral problem. I think the solution simple and was delighted to find a smart guy like Dr. Kuyper to explain it in nuggets really well.

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