Labour Union Membership in the Light of Scripture
Prof. David J. Engelsma
This pamphlet is the revised text of a speech on
the subject of labour union membership given in Lansing, Illinois
under the auspices of the Evangelism Committee of the Peace Protestant
Reformed Church of Lansing. The fact that the speech was given in a
south suburb of that great centre of labour unionism accounts, in
large part, for the repeated references to Chicago.
During my fourteen-year pastorate of a congregation
in the Chicagoland area, I came to know firsthand the violence,
threats, intimidation, beatings, maimings, murders, mayhem,
ruthlessness, contempt for law, and corruption of the labour unions. I
remember distinctly the murder of a trucker on I-80/94 east of South
Holland, Illinois during a Teamsters Union strike. Union enforcers
dropped large chunks of concrete from an overpass on the unsuspecting
The stand against labour union membership by the
Christian defended in this pamphlet is principled. It is a stand based
on Scripture’s condemnation of unionism’s constitutional nature. It is
also a stand that is well aware of the actual spiritual condition and
conduct—the ungodliness—of the unions, which every member willingly
joins and for whose constitution, condition, and conduct every member
makes himself responsible before God the Judge.
David J. Engelsma
Protestant Reformed Seminary
Grandville, Michigan. May 2003
Neither the well-nigh universal acceptance of
labour union membership by Western society nor the nearly unanimous
approval of labour union membership by the churches settles the issue
of membership in a union for the Christian workingman. The practice of
the world is certainly not the standard of the life of the Christian.
But neither is the example of the majority of churches the standard,
especially not when it is evident that their approval of labour union
membership is not obedience to the Word of God, but mere conformity to
Scripture is the standard of the life of the
Christian workingman. Scripture alone is the standard.
This is the basis of the examination of labour
union membership that follows, as the title of the pamphlet indicates:
"Labour Union Membership in the Light of Scripture." The issue
is not labour union membership in the light of strong pressures to
join unions in Chicago or some other big city; labour union membership
in the light of the well-nigh universal tolerance of labour union
membership by the churches, particularly the Reformed churches; or
even, labour union membership in light of the fact that refusing to
join a labour union may mean the loss of a good job, indeed any job at
all, and therefore starvation and death.
What does Scripture teach?
Scripture, we Reformed Christians confess, is our
only rule for faith and life. Life includes work. The decisive
question for the Christian workingman in Chicago at the beginning of
the twenty-first century AD, as it was the decisive question in
Ephesus, or Colosse, or the regions in the Middle East where the
scattered saints lived to whom James wrote, in the first century AD
is, "What does God say?"
The question is, "What pleases God in the realm of
labour?" Pleasing God is far more precious to the Christian workingman
than job, job-security, good wages, comfortable working conditions,
and big pensions. Pleasing God is far more precious to the faithful
church than the approval of men.
If Scripture is our basis in the matter of union
membership, the issue is clear and conclusive. Scripture condemns
labour union membership as revolution against the authority of the
sovereign God. Scripture forbids the disciple of Christ to join a
union and requires him to renounce membership, if he is presently a
This pamphlet will demonstrate that Scripture
addresses the issue of membership in the union and that Scripture
forbids membership, especially because labour union membership is
revolution against God-ordained authority.
Stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches
The stand of this pamphlet condemning membership in
labour unions is not a personal stand of the author on the basis of
his private interpretation of Scripture. Rather, it is the official
stand of a Reformed denomination of churches, the Protestant Reformed
Churches in America. The Protestant Reformed Churches have condemned
labour union membership throughout their history, from the very
beginning of their existence in the 1920s to the present day.
Already in 1927, a mere year or two after the
formation of the denomination, the classis (there was no synod as yet)
took a decision condemning labour union membership. Classis declared
that "a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches cannot be a member
of the labour union." The decision of the classis was in response to
an overture from the consistory of the South Holland, Illinois,
church. South Holland gave the following grounds for its overture that
classis condemn membership in labour unions:
Being a member of a worldly union is definitely inconsistent with
membership in the body of Christ.
There is no communion between Christ and Belial. We cannot serve
God and mammon. Children of God may not sit in the seat of
is abundantly proven that the use of force is the chief and most
desired means used to attain their goal.
The unions undermine the God-given authority of the employer.
consistory regards this as a proper time to take a definite stand
against unionism before this evil takes root in our churches.
affiliation with a worldly union can only be condoned on the basis
of the error of common grace. With all might and main we must show
with our deeds that we are willing to fight for our King against
Satan and the evil world (citation of the minutes of Classis, June
1927, by Cornelius Hanko, "The Antithesis and Unionism,"
Standard Bearer, vol. 62, no. 5 [Dec. 1, 1985], pp. 115-117).
South Holland has the credit for the stand against
labour union membership by the Protestant Reformed Churches. This is
significant. The significance is that opposition to the unions by the
Protestant Reformed Churches was born in that church which was located
where unionism was the strongest and where the members could expect to
suffer the most from the right stand on unionism.
This was the very opposite of developments in other
Reformed denominations. In other denominations, it was the Chicago
churches that pressured the denominations to cave in to unionism.
In late 1940 or early 1941, the consistory of First
Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, mother church of
the Protestant Reformed denomination, issued a "Testimony" concerning
union membership to its large, five hundred-family congregation. The
"Testimony" observed that "it is still the position of the Protestant
Reformed Churches that membership of ... a union is incompatible with
membership in the Church of Jesus Christ." The consistory of First
Church informed the congregation that this position was the conviction
of the consistory.
The consistory gave four reasons for its conviction that labour
union membership is incompatible with membership in the church. First,
membership in a union (as in a corporation or association) necessarily
involves responsibility for the principles and acts of the union.
Second, the pledge or oath taken upon joining binds the member to
abide by all the acts of the union. Third, the union stands for the
principle of force and coercion, as is evident "especially from its
constant attempt everywhere to introduce the closed shop." Fourth, the
union is pledged to violence if it cannot gain its objectives in a
peaceful way. Illustrating this violence, the "Testimony" devoted
several pages to a vivid description of the violence of strikes in
Detroit in 1936 and 1937. The violence of one of these strikes ruined
a Fisher Body auto plant and injured many people (the "Testimony" was
distributed in the form of a brochure; it was published in full as an
editorial under the title, "Our Churches and the Unions," Standard Bearer, vol. 17, no. 9
1941], pp. 196-198).
Petitions and Discipline
Such has been the intensity of the opposition on
the part of the Protestant Reformed Churches to labour union
membership that at least twice the synod of the Protestant Reformed
Churches has officially sent a letter to the President of the United
States concerning this matter. Protestant Reformed synods are very
chary of addressing the civil government. The first address was in May
1941 to President Roosevelt, known as an ardent supporter of the
unions. The synodical letter petitioned President Roosevelt "to cease
condoning and supporting the closed shop" and thus "to protect us and
so rule," as he was "duty bound" to do, so that our men have "an
opportunity to earn a livelihood." The letter stated that "unionism
[is a] great evil in the sight of God." The grounds for this
condemnation of unions were the following:
We refuse to become members of the Union
because we condemn the principles of utter materialism of the
Union; because the Union demands in the required oath or pledge
loyalty to itself even though this loyalty to the Union would
bring us into conflict with the interests of the Church of Jesus
Christ our Lord; and because the Union seeks to gain its ends by
force, strikes and boycotts, all of which militates against the
Word of God which we hold dear and which is the first and last
criterion for our conduct on earth ("Acts of the Synod 1941 of the
Protestant Reformed Churches," pp. 75-77; synod adopted the letter
and decided to send it to the president in Art. 83; in the
following article, synod decided to send a copy "to every member
of Congress and to every member of the President’s Cabinet").
A second official address of the president by synod
was in June 1946. On this occasion, synod sent a letter to President
Truman, another strong supporter of the unions. Synod appealed to the
"Head of the government" to protect Protestant Reformed workingmen "in
the exercise of our liberties" under the Constitution. The synodical
letter expressed the reasons for the Protestant Reformed conscientious
objection to the labour unions.
We, the Protestant Reformed Churches, are
opposed to membership in the existing unions: because we believe
that the principles of the class-struggle, dividing society into
the two opposing camps of capital and labour, are contrary to Holy
Writ and to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; because we cannot
agree with the materialistic motives and purposes that so
manifestly actuate the unions, but believe that we should first
seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness; because we believe
that unionism in often defying authority and taking the law in its
own hands, is in conflict with the Word of God which enjoins us to
honour those that are in authority over us; because the union
seeks its own end through the employment of force and coercion,
which militates against the principles and spirit of the gospel of
our Lord Jesus Christ, in short, because we refuse to affiliate
ourselves with any organization whose principles and practices are
so plainly in conflict with the teaching of Holy Writ ("Acts of
Synod 1946 of the Protestant Reformed Churches," pp. 28-29; in
the decision of Article 20, synod had the letter sent "not only to
the President but also to all members of both houses of Congress,
the President’s Cabinet and to the members of the Supreme
In keeping with this official stand by the
denomination, Protestant Reformed consistories have repeatedly
disciplined men for joining a labour union. One example was South
Holland’s decision in 1969 to erase a baptized member on the ground of
his impenitent membership in a labour union. "Erasure" is the form
that Christian discipline takes in the case of a member by baptism who
has not confessed his faith. South Holland asked for the advice of
Classis West regarding this discipline. South Holland described the
man and his sin this way: "[a member] who persistently refuses to heed
the admonitions of the Word of God to terminate his membership in a
godless Union." Classis West approved the discipline "on the ground of
his continued refusal to repent of the sin of having membership in an
anti-Christian labour union" (minutes of Classis West of the
Protestant Reformed Churches, March 1970).
Bearing the Cross
In this history-long, principled, consistent, and
uncompromising stand, the Protestant Reformed Churches manifest
themselves as true, faithful, and courageous churches of Jesus Christ.
The men of the churches show themselves genuine disciples of Jesus
Christ, willing to deny themselves and to bear the cross for Jesus’
Their stand against labour union membership has
cost the churches many members. Many more people refused to join the
South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, in the strongly unionised
Chicagoland area, or left the congregation, during my pastorate,
because of the stand against unions than refused to join, or left,
because of the sound Reformed doctrine of the church. An astute
minister in another Reformed denomination told me at the time that the
congregation would be three times as large as it was (and it was then
nearly six hundred members), if it were not for the stand against
union membership. The stand against union membership cost any number
of men better jobs. Men with families gave up their job rather than to
join a union. In their stand against the unions, the Protestant
Reformed Churches "walk the walk" of making known in the life of the
members the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are many churches and
professing Reformed Christians today who talk about Jesus’ Lordship in
every area of life, especially when it costs them nothing. But in
their life, especially under pressure of persecution or possibility of
suffering loss, they deny Christ’s Lordship. In modern parlance, they
"talk the talk" but do not "walk the walk." The Bible’s name for this
Surrender to Union Pressure
The stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches
against labour union membership contrasts sharply with developments in
the Christian Reformed Church. The Christian Reformed Church has
fallen away abysmally in the matter of faithfulness to the Word of God
regarding labour union membership. That denomination made a good
beginning. In this respect also, the Protestant Reformed Churches are
the real continuation of the Christian Reformed Church as it once was
and as it should be.
The good beginning of the Christian Reformed Church
regarding labour union membership was in Chicago, always a stronghold
of the Christian Reformed Church. In 1886, all three hundred Dutch
Reformed workers at the Pullman Works in Roseland crossed picket lines
to help break the strike (Robert P. Swierenga, Dutch Chicago: A
History of the Hollanders in the Windy City [Eerdmans, 2002], pp.
640-641). Also in 1886, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church
decided that no member of the Christian Reformed Church might be
member of the Knights of Labour labour union, the forerunner of the
CIO-AFL. The grounds were much the same as those the Protestant
Reformed Churches would later adduce in their letters to two
presidents of the United States (see J. L. Schaver, The Polity of
the Churches, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids International Publications, 4th
rev. ed. 1956], pp. 217-218).Then the Christian Reformed Church began
steadily to abandon its good stand. They did so under pressure mainly
from the Chicago-area churches, whose members were joining the unions
because of intimidation and because of the financial benefits. The
reason why the Dutch Reformed in Chicago finally joined the unions was
not conviction that Scripture permitted labour union membership, much
less desire to be a Christian influence on the unions. Rather, the
reason was purely pragmatic and materialistic. A Reformed garbage
hauler admitted as much to Richard Tempelman, who was a staunch
opponent in the Christian Reformed Church of the secular unions,
You correctly observe that most of us don’t
care what happens in our unions ... Our supreme interest is in
enough take-home pay. We live too easily on a horizontal plane. We
are more interested in what we get than in how we got it ... These
are our good people in the pews who are in the scavenger business.
They [unions] are organized. You can’t do business without
belonging. They control things (Dutch Chicago, p. 644).
Under pressure, especially from the Chicago
churches, the Christian Reformed synod of 1916 permitted membership in
a "neutral union."
How strong the opposition to union membership was
in the Christian Reformed Church is evident from the fact that,
despite the decision of 1916, synods of the Christian Reformed Church
were forced to face the issue again and again until the relatively
late date of 1954, when the matter was finally decided. Even at that
late date, a synodical study committee recommended that synod declare
membership in the CIO-AFL sinful. But, as Swierenga relates in
Dutch Chicago, "so many church members in Chicago, Patterson,
Detroit, and other big cities belonged to these unions that the synod
rejected the committee report" (pp. 644-645).
Still, not all voices in the Christian Reformed
Church against the unions fell silent. Sounder men continued to speak
out, regardless of their synod. In 1959, Prof. Henry R. Van Til of
Calvin College wrote a book on Calvinism and culture. In it he
the believer, in his opposition to the world,
therefore, must see that the so-called "neutral union" is an
enemy of the cross of Christ just as well as the communistic
party leader that curses the church and her King. For the
neutrality postulate of the union involves a tacit curse upon the
anointed One, whom the Father sent into the world and by whom he
now rules over all things ... The labour unions of our day are
not one whit behind those of whom the Psalmist testifies that they
took counsel together against the LORD and his anointed (Ps. 2)
(Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture [Baker, 1959], pp. 201-202; emphasis added).
Nevertheless, ministers and elders in the Christian
Reformed Church, including many who know better, have rolled over and
played dead. They allow men and women who are members of an
organization that, in Van Til’s words, is "an enemy of the cross of
Christ," curses Christ, and takes counsel against Jehovah God and His
Anointed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
This is the stand, or lack thereof—really, the
supine position—of the Christian Reformed Church today, as also of
those who have recently left the Christian Reformed Church over women
in church office, the United Reformed Churches, and, for that matter,
of most Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America.
In light of the perfectly clear, forceful testimony
of Scripture, which testimony is the basis of the stand of the
Protestant Reformed Churches against unions (as originally it was the
basis of the Christian Reformed Church’s rejection of the unions),
this miserable surrender of the churches to the labour unions is
inexcusable, and deadly serious.
Testimony of Scripture
The testimony of Scripture is that God has ordered,
or structured, that basic sphere of human life known as labour in such
a way that the owner of the farm or business has authority from God to
govern. He certainly has a calling from God toward the workers, a
calling to give the workers "that which is just and equal," or "fair"
(Col. 4:1). But he has authority, God’s own authority, and the
duty of the worker is to submit and obey.
There are other reasons why labour union membership
is sinful, and these will be mentioned presently. But the central
issue is this: in the realm of labour, the owner, or management, has
the right to rule, so that the Christian worker must submit.
Scripture addresses the matter of the Christian’s
behaviour in the sphere, or ordinance, of labour. It addresses the
matter repeatedly. Usually, it addresses this aspect of the
Christian’s earthly life in connection with the other spheres of life:
marriage; family (parents and children); state, or civil government;
and church. These passages, among others, are the Word of God
regulating the life of the Christian workingman in the sphere of
Ephesians 6:5-8: "Servants, be obedient to them
that are your masters according to the flesh."
Colossians 3:22-25: "Servants, obey in all
things your masters according to the flesh."
I Timothy 6:1ff.: "Let as many servants as are
under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour."
Titus 2:9ff.: "Exhort servants to be obedient
unto their own masters."
Philemon: the run-away slave, Onesimus, is sent
back to his master, to serve him again.
I Peter 2:18ff.: "Servants, be subject to your
masters with all fear"; the apostle adds: "not only to the good
and gentle, but also to the froward."
James 5:1-11, where the description of the
godly conduct of the worker is, "he doth not resist you."
In view of the fact that the Word of God orders our
life in all other spheres, it would be exceedingly strange if
Scripture did not command us how to live in the sphere of labour.
Indeed, it would be culpable failure on the part of the Spirit of
inspiration to leave us in the dark, how to live in this vitally
important sphere of earthly life. The Spirit is guilty of no such
failure. The passages quoted above set forth the will of God for the
Christian workingman clearly and fully.
Some attempt to evade the will of God for the
labourer, and thus evacuate Scripture of its instruction regarding the
sphere of labour, by arguing that the New Testament passages refer to
the out-dated system of slave-master and slave. The argument fails.
First, Scripture sometimes refers to hired
labourers, to workingmen who are not owned by the master, but
rather work for a wage. This is the case in I Peter 2:18ff., which
speaks of "servants," not "slaves." This is also the case in James 5,
which speaks of the "hire of the labourers" (v. 4).
Second, although it is true that slavery was the
prevalent form labour took at that time, the principles laid down by
Scripture apply, not to that one specific form, but to all forms of
labour in all ages.
Third, the fact that the labourer was a slave does
not detract from the calling of the free worker today, to
submit, but emphasizes this calling even more strongly.
If slaves had to submit for God’s sake, how much more, workingmen
today, whose circumstances are in any case far better than those of
The labour unions, and thus all their members, are
guilty of rebellion against lawful authority, just as is the case with
a rebellious child, or a revolutionary against the state. Labour
unionism is transgression against the fifth commandment of the law of
God, "Honour thy father and thy mother," as is evident from the
Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the commandment in Lord’s
That I show all honour, love, and fidelity to
my father and mother and all in authority over me, and
submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due
obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and
infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand
The labour union is an organization of labourers,
not merely for the purpose of collective bargaining, but for the
purpose of regulating the business or industry according to the will
of the labourers. The labour union enforces the will of the labourers
by the strike. This enforcement of the will of the labourers against
the will of the employer, which is of the very essence of the
union, is rebellion. It is rebellion by force and violence, for the
strike is the power to destroy the particular business and ruin the
Out of this fundamental evil of the union flows all
the violence characteristic of labour unions. The unions are committed
to the class struggle propounded by Marx, and many constitutions say
so. Naturally, the strike, which is as such an act of violence, breaks
out in destruction of property, threat and injury, hatred of "scabs,"
Every member of the union, whether he participates
in the violence or not, whether he wholeheartedly approves or is upset
by the violence, is responsible—fully responsible before God—for the
union’s violence, so that in the day of judgment he will have to
account for it. He willingly joined an organization committed to
rebellion against God-ordained authority. By his membership and dues,
if not by walking the picket line, he supported an organization that
forces the owner to submit to the will of the workers, that destroys
property, and that injures and kills those who oppose it.
When the enforcers of the Teamsters Union crushed
the head of the truck driver on I-80/94 east of South Holland,
Illinois with chunks of concrete as part of the truckers’ strike,
every member of the Teamsters Union became a murderer before God.
Every member of the Union was guilty of crushing the head of that
driver as much as if he had hurled the chunks of concrete with his own
This is the principle, ordained of God, revealed in
the Bible, and acknowledged widely in everyday life, of corporate
responsibility. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Let the labour union
member professing Christianity try once to "reprove" the union and the
other members sharply at a labour union meeting! "Come out of her, my
people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not
of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).
Other Evils, Spiritual and Civil
There are other biblical grounds for objecting to
labour union membership. I mention four.
Scripture teaches that the human may swear
unconditional allegiance only to God. "It is written, thou shalt
worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10).
Unions require the member to pledge, or swear, unconditional
allegiance and obedience to the union. Typical is the oath required
for membership by the International Typographical Union quoted by
First Church’s "Testimony":
I hereby solemnly and sincerely swear (or
affirm) that I will not reveal any business or proceedings of any
meeting of this or any subordinate union to which I may hereafter
be attached, unless by order of the union, except to those whom I
know to be in good standing thereof; that I will, without evasion
or equivocation, and to the best of my ability abide by the
Constitution, By-Laws and the adopted scale of prices of any union
to which I may belong; that I will at all times support the laws,
regulations and decisions of the International Typographical
Union, and will carefully avoid giving aid or succour to its
enemies, and use all honourable means within my power to procure
employment for members of the International Typographical Union in
preference to others; that my fidelity to the union and my duty
to the members thereof shall in no sense be interfered with by any
allegiance that I may now or hereafter owe to any other
organization, social, political, or religious, secret or otherwise
... that I will not wrong a member, or see him or her wronged, if
in my power to prevent. To all of which I pledge my most sacred
honour (emphasis added).
This is idolatry.
Scripture calls the believer to brotherly communion
only with fellow believers and forbids fellowship with the ungodly.
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (II Cor. 6:14).
The unions are "brotherhoods." Constitutionally, they are
brotherhoods. A Christian who is member of a union expresses that he
views unbelieving, ungodly men and women as spiritual brothers and
sisters (obviously the unions are not referring to physical
brotherhood); that he shares their principles and goals regarding
labour; and that he cooperates with them—is "yoked together" with
them—in achieving their goals as member of their family. This is
flagrant breach of the antithesis.
Scripture instructs the Christian to seek the
kingdom of God first, and not earthly things. "But seek ye first the
kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things [food,
drink, clothing] shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). The labour
union puts wages and benefits above all else. This is materialism,
naked materialism. In its appeal to President Roosevelt in 1941, the
synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches declared, "We refuse to
become members of the Union because we condemn the principles of utter
materialism of the Union."
A fourth reason for objecting to labour union
membership is often overlooked. The Word of God demands that we
promote the kingdom of Christ with our money. This is an aspect of our
stewardship regarding all our life in the world, for which we shall
also give account in the final judgment. "A certain nobleman went into
a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he
called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto
them, Occupy till I come ... Wherefore then gavest not thou my money
into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with
usury?" (Luke 19:11-27).
As World magazine pointed out in the issue
of November 30, 2002 the labour unions spend billions of dollars of
the members’ union dues every year to support the most liberal
political candidates and their anti-Christian agendas. Thus, the
unions aggressively, and effectively, promote abortion, the homosexual
movement, the outlawing of capital punishment, and the like. In fact,
the labour unions, through their political lackeys, are one of the
most powerful forces driving the liberal agenda in the United States.
Many [unions] have moved on to funding liberal
causes such as abortion-on-demand and school-based sexual-health
clinics, opposing conservative causes such as school choice and
welfare reform, and strongly supporting liberal candidates ("Dues
& Don’ts," World [Nov. 30, 2002], pp. 17-19).
By his voluntary membership, the member of a labour
union contributes to and promotes the swelling tide of corruption in
our country. Knowingly and willingly, he pays for the coming of
In addition to these biblical condemnations of
labour union membership, labour unionism is un-American. The demand
that a worker join a union in order to have a job and the exclusion of
a citizen from the workforce because he refuses to join a union are
contrary to the Constitution of the United States. Certainly one of
the most precious aspects of the earthly freedom recognized and
guaranteed by the Constitution is the right to work. All those
politicians who support big labour by working for the closed shop are
enemies of freedom.
Calling of the Christian Workingman
In light of the biblical 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, in obedience to the Word, out of respect for the authority
of God, as an act of discipleship after Jesus Christ, in gratitude for
gracious salvation, and 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 favour of a Christian’s
joining a labour union. These arguments are powerful. Both of these
arguments come down to this: "If I do not join the union, I will
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
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 labourers of James 5 were working.
These farmers kept back the hire of the labourers, thus killing the
righteous workingmen. "The hire of the labourers 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
labourer "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
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 labour 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 labour 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
labour union membership is not something about which they should be
embarrassed. Rather, it is a significant part of their honour 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 [i.e., Jesus Christ] have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20).
As this pamphlet has shown, the Lord Jesus has commanded His disciples
in all nations to honour the authority of the "master" in the sphere
of labour. Therefore, the Protestant Reformed Churches may not hide,
or downplay, their stand against labour union membership. Christ calls
them to make this stand known.
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 labour 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.