A Business Conference Based on the Larger Catechism?

Today’s post is by my good friend, Eric Anest. Eric is assistant editorial director for an architecture company in the Washington DC area. Formerly, he was assistant editorial director at P&R Publishing, which produces both popular and academic books from a reformed perspective. He and his family are members of New Hope Presbyterian Church and live in Alexandria, VA.

Ask anyone businessperson, doctor, lawyer, or another professional and you’ll find out just how many advertisements for conferences assault them on a daily basis. Many of these conferences have noble goals, and I’ve made meaningful connections at several such events in the past. Yet after a while, they all sound about the same.

But a few weeks ago I heard about a conference called Business Ethics Today: Business and the 8th Commandment. That was enough to catch my attention, but when I found out the conference was based not just on the 8th commandment, but on the Westminster Larger Catechism’s explanation of the 8th commandment with all its implications, I was hooked.

So it happened that I attended the conference hosted by Westminster Theological Seminary and the Center for Business Ethics today at the Union League in Philadelphia.

Several of the sessions, including the first keynote address by Peter Lillback and another keynote by Jack Templeton, addressed “macro” concerns of the 8th commandment: Does making a profit constitute stealing and thus a breaking of the 8th commandment? As you might imagine, the point of this conference wasn’t to tell people to quit their businesses and go start nonprofits. No, the speakers contended, businesses run in a godly way does good not just for the owner and stockholder but for society at large by creating more prosperity for everyone.

But though the “macro” point needs to be made, I was even more interested in the “micro” concerns of the commandment–how I can better keep the 8th commandment with all its implications. Two speakers were especially helpful for this interest.

Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, said that although the 8th commandment is a “thou shalt not,” a host of “thou shalt’s” follow as a result. We are commanded not just to refrain from stealing but to be a faithful steward of all of what God has given us, business included. This means working hard and well, using our time wisely, not taking shortcuts, and doing our work as though we’ll have to answer for it to God.

Calvin Chin, Entrepreneurship Initiative Director at the Center for Faith and Work, made a similar point but from a different line of reasoning. His main topic was a Christian work ethic, which he said was drawn from the fact that work is a creation mandate, not a result of the fall. Work is something that God created us to do and is therefore something we should put ourselves completely behind. Yet Chin made the insight that workaholism and a Christian work ethic aren’t the same thing. Diligently applying our limited energy to the right things is how the Christian should work. And Christian bosses should remember that demanding unreasonable amounts of time from employees amounts to stealing time and energy from them and thus breaking the 8th commandment.

It was difficult to pick just two highlights from the many sessions and speakers at the Business Ethics Today conference. Yet if anything the lesson I most learned was this: get out your Larger Catechism every so often and with its guidance think through the implications of the Ten Commandments. Far from being a dry compendium on 17th-century life, the Larger Catechism has much to say about living in a globalized, 21st-century world.

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