LABOR DAY MUSINGS: AUTHORITY IN THE WORKPLACE

LABOR DAY MUSINGS: AUTHORITY IN THE WORKPLACE
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 3:13pm

THOUGHTS ON AUTHORITY IN THE WORKPLACE
RE: UPCOMING LABOR DAY
Jack Cottrell – August 2009

PART ONE: AUTHORITY IN GENERAL.

I. What IS authority?
A. It is the right to declare what is right and wrong, and to enforce right conduct by punishing wrongdoers. I.e., it is the right to make the rules, the right to tell others what to do.
B. It is the right of a person to impose norms for belief and conduct that are binding on others in the sense that the latter have a moral obligation to accept these norms and live by them.

II. There are two aspects of authority: authority over THINGS and authority over PEOPLE.
A. Authority over THINGS. This is the authority we have by virtue of the ownership of private
property. If you own a thing, you have the right to make the rules about how it will be used.
B. Authority over PEOPLE. This is the authority SOME people have by virtue of divine
appointment. Those who have authority over people have the right to make rules of conduct and to expect others to submit to them.

III. The only inherent, absolute authority belongs to GOD alone.
A. This is expressed in the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before [besides] Me”
(Exod. 20:3).
B. One might say that God has this authority just because he is God, or just because he is the most
powerful being. (The latter would be a form of “might makes right.”)
C. But the fact is that his authority is grounded in the rights of OWNERSHIP, which are based on
the fact of CREATION. God made everything, therefore he owns everything. Ps. 24:1-2.

PART TWO: AUTHORITY IN THE WORKPLACE. This is NOT a matter of authority over people, but authority over things. Owners have authority over their private property.

I. Many include the workplace as an authority sphere, viewing the employer-employee relationship as another instance of authority over persons, in the same way parents have authority over children and the law-makers and law-enforcers have authority over citizens (a la Romans 13). An article in “The Lookout” titled “Living Under Authority at Work” says this: “Romans 13:1, 2 asserts that all authority comes from God. Your boss, foreman, director, manager, administrator, or supervisor has authority over you because God has established that there will be those with authority and that authority comes from him. All of us are to submit” to “our boss’s authority.” We should have “a submissive, servant attitude” at work. (July 28, 1996)

II. I disagree with this approach. The authority of an employer is an instance of authority based on ownership of property. It is NOT derived from Romans 13.
A. In a sense this is the most basic authority of all, since God’s own ultimate authority is based on his work of creation and his subsequent rights of ownership over all he has created. Psalm 24:1-2.
B. In a similar but limited or relative sense, the reality of human ownership of property gives the owner authority over what he owns. Exodus 20:15; Acts 5:4.
C. The rights of ownership are the basis of any control an employer has over his employee. The employer does not own the employee, but he owns the property within the context of which the employee contracts to do a certain kind of work. Employees must respect this ownership and the authority based upon it.

III. Slavery as an authority relationship.
A. The only Biblical teaching about authority over persons in the workplace has to do with slave-owners and slaves. Slaves are commanded to obey their owners. Eph.6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-21.
B. At the same time slave-owners are instructed to treat their slaves with kindness and fairness. Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1.
C. But slavery is NOT parallel with ordinary employer-employee relationships. We cannot argue from one to the other. Slavery actually combines authority over persons and authority based on ownership. (1) The slave-owner owns the workplace, i.e., the house, the household furnishings, the business. (2) The slave-owner also owns the slave, even though the slave is a person. The slave is part of the master’s property. (3) This double ownership gives the slave-owner personal authority over the slave in the sense that the former has the right to tell the latter what to do and to enforce his will via sanctions.
D. Some argue that all slavery is wrong, but this cannot be so. VOLUNTARY slavery for various reasons and motives (e.g., to pay off a debt, as in the case of an indentured servant) is valid. Deut. 15:12-17; Lev. 25:39-55.

IV. Modern employer-employee relationships are not equivalent to slavery and do not involve the same kind of authority.
A. Employers own the workplace. They have the right to decide what to do with their own property.
B. Employees, however, are not owned by the employer. They are NOT the property of the employer. They are not owned by him, and thus he does not have the right to tell them what to do based on ownership of their persons. The employee’s commitment to the employer is voluntary, and it is contractual or by mutual agreement. Thus the employee’s obligation to follow orders is an extension of his moral obligation to be faithful to his contractual agreement.
C. It is probably best not to use the term authority at all in referring to the employer-employee relationship. It is only an authority over things (the workplace) and not over people (the workers).

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