The purpose and practice of business for Christians in the Asian context — Prof. Albert Erisman

The Purpose and Practice of Business 

for Christians in the Asian-Chinese Context

Prof. Albert ERISMAN

Prof. Albert ERISMAN (ERISMAN) is the Executive in Residence Emeritus at the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University in the USA.  He has been a speaker and teacher on business, ethics, faith, and technology in 25 countries on 5 continents. With extensive and rich business and teaching background, he shared his own views on faith-learning integration and discussed the business purpose and practice of Christians and its contextualization in Asian-Chinese culture.

Two questions are explored, namely: “What does the Bible say about God’s purpose for business?” and “How do we know about Asian-Chinese context so as to apply Biblical principles, to think about business theologically in the Asian-Chinese context? ERISMAN presented a Biblical answer first, and then discussed how these answers can be presented to non-Christians.

Business is a special kind of work. Work is a part of how we are made. God modeled work for us through His own work. Work was assigned, and carried out, before the Fall. In Genesis we see our relationships with God, with work and with other people. What matters is The Creation Mandate and Collaboration with God, where we can understand the meanings of delegation, leadership and stewardship, maintenance and caring, naming and classifying.

After the Fall, the reality of Sin made human life very difficult (Genesis chapter 3:18 -19).  Challenges in work are harsh to encounter after the Fall: ethics, bribery, corruption, and greed.  Specifically in today’s world are exploitive goods and services, exploiting workers, and economic value for selfishness. There is a clear instruction from Bible that even if the work is very difficult, it is the Lord Christ that we are serving (Colossians 3:23- 24).  

Roles for Business are three-fold: Create and distribute goods and services, a place for people to use gifts and abilities in meaningful work (in order to benefit others), and create economic value. Purpose of Business is a vital part of the flourishing of people living together inter-dependently. We are in the reality of “From independence under God (in the Eden Garden) to inter-dependence under God (in cities)”. Mandate from God is: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).  “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count other more significant than yourself” (Philippians 2 3-4).  Role of Business is thus essential for an interdependent society, essential for the flourishing of communities in the 21st century and vital for Christian engagement.

The business practice is further elaborated as all are working together in the Body of Christ. Different roles need to be recognized: both the janitor and doctors are important in doing part of the work to the patients’ wellness. Leadership as a servant and a debtor is highlighted. Collaboration in Business is vital just like an airplane composes of various indispensable parts working together. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16) provides a great frame for culture and ethics within a business. For those who do not identify themselves with the authority of Scripture, a high-level summary of the beatitudes in business language has proven effective in discussion and acceptance, e.g. “Poor in Spirit” is represented as “humility and openness”.

Regarding the Contextualization for Asian- Chinese Culture, ERISMAN suggested that we need to identify what cultural differences might exist, then develop a process for contextualizing, in the discussion of work, faith, and the purpose and practice of business.  He pointed out that cultural differences are real and we must be careful not to make distorted cultural assumptions, saying: “Just like a fish swimming in the sea not knowing what water is, we are so immersed in our culture that we don't see it”.  For example, he quoted from the findings of Paul Stevens that Hong Kong Christians adopt a work ethic which is dominated by the drive to earn more money; requires long hours and sacrifice, and with no Sabbath day. (Paul Stevens. “A Contextualized Theology of Work for Asia”, unpublished thesis. 2007).  Another report concludes that there is a strong need for Chinese Christians to understand a theology of work; understand technology from a Biblical perspective; and how Chinese culture impacts their work. (James Chung. “A Theology of Work for Christians working in the Technology Sector in China”. D. Min. Thesis at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, 2015).

ERISMAN recalled the story of Joseph from the Bible and suggested that it is a good model and an illustration of the purpose of business in a global context. God had shaped him as a worker, given him the insight to work purposefully in difficult circumstances, prepared him as a leader, given him insights on strategy and execution, and confirmed the purpose of his calling to business. Eventually, Joseph was commissioned by Pharaoh to set up and run his “company”, to execute his strategy over 14 years and to save the world, including his own family.

In his concluding remarks, ERISMAN re-stated that business is a major force with profound impact on the world today. He re-affirmed that our work matters to God, and the particular work of business is also Kingdom work and important spiritually.  It is more than just a job or a means to other worthy ends.  Regarding how one can contextualize all Bible teachings for the Chinese Christians, he re-assured that he/she must start with a good theology of work and business, and re-iterated that an understanding of priority issues of culture would affect our views, as God may call us to different ends (Yung Hwa, Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia, 2010, p. 30).


艾歷文教授(Professor Albert ERISMAN、艾教授)是美國西雅圖太平洋大學之商業、政府及經濟學院的駐校榮休教授。他曾在五大洲25個國家講授商業、倫理、信仰和科技等有關的課题。他擁有廣闊和豐富商業及教學經驗,並經常分享自己在信仰與學科整合的觀點上、和討論在亞洲-中國文化處境中基督徒應如何從商的課題。

他尤其關注兩個問題,即是:“聖經怎樣說及關於神對商業活動的目的?”和“我們如何認識亞洲-中國處境以致可以應用聖經原則神學性地思考關於商業的活動?” 在研討會上,艾教授首先提出一個改革宗神學的觀點,然後討論如何將這些神學觀點傳達給非信徒。 

從聖經的角度看,商業是一種特別的工作,它是人類被造的一部份。神是透過祂自己的工作給我們一個模仿的樣式。 在始祖犯罪之前已經是被委派和執行某些工作。 在創世記中,我們見到我們與神、與工作和與其他人的關係。 尢其重要相關的是『創造命令』(The Creation Mandate) 和『我們與神的合作』 (Collaboration with God) 之間的關係,在那裏我們已經獲賦予一些任務、領導管理、維護關顧 、和命名分類等的職分。

始祖犯罪之後,罪的真相令人類生活變得非常艱苦(創3:18-19)。 始祖犯罪之後,工作的挑戰是難以應付的: 如倫理問題、賄賂、貪污和貪婪等問題的出現。 特別是在今日的社會中,有貨物交易和服務上的剝削、勞工剝削、 自私自利的經濟行為等。 聖經中亦有清晰的指示: 縱使工作非常困難,我們仍是必須確知主基督就是我們所服侍的對象(歌羅西書3:23-24)。 

這些商業活動是有三重意義的,分別是: 『創造』、『分配貨物』和『服務』, 讓人們在一個有意義的地方工作、能夠運用各人的恩賜和能力使他人得益,及創造更高的經濟效益。商業的目的是維持人類生命的豐盛,使人類可以互相倚賴地生活在一起。我們是在神的引領之下『從在伊甸園裏的獨立生活演變到在城市內的互相倚賴的生活』。 神的心意就是:『你們要為那城求平安 …因為那城得平安,你們也隨著得平安』(耶利米書29:7) 『凡事不可結黨,不可貪圖虛浮的榮耀;只要存心謙卑,各人看別人比自己強,各人不要單顧自己的事,也要顧別人的事』(腓立比書2: 3-4)。 在一個講求互相依賴的社會中,這樣的關係互動確實是必須的,尤其是面對著21世紀的社會,基督徒也是必須要這樣投入社會的生活,才能帶來滿有豐盛的生活。

在商業實踐的活動中,我們可以將之進一步解釋為基督肢體的相互運作和配搭。不同的角色也必定需要相互被確認,譬如說:清潔工人和醫生在使病人安康的工作上同樣是重要的。商業活動間的彼此合作也是必要的,就好像一架飛機是由不同的部分組成才能夠一起運作的。《聖經》中的『八福』(馬太福音5:1-16) 正好提供了一個框架給我們思考商業活動中的倫理問題。 對於那些未能認同聖經權威的人而言,他們亦可以借用『八福』的述語來作詮釋和討論有關商業的活動,譬如:“虛心的人”和“謙讓開放”等是甚麼意思的。

在亞洲的處境- 譬如是在中國的文化處境中生活又如何? 艾教授建議我們首先要確認當中的文化差異,才能夠在討論工作、信仰、商業目的和實踐上進行恰當的處境化過程。他又指出文化差異是真實的,我們必須小心地、不要作錯誤的文化假設,『就好像海裏的魚不知道水是什麼一樣,因為我們已經是沉溺在自己的文化中而不能自省』。 他亦引述保羅史提芬(Paul Steven)的研究發現,指出香港基督徒所採用的一種工作倫理觀,就是: 工作的動力該是由所賺取得到的金錢來支配的;因此他們追求長時間的工作和甘願犧牲私人時間,甚至是失去了寶貴的『安息日』。(Paul Steven. "A Contextualized Theology of Work for Asia", unpublished thesis. 2007). (參保羅.史提芬 "亞洲背景的工作神學",未發表論文. 2007)。另一份研究報告亦有如下的總結,說: 中國基督徒需要明白『工作』的神學;從聖經層面去明白甚麼是『科技』;也須醒覺到中國文化是如何影響他們的工作的。(James Chung. "A Theology of Work for Christians working in the Technology Sector in China". D.Min. Thesis at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, 2015). (占士. 鍾“ 中國科技界中基督徒的一個關乎工作的神學”哥頓康威道學博士論文,2015)。

艾教授亦重温《舊約聖經》中有關約瑟的故事,並提議這是一個關乎全球處境化生命目的自省的一個極佳的範例。 神塑造約瑟的生命、在埃及地作奴僕,給他在艱難景況中仍是找到工作的目的,又裝備他作一個領袖,訓練他在策略和執行上的睿見,及認定自己的生命和工作是負有神的召喚。結果,約瑟按照法老王的任命建立和經營他的“事業”,執行他的工作超過14年,但更重要的是約瑟也是被神訓練和使用,去拯救埃及人、以及約瑟自己的家人渡過飢荒的歲月。

在結語中,艾教授重申商業活動在今日世界是一股具有深遠影響的力量,但他亦肯定我們的工作是與神有關的,我們的商業活動也是對神的國度和我們個人的屬靈生命均是重要的。我們的商業活動不僅是一份職業、也不僅是尋求其他有意義目的之途徑而已。至於如何能夠把聖經的教導講給亞洲-中國處境的基督徒,艾教授也一再確認他們一定要從工作神學或商業神學開始,並強調對文化優先的理解也必定是會影響他們的觀點,就如神會在我們的生命裏會有不同的計劃、對我們作出不同的召喚一樣。 (Yung Hwa, Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia, 2010, p.30) (容華,《在亞洲職場中的行賄貪污:聖經神學和個案的反思》,2010,p.30) 

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