Happy Lord's Day to you, friends and family! As I write this greeting, I've just finished uploading a series of testimonies and words of encouragement from members of our church family to be shown in today's livestream. I'd love to invite you to join us - just go to Facebook and search for VBC Salinas, and you can jump on and worship and pray with us, and hear a message on standing firm in the midst of trials and tribulations from 2nd Thessalonians. Today's Bible readings include Numbers 3, Song of Solomon 1, Psalms 37 and Hebrews 1. I'm excited about our two new books and look forward to reading them together with you!
Today we are continuing our discussion from yesterday on slavery in the Bible, and will likely conclude it tomorrow. Our big Bible question is: Does the Bible condone slavery? Ultimately, I believe that we will demonstrate that the New Testament strongly discourages slavery and strongly promotes equality in a very cutting edge and modern way. There have definitely been church people throughout the years that have taught that the Bible blesses slavery, but that was usually not the majority in the church, and such teaching was absolutely the opposite of what the Bible taught. Today we will begin by looking at some voices from throughout church history that strongly opposed slavery and stood for righteousness, and we will also consider some Bible passages that are quite illuminating. Paul's letter to Philemon has sparked us on this discussion, as it is basically a very nicely worded command from Paul to Philemon to let his bond-servant Onesimus go. I treat this entire subject at length in my book The Bible and Racism that is available on Amazon for less than the cost of 7 luxury yachts. What a deal!
More than that, the gospel has a consuming power... Once fairly set alight, it will burn, and blaze, and spread till others shall cast away their evil habits, and turn unto the living God. I cannot help noticing in history the consuming power of the gospel of Christ. There have been old systems of iniquity that have been hoary with age, but when, at last, they have been attacked by the Church of God with the sword of the Spirit, and the gospel of Christ, they have been utterly destroyed. There was, for instance, that abominable institution of slavery, and there was a part of the Church of Christ which tried to palliate it, and spoke of it as “a divine institution, a peculiar institution,” and I know not what; but when the Church of God denounced slavery as a thing utterly inconsistent with Christianity, the thing was burnt up right speedily, and passed away. There are many more social and political wrongs that will have to perish through the burning power of the gospel; and there is much in our hearts, and much in our lives, and much all round about us that will have to go as the gospel fire burns more and more vigorously. But remember that it must be God’s Word that will burn out the evil. We cannot do much with our poor thinkings and tinkerings; it is the eternal truth, the everlasting verities, brought to bear upon the sons of men, that shall soon separate between the dross and the gold, consuming the one and leaving the other pure. (Source: C. H. Spurgeon, “God’s Fire and Hammer,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 42 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896), 172. Note: This message was preached by Spurgeon in 1886)
Do you not mark how God hath followed you with plagues, and may not conscience tell you, that it is for your inhumanity to the souls and bodies of men - To go as pirates and catch up poor Negroes, or people of another land that never forfeited life or liberty, and to make them slaves, and fell them, is one of the worst kind of thievery in the world, and such persons are to be taken for the common enemies of mankind; and they that buy them as beasts, for their mere commodity, and betray or destroy or neglect their souls, are fitter to be called devils than Christians. It is an heinous sin to buy them...because by right the man is his own; therefore no man else can have a just title to him. Richard Baxter, a Puritan preacher and writer from the 1600s. (Source: The Practical Works of Richard Baxter)
Consider with yourselves, if you were in the same condition as the blacks are, who came strangers to you, and were sold to you as slaves. I say, if this should be the condition of your or yours, you would think it hard to measure. Yea, and a very great bondage and cruelty. And therefore, consider seriously of this, and do you for and to them, or any other, to do unto you, were you in like slavish condition; and bring them to know the Lord Christ. George Fox, Quaker preacher, 1671. (Source: Source: A caution and warning to Great-Britain and her colonies, in a Short representation of the calamitous state of the Enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions : Collected from various Authors, and submitted to the Serious consideration of all, more especially of those in power. By Anthony Benezet and William Warburton, 1779. )
We ourselves, who profess to be Christians, and boast of the peculiar advantage we enjoy, by means of express revelation of our duty from heaven, are in effect just like these very untaught and rude heathen countries. With all our superior light, we instill into those, whom we call savage and barbarous, the most despicable opinion of human nature. We, to the utmost of our power, weaken and dissolve the universal tie that binds and unites mankind. We practice what we would exclaim against, as the utmost excess of cruelty and tyranny, if nations of the world, differing in colour, were possessed of empire, as to be able to reduce us to a state of unmerited and brutish servitude. Of consequence, we sacrifice our reason, our humanity, our Christianity, to an unnatural sordid gain. We teach other nations to despise and trample under foot all obligations of social virtue. We take the most effectual method to prevent the propagation of the gospel by representing it as a scheme of power and barbarous oppression, and an enemy to the natural privileges and rights of men. Perhaps all that I have now offered may be of very little weight to restrain this enormity, this aggravated iniquity. However, I shall still have the satisfaction of having entered my private protest against a practice which, in my opinion, buds that God, who is the God and Father of the Gentiles, unconverted to Christianity, most daring and bold defiance, and spurns at all the principles, both of natural and revealed religion. James Foster. (Source: Discourses on All the Principle Branches of Natural Religion and Social Virtue, 1749)
The issue of racism and the Bible, as we have seen, is actually a fairly simple one. The Bible heartily and completely condemns racism of any kind, and unequivocally declares that all humans are equally made in the Image of God, and equally related to each other through Adam and Eve. God shows no partiality, and the gospel and its benefits are for every tribe, nation, tongue and people.
Less simple is the topic of slavery and the Bible, primarily because the writers of the Bible acknowledge the existence of slavery but are not wholly concerned with toppling the institution. Before we discuss the particulars of why that might be, it is important to consider an overview of what exactly the Bible does teach about slavery. The majority of the passages below will be New Testament passages. This does not discount the teaching of the Old Testament, but it is a recognition that Christians of the past 19 centuries have been primarily governed by the New Testament. The Old Testament was written to the Jewish people, and it is Scripture and profitable for Christians today, but the New Testament is binding and authoritative for Christians today.
Yes - there is an entire book of the New Testament, Paul's letter to Philemon, that is concerned with the issue of slavery. Philemon is a Christian and a slave owner (!) that is a friend of Paul, and was apparently saved through Paul's ministry. Paul doesn't directly ask Philemon to release Onesimus, but you could argue that he absolutely does ask for, and even command, the release of Onesimus, a fact made obvious by vs. 14 ("your good deed."), vs. 16 (no longer a slave!), vs. 19 (Paul will repay any debt of Onesimus) and vs. 21 ("Since I am confident of your obedience. I know you will do more than I say") Even if one doesn't fully agree with that premise, it is unquestionable that Paul directs Philemon to no longer consider Onesimus a slave, but to treat him as Philemon would treat Paul - a lofty command, to be sure. While the Bible doesn't indicate whether Philemon followed Paul's directive or not, church history tells us that he did, and Onesimus went on to become a bishop in the early church. Henry Halley tells the story in his Bible handbook:
The Bible gives no hint as to how the master received his returning slave. But there is a tradition that says his master did receive him, and took Paul’s veiled hint and gave the slave his liberty. That is the way the Gospel works.... Christ in the heart of the master made the master recognize the slave as a Christian brother and give him his liberty. There is a tradition that Onesimus afterward became a bishop of Berea. The Mosaic slave laws and the writings of Paul benefited and protected the slaves as best as possible in their situation. God’s desire for any who are enslaved is freedom (Luke 4:18; Gal. 5:1). Those who are set free in Christ then need to be prepared to walk in liberty. Pagan nations had a much different outlook toward slaves, believing slaves had no rights or privileges. Because of the restrictions and humane aspect of the Mosaic laws on slavery, it never existed on a large scale in Israel, and did not exhibit the cruelties seen in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Assyria and other nations. (Source: Henry Halley's Bible Handbook with the New International Version, 2008)
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