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Posts Tagged ‘Slavery

Philemon: A Case of Christianity and Its Power Upon Lives

American slavery ended the wrong way.  It ended with bloodshed and with violence.  It ended with whites in both the North and South turning on African-Americans.  The end of the Civil War saw the rise of racist groups such as the KKK and in turn the NAACP.  The terrible end to the slavery question in the United States gave rise to the Jim Crow era laws and would keep African-Americans in “chains” for another 100 years after the end of the Civil War.  The abolitionist movement was successful in getting both Abraham Lincoln elected and in turn passing the 14th Amendment which abolished slavery (with the Emancipation Proclamation before it) but they fueled racism for another 100 years and it is still with us to this day.

Philemon, however, shows how Christianity, when it is truly preached, changes relationships completely.  Tonight we studied Philemon with our boys in Royal Rangers.  Philemon, of course, was written by Paul the Apostle to his friend Philemon who was a dear brother in the Lord (vv. 4-7).  Philemon had a church meeting in his home (v. 2).  Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had run away from his master.  At some point Onesimus heard the gospel and was saved under Paul (v. 10).  Under Roman law a runaway slave must be returned to his master or face the possibility of getting caught and possibly killed.  Until AD 20 in the Roman Empire, slaves had no rights but the Roman Senate passed a law that gave slaves the chance to purchase their freedom.  Onesimus had bypassed this and fled to Rome where Paul was in prison (v. 9).  Paul knew the law and was sending Onesimus back to his master but Paul pointed to the fact that Onesimus was now a brother in the Lord (vv. 15-16).  Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus (vv.17-20).

Surely also Philemon would have heard of Paul’s teaching from Ephesians 6:5-9 which reads:

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Notice the transformation of the relationships between saved masters and saved slaves.  Now we must also bear in mind that slavery in the Roman Empire was not based on race as it was in Europe and the United States.  Slavery was often good for many slaves in the Roman Empire but could equally be cruel as well.  The New Testament does not seek to abolish slavery by the power of men but rather through transformed relationships.  I would think that Onesimus’ relationship with his master, Philemon, was transformed by the gospel and would have been a happy situation for him.  Often slavery provided slaves with food, water, protection, shelter, and medicine.

I do think that slavery is best gone but true Christianity can break the chains of slavery unlike anything else.  The American Civil War is a case in point.  Sadly, the Civil War saw the rise of the State becoming the factor in moral issues.  Take abortion for example.  The Church too often looks to the State to end abortion.  It should learn from the abolitionist movement of the 19th century and see that the gospel is what will end abortion.  If abortion doctors and nurses get saved or if women in our culture hear the gospel and get saved, this transforms the culture.  The gospel can transform the world!  Jesus makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The cultural ills we see in our culture from the sin of abortion to the sin of homosexuality will only end with the gospel being preached and people repenting of their sins.  The gospel can change our world.

The gospel changed both Philemon and Onesimus.  The gospel can change our world as well.  May we be faithful to preach the gospel and see the power of sin broken over people’s lives.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/22/2013 at 10:30 AM

The Unfortunate Results of the American Civil War

I love history books.  I enjoy reading of many different time periods and biographies.  I am currently reading several different history books all at once.  One is on an escape from a POW camp during the Vietnam War.  The second is on World War II from the eastern front between the Germans and the Soviets.  The third is a book on the Civil War and reconstruction.  Having grown up in South Carolina, I have always heard much about the Civil War (or the second war of independence here in the South).  We Southerners have been told since 1865 that we were wrong, the North was right, and the South suffered for her transgressions of slavery.  To this day, many believe that the entire Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery alone.  Popular media casts the North as the valiant warriors who have come to set the African slaves free. Abraham Lincoln is portrayed as the great emancipator of the slaves and the issue of slavery takes the cake when it comes to the Civil War.

There is no doubt that slavery was an issue with regard to the South.  I would also agree that the institution of slavery is best gone.  I do think that the North’s presentation of slavery is at times a bit harsh.  In comparison to the way slaves in Cuba and Brazil were treated, the South was hardly as evil.  There was wicked abuse of slaves but there was also wicked abuse of freed slaves in the North.  The Bible itself does not even ban slavery but sets guidelines for it.  And further, if you reject slavery outright then you must reject the entire epistle of Philemon.  While slavery was not based on race in the Bible, slavery was there.  Jews were even slaves of Jews.  The most common term Paul the Apostle uses for himself is “a slave of Christ Jesus” (see Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10).  Most English translations avoid translating the Greek term as “slave” because of the practice of racial slavery in the South.  Only the Holman Standard Version translates the Greek term properly though the ESV puts the correct term as a footnote.

In every major nation where slavery existed such as in Great Britain, the practice ended peacefully.  William Wilberforce, for example, used the Bible to preach against the practice of slavery.  He preached correctly against racism.  Had the American abolitionist movement in the United States preached against racism, they would have done more good.  Racism existed in both the North and the South both before the Civil War and long after.  The Civil War ended slavery but it only created more hatred of Africans by the whites.  It did not end the harsh reality of racism which has still done more harm than slavery has ever done.  The liberal churches in the North preached against slavery.  The conservative churches in the South preached that slavery was allowed by Scripture (Ephesians 6:5-9) though the South failed to correct the harsh treatment by masters over their slaves.  The North rejected the Bible’s teaching on slavery altogether.  The South embraced it only in part.  Both compromised the Word of God and both were judged for it.  The great Presbyterian theologian of the era, R.L. Dabney, now often accused of being a racist for his support of the Confederacy until his death, believed that God was judging both the North for her sins and the South for her sins.  Dabney wrote that the South was being judged by God for not following completely through on what He has said in His Word regarding master’s treatment of their slaves.  Dabney believed that slaves should be treated with respect, with honor, and should be allowed to be given their freedom if possible just as in the Bible.

The unfortunate results of the Civil War in the United States are still with us today.  Living in the South, I know first hand the results.  I live just a few miles from where General Sherman and his troops camped out during their campaign through the South.  Sherman looted, his men raped women, and they indulged on every form of sin you can imagine for men running wild through the South.  The city of Savannah, Georgia was saved only when the mayor “wisely” brought out prostitutes for Sherman’s men.  Many other cities such as Atlanta and Columbia were burned and destroyed.  Many of the homes had no men in them at all.  Only women and children remained but Sherman (and Lincoln behind him) believed that the South needed to pay for her crimes against the Union.  Especially South Carolina.

The results of the Civil War that are unfortunate are:

  • A destructive end to slavery rather than peaceful resulting in the deaths of over 650,000 people.
  • Millions of dollars in destruction mainly to the South.
  • The deep resentment from Southerners toward the North, the Union, and former slaves resulting in the Jim Crow era laws of segregation.
  • The liberal move of the Northern churches both before the Civil War and after only led to a demise of the gospel.  The North remains the most liberal area of the United States and the South remains the most conservative.  This was a gospel issue before the Civil War and after as well.
  • The failure to preach against racism in both the North and South led to segregation in both areas long into the 20th century and remains intact in many ways today.
  • The failure to preach against racism and looking to the federal government for answers resulted in the horror of reconstruction in the South with whites forced to give their land to blacks and resulted in groups such as the KKK rising to power.  To this day, we have racist groups such as the KKK, the NAACP, and others who fail to preach the true problem of racism as a sin against God.
  • The failure to see that sin was rampant in the North as well as the South.  Both the USA and the CSA were guilty before God.  Neither was in the right.  Neither settled the issues of slavery correctly though the South tried by ending the sale of slaves from other nations in their Constitution.
  • The Civil War resulted in a transformation in the United States that began in 1861 and especially when the War ended in 1865 with the massive increase in Federal Government and its powers.  Before 1861, the American government was controlled by the people for the people.  After the Civil War, the Government became the moral judge and begin to impose her will on the people of the Union especially in the South.  The massive expansion of government that we see today in 2013  can be directly linked to 1861.
  • The segregation of the churches continues in many ways to this day.  The failure to address the issue of racism in regard to slavery was ignored by the North and South and to this day, white churches and black churches remain separated in many ways.  Sadly, many black churches even preach “black liberation theology” or a social gospel instead of preaching the true gospel as a result of the Civil War.
  • The Civil War produced the equally discriminations of forced minority hirings.  Companies continue to receive government money who employ racial minorities which leads to companies hiring people for their color and not their qualifications.  This reverse discrimination does not help but only creates more racism.

My post is not to say that the South was right.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Even Dabney saw the North’s victory as a sign from God that the South was being harshly punished by God.  He didn’t believe the North was right or innocent but rather that the hand of God was against the South more.  He saw the sovereignty of God involved with the Civil War.  The South’s racial slavery was wrong.  The practice of slavery was not.  If we argue that slavery itself is wrong, we must argue against the Bible and this places the liberals in an upper hand for they can point to slavery and ask whether we are for or against it.  I had a black pastor point-blank tell me that he rejected the epistles because of Paul’s endorsement of slavery.  I don’t see Paul endorsing slavery but he sets guidelines for it.  The South should have abided by those guidelines and I believe the practice of slavery would have ended peacefully and not violently with 650,000 dead and countless battles to be fought by blacks for years to come.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the greatest place on earth to demonstrate the end of racism.  Can you imagine what the early church looked like with both slaves and masters serving Christ together?  This is the case with the epistle of Philemon in which the slave Onesimus had run away from his master and had become a disciple of Jesus along the way.  Paul wrote Philemon to tell him this and to return his runaway slave.  Paul tells Philemon these powerful words in verses 15-16 (NKJV):

15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

What if Southern masters had loved their slaves like this?  What if both masters and slaves had been regenerated by the Spirit of God?  This was Dabney’s view.  The South was wrong to preach slavery as biblical while basing it on color.  The Bible does not condemn slavery but it does condemn racism and the Southern church did not preach enough on this subject.  The Civil War did not end this unbiblical practice of racism and no war ever will.  It takes the gospel to break the chains of racism.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/18/2013 at 1:14 PM

Brief Thoughts on the Lincoln Movie and Abortion Rights

I am a bit late comer to the movie Lincoln by Steve Spielberg.  The movie is based loosely upon the book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Goodwin.  The book highlights how Lincoln surrounded himself with men who were not like him, men who often believed differently than he did over issues.  Goodwin makes the point that President Lincoln did this to give him men who would not be “yes” men but would challenge his thinking over key issues regarding his own leadership and decisions as well as how to lead the nation once the Civil War ended.  This is clearly seen in the movie as Lincoln and his advisors wrestle with the issue regarding the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution that would abolish slavery.

Overall the movie does a great job of showing the political and moral issues facing Lincoln at this time.  At one point, Lincoln tells his advisors that while he felt he was right to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, he felt that this would not stand the test of the Supreme Court once the Southern states ended their rebellion.  He felt that the Congress needed to act while the South was in rebellion in order to pass the 13th Amendment.  Lincoln feared the Court would overturn the Emancipation and the South would vote against the 13th Amendment.  He was correct in this view.  It is an interesting dialogue.

The problems I had with the movie are: the language.  The movie used several profanities.  While it may be historically true that curse words were used around Lincoln and by him at times, nonetheless Union officers were ordered not to use profanity and were subject to court-martial for using profanity.  Why then would Lincoln approve of profane language when he himself ordered his own military men to not use profanity lest they face trial?  Hollywood tends to add or delete things that they want in a historical context and so they had to add several curse words that blasphemed God and brought shame to His name.

I did appreciate the struggle that the movie presented with Lincoln and his staff regarding the issue of abolition.  Lincoln stated that the Emancipation had released slaves only in the rebellious states (the CSA).  He knew that after the war, the Southern states would want their “property” returned to them and Lincoln had issued the Emancipation using his war powers in which he stated that slaves and all other property were now to be confiscated by the Union since the South was at war with the North.  He knew that this was in excess of his powers as President and he knew the Supreme Court would likely side with the South over the issue of their property being returned once the Civil War ended.  It was imperative then that the 13th Amendment be passed by the free States before the South came back into the Union.  This movie shows that struggle.

While I am not convinced entirely of the historical accuracy of the film, I do think that the movie captures an important moment in American history.  I am convinced the Civil War was largely an unnecessary war in the sense that slavery would have likely ended without bloodshed.  Thousands upon thousands died in the Civil War and this fact cannot be ignored.  Being a southerner, I am not convinced that the South was fighting entirely for slavery (although that was an issue).  I believe the South would have likely struggled even without the Civil War.  The United States would have grown into the West with the West going free and the South would have been forced into a small corner.  To trade with the Europeans, the South would have faced political pressure to abolish slavery.  Even the Confederate Constitution stated the following in Section 9:

The importation of negroes of the African race, from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

While it did not abolish slavery in the South, it was making sure that it did not spread.  The next section states:

Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.

In other words, slavery would end.  I am not convinced a war needed that to happen.  Nonetheless, Southern views regarding Africans needed to change.  CSA President Jefferson Davis stated about the African race:

“My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him – our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”

Davis even quoted from the Bible to back up his views regarding the issue of slavery:

“[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”

Such views were the failure of Bible teachers to truly proclaim the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15) and acknowledge Galatians 3:25-29.  Godly abolitionists fought to get the Church to stand up against slavery and many in the South did not.  Just as many in the modern abolition movement are calling the Church to preach the truth about the unborn humans who are being denied their right to life just as the slaves were in the 19th century in the United States.  We must remember that the Southern plantation owner said that his Africans were not humans but his property.  They had no rights.  Is this not what we hear from the modern pro-abortion folks who claim that the Government has no right to touch their bodies, the unborn have no rights and are property of that woman?  We who oppose abortion must use the same arguments against abortion that slave abolitionists used in fighting the lies of pro-slavery people.  God help us.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/05/2013 at 8:04 PM

The American Civil War as a Theological Crisis

Mark Noll has written a book by the title of my post.  I have not read his work but assume he is speaking of the same subject as my own concerning the theological nature of the American Civil War.  The roots of the Civil War lie as far back as the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776.  Even then the seeds were planted for division between the States as some of the founding fathers wanted a strong Federal Government while others wanted a Union among individual and yet equally powerful States.  The issue of slavery was not settled with the signing of the Bill of Rights and this moral issue would tear at the nation for nearly 100 years before the Civil War would erupt in 1861 after the election of abolitionist President Lincoln (who actually only favored forbidding slavery in the West and did not wish to end the practice in the South) and the session of South Carolina from the Union in December of 1860.

What goes unnoticed is the theological crisis that culminated with the Civil War.  This issue was slavery.  For the Church, States’ rights was not the issue.  It was the evil practice (according to the abolitionist) of slavery or the fact that the Bible did not forbid slavery from the pro-slavery point of view.  There were passionate evangelicals on both sides.  For instance, George Whitefield stood before the Georgia State Assembly during his trip to America in the 18th century and asked the Georgia Assembly to continue the practice of slavery.  Whitefield justified slavery for two main reasons.  First he said that this gave the slaves from Africa the opportunity to hear the gospel and be saved and then secondly, the fact that the Africans could work the harsh lands of Georgia and were use to the heat.  John Wesley opposed Whitefield over this issue and Wesley encouraged William Wilberforce in his fight to end slavery in England.  It would be the last letter Wesley would ever write.

Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.  Edwards felt that slavery was not forbidden in Scripture, like Whitefield, and he argued that God could use slavery to save souls (such as the case with Paul in the epistle to Philemon).  Edwards also felt that it was the duty of the Christian to not be harsh to slaves, to preach the gospel to them, and to be good to them.

Charles Finney opposed slavery in all forms.  He believed it went against the Word of God that says that we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  How could another human enslave another human made in God’s image?

E.M. Bounds, the great prayer warrior from the state of Georgia, fought along side the Confederates and was their chaplain.  He was captured and put in prison in Tennessee.  Bounds would there learn to pray for as much as 9 hours a day.  Bounds opposed slavery but because he was a Southerner, he supported States’ Rights and believed his duty to serve his country during the War.  He returned to his home in Washington, Georgia where he lived out his days in peace, praying and preaching the gospel in Methodist churches.

Henry Ward Beecher was the most famous preacher during this era.  Beecher was known for his powerful speaking ability and pastored a church in New York City (one of the largest in America at that time if not the largest).  He even was invited to London, England to preach alongside of Charles Spurgeon but Surgeon declined because Beecher was known for his adultery (which he committed several times during his ministry).  Beecher was the first “seeker sensitive” preacher as he learned early on not to preach on any subjects his crowds did not enjoy.  Beecher was also very outspoken against slavery.  His sister wrote the famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and it was Henry Ward Beecher who would preach at the dedication of Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC back to the Federal Government following the end of the Civil War.  Beecher was loved and adored by slaves for his passionate preaching against slavery.

Even among the military, there were men on both sides who argued from the Bible.  Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate military, was deeply religious.  He would spend hours reading his Bible and praying.  Lee did not favor slavery but he did own slaves whom he released after the start of the Civil War.  Lee felt the South would never win the war so long as slavery was not banned in the South.  To Lee, it was a moral issue and one that the North would win unless the South followed suit.

General Stonewall Jackson was likewise deeply religious.  Jackson was known for his encouragement to his men to pray and read their Bibles.  Jackson opposed allowing his soldiers to invite prostitutes into the camp, opposed gambling, opposed drinking.  Jackson would spend hours on his knees in his tent before going to battle praying.  Jackson, however, loved war.  He loved to fight.  He found glory in commanding an army and he was a very good commander.  Jackson also believed, like Edwards and Whitefield before him, that slavery could be used to further the kingdom of God.  How else could the Africans hear the gospel?  Who would dare venture into the dark continent of Africa to preach the gospel (that would be the great David Livingston)?

In the North, President Lincoln wrestled with the “African problem” of slavery.  Lincoln is hard to pinpoint theologically.  He never attended church very much.  Never joined a church.  He did pray and he did read the Bible.  From the time he was a boy he would memorize from the book of Psalms.  His second inaugural address is filled with Bible references.  Lincoln, at the beginning of the Civil War, did not want to end slavery in the South.  He merely wanted to contain it and not allow it in the Western states.  The South knew that if this happened, the “free” States would force their rule upon the South and end slavery.  They would rather secede then try to fight that battle in Washington.  Lincoln realized that the North needed a moral reason to fight.  During his re-election campaign in 1864 we begin to see Lincoln’s anti-slavery position begin to take root.  Lincoln knew that the North would not want to continue to fight the South unless they could see that their battle was a moral battle and not just a battle for land.  This issue, wrote Lincoln of the South’s secession, was not about the Federal Government but whether men would be allowed to be free.  Was our Bill of Rights wrong to say that all men are created equal and deserve liberty?  How can this be when 4 million African slaves were in bondage?  Lincoln believed their fight was a fight to free people from bondage.  Their mission was much like Christ’s, to free people from bondage.  I am not sure where Lincoln stood regarding salvation but he used the Bible often to back his belief that slavery was wrong.

More thoughts about this issue are coming….

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/29/2012 at 9:49 PM

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