Why Does This Need to be Said?

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I had a different post in mind for today but, after participating in a Facebook discussion (always a wise idea, right?), we’re heading in another direction.

Apparently, there are people – Christian people – who think that slavery is probably okay. Because Philemon and stuff.

In 2017.

Yeah.

The argument goes that because passages like 1 Peter 2:18 and Ephesians 6:5 tell slaves to obey their masters, God must be okay with slavery. Since Paul sent Onesiumus back to Philemon, his owner, God must be okay with slavery. The Law found in Exodus-Deuteronomy outlines the way in which the Isrealities are to treat their slaves, God must be okay with slavery. Thus abolitionists of the past centuries and the anti-trafficking forces of today practice shoddy interpretation and have no business meddling in this area. Sure, owners should treat their slaves with kindness, so probably the “mean ones” should be disciplined in some way, but, you know, most people who owned other people in the past really weren’t that bad, nor are modern-day traffickers (and those who make use of the traffickers’ services).

We’ve got to drop our eighteenth-century mindset and stay true to the Bible, don’t you know.

I’m left sputtering in amazement that anyone actually believes any of this.

So I’m going to quote some people much smarter than me and let you decide:

The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall. The aberrations that lead to alienation among individuals, races, and nations are the result of a fundamental broken relationship between humankind and God. Within this tragic scenario, Scripture comes as a breath of fresh air as it seeks to redeem the situation and sets us on a path of ever-increasing amelioration of our predicament. While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favours slavery is patently wrong. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites, the law of jubilee, and in New Testament applications of Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin (Philippians 2:1-8)! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles. The pre-fall statement that should guide and ultimately abolish such (and any) practices of superiority is the declaration that all humans—men and women—are made in the image of God.

Zacharias Trust

 

The book of Onesimus (Philemon) is the book that is brought forward most often—and rightly, I think—to show that Paul was sowing the seeds to explode the whole situation of slavery. Onesimus himself was a slave when he got converted. Paul sent him back to Philemon who had been his master, and he said, “I am sending him back as a brother. Honor him.” I think that kind of spiritual dynamic is intended to explode the system.

Another thing to explode the system is when Paul says to masters, “Do not threaten them, remembering that you too have a master.” So he puts the command of neighbor-love—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—in the place of the right of the master to threaten. And if you don’t threaten, what do you do? You win by love, and that transforms slavery into employment.

John Piper

 

The grand plea is, “They are authorized by law.” But can law, human law, change the nature of things? Can it turn darkness into light, or evil into good? By no means. Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy. So that I still ask, Who can reconcile this treatment of the negroes, first and last, with either mercy or justice.

Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils, on those who have done us no wrong? Of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? Of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself? To which an Angolan, has the same natural right as an Englishman, and on which he sets as high a value? Yea where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men? Murdering thousands of them in their own land, by the hands of their own countrymen: Many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea! And tens of thousands in that cruel slavery, to which they are so unjustly reduced?

But waving, for the present, all other considerations, I strike at the root of this complicated villainy. I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of even natural justice.

I cannot place this in a clearer light, than that great ornament of his profession, judge Blackstone has already done. Part of his words are as follows:

“The three origins of the right of slavery assigned by Justinian, are all built upon false foundations. 1. Slavery is said to arise from captivity in war. The conqueror having a right to the life of his captive, if he spares that, has then a right to deal with him as he pleases. But this is untrue, if taken generally, That by the law of nations, a man has a right to kill his enemy. He has only a right to kill him in particular cases in cases of absolute necessity for self-defence. And it is plain, this absolute necessity did not subsist, since he did not kill him, but made him prisoner. War itself is justifiable only on principles of self-preservation. Therefore it gives us no right over prisoners, but to hinder their hurting us by confining them. Much less can it give a right to torture, or kill, or even to enslave an enemy when the war is over. Since therefore the right of making our prisoners slaves, depends on a supposed right of slaughter, that foundation failing, the consequence which is drawn from it must fail likewise.”

“It is said, Secondly, slavery may begin, by one man’s selling himself to another. And it is true, a man may sell himself to work for another: But he cannot sell himself to be a slave, as above defined. Every sale implies an equivalent given to the seller, in lieu of what he transfers to the buyer. But what equivalent can be given for life or liberty? His property likewise, with the very price which he seems to receive, devolves ipso facto to his master, the instant he becomes his slave: In this case therefore the buyer gives nothing, and the seller receives nothing. Of what validity then can a sale be, which destroys the very principle upon which all sales are founded?”

“We are told, Thirdly, that men may be born slaves, by being the children of slaves. But this being built on the two former rights, must fall together with them. If neither captivity, nor contract can by the plain law of nature and reason, reduce the parent to a state of slavery, much less can they reduce the offspring.” It clearly follows, that all slavery is as irreconcileable to justice as to mercy.

That slave-holding is utterly inconsistent with mercy, is almost too plain to need a proof. Indeed it is said, “That these negroes being prisoners of war, our captains and factors buy them merely to save them from being put to death. And is not this mercy?” I answer, 1. Did Sir John Hawkins, and many others, seize upon men, women and children, who were at peace in their own fields or houses, merely to save them from death? 2. Was it to save them from death, that they knock’d out the brains of those they could not bring away? 3. Who occasioned and fomented those wars, wherein these poor creatures were taken prisoners? Who excited them by money, by drink, by every possible means, to fall upon one another? Was it not themselves? They know in their own conscience it was, if they have any conscience left. But 4. To bring the matter to a short issue. Can they say before GOD, That they ever took a single voyage, or bought a single negro from this motive? They cannot. They well know, to get money, not to save lives, was the whole and sole spring of their motions.

But if this manner of Procuring and treating negroes is not consistent either with mercy or justice, yet there is a plea for it which every man of business will acknowledge to be quite sufficient. Fifty years ago, one meeting an eminent statesman in the lobby of the house of commons, aid, “You have been long talking about justice and equity. Pray which is this bill? Equity or justice?” He answered, very short, and plain, “D–n justice: It is necessity.” Here also the slave-holder fixes his foot: Here he rests the strength of his cause. “If it is not quite right, yet it must be so: There is an absolute necessity for it. It is necessary we should procure slaves: And when we have procured them, it is necessary to use them with severity, considering their stupidity, stubbornness and wickedness.”

I answer, You stumble at the threshold: I deny that villany is ever necessary. It is impossible that it should ever be necessary, for any reasonable creature to violate all the laws of justice, mercy and truth. No circumstances can make it necessary for a man to burst in sunder all the ties of humanity. It can never be necessary for a rational being to sink himself below a brute. A man can be under no necessity, of degrading himself into a wolf. The absurdity of the supposition is so glaring, that one would wonder any one can help seeing it.

John Wesley

I was told that we must not take stands on things in the “gray areas” that God doesn’t appear to take a stand on as revealed through Scripture. What a poor argument. The Bible says nothing about the effects of chemical waste being poured into the water supply, but we know without citing chapter and verse that such a thing lies far outside the bounds of good stewardship. The Bible says nothing about the addictive nature of many of technologies, but we know without citing chapter and verse that this addiction – a struggle for many of us – is hardly part of His good design. The Bible says nothing about having surgery when a tumor is discovered, but we know without citing chaoter and verse that only a great idiot would tell a dying man to forgo the scalpel because it’s a “gray area.”

God didn’t strike down David even though he had many wives, so is polygamy okay?

Come on.

Surely we are smarter than this.

Slavery is not okay. It is not morally neutral or morally good.

If you think it is, then let me ask you this: Do the women in your church wear headcoverings? Because if you’re going to treat the text of Scripture in such a flippantly literal way, then they’d better be. Anything else is inconsistent.

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Photo credit: Katie Chase

Five Minute Friday: Play

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Apropos of nothing, a little poem I wrote the other night:

Mountain and meadow,
Sunlight and shadow,
All made to glorify Thee

Birds here, beasts there
Fauna tall, flora fair
Every one singing of Thee

Child’s laugh to old man’s sigh
Calendar pages flying by
Humanity aching for Thee

It’s the five-minute flash write with the fabulous people. We: play.

Go.

All these pretty happy shiny people with their pretty shiny happy Instagram posts, loving summer.

My disdain for you knows no bounds.

That’s not really true. There are people for all seasons and seasons for all people. This isn’t mine. Which is odd. Because I was born in August. The hottest month of the year around these parts.

Summer is the time for extroverts, I think. They get to go out and play in all the groups with all the noise and all the mess. Me? I’m sitting inside, by my air conditioning unit, sulking. Waiting ever-so-impatiently for late September and the slide into non-tortuous temperatures. For rain and boots and scarves and crisp mornings that beckon one out into the glorious, changing expanse.

I hate summer. People get depressed in winter; me, I feel low in the haze and the heat. Yes, I’ll go play with you for awhile. I’ll swim or enjoy a ride in a boat. I’ll certainly eat ice cream. I do love to garden. But after an hour – I’m done. It’s over. I’m sweating and sticky and my facial expression is involuntary, major side-eye. The great she-crab just wants to retreat into her shell. (Do crabs do that? Probably not).

How glad I am, as Anne Shirley was, that we live in a world where October exists.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
‘Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

– Cochran & Capehart

Stop.

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Not Passive, Not at All

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about pacifism.

I know. Poking the bear here, on this, the day before my country celebrates its declaration of independence from Great Britain all those years ago. (Probably not a good time to point out that there really wasn’t any Scriptural support for that war). The flags wave and the fireworks unnaturally fill the night sky with the light of day. This year, more than any other year of my life, tempers run hot, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.

In this midsummer cauldron, I reflect.

In my experience, people tend to assume two things about pacifists:

  1. That we disdain members of the military and the police force. That we hold ourselves morally superior.
  2. That we are content to stand silently by and let evil run amok.

Neither is true.

Every person must deal with the big questions. Why are we here? Is God real? Coke or Pepsi? Some deal by engaging in denial, shoving the haunting inquiries beneath the carpet of their souls. Others study until their minds are mush, smug in their intellectual superiority. Still others latch on to the answers before they even ask the questions, running their mouths in breathless polemic. Some walk the thoughtful path, seeking to examine both questions and answers honestly.

Most of us run the gamut, doing all of the above at one point or another.

I was 12 when these questions began to plague my mind. My middle school journals are filled with long, rambling sentences, not-at-all elegant turns of phrase that make me smile today. No doubt God laughed as the paragraphs poured out of me, the kind of loving chuckle that bubbles up from the throats of fathers who delight in their children. I wanted desperately to understand, to know the deep truths fully.

At this time, my family attended a small Evangelical Friends church. Also known as Quakers, the Friends are founding members of the “peace churches,” groups of believers who are committed to principles of non-violence and non-resistance. (The Amish, Brethren and Mennonites are the other groups). Shortly after becoming involved with this church, Focus on the Family Radio Theater released a docu-drama on the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whenever an episode aired, my ears were glued to my radio. In the end, I purchased the series on CD and listened to it so often that I could (and still can) quote large sections.

By age 14, I was a convicted pacifist. Despite my ever-wandering heart and the years I spent straying from the Lord, in this I have not wavered. No, indeed I have grown more radical. I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not sing the Star-Spangled Banner. I cannot in good conscience pledge loyalty to or celebrate any entity that way. I fear placing anything before the Lord.

But I am not contemptuous of those who have a different view.

To be a pacifist is not to hate those who disagree. It is not to loathe men and women who put on uniforms, firearms at their sides. It is not to declare that such people are not and cannot be saved. I dare not question the faith of my brothers and sisters who leave behind home and family to fight on foreign soil. I cannot, despite concentrated efforts, come to a place of agreeing with their actions, but I do not presume to cast them out of God’s hand. I have not and will not yell at or spit on active soldiers, veterans or police officers.

I understand that these men and women are attempting to do what they believe is right.

As do I.

I am a pacifist for many reasons, the primary being that I cannot shake these words:

Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. …

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. …

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

 

– Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:14, 17-21; Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

I am in possession of a nasty temper. Unforgiveness, grudges and bitterness are natural for me. Oh, I may not put on a grand display of wrath and thus be known as someone who loses control. My anger is expressed rather in ice and whispers. But it is real. And it is terrible. More than once have I spoken of my longing to punch this person or run that person over with a car.

Did not Christ come to redeem me from this? Did He not come to remake me into His likeness?

As Spurgeon said in his 1859 sermon, “War! War! War!”:

Be in yourself what you would want others to be. Be clean that you can hope to be the purifiers of the world; and then, having first sought the blessing of God, go out into the world and bear your witness against sin.

I can hardly preach the peace and joy that comes in knowing the Lord if I give free reign to violence, both in word and deed. (Thank Him for His great patience!)

Nor can I preach the Gospel if I am content to turn a blind eye to evil.

During the disgusting years of the enslavement of Africans across the United States, members of the Friends risked livelihood and life itself as conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping to usher thousands to freedom. Desmond Doss, whose story was recently told through the film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen during the battle of Okinawa – without carrying a gun. Sophie Scholl was arrested and executed by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets in Munich.

These are but a few examples.

I must get in the way of evil I am to avoid hypocrisy. I must bring light to the darkness whenever possible. Here I will not list the ways that I have done so; such a thing would invite your applause, and that I do not need. My Father sees. My Father knows.

To accuse pacifists of hatred for and complacency toward our fellow man is to misunderstand. As the Beloved Disciple wrote,

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

– 1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV)

One may argue that this applies only to believers – we cannot hate each other but we are free to hate those outside the Body of Christ. While these verses are written to and within the context of the community of faith, consider,

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

– Luke 6:27-36 (NKJV)

These are not suggestions that we can shrug over and disregard.

These are commands, straight from the lips of the Living God.

At the 1521 Diet of Worms (a formal meeting in a German city, not a weight-loss plan), Martin Luther said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

(emphasis mine)

Luther himself was hardly a pacifist, but his proclamation provides a nice summary.

I will never tell anyone that love of country is a sin. Where Scripture does not bind the conscience, neither will I. Pacifists love their countries, just in a way that is not commonly expressed in patriotic displays. We want peace, harmony, prosperity – the kind that is found in a relationship with Christ. So we labor, seeking to share the Gospel message of salvation and hope, despite hostility from those in the dark and lack of understanding from fellow believers.

This is my mission.

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Photo credit: Ben White

Five Minute Friday: Blessing

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I went to a new doctor yesterday. Yearly check-up that we ladies are always so thrilled to have. As she pulled up my medical history, her face went through a serious of contortions, landing on an expression of surprise. “Wow,” she said. “You’re so young. How have you had so many things go wrong?”

Had to laugh.

Big ball of weirdness, am I.

Linking up with Kate and the people. We write about: blessing.

Go.

Theological statements show up in strange places.

I’m not really a fan of Macklemore – the famous son of Kent, Washington – but I did listen to his new song, “Glorious,” the chorus of which is:

I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It’s who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious

Those words, they take me to church.

The days drag on. We have to live in these broken bodies, on this broken planet. We have to deal with broken relationships, broken dreams, broken systems. There are desires left unfulfilled, plans left unfinished. We dwell in the space between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21.

So it’s easy to forget.

Forget who we are.

Forget Who is with us.

Forget our purpose.

Caught up in the grind, we look in the mirror and forget to look for what cannot be seen by the human eye. Forget to ask for the holy perspective. We see creases and lines, worries and sorrows. Words left unsaid and conflict unresolved. Weak and fragile bodies.

We forget,

But if God Himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and He does, as surely as He did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With His Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with Him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with Him!

– Romans 8:9-17 (MSG)

We are blessed to be children of the Living God, bought with His own blood. Blessed with fresh mercies, brand-new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

We forget.

We must learn to remember.

Because when we remember, we regain the ability to press through the trouble, which does not magically disappear. Following Christ is no guarantee of health, wealth or any other human-defined blessing.

It is a guarantee of purpose. Of clarity.

Of knowing, in your bones, who you are and where you’re going.

Stop.

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