Issue #701 -------
August 18, 2016
Slavery is not the peculiar institution of the South.
It exists wherever men are bought and sold, wherever
a man allows himself to be made a mere thing or a tool,
and surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and
conscience. Indeed, this slavery is more complete
than that which enslaves the body alone.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1962)
Journal entry dated Dec. 4, 1860
John Wesley (1703-1791), the English theologian and founder of Methodism, in an entry to his personal journal (dated February 12, 1772), spoke of "that execrable sum of all villainies, commonly called the Slave Trade." As we all know only too well, slavery, and the procuring and peddling of men, women and children into that wretched estate, is a reality that has plagued humanity almost from the beginning of time. Wherever and whenever people gather into societies, some will seek to dominate and subjugate others. It should not be that way; but it is! We live in a fallen world, and countless consequences of that fact, one of which is men enslaving men, confront us daily in our journey through life. How we react and respond to these dark realities (if we do so at all) has much to say about the nature of our character and the depth of our understanding of the nature and will of our God. If we truly seek to be the ambassadors of His marvelous grace, we will seek to impact our wayward societies with the transforming power of that Better Way reflected in the life and teaching of Jesus. By lifting Him up in our lives for all around us to see, we take those bold first steps toward uplifting our fellow man, and by so doing we allow the Light, through our godly attitudes and actions, to push back the Darkness a little more each day, lighting the way to freedom.
Most of us understand that slavery and the slave trade are contrary to God's will. The very thought of it should be abhorrent to our minds. Sadly, however, we know only too well the dark side of human nature as evidenced all too frequently in human history. Joseph was bound and sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37), and biblical and secular history is filled with such cruel accounts. How are the people of God to respond to such things? Would God have us take up arms and physically attack those who commit such deeds? Would He have us simply remain silent and live our lives as if we were oblivious to such societal ills? Throughout history godly men and women have been conflicted as to what their response should be to slavery and those who profit from human bondage and misery. Even the Scriptures appear to us at times to be unclear as to the course we are to follow, for on the one hand slavery is condemned, yet it is also seemingly condoned (although clearly not approved). For example, rather than writing a scathing rebuke against the institution of slavery, the apostle Paul instead returned a runaway slave to his master (sending Onesimus back to Philemon). Yes, he urged them both to show Christian love to one another, but in the epistle to Philemon there is no rebuke of the institution itself. Indeed, Paul wrote to the congregation in Colossae (where Philemon and Onesimus lived), "Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth" (Col. 3:22). He even advised the brethren in Corinth, many of whom were slaves, "Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able to become free, then do that" (1 Cor. 7:20-21). Paul seems to indicate that one should not be overly concerned about one's physical, social or economic circumstances, but rather make the best of it -- yes, improve your situation, if you can, but if you can't, then accept it with a joyful spirit and look to those greater spiritual realities that are yours in Christ. Theologically, one can understand Paul's position, but it is certainly a difficult "pill to swallow" for those experiencing the full force of social, economic and class distinction and discrimination.
It's easy to see, then, how men have been conflicted and confused about slavery throughout history. They seem to be getting somewhat of a mixed message, and they are thus left wondering what they should do and how far they should go in addressing such societal ills. This uncertainty is also reflected in our own Stone-Campbell Movement, and, in fact, was one of the factors leading to the fracturing of the movement several decades after the American Civil War. As was true of other denominations and movements of that time, our faith-heritage had its share of vocal abolitionists and emancipationists, although the former were in the minority in our movement. Most favored the latter, which called for a more gradual liberation of those enslaved, so that they might be better prepared, through education and training, to succeed in their newfound freedom. This was known as "Gradualism." Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone both were of this persuasion, although they had their differences on some of the particulars of how this should be accomplished. Even Walter Scott, another leader in our movement, favored Campbell's "calculated, gradual emancipationism," but "was at a loss as to how best this could precisely be worked out in the interest of all parties" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 687]. There was also a very strong, vocal group of pro-slavery advocates in our movement. Perhaps the most notable was James Shannon (1799-1859), who was the president of Bacon College in Kentucky, and the second president of the University of Missouri. He "defended slavery as justified by Scripture, interpreting the apostolic injunctions about master-slave relationships as tantamount to a condemnation of abolitionism" [ibid, p. 686]. In his "Address Delivered Before the Pro-Slavery Convention of the State of Missouri" in 1855, he declared, "Neither Jesus Christ nor His apostles ever interfered with the institution of slavery, except to rebuke abolitionism, and to exhort both masters and slaves to perform faithfully, as in the sight of God, their respective duties" [ibid, p. 685]. "Historians have cogently argued that controversy over slavery, and ultimately over the Civil War itself, was part of a host of aggravating ideological and cultural factors that alienated Stone-Campbell churches across the Mason-Dixon Line and further accelerated the division between the Disciples and the Churches of Christ" [ibid, p. 687-688].
Slavery is just one of many sad realities of our human condition. We are fallen people living in a fallen world, and slavery and slave trading are just a small part of the disturbing evidence of that fallenness. Yet, in the face of such abomination we find inspiring accounts of men and women who have manifested a more noble spirit and who became beacons of a more godly way of living! We have the account of a brave woman who refused to accept the devilish dictates of discrimination and took a personal stand for human dignity. I did a tribute to her in Reflections #218 ("Rosa Parks: Leading Lady of Liberty"). On the other side of the equation there is the account of a slaver who found personal deliverance, and who penned one of our most inspiring hymns. I shared his story in Reflections #265 ("John Newton: A True Testimony to the Amazing Grace of God"). There is the account of a son of slaves who became one of the most beloved evangelists in our movement; a man remembered in Reflections #294 ("Marshall Keeble: Evangelist Extraordinaire"). And who can forget the impact of the writings of a woman who sought to change the conscience of a nation, and turn their hearts back to compassion and grace? She and her work are discussed in Reflections #539 ("Life Among The Lowly: Harriet Beecher Stowe and her Classic Novel: Uncle Tom's Cabin").
Yes, in the face of our fallenness there are countless accounts of godly people manifesting a godly spirit in their attitudes and actions. There may be great diversity in how they choose to respond to the social ills they perceive around them, but there is no doubt that devoted disciples will indeed seek to face the darkness with a display of divine Light in some form. It then falls to each of us, in light of our individual abilities and opportunities, to choose how best we will respond to such challenges. We are all different, and what may be an effective approach for me, may not work at all for you (and vice versa). Respond we must, though, for we are called and commissioned to be light and leaven and salt in the lives of those around us. If we won't, who will?!
Having said all of this, it nevertheless remains that there is little specific direction given in Scripture as to how we today are to address the many dysfunctions of the societies in which we live. There are general principles, and there are a few examples, but we are largely left to face these circumstances armed only with a few godly principles, some common sense, and a love for God and our fellow man. This leaves a great deal of room for diversity of methodology, and perhaps that is a good thing, for "no one size fits all" when it comes to addressing social problems. On the other hand, we can say with great confidence and certainty that slavery and slave trading are NOT viewed favorably by our Creator. It was never His intent that men enslave and abuse their fellow men. It happens; laws are given to help protect the exploited; but, such is not the ideal of God. This is expressed clearly in both OT and NT writings. We are probably more familiar with the former passages than the latter (some even claim the NT documents contain NO specific condemnations of slavery or slave trading). Exodus 20:15, for example, comes to mind: "Thou shalt not steal," which "ancient rabbinic exposition of this commandment frequently related to kidnapping" [Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 95]. Philo, a first century Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, observed, "The kidnapper too is a kind of thief who steals the best of all the things that exist on the earth" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 352]. To steal a human being was to steal the best of God's creation, and such theft was generally done for some form of profit (usually selling those kidnapped into slavery). "No theft of a man's goods can be compared with that most atrocious act which steals the man himself, and thus robs him of that free will which is the first gift of his Creator. And of this crime all are guilty who, whether directly or indirectly, are engaged in, or uphold, from whatever pretence, the making or keeping of slaves" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, p. 24]. "The motive for kidnapping was not the extortion of ransom, as it is in modern times, but rather for selling into slavery, presumably to an alien and heathen master" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 1034]. Even the Code of Hammurabi condemned the stealing of humans for the purpose of selling them into slavery [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 13].
Even more to the point than the commandment from the Decalogue against stealing are the following: (1) Exodus 21:16 -- "Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death," and (2) Deuteronomy 24:7 -- "If a man is found stealing one of his brothers, of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst." It would certainly appear, would it not, that God takes a very dim view of those who engage in the stealing, selling and buying of humans, especially when the purpose is to enslave them. These are crimes against humanity, and they are among the worst of transgressions of God's will. For such crimes God demanded the death penalty. "Well, that's just the way it was under the OLD covenant," some will say. "In the writings of the NEW covenant we find NO such laws or penalties; just the opposite." This is the common response of the pro-slavery group. But, is this true? I had heard for many years, as I was growing up, that there was nothing said against slavery, or the buying and selling of humans, within the NT writings. "Slavery is not directly assailed in the New Testament; to have done so would have been to revolutionize violently the existing order of things" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1354]. I just assumed, in my youth, that this was true, as I'm sure many of you did as well. Well, brethren, it is NOT true. There is indeed a very strong condemnation of this practice, and it is found in the writings of the apostle Paul (the very one many believe condones slavery). That passage is 1 Timothy 1:10.
Before we examine that particular text, let's establish some context. In the passage before us, Paul is talking about things "contrary to sound doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:10), and he lists a good many of these. As was noted in the previous issue of Reflections ("'Sound Doctrine' Sectarianism: Perverting Paul's Pastoral Perspective with Unhealthy 'Uncertain Soundism'" - Issue #700), the nature of our teaching that is "sound" (i.e., "healthy, wholesome" - that which promotes godly living, holiness) is not about rules, regulations and rituals, but about those principles that, when applied, result in healthy relationships between men, and between men and their God. Notice the list that Paul gives here to Timothy of those persons who, by their nature and behavior, are "contrary" to this wholesome, healthy, sound teaching: "lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, adulterers and perverts, slave traders and liars and perjurers" (1 Tim. 1:9-10, NIV). Slave traders are listed right along with murderers, adulterers, perjurers and perverts. Such persons are living lives contrary to sound, wholesome, healthy teaching! The Exegetical Dictionary of the NT calls this "a vice-catalog which lists offenders against the commandments of the Decalogue" [vol. 1, p. 95]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) calls it a "black roll of sinners" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Among that list of vices is what the NIV characterizes as the buying and selling of slaves by those devoted to this enterprise ("slave traders"). The Greek word used here in this text is "andrapodistes" (appearing only here in the NT), which literally means "to catch a man by the foot." It refers to a "slave dealer; kidnapper," according to both W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT and NT Words and Strong's New Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words. Both men point out this Greek word is a form of the word "andrapodon," which is not found in the NT writings, but is "found in the plural in the papyri in a catalogue of property and in combination with tetrapoda - 'four-footed things.' Andrapodon was never an ordinary word for slave; it was too brutally obvious a reminder of the principle which made quadruped and human chattels differ only in the number of their legs" [Dr. James Strong, ibid, p. 953]. Thus, Paul uses a term that speaks of persons who viewed certain other humans as nothing but living property (like animals) to be bought and sold for a profit. The cruel nature of this is seen in the one other use of the word "andrapodon" in sacred literature: 3rd Maccabees 7:5, which speaks of these slave traders bringing men "fettered in grievous chains as slaves," and which states this was done "with a savage cruelty, worse than Scythian custom."
Although the NIV (as well as the NRSV & NLT) translates the above Greek word "slave traders," it is translated a number of different ways in other versions and translations of the text: "men-stealers" (KJV, ASV) ... "people who sell slaves" (NCV) ... "kidnappers" (NASB, NEB, CEV, RSV, NKJV) ... "enslavers" (ESV) ... just to list a few. Dr. A.T. Robertson, the noted Greek scholar, declared, "By the use of this word Paul deals a blow at the slave trade" [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. If we were to stop here, we could safely and rightly say that we have a very clear biblical view of how God would have us perceive those persons who engage in and profit from slavery. It is an abomination contrary to healthy, godly doctrine and it is worthy of death! But, I believe there is more to be perceived here, and so I will include the following thought for your further personal reflection. Dr. James Hastings notes that the above Greek term used by Paul could also "describe that subtler form of man-stealing by which one man is made the victim of another's will and the instrument of his selfishness" [Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 29]. Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, concurs: "It refers to a slave-dealer, a kidnapper, a man-stealer, as well as to one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery, also to one who steals the slaves of others and sells them. The word includes all who exploit men and women for their own selfish ends" [vol. 2, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 32]. When we seek to enslave others to our own rigid religious traditions, reducing them to slaves subject to our sectarian shibboleths, we are no less guilty than those noted above. Indeed, we may be more so! Paul pronounced an "anathema" upon all those "false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). There are "slave traders" still active today, and I'm not talking about those who deal in flesh, but those who seek to shackle hearts and minds, bringing them under bondage to their legalistic party patterns, precepts and practices!! May we never surrender our freedom in Christ to such godless religionists, and may we ever stand boldly against them!
A new study is now available for those who would like to have a copy of this two CD set. It is a study of the apostle Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, and is titled "Christian Counsel for a Confused, Conflicted Church." It's not so much a verse-by-verse study as it is an examination of the counsel offered to the saints in this city who were young in their faith and thus uncertain about a great many spiritual realities that were of vital importance to their walk with Jesus. Like many disciples today, they had a lot of questions and concerns, and they were struggling with certain doctrines and practices, as well as struggling with one another. Paul's advice is very relevant for the church today, as much of what this group was confused and conflicted about, we today are as well. This CD consists of audio recordings (MP3 format) of all 23 of my 45-50 minute classes, as well as four in-depth handouts. This series was presented in my Sunday morning adult Bible class from February 7 to July 31, 2016. I believe you will find this series of lessons to be challenging, enlightening, and encouraging. For more details, and ordering information, Click Here.
From a Reader in Texas:
I am 68, originally from New Jersey, and belonged to a Baptist Church when I married my Texan, who was "born and raised" in the Churches of Christ. After some resistance on my part, I was rebaptized. Together we raised our six children "in the church," which we have always faithfully attended wherever we lived (which includes a number of different states). Yet, I have always felt that there was something missing in my faith, and lately I have begun a personal study on the Holy Spirit, which is entirely missing in our church, as they spend most of their time condemning everyone else to hell. It is almost unbearable! I came across your web site by accident, but after reading a few of your articles I knew I had found someone who was articulating exactly how I feel. I am sure that you have heard from others just like me: those weary of the sterile, emotionless, legalistic, and mindless "religion" that is measured out in large doses Sundays and Wednesdays. Needless to say, if one is not in lockstep with them, then one is against them! What a sad situation! I want to celebrate and share my faith. I want to recognize the indwelling of the Holy Spirit just as He promised us in Scripture, but I am trapped in this religion that worships law (and their own interpretation of it). Thank you, Al, for having the courage to speak the truth, and for enduring the criticism that no doubt you have garnered from those who will never enjoy the freedom or joy that could be theirs in Christ Jesus because they have hardened their hearts and closed their minds. Feel free to share this with your readers, but please keep my identity anonymous. Brother, your web site has been a true faith-saver for me!
From a Reader in Texas:
We have been thinking about you a lot, and we hope you and your family are well. Our July and August has been like a whirlwind: two trips out of town for deaths in the family, and also gone for a week on a business trip. I take my computer with us when we travel, and we have read through all of your articles on "The Law of Silence" on your Topical Index page (while my husband drives, I read the articles to him). We have read, studied, and discussed each one, including the links you refer to in the readings. It has allowed us to see just how burdened we and others have been by all the legalism. We finally feel totally free!! Within two weeks after reading through your Reflections, we have found a small, growing, grace-centered church in a nearby community, and we are now going there. Al, thank you so much for sharing your Reflections with us. We are so grateful to you! We also realize that sharing your Spirit-led insights with others has not been without sacrifice for you and your family. We also thank you for allowing us to share our lives and burdens with you, and for always responding. One day we hope to have the opportunity to meet you and your family in person. Al, we want you to know that you are very important to us, and we cherish our relationship with you and love you very much! Our prayers are with you.
From a Reader in Alaska:
In your discussion of those things "contrary to sound doctrine" (Reflections #700) I've noticed that many often leave out an important item listed in 1 Timothy 1:10: "slave traders" (NIV). After asking leading questions about this verse for years, I have only found one person who knew about this particular condemnation of "menstealers" (KJV): a college professor who specialized in Paul's letters. Thus, I think it deserves wider mention for the edification of your readership who may not always double-check the full text and context of the verses you summarize. [NOTE: This brother's point was valid, and thus, after reading this email, I decided to pen the present article on the significance of this term in 1 Timothy 1:10. My thanks to this reader for motivating me to do this study! -- Al Maxey]. Those in the Civil War, Bible-Belt South who argued that the NT supports slavery, certainly didn't consider this verse. Instead, they likely hung their theological hats on the descriptive verses about what both believing masters and slaves must do in their respective situations. The normative verse you referenced (1 Timothy 1:10) includes "slave traders" along with "those who commit murder, the immoral, homosexuals, perjurers, liars, those who are unholy and profane." That's not a godly group! Further, those who attack the NT as being evil for supporting slavery, which couldn't begin or exist long without slave traders, clearly don't know enough about Scripture!
From a Reader in Georgia:
In my line of work, healthy is as healthy does. If one adopts a particular habit or lifestyle it will have a resulting consequence. Consequences are rarely the result of coincidence! When I read this latest issue of your Reflections ("'Sound Doctrine' Sectarianism: Perverting Paul's Pastoral Perspective with Unhealthy 'Uncertain Soundism'" - Issue #700), I thought almost immediately of the severe division within the Churches of Christ and their purposeful separation from other faith groups. If division and conflict are the appropriate end result of their efforts, then there is definitely "soundness" of teaching in the Churches of Christ!! If not, then there is a spiritual sickness in this group, and it is being made manifest in the results of the habits and lifestyles of those in this faith-heritage. One wise man once said (hmmm ... was that you?!): "We need not be twins to be brothers!" On the other hand, the Hatfield & McCoy approach to unity and brotherhood is an obvious failure! Blessings to you, my brother!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
I just wanted to share with you something I thought was quite interesting regarding the apostle Peter. In Acts 10:6 he is found staying with Simon the tanner. For a Jew to be in close contact with animal skins and the putrid smell of the tanning process would normally have been perceived as abominable. I believe this was the perfect setting for the vision that he witnessed, the command to eat, and the revelation "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (vs. 15). Another step in his development was the realization that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. I couldn't help but think of your reader Hugh Fulford, who seems to be obsessed with the word "denomination." It is a challenge for many, at times, to come to the knowledge that what is "unacceptable" in the eyes of men may just be the very place where God wants us to be so as to learn something that will help us in serving Him. Thank you for your latest Reflections. God bless.
From a Reader in Texas:
WOW! This Reflections ("'Sound Doctrine' Sectarianism") was the "Death Blow" to legalistic thinking!! It was all so well stated that I had to take some time just to feast upon it and enjoy its flavor! The old Church of Christ church of the 60's, with their "five finger" dogma, would really be upset with you. Excellent writing, brother!!
From a Reader in Virginia:
I'm off in a few minutes to a "grief group" meeting where several who have had losses and are grieving gather together to share and pray. I hope that you are finding comfort and peace after the loss of your mother! You need to make time for yourself, but also please realize how many of us need your work! Thank you so much, Al, for all your thought-provoking work.
From a New Reader in Texas:
I came across your web site and have read through some of your Reflections, and I really enjoy your viewpoint and your attitude. Please add me to your Reflections mailing list. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and a preacher's kid, but am ex-Church of Christ (I'm now non-denominational). One thing I wondered about right off the bat, as I read your writings, was: why does this guy still call himself "Church of Christ"? But, after considering it, I realized -- why not?! If you want to still associate with this group and try to fix attitudes, then I think that is great. Around here (east Texas) all the Churches of Christ center themselves around "patternism," and there aren't any with your "surrendered to Christ" attitude that are still with this group. Therefore, anyone around here that repents of that fallacious thinking has left this denomination. Now that I think about it, however, it's pretty neat to stay in this group and simply seek to correct things, as you seem to be doing! I also have you to thank for the use of the word "patternism" to describe the assumption based dogmas of Churches of Christ around here. Before now I understood the concept of their error, but didn't have a good word for it.
From a Reader in Florida:
I read your new Reflections a while ago (the one on "sound doctrine"). I suspect you will have another full inbox, as you did with the previous study on "one true churchism." I also read all the comments and responses in the readers' section, and I thought your rebuttal to Hugh Fulford was particularly effective! Thank you for your work, Al.
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