Thursday, April 18, 2013

All Forms of Slavery?

Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson have concluded their discussion, but in the conclusion section, Thabiti posted an item claiming it was a point of common agreement between the men:

3. The logic of the gospel is jubilee logic. This means that the messianic promises all looked forward to the day when the liberation of the world from every form of slavery would begin, and the arrival of Christ was the inauguration of God’s kingdom. This liberation from slavery begins with liberating men from their slavery to sin, but it necessarily and inexorably includes all other forms of slavery as well—whether the forms of slavery as they existed in the ancient world, or the more recent forms in our country.
Sorry, guys, but minimally we're still slaves of our Lord.  We're more than that, but we are that.  That metaphor for our relationship to God remains.  We are not slaves to sin, we're slaves to God.

The gospel does not demand the liberation of human slaves.  The command to masters is not "free your slaves," but rather masters are commanded to treat their slaves equitably, with the very reason being that they themselves have a master in heaven.

Ephesians 6:9
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. 
Colossians 4:1
Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

This is very similar to the commands to husbands to love their wives:

Ephesians 5:24-25
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

In both cases, the metaphor between the master-slave relationship or the husband-wife relationship is not subversive of the relationship, it reinforces it.  These superior-inferior relationships are not intrinsically evil - they are actually pictures of our relationship with God.

Moreover, Paul presumes that there will be believing slave owners.  He writes:

1 Timothy 6:2
And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

In other words, even though the Gospel does make all Christians brethren, that does not mean that believing slaves should stop serving believing masters.

I realize that modern American culture (and more broadly Western European culture) is highly anti-slavery.  We, as Christians, need to rise above the culture and stand on God's revelation, rather than the changing morals of human society.  That means that we can be critical of systems in which there is abuse of slaves by masters, but we don't have to declare our Lord sinful for having us as his slaves.  We don't need to conform the gospel to our culture, we need to acknowledge the places where the gospel opposes the culture.

We call Jesus, Lord, not just because he is our King but also because he is our Master, recall that Colossians 4:1 (quoted above) states: "Οἱ κύριοι (kurioi - masters), τὸ δίκαιον καὶ τὴν ἰσότητα τοῖς δούλοις (doulois - slaves) παρέχεσθε, εἰδότες ὅτι καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔχετε κύριον (kurion - Lord/Master) ἐν οὐρανῷ."  If you really think that "all other forms of slavery" are wrong, then how can you claim to be a "δοῦλον δὲ κυρίου" (doulon de kuriou - Slave of the Master or Servant of the Lord, 2 Timothy 2:24).


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