Slavery, Humanism, & the Bible

Slavery, Humanism, & the Bible

Selections from Lehre und Wehre

By C.F.W. Walther

Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores

It is an irrefutable fact that humanism has not only supplanted Christianity among a large part of the current population, it has also infected Christian theology in its very inner core, has poisoned and weakened it. We define humanism as the belief in a human ideal, a belief that man within himself has the ability to develop into a state of completeness and achieve happiness. Therefore, in order to reach this ideal state nothing else is needed than to grant each person as much room as possible to develop freely and without restraint. Freedom and equality, equal rights, equal possessions, equal enjoyment and pleasure, are thus the goal of man’s striving, the attainment of which will eradicate poverty and suffering from this earth. Happiness will have found its domicile on earth, there will be heaven on earth.

This humanism is as old as the fallen world itself. As soon as man had fallen away from God, he became aware of the bitter consequences of his sin, of the curse under which God had placed this earth because of him. Despite all that still had remained for man, he felt dissatisfied, unhappy, and wretched. However, instead of recognizing his sin as the cause of his wretchedness, seeking to return to God and His help, he saw the consequences themselves as the cause, and deemed that he could achieve happiness by gaining what this world has to offer.

Therefore, the church’s antithesis of this humanism in the world of unbelievers is as old as the church itself. Already during the first world Cain’s unbelieving race sought their salvation in exploitation of the earth (Gen.4, 16-22), while the believing race of Seth (though already diminishing in numbers) renounced worldly happiness and possessions. They sought their salvation in the proclamation of the name of the Lord, that is, the promise of the one who would smash the head of the serpent and all evil, in the promise of the coming redemption from sin, death and hell, upon which they based their hope for eternal life, happiness and salvation (Gen. 4:25-26).

We find the same conflict in the race after the flood. Paganism evolved which made creature and things of this world the object of its utmost desire, to the point where it elevated creature itself as its god(s) and its final refuge. Meanwhile, the church—through Abraham—considered itself to be an earthly pilgrim, was waiting for a city whose builder was God and continued to seek its promised heavenly home. When finally the one whom all the prophets referred to as "the comforter of all heathens" appeared, the Jews, lost in their earthly anticipation’s, expected to hear from the mouth of the promised one nothing other than the pronouncement of the start of a complete, happy age. When he, the hope of all people, opened his mouth, they heard: "Blessed are they who are spiritually poor, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs." They had expected to hear: "Blessed are you, for now you shall become rich." Instead they heard the opposite: blessed are they, regardless of their worldly riches, whose spirit and heart is poor, those who are rich as if they were not, and those who are poor consider themselves rich. (Matth. 5:3, compare also Luke 6:20, I Cor. 7:29, II Cor. 6:10.)

Though Christianity is directly opposed to humanism, we find this concept accepted and practiced by name-only-Christians throughout the centuries. In the history of our Christian church we are confronted with numerous pages where the most consequent humanism is theoretically presented as the only right belief and openly and freely confessed. The grossest depiction of it appears during the 14th century among certain groups of The Brothers and Sisters of Free Spirit, especially the Turlupines, the Adamites and the Luciferians, who express their common theory thus: "Everything which is done in love is pure, because the spirit which is God dwelling in us cannot sin; neither can worldly desire damage the spirit. On the contrary, it redeems by disintegrating marriage and property and the feeling of uncleanliness resulting from unnatural fissure."

It was this spirit which was apparent during the time of the reformation among the farmers of Swabia and Thuringia—under the leadership of Thomas Münzer; among the Anabaptists under Jan von Leide, and the Libertines of Switzerland. It was no other spirit but the spirit of humanism which promised Adam heaven on earth, promised to relieve him from his earthly burdens, thereby making all men into abolitionists and communists, with equal rights and possessions, making all superiority in these things a punishable transgression. Though the first two of these groups base their humanism on doctrine and promises of Christian revelation, and the latter on a pantheistic system, the underlying spirit is the same. For instance, the farmers stated in their "twelve articles":

"3) It has been the custom that we were considered property, which is abominable, in view of the fact that Christ has redeemed and saved us with his precious blood, the lowly shepherd as well as the highest placed, none excluded. Therefore Scripture tells us that we are to be free. 4) It has been the custom that no poor man has the right to game, birds, or fish in the water, which seems to us to be entirely unseemly and unbrotherly, selfish and not at all in accord with the word of God. . . . When God, the Lord, created man He gave him dominion over all creatures, over the birds in the air and fish in the waters, Gen. 1:28,30. God the Lord created animals for man’s free use." (Luther’s Works by Walch, XVI, 26, 27.)

Münzer expressed what these articles demanded with the words: "Omnia smul communia" which means all things should be communal and distributed according to need and ability. It is understood, of course, that with this new "order" there was no mention of rulers and lords. Ranke explained: "The concept was that since all are the children of one god, and all have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, it followed that there should be no more inequality in possessions or rank. Münzer preached everywhere about the liberation of Israel and the establishment of a heavenly kingdom on earth.

At that time, what was the position of the church? It certainly did recognize the misuse of power by the privileged classes which had driven the oppressed into desperation and delusion. The church declared the farmer’s rebellion to be a well-deserved, divine punishment, and demanded that oppression of the poor and the tyranny against subordinates cease. It called for improvement of the shamefully flagrant, social and civil conditions of the underclass.. However, the church did not succumb to the temptation to perceive the distinction between master and servant, sovereign and vassal, rich and poor, as incompatible with the Gospel. The church, together with its attempt to change these conditions, denounced with a loud voice the wrongful application and explanation of the Gospel of Christ and His Kingdom.

Pertaining to the first point, Luther wrote in his Ermahnung zum Frieden auf die zwölf Artikel der Bauernschaft in Schwaben, (Admonishment to Peace on the 12 Articles of the Swabian Farmers), written in 1525:

"First, we can’t blame anyone here on earth for this rebellion other than you lords and sovereigns, especially you blind bishops, mad monks and clergymen. To this day you are determined and do not cease your efforts against the Holy Gospel, even though you know that it is the truth and you cannot contradict it. In addition, in your worldly administrations you do no more than abuse and lay on taxes so as to increase your own glory and arrogance, until the common man can no longer endure. Know this, dear lords, God is making it so that your fury cannot nor will it be tolerated any longer. You must change your ways and accept God’s word. If you don’t do this willingly, others will do it for you in a destructive manner. If the farmers don’t do it, someone else will. Even though you may slay them all, they are undefeated, God will call forth others. For he wants to slay you and He will slay you. It is not the farmers, dear lords, who are opposing you, it is God Himself who seeks to destroy you and your madness."

However, after Luther spoke in this and similar manner to the lords and preached to them the Word of God, he turned to the subordinates, the farmers, and chastised their rebellion. Among other things he said:

"What, there is to be no serf because Christ has redeemed us all? What is this? This means that Christian liberty is turned into liberty of the flesh. Did not Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets own serfs? Read what St. Paul has to say about servants, who at that time were all in bondage. Therefore this article is directly opposed to the Gospel and it is rapacious, for everyone who is a bondman to remove himself from his master. A bondman can very well be a Christian and have Christian freedom, just as a prisoner or sick person can be a Christian, but yet is not free. This article proposes to free all men, and turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a worldly one, which is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot exist where there is no class distinction, where some are free, some are prisoners, some are masters, and some are vassals, etc. As St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28, that in Christ both master and vassal are one. (See also XVI, 60,61,85,86.)

Luther’s coworkers were in agreement with him. Amongst other things, Melanchthon writes in his Schrift wider die Artikel der Bauernschaft(Statement Against the Farmers’ Articles):

"It is wanton and violent that they do not want to be bondmen. They are citing Scripture, that Christ has freed them. This pertains to spiritual freedom: that we are assured that through Him our sins have been forgiven without our own doing, and that henceforth we may look to God’s blessings, that we may beseech Him and be hopeful; that Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Him so that they may oppose Satan and not fall under his power like the godless whose hearts he has in his power. He forces them to commit murder, adultery, etc.
Therefore, Christian freedom is of the heart, it cannot be seen with the eye. Outwardly a Christian submits joyfully and patiently to all worldly and social order and makes personal use of it. He can be a bondman or a subject, he can avail himself of the Saxon or Roman law regarding the division of goods. These things do not, however, influence the faith, indeed, the Gospel demands that such worldly order be maintained for the sake of peace. Paulus writes in his letter to the Ephesians 6:5,6,7: ‘You slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling, with a willing heart, as serving Christ, not merely with outward show of service to curry favor with men, but as slaves of Christ, do wholeheartedly the will of God.’ And in Colossians 3:22, he writes:’Slaves, give entire obedience to your earthly masters. . . Whoever does wrong, will receive what he has done wrong.’ Joseph too was a slave in Egypt for a long time, as well as many other saints. Therefore, the farmer’s demands have no basis, indeed, it seems necessary that these wild, insolent people as the Germans are, should have less freedom than they have now." (See also 48, 49.)

So writes Melanchthon, the one so finely educated by humaniora, the humanist in the best meaning of the word. He was at the same time, however, an obedient and humble Christian, and a theologian who saw through the false wisdom of the blind world which concerns itself only with matters of the flesh.

This battle by the church was not in vain. The terrible flames which would consume the entire social and governmental order of Germany, threatening to leave behind nothing but the terror of destruction, soon died down and after some time, extinguished completely.

However, humanism, which wants to be independent of God and men, wants that man renounce happiness and the life to come as something which is dubious. It wants that man finds this happiness within himself which will surely change the earth into heaven and promises equal happiness to all. This humanism is the chiliasm of the secular world, it is its religion. It always appears with force wherever Christianity waivers. When at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century deism raised its head in England, moved on to France and finally was exported to Germany, there were many heralds of humanism.

Rousseau stands out as a proponent of humanism. It was he who first expressed the idea that man by nature is pure and good, and that in order to achieve happiness, he needs to leave all that is unnatural and return to nature, to himself, to become human again. He spoke in a truly magical manner which, like a sweet poison, saturated the hearts of millions. This idea developed into the evermore common theories of undeniable, inherent human rights, of inherent freedom and equality, that only the democratic-republican constitution as well as the socialist and communist theories of the "new times" were acceptable. These theories came to fruition in the world-shaking catastrophe of the first French revolution whose well-known slogan was "freedom, equality, and brotherhood." They incorporated these tenets in their constitution of 1791 as the basis for their model state, and proclaimed that "human rights" was the most important principle of all state laws. It is known what pinnacle of human and national happiness this grand humanistic experiment did achieve. It was a happiness in which all of hell’s murderous spirits triumphed over the world with their demonic laughter against humanity itself, which caused terror even among humanists abroad.

Nevertheless, these first seeds of humanistic theories germinated, grew and were nourished, first through the German rationalismus vulgaris and then the German pantheistic and materialistic, philosophical systems. Communism or some other form of ochlocratic state, abrogation of all monarchies and the church, extermination of all nobility and proclaimers of Christianity and all religions (whom they refer to as "Paffen"), that is what these public speakers of the race are presenting as the ultimate national happiness. They refer to it as the beginning of the golden age, as predicted down through the centuries by all prophets of the human spirit. The masses who have fallen away from God and who are renouncing their hope for eternal life, the masses who have been charmed and deluded, upon them they are trying to inflict brutality and bestiality as humanity.

In this respect, how is our America doing? The founding of our union occurs exactly at the time when Humanism was in its youth and had the attraction of something new. In addition, it seemed to have the only basis for a new republican state, which obviously could not become a reality without absolute freedom of religion. Thus humanists like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Payne, and others, gained immense influence, not only in the formulation of our government, but also in the ideas, concepts, and views of the people. These elements of destruction and dissolution were greatly strengthened during the last decades by whole hordes of men with revolutionary tendencies. None of them acknowledge God and eternal life, for them earthly life is the only goal of the human existence. They see the beginning of common human happiness in the realization of their tenets of common freedom and equality.

Especially during recent years, Christian communities have had to face trial by fire. But, to put it bluntly, they have not passed this trial. Not that the American theology—if we want to mention it—has just now succumbed! It has been quite obvious for some time, that in addition to the various sects with their false teachings, many humanistic ideas and efforts of the modern world have found their way into Christianity. Wherever in the old world there was a revolutionary movement against a monarchy, the religious press here has announced their support of the rebels. Wherever atheistic journalists and their correspondents reported wrong-doing by a European sovereign, they have busily claimed that this was further evidence that only under a republican constitution the masses could achieve happiness; that the model republic for the entire world was the American one, and that the world was yet to enjoy freedom and happiness under such an ideal constitution.

Participation in temperance agitation’s has almost become a test of godliness among the believers. Reverends of all so-called denominations are members of all lodges. They not only assert their free-mason, deistic philanthropism in the hidey-holes of their meetings, but also from their pulpits, their publications and their administrations. Not one important discovery or invention is made which is not shown by the local theologians as new proof of the grandeur, the fruitfulness, the creative and all-overcoming power of the human intellect, and as actual evidence that finally the age of progress and enlightenment has come. Earlier centuries are denounced, with great pride and self-complacency, as times of darkness, superstition, barbarism, and subordination. The local theology is carried along by this stream of fashionable, current opinions. They do not even shy away from serving movements who are obviously nothing other than affirmation of the spirit of these days; movements which are quite easily such that one can perceive them as the beginning of the world’s terrible, final drama of the battle of the anti-Christian powers against the order of state, church, and home.

The question about slavery has been foremost in the hearts and minds of many. In following issues, we intend to deal with this question. Of course, not as it relates to political issues, for we have nothing to do with that, but as it relates to Christian-religious morals.

Before we discuss the agitating question of slavery, we wish to reiterate that we are not concerned with emancipation, which for political reasons is being considered by government, for this is not a theological issue. For us Christians here too the word of God applies: "Be subject to those who are in authority over you." What we are dealing with here is the question whether slavery itself, that is, the relationship between slave and master, is a sin; or does sin adhere to this relationship merely in concreto, as all relationships between sinful men, for instance between poor and rich, seller and buyer. Is therefore slavery a sin which must be unconditionally opposed, or should Christians concentrate on doing away with the connected sinfulness, so that the relationship between slave and master is according to God’s will and order, according to the laws of justice, fairness, and love.

We therefore hold that abolitionism, which deems slavery a sin and therefore considers every slave holder a criminal and strives for its eradication, is the result of unbelief in its development of nationalism, deistic philanthropy, pantheism, materialism, and atheism. It is a brother of modern socialism, Jacobinism and communism. Together with the emancipation of women it is the rehabilitation of the flesh. As proof of this blood-relationship it suffices to point not only to its history, but also to the close union between abolition-minded representatives of Christianity and the abolitionist tendencies of anti-Christians and radical revolutionaries in church, state, and home. The more their non-religiosity increases and reaches the pinnacles of theoretical atheism and indifferentism, the more fanatically they fight for the principle of slave emancipation. Often they have no economic interests and even oppose those who do.

Therefore, a Christian abolitionist, who finds himself in the company of such as these, should become aware of the wrong path he has chosen. How could it be possible that these enemies of Christianity and religion per se, all those who are intent on doing away with the existing religious, political, and economical order of things to realize their humanistic utopia, that especially they would be so enthusiastic for something good and holy, for "the final reason of Christianity" and so greatly exert themselves? Can a Christian accept that now, in the 19th century, Christ’s word has come to naught through progress, enlightenment, and civilization? "Can grapes be harvested from thorns, or figs from the thistle tree? A rotten tree does not bear fruit." We can only pity those Christians who have forgotten all this and with best intentions, in the desire to work for a Christian-humane purpose, have allied themselves with the enemies of Christendom, and have come under the banner of anti-Christian humanism and philanthropy, thus having lent themselves as mediums of the spirit of the times.

However, we do not demand that these our erring fellow-Christians be satisfied with these á priori reasons. Regarding questions of morals or religion, Christians do not acquiesce until they have the answer to the question: "What is written?" They are ever mindful of the words of the prophet: "Yes, according to the law and witness. If they do not say this, they will not see the sun rise" (Is. 8:20). The Christian’s thoughts are as Solomon’s: "A man may think that he is always right, but the Lord fixes a standard for the heart" (Prov. 21:2). Therefore, he "gladly compels every human thought to surrender in obedience to Christ. . ." (2.Cor. 10:6). When man has found the clear witness of Scripture, even though it may go totally against the grain of his own intellect, heart, and his entire view of the world, he will say together with Christ: ". . . Scripture cannot be set aside" (John 10:36). For such Christians then, who are Christians according to John 14:23, 8:31,32, 47, we will consult Scripture which alone is "a true fount for Israel," which alone is the true guide upon which all doctrine and teachers are to be fixed and judged.6

In order not to commit any blunders, it is necessary that we agree with our opponents on the definition "slavery." However, we do not know a better definition than the one rendered by the magister germaniae, Melanchthon. It is found in the appendix to his examination of those who are to be publicly ordained and given the office of evangelism (1556). There he says: "Civil slavery, which is approved by God (as Joseph and Onesimus were slaves), is the lawful removal of the ability of ownership, the freedom to chose one’s vocation or employment, and to move from one place to another." (Corpus reformatorum, Vol. XX!, p. 1096)

There is no doubt that Holy Scripture , Old and New Testament, deal with slavery in this sense. Though the word "slave" is not contained in our German Bible, the words "man-servant" (Hebrew= Aebed, Greek = Dulos) and "maid-servant" (Hebrew = Amah or Schiphchah, Greek = Dule) have the same basic meaning. They are often used in reference to those without civil freedom, or to vassals, those whom we now refer to as "slaves." That is why Melanchthon, in a citation from the New Testament quoted in the previous issue, translates the word Duloi with "Leibeigene" and Luther himself often translated the Hebrew words Aebed and Amah with "man or maid-servant owned by another" = slave (Gen. 47:19,15; Lev. 25:39,42,44), and the Hebrew word Schiphchah with "maid-servant owned by another."

It is clear that this translation is correct, that the meaning of the words Aebed, Amah, Schiphchah, Dulos, Dule mean nothing other than maid- or man-servants owned by another person, as is apparent by usage and context. Thus the servants of Abraham "men born in his household and those purchased from foreigners" (Gen. 14:14, 17:12) and the maid and man-servants are juxta positioned with the "free" (Eph 6:8; Gal. 4:30-31; 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:22). It is deceptious when the laity is told that whenever Scripture (especially the New Testament) speaks of maid- or man-servants it speaks of hired workers, which these days are called "maid or man servants." The Hebrew and Greek languages have specific words for these, in Hebrew Sachir (from the root word Sachar = to hire out for wages). Compare Job 7:2; Lev. 19:13 ("a laborer"), Ex. 12:45 ("a hireling"), and the Greek Ergates in Matth. 10:10; 20:1 ("a worker"), or Misthotes in John 10:12 ("a hireling").

What then do we read in Holy Scripture about slavery? Certainly it is not our intent to deal completely with every mention of slavery in Scripture. One can find relative instructions in every good, complete, biblical archeology. It should suffice to highlight that which expresses God’s view of the morality and immorality of these political and economical issues.

The first mention of slavery we read in Scripture is the prophetic oath Noah utters over his godless son Ham, when he tells him that as a godly punishment his descendants shall be the slaves of slaves to his brothers (Gen. 9:20-27).

In the following we learn that almost all wealthy saints of the old covenant owned such slaves. According to Gen. 12:16, Abraham, the father of all believers, already acquired such servants in Egypt, and later we learn that he had 318 of these, able to bear arms, who were born in his house (Gen. 14:14). In the report about the institution of circumcision (Gen 17:12) slaves are mentioned which "were purchased from foreigners, not of your own seed." Following that we read that Isaac (Gen. 26:12-14), Jacob (Gen. 32:6), Job (Job 1:3, 31:53), Solomon (Eccl. 2:7), and others, all had slaves, some of them in great number.

Further we read in the holy ten commandments that slaves are to be considered as family members, over whom the master bids as he bids over his children. The third commandment: "You shall do no work, neither your son, your daughter, your maid or man-servant. . .," and in the tenth commandment God Himself solemnly declares again blessing for all who will keep this commandment, and a curse for those who will not: "Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, man-servant, maid-servant, cattle, or anything which is his." In the words of Ex. 20:17: "Do not lust after your neighbor’s wife, his man-servant, his maid-servant, nor his oxen, his ass, or anything which is your neighbors."

We also read that Moses, as commanded by God, established the law that proven thieves, who were unable to make restitution for the goods they had stolen, could be sold into slavery (Ex. 22:3). In addition, the Israelites were allowed to purchase slaves, but with one distinction: An Israelite sold into slavery to another Israelite for non-payment of debt, had to be freed in the seventh year of his slavery. The Jewish people were to demonstrate also with their civil laws that they were free people of God, and because of the promised Messiah they were to retain their division into tribes until the coming of the promised one. Thus the "slave" was to return to his father’s house, unless he chose not to be freed, in which case he had to remain as a slave "for ever." In regard to Hebrew slaves, it was also the law that if the freed slave had come into bondage without wife and children, he was discharged without wife and children. In these cases, they remained the property of the master (Ex. 21:1-6; Lev. 25:39-43).

For slaves purchased from heathens there were different rules. "Should you desire to own slaves, you shall purchase them from the nations round about you, from your guests and the foreigners among you, and from their descendants which they sired in your land. Those you may have to own, and your children after you, as your property for ever and ever, and shall have them as your slaves" (Lev. 25:44-46).

In this manner God defines the relationship between master and slave as a civil, physical and timely order. He reiterates this order by defining all manner of duties of the master to the slave, and the slave to the master. The master is to consider his slaves as family members, and is therefore responsible for their spirituality (Gen. 17:12; 18:19; Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14; Ex. 12:44), not regarding them as free persons, but as slaves (Prov. 29:21), treating them with justice, fairness, and love (Job 31:13). Exodus 21:26-27 decreed that if a slave was brutally treated, where his master struck him and the slave lost an eye, the master was bound to set the slave free as a recompense for the lost eye. Servants and slaves were so tightly bound to the family that for instance, if the family was that of a priest, the servants enjoyed priestly privileges, even though a married daughter was no longer entitled to these privileges. We read in Lev. 22:10-12: "No one shall eat of the holy gift, nor may a stranger lodging with him nor his hired man. A slave bought by the priest with his own money may do so, and slaves born in his horse may eat of it. When a priest’s daughter marries an unqualified person, she shall not eat of the holy gift."

The slaves themselves are under the obligation of honor, which includes love, loyalty and obedience towards their master. So says the Lord in Malachi 1:6: "A son shall honor his father, and a slave his master." When the Egyptian slave girl Hagar ran away from her mistress after she had been chastised, the angel of the Lord, that is the Lord Himself, appeared to her and asked her: "Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" She answered: "I am running away from Sarai, my mistress." And the angel of the Lord said to her: "Go back to your mistress, and submit to her ill treatment." In this manner God Himself decided when a slave girl tried to emancipate herself.

From all this we can conclude that according to Holy Scripture – The Old Testament, God did not initially institute slavery or servitude as he did the state of matrimony or civil authority. Neither did He institute absolute monarchy, the class of the poor or any other social burden in life. Rather He deemed them punishment for sin itself and considered them as a "duty-relationship" based on the fourth commandment. Further, he declared slaves to be the indisputable property of their master in the tenth commandment, in societies where such a relationship is lawful, just as He confirmed all other worldly and civil freedoms, burdens, rights, duties, ownership, etc.

We willingly agree, however, that if the Old Testament alone spoke of such slavery, there would still be room for the idea that the morality of such a relationship has not been proven beyond all doubts. The people of Israel received from God, through Moses, their civil laws. These civil laws, though, could not punish all that which is punished by "moral law," the law of the eternal will of God Himself. Therefore, because of the wickedness of man a lot could not be held to be moral, but things were allowed which were directly in opposition to the "moral law" in order to maintain civil peace, based on the old axiom: "Aliud jus poli, aliud jus so i, a different law for heaven, a different law for the earth." One might think that this relationship between master and slave could fall into this latter category.

For instance, divorce was allowed, according to Deut. 24:1, with a letter of divorce "if the wife does not win her husband’s favor." And yet, when the pharisees referred to this passage, our Lord directed them to God’s institution of matrimony as the eternal valid order and added: "Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. It was not like this in the beginning. I say to you: If a man divorces his wife for any cause other than unchastity, and he marries another, he commits adultery. And whoever marries the divorced woman, is also committing adultery" (Matth. 19:3-9).

Does the question of master-slave therefore also belong to the category which during Old Testament times were permitted, according to worldly law, but according to moral law and conscience were sinful and therefore punishable by God? Does it belong to those liberties which were only granted on behalf of the stiffnecked people, but was not used by those who wanted not only to keep worldly law but also wanted to remain faultless in the face of God? Does this belong to the New Testament where only moral law is valid, and Old-Testament dispensations have been canceled? The manner in which not only Moses, but other prophets of the Old Testament deal with this issue makes it quite clear that it does not belong into the latter category, but concurs with moral law. In order to achieve certainty, let us therefore search the New Testament.

Even though during the times of the apostles, under the Roman Empire, slavery was closely tied to the injustice of raiding by the envious and everlasting thirst for conquest of the Romans (often with the worst types of tyranny, where the masters had the right over life or death of the slaves, a right which was not withdrawn until Antonin), we never read that the apostles themselves denounced slavery as a sin against the law of "love thy neighbor." Neither did they denounce the authority of Nero, despite this monster’s horrible abuse of his power. They do, however, emphasize the masters’ responsibilities.

Thus writes the holy apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesians: "You masters also must do the same by them (the slaves), give up the use of threats, remember you have the same master in heaven, and He has no favorites." In a similar manner he writes to the Christians in Colassae: "Master, be just and fair to your slaves, knowing that you too have a master in heaven" (Co. 4:1). At the time, however, the same apostle admonishes the slaves to obey their masters. In his letter to the Ephesians, after having addressed children and parents regarding their duties to one another: "Slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling, single mindedly as serving Christ. Do not offer merely the outward show of service, to curry favor with men, but, as slaves of Christ, do wholeheartedly the will of God. Give the cheerful service of those who serve the Lord, not men. For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave or free, will be repaid him by the Lord" (Eph. 6:5-8).

He uses almost the same words as he counsels the slaves in his letter to the Colossians in Col. 3:22-25. Paul also asks the bishop of Titus in Crete to remind the slaves: "Tell the slaves to respect their masters’ authority in everything, and to comply with their demands without answering back; not to pilfer, but to show themselves strictly honest and trustworthy; for in all such ways they will add luster to the doctrine of God our Savior" (Titus 2:9-10). He gives the same pastoral advice to Timothy when he writes to him: "All who wear the yoke of slavery must count their own masters worthy of all respect, so that the name of God and the Christian teaching are not brought into disrepute" (1 Tim.:6:1).

Unanimous with Paul, because he is inspired and driven by the same spirit, Peter writes, after having explained his basic principle: "Servants, accept the authority of your masters with all due submission, not only when they are kind and considerate, but even when they are perverse. For it is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering because God is in his thought" (1 Peter 2:18-19). Thus Peter equals obedience and disobedience of a slave to his master to obedience and disobedience to authority per se, and declares the disobedient slave and the one who has incited him to be a rebel.

Who then can read all of this, in his heart accepting Holy Scripture as the word of God, and still consider the relationship of master and slave to be a sinful one, offensive to God’s will and order and to the spirit of the Gospel which therefore must be abolished? Is every slave owner a thief, a robber, and a denier of the truth and therefore guilty; and if he wants to be just before the eyes of God must he release his slave(s)? How could than the apostle give instructions to the masters, as he does, and how could the apostle demand from the slaves that they obey their masters "as Christ" and to "give them all honor," even those masters who mistreat them, to submit to them for "the sake of their conscience"?

Can one give rules and instructions to a thief and robber to treat that which he has stolen in a decent and righteous manner? Does one consider a thief and robber who has unlawfully set himself over us "with all honors" and submit even to those who mistreat us "for the sake of conscience"? Or does one want to believe that the holy apostles thought up such teachings only for political reasons, and for political reasons explained the duties of master and slave, based on the fourth commandment; that the Gospel actually condemns slavery and demands emancipation? Did they avoid this issue because they feared the power and rage of those in authority and did not want general unrest and change?

What Christian could speak in such a blasphemous manner of God’s chosen saints and His word? No, those who say of themselves: "We cannot agree with falsehood, neither do we pervert God’s word, rather we confess the truth and stand fast before God against the conscience of others" (2 Cor. 4:2); they cannot turn light into dark and evil into good for political reasons or fear of their fellow man.

Had the Holy Spirit enlightened them that slavery is an immoral practice which is irreconcilable with the spirit of the Gospel, they would have boldly spoken out against it. They would have demanded its abolishment from all those wanting to be saved, without compromise, just as they have fought any other ungodly ways of the pagan and Jewish world. They would have demanded that they desist, or else loose salvation. They were under the command: "What I say to you in the dark, you must repeat in broad daylight; what you hear whispered, you must shout from the housetops" (Matth. 10:27). They had the promise: "However, when he comes who is the spirit of truth, he will guide you into all truth. . ." (John 16:13). And they knew that Christ "had not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword" (Matth. 10:34), and to "light a fire on earth" (Luke:12:49) which would burn them too. And note, not fearing this sword and fire, they fearlessly "disclosed to them the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27). Therefore, far be it from every true Christian to suspect that these "chosen instruments" (Acts 9:15) who did not shrink from the fight with the whole word, namely the rich, would have agreed with the worldly view concerning slavery.

Had the apostles only admonished the slaves and bade them to be obedient and loyal to their masters, one might think that slavery was a cross to be borne patiently. To be a slave owner, however, would be incompatible with Christianity, such as a Christian is required to patiently endure the tyranny of a despot, but may himself not be a tyrant. However, as we have already learned, the apostles of the Lord did not only admonish the slaves, they also admonished their masters and instructed the latter not how to set their slaves free, but how to treat them properly. Even escaped slaves whom they converted, were sent back to their masters from whom nothing else was demanded but to accept them as their spiritual brothers (Philem. 10-19).

It is quite clear that the apostles did not only address pagans and Jews, but Christians as well, as can be ascertained from a letter Paul wrote to Timothy, in which there is explicit mention of "believing" slave owners. It states: "If the masters are believers, the slaves must not respect them any less for being their Christian brothers. Quite contrary, they must be all the better servants because those who receive the benefit of their service are one with them in faith and love" (1 Tim. 6:2). It is not the intention of the Holy Spirit that the slaves of believers should get the idea: ‘My master is my brother in Christ, therefore I am his equal. Consequently he should free me and I need no longer serve him.’

To the contrary, they should think: ‘My master is my brother in Christ, before God I am his equal, he has no greater father in heaven, no greater savior nor spirt, no better mercy and justice, no greater hope, than I. So I will not concern myself with the physical inequality in which I find myself here on earth, but I will serve him all the better as a dear brother in faith.’ In another letter the apostle writes: "For the man who as a slave received the call to be a Christian is the Lord’s freedman, and equally, the free man who received the call is a slave in the service of Christ" (1 Cor. 7:22).

It is noteworthy at 1 Tim. 6:1-2 that the apostle, after first having defined the duties of slaves–both those belonging to believers and non-believers–addresses Timothy himself with these words: "This is what you are to teach and preach. If anyone is teaching otherwise, and will not give his mind to wholesome precepts–mean those of our Lord Jesus Christ–and to good religious teaching, I call him a pompous ignoramus. He is morbidly keen on mere verbal questions and quibbles, which give rise to jealousy, quarreling slander, base suspicions, and endless wrangles: all typical of men who have let their reasoning powers become atrophied and have lost grip of the truth. They think religion should yield dividends" (1 Tim. 6:2-5).

Truly, we cannot understand how a believing Christian can read this and still agree with the humanists of our times that slavery and serfdom are unjust. We assert that anyone who still has regard for God’s word will be pierced by these words into his very heart. Anyone dreaming this modern world’s dream of abolition should perceive these words as God’s slaps, waking him from his dream. For here the apostle, in the Holy Spirt, explains in plain words that all he had said before, concerning the slave’s conduct towards his master, should be taught by every preacher of the Gospel; and that he who teaches otherwise is in the dark and knows nothing, no matter how brilliant he considers himself.

Such a man, therefore, is to be avoided by the believing Christian! This must, therefore, be a matter of consequence and great importance, on which hinges God’s honor and man’s salvation. And so it is! For the Christian this is not merely a neutral, political issue. The question is not: Is it advantageous for a state, a country, a people, to lawfully abolish slavery? The question is: Does the law of love and justice demand that all people enjoy equal civil liberties and rights; is it right or wrong to use the existing civil law which enables one to exercise rights over another person; is it right or wrong to acknowledge and accept such a law? The question is whether the old canon—Evangelium non abolet politias - the Gospel does not remove political law—is a lie, and whether the Gospel demands civil equality.

The question is whether Christian freedom, that is the freedom we received from Christ, is a physical, civil one; whether Christ was the kind of messiah expected by the Jews, who would free his people from earthly oppression; whether the Gospel contains elements of rebellion which seek to do away with worldly law. The issue is whether the apostle’s words are the truth applied to all conditions: "Where there is authority, it is ordained by God." According to the old, logical principle Non variant speciem plusve minusve suam = more or less does not change the essence of a thing, every other involuntary relationship of subservience especially in a monarchy where voters do not elect their leaders, would also be against the law of human rights.

Furthermore, it is a question whether it is a sin to be rich while the neighbor is poor, and whether love and "inherent equal human rights" demands that the rich uses his possessions to prevent the poor from falling into slavery and thus effect emancipation via sharing of goods. It is a question whether he is a thief, who, though he lawfully acquired his possessions, cannot prove whether those from whom he acquired them legitimately owned them; whether all owners, based on the origin of their property, are thieves and should be treated as such. And finally it is a question whether the large number of saints mentioned in Holy Scripture in the Old Testament who owned slaves, were in reality tyrannical thieves of men, and whether Holy Scripture is the holy, eternal, unchanging word of God, or man’s composition to effect a quasi-godly approval of oppression and a product of papal lies and deceit (as claimed by atheists).

"What then," comes the cry, "does the Gospel not demand compassion for the often terrible conditions of slavery? Does the Gospel demand that one remain unsympathetic to the tears and sighs forced from these slaves by inhumane masters? Does the Gospel not demand that at least one works on removing these horrible atrocities so often connected with slavery? Or does the Gospel cover all these obscenities, this total spiritual neglect, injustice, destruction of marriages, cruelty, etc., with a halo?" We answer: "Far from it!" We have already pointed to Gen. 18:19, 17:12; Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14; Ex. 12:44, 21:26-27; Job 31:13; Eph. 6:8-9; Col. 4:1, where it is shown how slaves are to be treated by their masters. We also remind of scripture which deals with abduction or selling of men into slavery and the punishment thereof (1 Tim. 1:10; Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7).

To see to it that these godly rules are observed, especially by authority, this we consider to be the true task of each Christian who lives in a land where slavery is lawful. Such efforts, where slavery itself remains (in principle: Abusus non tollit usum, sed confirmat substantiam = misuse does not abolish proper use but rather confirms the essence of a thing), which would result in a Christian, just, loving, formulation of this political and economical condition would honor God and serve man. Such efforts are worthy of the diligent efforts of the true Christian.

May this suffice as proof that slavery is not against Christian morals. In the following issues we intend to let our true theologians of old speak to this matter. Their comments will make clear that we have no hidden agenda underlying our protest against acceptance of the humanistic, revolutionary, sourdough into our Lutheran theology. We are merely concerned with the preservation of purity of our Lutheran, biblical theology. We have long since given witness privately, and in publications, of our opposition of the current political confusion and the dangerous abolitionist movements which are anti-Gospel and anti-Christ.

We come to the close of this year’s foreword by declaring our serious fight against the spread of humanism, which has already infiltrated our church with its deistic and atheistic concepts of philanthropy, as the most important issue for this year.

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