Slavery and the Campbellites: How and Why Christians Incorrectly Interpret Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation, and especially Slavery, as a Secondary Matter of Doctrine and of Faith
-------------------------------------------------------In Essentials, Unity;
-------------------------------------------------------In Opinions, Liberty;
-------------------------------------------------------In All Things, Love.
It is the purpose of this paper to argue that Alexander Campbell’s, Walter Scott’s and David Lipscomb’s beliefs--that Slavery was a political question and, therefore, secondary--were the result of not taking the full counsel of Scripture seriously. This is supported by five premises. The first two need no defense today because the vast majority of Christians already understand the errors that the first two generations of this movement held. The third premise also need no defense, but must be openly acknowledged: the excluded middle does not apply to several key theological truths. Most Christians when it comes to the Trinity, eschatology, sanctification, and ecclesiology recognize that the excluded middle cannot be applied in every aspect: e.g. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. However, this truth is often neglected in discussions of soteriology, theological anthropology, and political theology.
== I. All four of the founders failed to recognized that the Scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles used and from which they preached was the Old Testament. The Old Testament--not the New Testament--was considered authoritative. Consequently, to be a New Testament church today is to follow the practice of the New Testament believers which includes using the same Scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles used to preach the Gospel. To use only the New Testament is a miss reading of Scripture.
==II. The Gospels--which recorded the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Christ--are to be seen as being equal in authority to the Epistles. (Campbell and most of the others founders held that the authoritative sections of the New Testament started with Acts 2, where the birth of the church was recorded, and ran through Revelations.)
==III. The Employment of the Excluded Middle. Just as the Kingdom of God is both "now" and "not yet" as well as the Lordship of Christ where Christ is now sitting at the right hand of God as Lord and Ruler of the Earth, but whose righteous rule and total subjugation of His reign is yet in the future, the Spiritual reality of redeemed anthropology is a now although it has not fully manifested itself in the church and to the world. We are one body now spiritually even if there is still racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and educational classism in the church. Our failure to live up to our spiritual calling and the spiritual reality of Christ's redeeming work of the cross and His resurrection still does not negate the "real" spiritual reality that we are one in Christ as the song "Somos Uno" proclaims.
==IV. One of the Essentials of the Gospel is the Reconciliation of Humanity with Humanity . Almost all exegetical interpretation of Ephesian 2:11-18 explicitly state that there was a horizontal purpose for Christ’s death, that is, that there was an horizontal dimension to Christ death. Ephesians 2 and other texts, therefore, support that the horizontal (human to human) reconciliatory purpose of Christ’s Death and Resurrection is one of the core beliefs of the New Testament church and, therefore, makes slavery, racism and ethnocentrism a sign of a counterfeit or false gospel.
==V. Slavery, Racism, and Ethnocentrism are the result of the “Fall” and will be absent in the New Heaven and New Earth to come. Consequently, they are inconsistent with regenerated living and mature Christian virtue. This means minimally that Christian leadership must be unattainable for those who evidence and support slavery, sexism, racism, and ethnocentrism. [Side Note: Although I will not argue this here in regards to slavery, Church history also shows that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations of Christians [from CE. 30 to 120 AD] followed this practice as no church leader, elder, deacon or bishop were slave holders when they were installed into those offices.]
Ephesians 2:11-18, Galatians 3:26-29, 1 John 4:7-21, John 17:20-23, Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10
IV. THE THREE DIMENSION OF THE GOSPEL
A. Vertical Dimension of the Cross: (Divinity to Humanity Reconciliation)
- -----------Colossians 1:21-23
- -----------Romans 5:12-19; 8:1-4
- -----------Matthew 27:51
- -----------John 3:10-21, esp. 17-18
B. Horizontal Dimension: (Humanity to Humanity Reconciliation)
- -----------Ephesians 2:11-18
- -----------Galatians 3:26-29
- -----------1 John 4:7-21
- -----------John 17:20-23
- -----------Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10
C. Depth Dimension: (Reconciliation Across Time)
- -----------Hebrews 9:24-10:10
- -----------1 Peter 3:18
A cross or crucifix has three dimensions (vertical, horizontal and width or thickness). The Gospel also has three dimensions. The vertical dimension involves God reconciling God’s self to humanity. The horizontal dimension involves God reconciling humanity to and with humanity. And the width or depth dimension involves how Jesus’ death and resurrection was efficacious for all time and for all persons—past, present and future. I would like to briefly explore in more depth the Biblical basis for our understanding of the horizontal dimension as being an essential truth of Christian belief.
Many people believe that God had only one purpose for Christ’s life, death and resurrection—that God had only one purpose for the Cross. However, the Scriptures state that there were two purposes. We all know the first reason—everlasting life to “whosoever believeth.” This is what we were taught in Sunday School and what we hear in Evangelistic crusades done by the likes of Franklin Graham, Luis Palau and Greg Laurie. But few are taught that God had a second purpose. The Scriptural basis for this second purpose is found in Ephesians 2:11-18 and Galatians 3:26-29.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
- [Quote] For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. HIS PURPOSE [GK: HINA “IN ORDER THAT, THAT, SO THAT”] WAS TO CREATE IN HIMSELF ONE NEW MAN OUT OF THE TWO, THUS MAKING PEACE, AND IN THIS ONE BODY TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD THROUGH THE CROSS, BY WHICH HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY.* He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (NIV, emphasis added).
- [Quote] All of us are God's children because of our faith in Christ Jesus. And when we were baptized, it was as though we had put on Christ in the same way we put on new clothes. FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS IS WHAT MAKES EACH OF US EQUAL WITH EACH OTHER, WHETHER YOU ARE A JEW OR A GREEK, A SLAVE OR A FREE PERSON, A MAN OR A WOMAN*. So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham's family, and you will be given what God has promised. (CEV, emphasis Added.)
Racial and ethnic reconciliation are not an item that individuals have the freedom to accept or reject based on personal or cultural choice or preferences. Why? God’s purpose for Jesus’ crucifixion was “to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Both our individual salvation (our reconciliation with God on the vertical dimension) and humanity's reconciliation with one another (reconciliation on the horizontal dimension) are the results of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are justified by faith and reconciled to one another by faith. We are saved by grace and reconciled to one another by grace. These are gifts not of our own making lest we boast. This is a central and foundational truth and as such this makes racial and ethnic reconciliation an essential doctrine of Christianity.
Racial and ethnic reconciliation does not, therefore, come about as a secondary process that results from our Christian maturation or sanctification any more than our salvation comes about as a result of our Christian maturation, works, efforts or sanctification. Salvation (vertical reconciliation) comes before sanctification; humanity’s Oneness (horizontal reconciliation) comes before sanctification. If orthodoxy supports the doctrine of “sola fide” [by faith alone] and “sola gratia” [by grace alone] for salvation, then it must also do so for humanity’s reconciliation. In Christ and among brothers and sisters of Christ, there should be no Jews or Gentiles, slave or freeman, male or female. Slavery, racism and ethnocentrism are incompatible with this Gospel of vertical and horizontal reconciliation. Humanity’s reconciliation is not, therefore, a secondary issue of sanctification and the results of sanctified individuals transforming society.
Nevertheless, just like our salvation, the reconciliation of the tribes and nations requires a “working out” of this gift (cf. “the working out of salvation” in Philippians 2:12). It requires growing into this spiritual reality brought about by the cross. While the fullest expression of this gift of reconciliation will be found in the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10), we are, nevertheless, called to live out that truth now (1 John 4:7-21; John 17:20-23). Consequently, racial and ethnic reconciliation are at the heart of the Gospel message and finds its fullest expressions in the age to come.
V. Other Supportive Biblical Arguments Against Racism and Ethnocentrism
----------A. Biblical Arguments Against Racism and Ethnocentrism.*
The Scripture is replete with messages calling Gentiles to participate in God’s salvation. Gentiles (non-Jewish persons) have been descriptively and prescriptively included in both the Jewish and early Christian communities. There have been passages that limit certain Gentiles from being a part of God’s community as punishment for their individual and collective sins and because they would lead the Israelites away from God; however, this is not a universal or common theme: Consequently, racism and ethnocentrism should be consider a turning away for God’s standards, not just a political matter left up to Christian individuals and communities to decide. We can say this because of the following reasons.
First, the Jewish nation (the people of God) is seen as being a nation of mixed race peoples: (Judah and Tamar [Canaanite]; Joseph and Asenath [Egyptian]; Moses and Zipporah [Midianite]; Salmon and Rehab (along with her extended family) [Canaanite]; and Boaz (the son of Salmon and Rehab) and Ruth [Moabite], whose grandson was David to name a few. In addition, when Israel left Egypt, it is said that a mixed multitude also departed with them.
Second, there are various passages in the Old Testament that speaks to the inclusive message of God’s salvation for all people: Isaiah 56:3-8; Jonah; Ezekiel 47:21-23 and Malachi 1:11.
Third, we must realize that the Bible traces the advent of language and ethnic discrimination to the Tower of Babel story that took place after the “Fall.” Until that time, humanity was portrayed as being unified in its social and ethnic makeup. (See the “Graph of the Epoch of Humanity’s Spiritual and Moral Condition” below.) In the new heaven and new earth, humanity will once again be reunified spiritually and socially via the worshipping and serving of the one true God, not via the medium of a single language or ethnicity (Revelation 5:8-10 and 7:9-17).
We can, therefore, conclude that Ethnocentrism and Racism has no place in the thoughts and practices of Christian Individuals and should not be found in Christian communities and congregations. Racism and ethnocentrism is a condition of the unregenerate and reprobates.
----------B. Biblical Arguments Against Slavery
We can easily demonstrate that slavery was not part of the divine economy of earth before the “Fall” nor will it be in the new heaven and new earth. The first mention of slavery is found in Genesis 9:25 after the Noahic flood. In the new heaven and new earth, slavery is non-existent. (See the “Graph of the Epoch of Humanity’s Spiritual and Moral Condition” above.)
In addition, we have various passages of Scripture that limit the effects and duration of chattel slavery for persons who are members of the covenant community and that grant them certain protections and rights. Most notably, we find that the Bible limits slavery to 7 years in Exodus 21 and 50 years in Leviticus 25 depending on the status or condition of the person. The American form of slavery was for perpetuity and slaves had no rights or protections afforded to them whether the slaves were members of the covenanted community or not.
Slavery then is a condition of reprobate men and women, not regenerated saints. In addition, slave holders in America did not practice the Biblical form of slavery allowed by God after the Fall for those within the covenant community. Instead, American slaveholders followed the practices of the heathens, the peoples of the land of Canaan.
--------------------------------The Epochs of Humanity’s Spiritual and Moral Condition
[Column One] --------------------------------------------BEFORE THE FALL
- ------1.Gender Relationship: Gender Equality
- ------2.Sexuality and Marriage: Sex Only Within Heterosexual Marriage (Monogamy and Fidelity)
- ------3.Family and Social Harmony: Complete Harmony
- ------4.Health and Mortality: No Death and No Sickness
[Column Twp] ------------------------------------AFTER THE FALL OF HUMANITY
- ------1.Gender Relationship: Sexism and Sexual Exploitation
- ------2.Sexuality and Marriage:
------------Bigamy and Polygamy
- ------3.Family and Social Harmony:
------------Idleness and Sloth
- ------4.Health and Mortality:
--------------Death and Sickness
[Column Three] --------------------------------------------WHEN CHRIST RETURNS
- ------1.Gender Relationship:
- ------2.Sexuality and Marriage:
--------------No Sex and No Marriage
- ------3.Family and Social Harmony:
- ------4.Health and Mortality:
--------------No Death and No Sickness
----------C. Biblical Arguments Regarding Justice, Holiness and the Application of Laws
We have already shown that passages in the Bible speak to the horizontal purpose of Christ’s death on the Cross and Christ’s Resurrection and support the position that the horizontal purpose is an essential rather than secondary doctrine of the Christian faith. The equality and reconciliation of humanity that are brought about by the work of Christ and our acceptance of the same by grace through faith are unequivocally at the heart of the Christ’s Gospel and our living this out in our actions and lives are some of the ways in which the church universal witnesses the power of Christ’s transformation in our lives. In particular, the writer of the Gospel of John and the John’s Epistles makes it clear that our love for one another is one of the most persuasive symbols to the world of our conversion or salvation and holiness.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were the first to be called live holy because their Lord God was holy. (See e.g., Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2.) One of the signs of God’s holiness was the institution of “one law” among the foreigners living among the Israelites and the Israelites themselves. (cf. Exodus 12:48-51, Leviticus 24:10-23, If there was to be only “one law” for both the foreigners and for the people of Israel, then it would explicitly be acknowledged that among the Israelites themselves there should an equal application of justice. If Christians are all brothers and sisters in Christ and members of the one redeemed community, it stands to reason that the principles of justice and equality should equally apply to all brothers and sisters regardless of their ethnicity or tribe since they are not foreigners or aliens in the body of Christ, but heirs and fellow citizens. If aliens are afforded under divine commands equal protection and application of the laws of Israel as the Israelites themselves are accorded, then to deny any child of God of his inherent and God given rights would be considered an affront to God and all of God’s children from whatever ethnicity or tribe or nation. Our adoption into the heavenly kingdom takes precedence over our birth rights in the flesh. Our citizenship in heaven is more significant than our citizenship on earth. Our loyalty to God and to God’s principles supersedes our loyalty to earthly laws and principles of various nations and tribes.
The justification of slavery by Christians, therefore, violates God’s principles of justice and of holiness. The use of Scriptures to justify slavery, therefore, also violates the whole counsel of Scripture and sound Biblical principles of exegesis. And finally, it violates all conceptions of logical consistency regarding God’s principles as revealed in Scriptures and those which were self-evident and upon which the United States was founded:
- [Quote] * When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . ..
- [Quote] * We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. . . . (From the “Declaration of Independence.”)
We have argued that Alexander Campbell’s, Walter Scott’s and David Lipscomb’s belief that Slavery was a political question and, therefore, was a secondary issue was itself the result of their failure to correctly exegete Scriptures. This failure resulted partially from their failure to use the whole counsel of Scripture. We also believe that they missed the importance of Ephesians 2:11-18 and other appropriate New Testament texts for determining the essential truth of the Gospel of reconciliation. Consequently, they were not able to see how the whole counsel of Scripture spoke to this central purpose of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and why Heavenly citizenship precludes earthly discrimination and segregation.
The “What” should not be confused with the “How.” This truth may not have been evidenced by all because of the social constraints imposed on Christians from the outside [the adoption of political and social worldviews like Aristotle's from foreign, pagan, and/or unbelieving Jews and Gentiles], but this truth still was in operation as an essential and central doctrine of the faith. What the truth was should be clear--all Christians are all equal in Christ. Second, God's Justice and Holiness demands equality among all the brothers and sisters in Christ--both at the foot of the Cross and in their rebirth and sanctification. How local Christians in each locality sought to lived out this truth may vary. A Christian majority will evidence this truth openly and completely; a Christian minority in ways appropriate to the complexity of their social life. For example, in ancient Rome and in modern China and the Middle East, the Christian minority may meet secretly in underground house churches where men and women from all tribes and nationalities and classes can meet to worship and study the Word as one family, but they would not do so in public. In 18th and 19th century America, a so-called Christian majority prevailed and, thus, a Christian and Scriptural response should have prevailed—the open proclamation of the truth in open worship and in the abolition of slavery. The socio-economic pressures may have been real, but are no excuse for subjugating the Gospel of Reconciliation to human institutions. Either Christ is Lord or Caesar and the almighty dollar are Co-regents.