Slavery and Christianity

My pastor, Matt Chandler, is currently teaching from the book of Colossians. Four weeks ago he taught on chapter 3, verses 18-19, one of the controversial passages about wives submitting to their husbands, and gave some great insight on how it’s been mistranslated by both Christians and skeptics. The following week he taught on the next two verses about children obeying their parents. During that particular message, I couldn’t help but look down at my Bible and see what verses followed: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

I thought to myself, “Surely he’s going to skip these verses next week.” Spending nearly ever Sunday morning in a church service since I was a child, I had never heard any pastor preach on the subject. Personally, I had never been worried about the passage before, as it’s one critics of Christianity regularly use to deconstruct the Bible, because I knew the complete story told in Scripture, and that story is of love, joy, peace, forgiveness–not injustice and oppression. Thus, I was always confident that the passage referred to a cultural situation or a different kind of slavery, nothing that would hinder my belief system. Still, I can’t say that looking at those verses didn’t make me feel a little uneasy, but at least I knew, for sure, that Chandler would pass right over them.

Needless to say, this last Sunday evening (someone else preached the week before, if you’re paying attention to dates) Chandler greeted the congregation and told us to turn our Bibles to Colossians 3:22-25. My heart sank. He was really doing it. And to make matters more interesting, on my left sat a young African-American man, who I had just met. Instead of being nervous, nevertheless, I became excited. I trusted Chandler. Anyone who knows him knows that  he’s wise, intelligent and a great teacher of the Bible; therefore, I knew he knew what he was doing, especially when he reminded us of his commitment to preach Scripture unapologetically and in its entirety.

As assumed, Chandler proceeded to give an amazing, thoroughly researched sermon on slavery and Christianity, in which he used the Bible and history to compare and contrast slavery in Israel (in the timeline of Scripture) to the colonial slavery that Westerners think of when they hear the word. To sum that study up, the two types of slavery are almost as different as night and day. For example, slaves in Israel were slaves by choice. They weren’t abducted from their homes and brought to live in a foreign land. They were often people in financial trouble who sold themselves into slavery so that they could pay off debt. Also, slaves in that time and place weren’t on the bottom of the totem pole in regards to finances and status. They were often as wealthy as their owners and participated in every aspect of society, like any free person would. Basically, slaves in the Bible weren’t slaves at all according to our Western understanding of the term. If you want to explore this topic more, though, I recommend listening to Chandler’s sermon, which will be posted here by the end of the week.

My favorite part of the sermon was, nonetheless, the conclusion: Chandler discussed how Christians can’t be afraid to question and be honest with themselves about the Bible–how we have to trust that Scripture is unblemished and that if we approach it with that commitment, then we don’t have to worry about it not being right or condescending, because it’s truth.

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