Tag Archives: justice

Does the Bible tolerate slavery?

The slavery tolerated by the Scriptures must be understood in its historical context and should not be equated with type of slavery seen in the pre-Civil War American south or in the sex-trade slavery all across the world. Old Testament laws regulating slavery are troublesome by modern standards, but in their historical context they provided a degree of social recognition and legal protection to slaves that was advanced for its time.[1]

In ancient times, slavery existed in every part of the world. Slaves had no legal status or rights, and they were treated as the property of their owners. Even Plato and Aristotle looked upon slaves as inferior beings. As inhumane as such slavery was, we must keep in mind that on occasion it was an alternative to the massacre of enemy populations in wartime and the starvation of the poor during famine. It was to the people of this harsh age that the Bible was first written.

In New Testament times, slave labor was foundational to the economy of the Roman Empire. About a third of the population was comprised of slaves. If the writers of the New Testament had attacked the institution of slavery directly, the gospel would have been identified with a radical political cause at a time when the abolition of slavery was unthinkable. To directly appeal for the freeing of slaves would have been inflammatory and a direct threat to the social order. Consequently, the New Testament acknowledged slavery’s existence, instructing both Christian masters and slaves in the way they should behave.[2] At the same time, it openly declared the spiritual equality of all people.[3]

The gospel first had the practical effect of doing away with slavery within the community of the early church. It also carried within it the seeds of the eventual complete abolition of slavery in the Western world.

The fact that the Bible never expressly condemned the institution of slavery has been wrongfully used as a rationale for its continuance. In the American South prior to the Civil War, many nominal Christians wrongly interpreted the Bible’s approach to slavery and used their misunderstanding to justify economic interests. The terrible use of African slave labor continued in spite of those who argued from the Scriptures for the spiritual equality of all ethnicities. Today the Christian message of the spiritual equality of all people under God has spread throughout the world, and it is rapidly becoming the standard by which the human values of all nations are measured.

[1]. Exodus 21:20-27 ; Leviticus 25:44-46

[2]. Ephesians 6:5-9 ; Colossians 3:2 ; Colossians 4:1 ; 1 Timothy 6:2 ; Philemon 1:10-21

[3]. Galatians 3:281 Corinthians 7:20-24 ; Colossians 3:11

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How Should I Respond When a Fellow Christian Wrongs Me?

Matthew 18:15-17 provides the “ground rules” for the resolution of conflicts between Christians. It applies to peer relationships, not sexual abuse or other offenses that fall in the category of criminal law. Although this is a brief passage of Scripture, it is more than a simple formula. It needs to be obeyed in the spirit of wisdom and compassion that should mark all Christian relationships. The purpose of any confrontation is spiritual healing and restoration of relationship, not revenge.

As verse 15 states, the first step in resolving a damaged relationship is for the one who feels sinned against to confidentially confront the one who has committed the offense. Unfortunately, this first private step is often overlooked. Instead of taking the initiative to personally speak with the one who has offended us, we are inclined to look for allies by sharing our side of the issue with uninvolved people. This failure to face our offender in person allows the offender to go unconfronted, and it increases the distance and distrust between him and us.

If the offending brother or sister does not accept our correction, that is not the end of the matter. It then becomes appropriate to involve two or three other people as witnesses to our problem. While continuing to protect confidentiality, these witnesses are to join us in a second attempt at confrontation and reconciliation.

If the one who has harmed us expresses no repentance or change of heart, even after this confrontation with two or three witnesses, the authority of the whole church is required. Jesus declared:

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

This means that if the offending party will not accept the authority of the church, we are no longer to fellowship with this person as a brother or sister in Christ. Instead we are to love him or her in the way Jesus loved tax collectors and public sinners who desperately needed spiritual conversion.

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When Is a War Just?

Most Christians agree that it is sometimes right for Christians to serve in the military. This consensus is based on the fact that the New Testament declares the legitimacy of government, the necessity of its use of force against evil (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14), and the responsibility of Christians to cooperate with the legitimate power of government (Matthew 8:5-9; Luke 3:14; 6:15; 14:31; Acts 10-11).

During the church’s first 300 years, very few Christians served in the military. The obvious reason for their reluctance to serve was that the Roman government was corrupt, and the military was often used to persecute their own fellow believers. The questions of the degree to which Christians should support war, or the standards by which they should determine whether any particular war is just or unjust only became major issues after the conversion of Constantine and his endorsement of Christianity as the empire’s dominant religion. Following the Edict of Milan (ad 313), Christians began to share in the power of government, and the church’s association with political power soon brought corruption. Rather than continuing to view the teachings of Jesus Christ as their ethical model, many Christians began to look to the Old Testament for analogies that falsely identified Rome with Israel and viewed its wars against pagan enemies as a continuation of Israel’s wars against the Canaanites.

Thoughtful Christians like the influential Augustine of Hippo stood against such rationalizations and declared: “War should be waged reluctantly and with tears in one’s eyes.” Following Augustine,1 the church fathers carefully developed a set of standards for a “just war” based on biblical principles. Here is a summary of these principles:2

Just War Principles

War cannot be just unless all nonviolent options have been tried and have failed.

Just war can only be waged by legitimate authorities, not private individuals and groups.

Just war can be waged only in response to an injury suffered (e.g., an enemy attack) with the motivation of appropriate compensation for the wrong suffered. (In other words, an aggressive war of conquest is by definition unjust.)

War can be just only if there is a reasonable degree of likelihood of victory. To shed blood in unwinnable conflicts is never just.

A war can be considered just only when the peace it seeks to establish will be better than the peace that already exists.

A war is just only when violence committed against the enemy is proportional to the violence suffered at the enemy’s hands. Excessive force is never just.

Just wars never target civilians. The deaths of civilians in a just war must be the unavoidable consequence of attacks on military targets.

Just war principles have always been violated in war. Soldiers caught up in the emotions of battle and hatred of the enemy have murdered, pillaged, and raped. However, Christian just war principles at least tempered the effects of war in the West until modern times.

Tragically, with the rise of secular national states, “just war” theory was swept aside on a massive scale, first in Europe during the Napoleonic conquests, and then in North America during the Civil War. The scale of national violence continued to mount through the 20th century, and Christians have become accustomed to participation in wars that have little concern for justice, proportionality, and safety of civilian populations.

The writer of the epistle of James stated:

What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:1-4).

Christians must guard against allowing earlier Christian collaboration with unjust war to serve as a precedent for their own support of unwarranted violence. Great wars have always involved the tragically flawed decisions of men who turned away from peaceful options, and the violations of just war principles that occurred in these wars always set the stage for further escalation of evil.

It is tempting for Christian citizens of powerful nations to shrug their shoulders and say: “Times have changed. Modern weapons and terrorism have made the principles of just war untenable.” Tragically, many evangelicals have become so accustomed to “total war” that they assume any war their government initiates is necessary.

As we exit a century that has been savaged by human violence and atrocity on a scale far greater than anything the world had seen before3 and enter a new century with even more potential for conflict and destruction, it is high time that evangelical Christians repent their blind nationalism and worship of Caesar and return to their calling as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; Philippians 2:15; James 3:17-18).

Genuine patriots have never offered unquestioning, unqualified support to leaders who lead them into war. Jesus’ simple statement to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane still applies to individuals and to nations of our day: “Put your sword back in its place, . . . for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

  1. In his treatise Against Faustus the Manichean, Augustine declared: “The real evils in war are the love of violence, the cruel passion for revenge, the blind hatred of the enemy, the sometimes insane uncontrolled resistance to attack, the lust for power and other things of this sort.” Back To Article
  2. “The just-war tradition is as old as warfare itself. Early records of collective fighting indicate that warriors used some moral considerations. They may have involved consideration of women and children or the treatment of prisoners. Commonly they invoked considerations of honor: some acts in war have always been deemed dishonorable, whilst others have been deemed honorable. Whilst the specifics of what is honorable differ with time and place, the very fact of one moral virtue has been sufficient to infuse warfare with moral concerns. The just war theory also has a long history. Whilst parts of the Bible hint at ethical behavior in war and concepts of just cause, the most systematic exposition is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologicae, Aquinas presents the general outline of what becomes the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war. Aquinas’s thoughts become the model for later Scholastics and Jurists to expand. The most important of these are: Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546), Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767).” (“Just War Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Back To Article
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski estimated that during the past century, 167,000,000 to 175,000,000 lives were “deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage.” See the Discovery Series booklet, Violence: Why It Happens Back To Article
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Why Would a Loving God Make People Suffer in Hell?

The biblical doctrine of hell is often badly misunderstood. Certainly, if God arbitrarily and unjustly punished His creatures for eternity, He would be evil rather than good.

Luke 12:47-48 , however, shows that punishment will depend on a number of factors, including one’s knowledge of truth, one’s intent, and one’s rejection of the good news and “light” of Christ. Jesus denounced the cities in which most of His miracles were performed ( Matthew 11:20-24 ) and told them they would be judged more harshly in the day of judgment than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. Jesus displayed compassion toward sinners. Even when He was on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” ( Luke 23:34 ).

It is wrong to think of hell as a place where sinners will receive horribly disproportionate punishment for their sins. Certainly, there is an element of coercion. Justice and retribution are involved. But a person’s presence in hell is also the result of a long series of choices. As a person passes through life he either becomes more open to truth, love, and spiritual life or he willfully withdraws from the light that God has given him and begins a descent towards spiritual darkness and death.

Hell is necessary in a universe where genuine free will exists. C.S. Lewis has written a remarkable little book on the subject of hell called The Great Divorce. While we do not endorse all of Lewis’ imaginative descriptions of what hell might be like, the value of his work is in his explanation of the need for hell and eternal punishment. It can be purchased at most bookstores.

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How Could Normal People Deserve Eternal Punishment?

There are no “normal people.” Everyone deserves judgment. We are fallen creatures under a spiritual curse in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-23). Apart from God’s grace, hell is our natural state of being. Apart from God’s grace, this world would be a place of unmitigated horror and suffering.

In the natural world, a desperate struggle for survival defines existence. The strong survive by dominating or devouring the weak. Apart from God’s love, humans would never rise above the level of the law of fang and claw. An idealistic person might reject the natural order and try to establish a higher definition for good and evil than mere survival, but the weight of fallen reality would crush him. The meaninglessness of his efforts would be a vivid example of hell’s power.

Many people consider the ideas of heaven and hell too abstract to make a difference in their lives. They think it is hard to even conceive of hell and heaven, much less to be influenced by the fear of future punishment or desire for future reward. But before they dismiss the reality of heaven and hell, they should think a little more carefully. Heaven and hell are confirmed by daily experience.

Human experience affirms that virtue, honesty, and discipline are usually rewarded, while laziness, carelessness, and dishonesty bring trouble. Young children have a limited attention span with little capacity to be drawn to anything not of immediate interest. But when children become teens and adults, they are more aware of the future. The realities of life show them that the accomplishment of anything that matters requires faith, self-discipline, and work. An adult who lacks the imagination to be motivated by a vision of what he would like to do is likely to be stuck in a job he hates. Self-discipline in present time is necessary for future gains.

All human abilities, whether traits like intelligence and courage or skills like musical performance, carpentry, or golf, can be developed only through practice, and practice isn’t likely to occur without a vision of future reward. A person who behaves courageously and faithfully is rewarded with personal qualities of courage and faithfulness. Musical, athletic, mechanical, and other skills are rewarded to those who invest effort.

God created a world that rewards effort, faith, and self-discipline. But if God is concerned about the meaningfulness of life at the level of work and survival, is He less concerned about the meaningfulness of our lives in their entirety? Would He be likely to allow someone who has nothing but contempt for fellow human beings to escape the consequences of a long, vicious life? Wouldn’t He be concerned that the efforts of a person who has “by persistence in doing good sought glory, honor and immortality” be rewarded?

Jesus declared:

To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:29-30).

Nothing about the likelihood of future rewards and punishments is inconsistent with our daily experience. Even so, why do normal people deserve hell?

Normal people deserve hell because they are willing participants in the events of a fallen, cruel world.

No one consciously intends all of the evil that results from their actions. The evil that each of us contributes to the natural and spiritual worlds would horrify us if we were capable of or willing to see it. Because we are fallen, we overlook our own sins and focus on the injustices we’ve suffered. We devise a rationale to claim we are “righteous.” We willfully ignore evidence that would shatter cherished illusions about our own goodness, along with the goodness of our family, social class, ethnic group, church, and nation (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Old Testament prophets brought awareness of this self-deception to the people of Israel (Exodus 22:21-23; Psalm 12; Ecclesiastes 5:8-11; Isaiah 1:11-16; Jeremiah 7:4-11; Ezekiel 22:5-12; Amos 5:18-24). The New Testament describes the nature of the evil world system to which we all contribute (Luke 4:5-7; Ephesians 6:12).

We are much worse than we think we are. We have a remarkable determination to deceive ourselves into thinking that the web of social and economic relationships to which we belong is positive or benign. In spite of millions of horrific deaths, we assume our wars are just. We think that we have no responsibility for the violence in the Mideast or for the sweatshops and squalid living conditions of workers in the “developing” third world. This determination to deceive ourselves and cloak ourselves in righteousness and spiritual pride is evil. This aspect of our sin, in fact, is like the sin of the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23:7-15).

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:7-11).

The willful blindness of the Pharisees to their sin made them incapable of seeking mercy from God or granting mercy to others. Blindness fueled complacency towards, and support of, evil.

Our Creator designed the universe as a cradle for self-awareness and freedom. If we use self-awareness and freedom for evil purposes, we will reap the consequences. We are free creatures in a finite world where the effects of our conscious sins are endlessly multiplied by the laws of cause and effect. If God ignored the consequences of our deliberate decisions, it would violate justice and our integrity.  We are all “war criminals,” worthy of the hell we have created.

Israel was our example. The prophets and the Messiah foretold the consequences of Israel’s determination to protect itself through worldly power rather than justice (Psalm 33:16; Isaiah 30:1-3; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 5:39-47; Matthew 23:34-36; Matthew 26:51-52; Luke 21:20-24).

If we won’t acknowledge our sinfulness and the fact that we deserve punishment, we will rationalize our sins and harden our hearts against truth, grace, and spiritual rebirth. If we won’t repent, we choose to be hell’s citizens.

Hell is the natural destination for every normal person who sees no need for repentance and is unwilling to acknowledge his helplessness apart from God’s grace.

But repentance isn’t enough. No one is strong or pure enough to stand effectively against a fallen world order in the power of the evil one (Luke 4:5-6; John 12:31-32; Ephesians 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:12). Mere repentance can’t purify us or undo the evil we have done and continue to do.

How can we face the reality of such harsh facts?

How can we be delivered from hell?

Only by basing our righteousness on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who alone can bear our sins and cure our spiritual disease.

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