Several of you have said you “can’t wait” until my book on Southern slavery and racism comes out. I have tried to keep from letting my studies in that area spill much into my general daily-type posts; but this bit was too rich, and too powerful, theologically speaking, to wait. There is SO much more to come on this, but this one little vignette will be illustrative of what is to come.
I have previously written about American slavery and two kingdoms doctrine in regard to the Methodist church. The same points made there hold true, of course, for other denominations, although most did not use the term “two kingdoms” at the time. The Presbyterians followed Thornwell’s version emphasizing the “spirituality of the church,” and southern Baptists likely followed that line as well, or something like it. This short article is about a Baptist example of the level of abomination to which Christians will devolve once this cancerous dualism is allowed to insulate the civil and social order from the preaching and correction of the Law of God.
I have canvassed thousands of pages of books and professional journal articles on several facets of the subjects of American slavery and racism, and this seemingly small and insignificant one has yielded one of those choice excerpts (of which there are many) of original sources that illustrates so much. The article includes a note about the historical context which is both crucial and damning:
From 1696 through 1722 South Carolina masters were required by law to castrate a slave who ran away for the fourth time (for thirty days), under pain of forfeiting ownership of the slave to the first white informer.1
Men with “deep religious conviction” could obviously be torn by such a legal demand, and thus, a group of South Carolina Baptists seemed to be uncomfortable with it. In fact, a church in “Charelestown” S.C. was experienced some level of division because a member, or members, had followed through with this barbaric law while other members objected and felt the masters in question had sinned. Thus, the church leaders wrote to a Baptist group in Devon, England for higher counsel. The original sources involved here are two letters that the Devon Baptists wrote in reply.
The great problem the letter addresses, then, is, “Whether, a master may, and not sin against God, make an Eunuch of his Slave, for being absent (without his master’s leave) from his business for the Space of 30 [days]?”2
When the British Baptists wrote back, the theological dualism was on full display. They exonerated the barbaric civil law of castrating a runaway slave on such grounds as this: “Now ’tis presumed, this law was made by the Majestrate, and So the more binding; . . .”3
Right. The civil government spaketh, therefore the law bindeth. The church has no say in this matter.
This reasoning makes clear that such Baptists felt that as long as the civil rulers made a law not obviously contradicting the Biblical mandate to preach the Gospel (in a stripped-down, narrow sort of way), they could enact anything—indeed, any tyranny.
Once it sets out the question, and has conceded the assumption that the practice in question was duly enacted by the civil government, the Baptists had to answer whether a member would be committing a sin to go ahead and impose such a barbaric punishment. The Baptists’ answer was unambiguous:
We think he may not, as Circumstances may be; as, if he doth it without the law of the Majestrate, or in a Spirite of revenge, or obscenely like that forbiden, Deu. 25. 11, 12.
This is the radical two-kingdoms tyranny in action: when the church says that the church has little-to-nothing to say to the civil realm, and whatever the civil realm does, the church must therefore stand by and remain silent. The only hindrances to even members of the body of Christ engaging in the most heinous acts of cruelty is where the church may determine that the members may be engaging in some kind of personal sin—anger, revenge, etc.—in the process!
Do you see the dualism? By this reasoning, the church could allow a member to commit murder as long as the church determined the member did not have “revenge” in his heart when he did so!
Worse, the Devon Baptists even searched the Scriptures to find justification for the barbarity—in this case, stretching the imagination so far as to apply Deuteronomy 25:11–12 to the castration of a runaway slave! (Why they didn’t think to apply the much more clear, direct, and obvious Deuteronomy 23:15 bespeaks something like depravity.)
Yet, the story gets even worse. The reply letter went so far as to encourage the SC Baptists to find good in the barbaric act: “may we not Se Some mercy mixt with this Brother’s Cruelty”?4 And how should we see some mercy in this act? Because, the letter states, some other guy had castrated his slave somehow out of “filthy lucre,” whereas this member “had foreboren” to do so. Such a great guy! Such compassion!
Further, the Devon Baptists suggested that if their SC brethren “seriously ponder these things” they would find “by the blessing of God, a healing Spirite among you.”5 The breach of peace would thus be healed, and the letter immediately reminds the readers that the brother had, after all, carried out the punishment “by his compliance to the laws of the Country.”6
No healing for the castrated slave was mentioned.
If there was anything for which to admonish this brother, it was only to be careful not to use his liberty so freely as to offend his other brethren (offenses to the slave were not mentioned here either).
Thus, in the end, by allowing the civil government virtual free rein, by not allowing biblical law to challenge injustice in the land, the Devon respondents literally ended up concluding that this master’s barbarity “had more of good in it, than it had Evill.”7 In short, that is, the church ended up calling evil good and good evil.
And the capstone came several months later, when the group of Devon Baptists had double-checked their decision and wrote a second letter saying that not just them but “the greater part of the members of the Association” agreed with their decision. The Association submitted an official statement saying that it was lawful to buy slaves, to keep them, and to keep them under government and to punish them, and that this punishment was “according to the Law of your Province.”8
Folks, this is radical two kingdoms theology. This is how the traditions of men render the Word of God of none effect. This is how you absolutely set aside God’s Law and replace it with man’s law. This is why governments get away with murder, and why tyranny rules in every branch of government in virtually every government in the world. This is the doctrine lying behind every evil from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia to American slavery to the modern behemoth police state.
This is what happens when the church does not preach the law and its applications. What follows is that tyranny reins, and then the church starts getting creative in finding ways to avoid its responsibility to preach against it. It starts finding ways to turn a blind eye, and then even to justify and praise the tyranny. In the end, the church ends up calling evil good and good evil. The march of Satan runs through the governments, and the church is its greatest ally.
The only way to stop this slide into further tyranny is to rediscover the Law of God. Learn it. Learn its applications. And preach it.
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