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One’s view of God affects one’s entire worldview, which affects culture and the world of ideas and beliefs. When the Bible began to be translated and printed for common usage, its ideas were taken out of the monasteries and cloisters and became enculturated in general society.
One of the first major discoveries was the idea that God was a creator, a worker, an architect. The Reformers looked at the Scriptures and discovered that God was not just a great King who desired servants to do all the work so that He could be a God of Leisure. He is the Creator because He loves to work, to create. He has ingenuity, and He wants His people to be like Him.
Secondly, man was created not only to have dominion but to be God’s steward to take care of the earth. Not only man was important but also his environment was to be respected as part of God’s labor. Thirdly, the purpose of man’s labor was to enter into rest, or to “end labor.” But since labor itself was godly, the purpose was not so much to end labor as it was to end the curse of “toil.”
Labor itself was sanctified in Genesis 2:15,
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate [abad, “work, serve”] it and keep [shamar, “keep (watch), guard, protect, observe)] it.
Slavery is a misuse and misapplication of stewardship. At least since the time of Nimrod men have sought slaves to do their work for them in order to allow them leisure time. When men looked at slavery as the solution to labor, they found it difficult to invent technology. The idea of invention had yet to be invented except on a very small and primitive scale. So labor-saving devices and time-saving technology was not in men’s minds, for slaves had nothing but time and muscle to be exploited. A slave had no purpose in life other than to do the bidding of his master. Not knowing or understanding man’s purpose in Genesis 2:15, ideas of liberty under God were suppressed or virtually unknown.
Hence, also, they did not have a clear understanding of stewardship, nor of the difference between the authority given to man and sovereignty of God. In the first few centuries after Christ, the church greatly reduced slavery in the world. But Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis in 534 substituted a feudal system of near-slavery for the earlier Roman idea of slavery itself.
It was not until the Bible became an open book that serious opposition to slavery arose among Protestant circles. Liberty came slowly, but it was motivated and directed by Scripture.
Emerging from the Dark Ages
As the Roman Empire fell, education fell apart, and Europe entered into the “Dark Ages.” The Bible was sequestered in religious centers. Religious people came to cathedrals to take sacraments, not to learn the Scriptures. Spiritual slavery replaced physical slavery, although the physical slave trade inevitably increased over the years. The popes themselves had many slaves.
Beginning in 1435 the popes began to forbid “unjust” enslavement, but their legislation was more about the enslavement of baptized believers than about slavery in general. In the 1500’s, with the discovery of new lands to the west, the slave trade flourished, especially in Spain and Portugal. Papal policy was confusing and appeared contradictory as they tried to distinguish which people were eligible to be enslaved.
Earlier Papal bulls such as Pope Nicholas V's 1452 Dum Diversas, or Romanus Pontifex from 1454, permitting the "perpetual servitude" of saracens and pagans in Africa, were used to justify enslavement of natives and the appropriation of their lands during this era.
If we are called as stewards to labor to establish the Kingdom of God, we ought to know the biblical foundations of such ideas. The Bible began to be written only after God redeemed Israel from the house of bondage and slavery in Egypt. That was the original context of divine revelation.
The Wise Use of Time
Slavery is about appropriating other men’s time as much as their labor. Time slavery was made possible by cultural views of time. A religious view of time could only liberate people if it viewed time with a biblical perspective. Eastern religions despised both time and matter, attempting to transcend both by shutting down the intellect.
The Bible, on the other hand, mandates labor under God’s leadership, thus pronouncing matter “good” and enhancing the value of time. The Bible gives authority over nature to human beings, not to spirits or extra-terrestrials. This is seen in the desire of evil spirits to indwell humans (or matter in general), for this is their way of obtaining authority in the earth. Demon possession is a matter of usurping man’s authority for nefarious purposes.
By the same principle, the incarnation of Christ into human flesh was the lawful way for Him to receive authority on earth and to become its King. Thus, He was not only the Son of God but also the Son of Man.
The idea that man must escape the realm of matter and ascend into the realm of spirit in order to achieve one’s original purpose for existence is the opposite of biblical teaching. We are not going to heaven; heaven is coming to earth (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:2). Jesus is not returning to take us to heaven but to reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10). We are not escaping matter; we are first conquering and then stewarding matter for the glory of God.
In The Emphatic Diaglott, Hebrews 11:3 tells us,
2 By faith we perceive that the Ages [aionas, “eons, ages”] have been so thoroughly adjusted by God’s command that not from things then manifest the things now seen have come to pass…
God created time by His command, and thus He is the Master of Time. It is not evil, though Time does limit activity on earth. Religions that view matter and time as evil seek to escape it rather than to utilize it for the glory of God. Political leaders have enslaved others in order to appropriate more time for themselves, but religious men have looked inward to escape its limitations. Those religious men, however, find themselves dependent upon others to labor in support of their meditations. If everyone stopped working and engaged in meditation, everyone would soon starve. Thus, this solution is not practical, nor does it advance the cause of liberty.
I have learned that it is indeed possible to transcend time. What we call “the Hezekiah factor” is a way of establishing things retroactively in time, even as the clock was turned back in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:10, 11). We once saw danger approaching knowing weeks in advance that a cyclone would soon hit Bangladesh. But because we lacked time to organize a prayer campaign so quickly (prior to the internet), we held the campaign ten days after the disaster was due to strike. We saw God’s answer to prayer ten days before we held the prayer campaign.
A prayer campaign of this type transcended time but did not despise it. We honored time as a part of God’s good creation, recognizing that Christ was the Lord of the Sabbath—that is, time was His servant (Matthew 12:8). As a result, we stewarded time in order to save lives.
Those who do not have respect for time but think of it as an adversary will react to it in ways that are not biblical. Entire belief systems are often built upon such foundations, and they are detrimental to our way of thinking and to our course of action. A cultural view of slavery is just one ill effect of a wrong view of time and matter. If we hope to use time wisely, we must also use labor wisely. This can be done only by laying foundations that are biblical.
Modern Attitudes Toward Labor and Dominion
The Bible values labor by respecting men’s right to own their own labor. God does not use tithes to steal men’s labor. Tithes are a return on God’s labor. Man partners with God and uses God’s labor to produce wealth. God gets ten percent for His labor; man gets ninety percent for his. But when the governments of men take more than their share of tithe (tax), they defraud both God and men.
When government taxation is built upon the assumption that it has the right to set its own rates of taxation, such governments usurp authority not given to them. Theft-based governments can then be expected to erode the liberties that God gave all men. In modern times, the ungodly idea of Socialism is the secular solution to “love” and “helping the poor.” They believe that it is alright to take the labor of men and give it to the poor, rather than asking men to give their own labor to the poor.
American “Democracy” was turned into Socialism in the 1930’s. Socialism is merely the path to Communism. During the 20th century, we saw how Communism destroyed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. No one had any incentive to work, because everyone had the right to be supported by other men’s labor that the government had stolen from them. Ironically, the Socialist-Communist government pretended to be “the workers’ party” and “the party representing labor.” In fact, “Labor Day” was created to celebrate that myth.
Communism destroyed incentive to labor through a false definition of liberty. After 70 years of Socialist captivity, the government of the USSR finally imploded. Other Socialist nations have tried to retain their original vision of Marxism or Leninism or Maoism, but they have either fallen into great poverty (Cuba, North Korea) or they have changed their economic models (China) to allow workers to keep more of the fruits of their labor.
Yet today in America the Democratic Party has veered sharply into Socialism, as seen by the speeches of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At the present time, they are still on the fringe of their Party, but yet the Democratic Party has been moving slowly toward abject Socialism for decades. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are only a little ahead of their time.
As prospective overcomers, we need to know how God views the world and to understand how His laws work to bring justice and liberty for all. Only then can we finish what Jesus began and what the Reformers began to restore to the earth. The Reformers did not discover everything nor were they fully successful in seeding the earth with biblical concepts of liberty.
It remains for us to complete that work, now that we have seen the failure of Communist Socialism in the past century.