Can you see the plantation of the late seventeen hundreds, nurtured by the warm humidity of the American south? Plantations reflected the best social thinking of a long gone era. They exemplified the "best" thinking on the relationship of man-to-man; and, as we shall see, man-to-God.
The social structure of the plantation was clean and hierarchical. At the top was THE PLANTER. Lord of the plantation and master of all he owned: land, man and chattels. It was all his to command and to lead to prosperity or ruin. For the people of the plantation, he was fate personified.
His sons' statures differed from his only in the matter of time. They would one day exercise his sway. But in the days of their youth their subjugation paralleled that of the slaves.
The wife and daughters were destined to be permanently cast as objects of esteem and pleasure. But real power for them could only come through the influence or manipulation of males posturing as benevolent masters.
Slaves were the foundation upon which this society was built. Some slaves equalled some masters in technical and administrative skills. These were effectively exploited in the oiling of society. Many slaves were as stupid as many masters and toiled their menial lives away.
It was the idea of slavery that segregated the drudgery of the menial from the privilege of the master. Just so, it is the idea of Jesus that blows away the system of slavery that continues into our own time.
Jesus began his ministry with a public declaration, read from the scroll of Isaiah:
of the Lord is on me, . . .
He has sent me to proclaim freedom . . .
to release the oppressed, . . .
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Again, he said:
"If the Son
sets you free,
you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)
At the Samaritan well, near the beginning of his ministry, he told his disciples, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34) In Gethsemane's garden, at the end of his ministry, he said to his Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4) His last words on Golgotha's cross were, "It is finished." (John 19:30) No wonder the apostles declared that we have been set free. (Romans 6:18; 1 Peter 2:18) Jesus started by saying he was going to free us; he finished by declaring it done.
Lincoln's emancipation proclamation is a mere shadow of the proclamation of "the year of the Lord's favor." The parallels are instructive.
Lincoln's proclamation was the legal foundation and surety of the American slave's freedom. And though it instantly changed their position, it did not instantly change their condition. It did not instantly change the hearts and minds of men, whether of slaves or of masters. Slaves only began to enjoy the state of freedom, with continuing harassment and interference by their former masters. Even today, former slaves (and former masters) have not yet experienced the full meaning of social freedom. But the greatest deterrence to freedom is in the mind of the disadvantaged.
Christ's proclamation is the spiritual and legal foundation and surety for those formerly bound in sin. But our hearts and minds are not yet fully changed. We have not yet experienced the meaning of total freedom: true childhood in the family of God.
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! . . . Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him." (1John 3:1,2)
How does this "not yet" affect the "what we are now"? The Scriptures make plain that we are to bring the future of heaven into the present to the best of our ability. And why not? We are God's children now, as much as we will be in heaven. This means that we have a right (even duty) to act with the full freedom of sons (daughters - same freedoms). Though we have "masters" who would continue to deprive us of freedom, our greatest deterrence to enjoyment of this gift is in our own minds.
A plantation example illustrates our freedom. Suppose father had a special sandwich prepared for himself. Before eating it, he is called away to take care of some urgent business. While he is gone a son comes in, famished from a day of diligence in the family enterprise. He spies the sandwich on the table and immediately moves in for the kill. But wait! . . . A servant cautions that this is a special meal prepared for the father. The son should have something else.
The son's proper response depends on his maturity. As young children, sons were subject to the training of trusted servants who raised them. Disobedience could result in proper discipline by the "tutor" or "schoolmaster". (Galatians 3:23-25) For the immature son, eating the sandwich might result in a whipping. But it would not change his status as a son.
As a mature son he may elect to eat the sandwich, or not, as he judges best. As a mature son he has this liberty and authority. His judgment may later be a matter of discussion with his father, but not of discipline. This is the meaning of coequality with the father. [Note that David ate the sandwich and the "father" rebuked the slaves for their immature attitudes. (1 Samuel 21:3-5; Mark 2:23-28)]
A child's life is governed by rules: when to rise, how
to bathe, what to wear, what to eat, how to play, when to go to bed.
In short, how to do right. For a mature adult there is no "right"
time to go to bed. (Colossians 2:20-23) Bedtime may be a matter of
habit, varying needs, or arbitrary decision; but never of guilt.
Do you feel guilty for staying up half the night? No. But weariness
the next day may give you fresh resolve to amend your bedtime.
Freedom in these simple matters sets a pattern for Christians in all matters. But freedom does not imply irresponsibility or licentiousness (as the immature imagine). A true son labors diligently to improve his inheritance (pride of ownership). And though he errs, he knows that it is he himself who will suffer the consequences of poor judgment.
Freedom to exercise poor judgment is not a recommendation to make poor judgments. As the apostle says, "Everything is permissible - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible - but not everything is constructive." (1 Corinthians 10:23)
Unfortunately, the slave economy is not foreign to the Christian church. There are those who have been declared free, and adopted as sons, who yet stand at the lectern displaying with pride the emblems of their slavery. In ignorance of their own freedom they urge the shackles of slavery on others. They wish to have a perpetuating hierarchy that keeps the masses in "benevolent" servitude under the whip of the law. Women are suppressed and men are taught servile attitudes. When these "plantation" men see that the freedom of the gospel strikes at the foundation of their decrepit system, in fear and hatred they strike at their own salvation.
But we are licensed to live the life of heaven in the here and now. It is a life of freedom and privilege. It is a life of personal authority and responsibility. But it is not a plantation life. God is not the great planter. We do not honor him when we treat him like a slave master. Jesus became one of us to teach us the ways of liberty. True liberty is found in service to others: neither to lord it over them nor to be lorded over by them. To accept either role is a denial of the life of Christ. True liberty is not a ceaseless searching for God's will for you; but a mature exercise of your own will in his pattern.
Your friend, Herb Sorensen