Should I baptize my slaves?

Discussion in 'Paedo-Baptism Answers' started by Pergamum, Nov 26, 2014.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    If we are to baptize the believer and his household, what is it that constitutes a household biblically?

    If I owned slaves, should I therefore baptize them?
    What was the historical practice of those in the American South before the War Between the States? Did any sermons touch on this topic?
  2. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    Since this is the topic of my thesis let me chime in.
    Many of the magistrates and ministers felt compelled to save the slaves as they saw that the masters weren't and apparently didn't care for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was that baptism necessitated manumission. The colonial governments and other state governments chimed in and said no it doesn't mean manumission hopefully as a gateway for evangelism of the slaves. But, the beliefs still continued thinking that the slaves would have their heads filled with freedom since they were free in Christ.
    Nevertheless, while some baptized their slaves and attempted to convert them most did not. If you can get a hold of Samuel Davies' Sermons, and Morgan Godwyn's that would be a start, plus many other Anglicans in the South during that time who were affiliated with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. This is what kick started a movement among the slaves during the colonial times. I confess my ignorance of the Post Revolutionary and Antebellum south though.

    Household seemed to been anyone living in your house or property at the time.

    I believe Ben said sometime back "would you want a heathen in your household, serving your children?" Or something to that effect.
  3. whirlingmerc

    whirlingmerc Puritan Board Sophomore

    Not sure, but you only 'open their ear' if they want that
  4. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes, Pergs, please baptize your slaves.
  5. Free Christian

    Free Christian Puritan Board Sophomore

    You mean, labourers. No real slaves today :D
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    No, I mean slaves.
  7. Ryan J. Ross

    Ryan J. Ross Puritan Board Freshman

    The Presbyterian Church in the early republic received numerous overtures and memorials throughout the antebellum period. The question of baptizing slave children was brought before the General Assembly of 1816. I'd be happy to recommend some resources if you have specific questions related to clergymen and southerners' practice.
  8. Ryan J. Ross

    Ryan J. Ross Puritan Board Freshman

    I should add one thing: it was the duty of masters to have their slaves baptized by ministers. I don't want it to be taken that masters were administering the sacrament.
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    We should baptize as appropriate under the applicable circumstances.

    There are several assumptions that seem to be at work behind this thread. Slavery as it was practiced in the ancient N.E. world was not "the same as" slavery as it was practiced in other times and places. No doubt, there are substantial similarities between nearly all forms. However, simplistic mapping of modern attitudes toward slavery in general, or towards the practice of Southern slavery in the US in particular onto the multitude actual alien cultures from the past fails to grapple with the complexities of particular culture where it's actually at.

    If this was the NT era, then baptizing Greco-Roman and even Jewish-society household members would, from the oikos-baptism perspective, be acceptable and even normal.

    One might have made a similar argument, if one had been living in antebellum South, and it probably was made. The fact that there was debate on the issue (however that looks to us today) only shows how far removed we are from the questions they were asking. It all sounds to us like a foreign language. Ceteris paribus (all other things begin equal) is not especially helpful here.

    In the modern West, the idea of having propriety over whole persons {not one's own offspring while they are minors} has become offensive, to the degree that even a voluntary situation of temporary indentured servitude is practically unthinkable. It is disallowed as a matter of course--unless/until the State itself employs the concept, then serfdom (doubtless under a new name) is back again.

    What I'm saying is: the hypothetical questions can be multiplied ad infinitum, each permutation of a pretend cultural pattern resulting in further speculation. If the church ever finds itself in anther situation where something like "slavery" is part of the world around, that church will have to grapple once more with "what specific course ought we to take here?"

    None of us appears to be in anything remotely like that situation (owning other people). What is important for us is: what does "household" mean in the Bible? and what is the true analogous relationship to that description under our own (variable) circumstances?

    The rest is hypothetical games and guesswork.
  10. Ryan J. Ross

    Ryan J. Ross Puritan Board Freshman


    I'm having difficulty understand your answer in view of the question(s) in the OP. Perhaps you could outline the differences between chattel slavery and ANE slave relationships? Better still, explain how "household" should be understood biblically?
  11. David Pope

    David Pope Puritan Board Freshman

    I think the simple answer is yes. If you had slaves [shudder] then you would treat them in the same way we currently treat covenant children because they are under your headship. You would have the same duty to expose them to and encourage them in the ordinary means of grace and pray that God would regenerate them, leading to their profession of faith and admission to the Lord's Table.
  12. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    While I have the impression that slaves in the antebellum south were led to Christ, there was also the issue that they were looked upon as chattel and certainly inferior to their Caucasian masters. Even anti slavery whites such as Abraham Lincoln wrote that they were inferior and didn't consider that there could ever be true equality, attempting as he did, to arrange a colony outside the CONUS where he hoped to have them emigrate.

    Then there was the fear that educating them could lead to revolt, as in Nate Turner's rebellion (link). Generating laws such as these below. So if there was proselytizing of slaves, leading to baptism, it must have been a delicate balance to avoid teaching them to read, or to familiarize them with the Scriptures ?

    More here ..... Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings - Google Books
  13. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Focusing on the 'household' - would there be any distinction between those who served in the house amongst the master's family, and those who worked in the fields? I haven't read anything that would suggest that there was, but that doesn't mean that there should not have been such a distinction.

    I skimmed back through Life in the Old Ante-Bellum Days by Rev I.E. Lowery, but it doesn't seem to specifically address baptism, just religious services in general.
  14. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, those are the things I am looking for. Anything from the General Assembly would be appreciated.
  15. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes. Baptise your slaves!

    Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I was wondering if the Presbyterian churches in the ante-bellum South saw this difference in types of slavery and what sort of guiding advice they gave to their slave-owning church members. Also wondering how the doctrine of paedobaptism and covenant inclusion impacted slaves.

    I am not sure how hypothetical the whole question is since we have historically examples of Presbyterians owning slaves, such that we can historically see how they defined "household" and practiced baptism of everyone in that household. This is far from merely an abstract hypothetical issue. It really happened.
  17. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Don't leave out the Baptists and Methodists or the Anglicans. Remember, Presbyterians tended to be in the uplands, with smaller land and slave holdings, while the Anglicans tended to be in the lowlands with smaller holdings of each. Methodists and Baptists tend to fall between those two extremes.

    Of course, the Roman Catholic approach would be quite different, but I'm not sure your question reaches that far.
  18. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    In addition to this you could look up Slave Religion by Albert Raboteau which has treatments on all those even Roman Catholic ones, that would mostly be in Louisiana, and Maryland to some degreee.
  19. Ryan J. Ross

    Ryan J. Ross Puritan Board Freshman

    John Robinson, The testimony and practice of the Presbyterian Church in reference to American slavery : with an appendix containing the position of the General Assembly (New School), Free Presbyterian Church, Reformed Presbyterian, Associate, Associate Reformed, Baptist, Protestant Episcopal, and Methodist Episcopal churches (1852)

    George Bourne, Man-stealing and Slavery Denounced by the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches: Together with an Address to All the Churches (1834)

    PCUSA, Presbyterianism and Slavery: By Official Documents (1836)

    PCUSA (Old School), Testimony of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church: in the United States of America on the Subject of Slavery (1858)

    Albert Barnes, The Church and Slavery (1857)

    There are many others, but I think you wanted things related to the General Assembly.
  20. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

  21. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    You could simply liberate them.
  22. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    In my opinion, in this country a few hundred years ago, where theology met practical realities there was a massive and tragic disconnect. I suspect a lot of people went searching their Bibles for justification for what they were already doing or wanted to do, rather than let their actions be corrected.

    Let the record correct me, but I don't suppose that many slaveholders on this continent viewed those image-bearers as members of their houses--and that right there establishes a primary discontinuity between any like thing regulated or addressed in the Bible, OT or NT. Manstealing (kidnapping), an OT capital offense, was the essential origin of the plantation-labor conditions in the western hemisphere. Intergenerational slavery was standard. There was no "Jubilee." A man was treated little better than an animal, and worse than some beasts for having much independence of mind.

    I'm confident theologically speaking, that flourishing Christianity among the slave population, had it been properly encouraged, would have made an end of the whole institution far sooner, and without bloodshed. It isn't possible to treat a FULL-brother-in-Christ without love.

    I wish it was the case that southron Presbyterian slaveholders generally had been conspicuous in their society by the difference in the way they carried themselves toward the black population as a whole, freed or slave. But I only know of exceptions to the sad rule. Men like Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, who prior to 1861 defied conventions and laws, and taught Christianity to blacks, teaching them how to read (so they could read the Bible). Minority denominations such as the Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters), familiar with their own history of recent sufferings, steadfastly opposed to slavery theologically.

    Manumission wasn't in the fiduciary interest of those whose way of life was supported by the institution. Christianity of all stripes was a fig-leaf for tremendous abuses.

    Christianity, mocked by Greeks and Romans as a religion of slaves, made an end of slavery in the lands of "Christendom." The attempt to revive slavery in a "Christian" guise was a new mockery.
  23. Free Christian

    Free Christian Puritan Board Sophomore

  24. Ryan J. Ross

    Ryan J. Ross Puritan Board Freshman


    It was not uncommon for Presbyterians to educate slaves. Many prominent Presbyterian clergymen wrote treatises on the subject. The Presbyterian Church denounced the institution numerous times before the Civil War.—and technically prior to the Revolutionary War. Very few antebellum southerners disagreed that the official position of the Church was that slavery was morally wrong and inconsistent with the principles of Christianity.
  25. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I'd like nothing better than to give "my people" a clean bill of historical health on the whole question. But the record is so mixed, I don't see how we can point only part of the story. The official stance historically of Presbyterians may yield more honor than dishonor--well and good if so. But we know that only those churches willing to be marginalized long before the war forced the issue pursued genuinely consistent theology and practice. I wish there had been more men like Rev. Girardeau of Charleston.

    The Old School northern (afterward) church, despite their political vote with the Union tide (which was opposed by Ch.Hodge, rightly in my view, due to the spirituality of the church)--the vote that split the church itself north vs. south--that church returned hat-in-hand after the war to the semi-pelagian northern New Siders (who were historically abolitionist) and forged a reunion on New Side terms. And all because the PC (usa) felt socially they needed the moral history of the New Side vis-a-vis slavery; and that compulsion was stronger than their theological revulsion which had engineered the 1834 New Side expulsion (really an amputation).

    So, how many of the numerous pre-war denunciations are actually New Side denunciations, which (due to the belated reunion) the whole church afterward claimed for itself?

    The fact is, regardless of how many official pronouncements there were, or how early, the church did little more than wring its hands occasionally over the "unfortunate situation" in which many prominent members and clergy nevertheless lived, with little apparent compunction or expectation of moral discipline (irrespective of what politics demanded). I strongly wish history told another tale. I repeat that the entire matter is far more complex than standard media sound-bites allow for.

    It wasn't (strictly speaking) the Presbyterian Church's fault that slavery was endemic in the south before American self-government. But two post-Revolutionary generations did not succeed in challenging this social ill in any meaningful way. I write this as someone convinced the Civil War was itself an incalculable evil, and the end of slavery was a mere bone to be thrown to the masses while stronger chains for the entire population were forged.

    I believe WLC questions dealing with the 5th commandment address the overall neglected duties of superiors to inferiors marking those days. I'm glad for those who sought to remedy the needs of the hour. I wish the church had managed a more decisive break with the reigning culture.
  26. Phil D.

    Phil D. Puritan Board Junior

    I recently came accross an interesting and informative paper that bears on the historical aspect of this subject. It essentially supports what Rev. Buchanan has been saying.

    The Southern Presbyterian Church and Racism
  27. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Abraham circumcised the slaves within his house. But OT slavery existed only as a mercy: those reduced to such were in that condition because they had not been killed in holy war or like reasons. OT slavery had to do, in other words, with the covenant people under the Old economy and those reasons ceased when that economy ended (in the Coming of Christ).

    Greek and Roman slavery was different, of course, and neither the Lord nor his apostles called for its overthrow because this would have reduced the gospel to a politcal revolution. They did tell masters and slaves how to behave under it, while making it clear that one of the effects of the gospel would mean its end (as Paul in Philemon). Much work has been done in the last decade about how Christianity brought this slavery to an end. Here are a couple of footnotes from an article soon to be published that address that:

    "As seen in the practices of Christians in the early church, in A. J. Harrill The Manumission of Slaves in Early Christianity (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr/Siebeck, 1995). Though opposition to slavery itself, as opposed merely to slavery’s abuses, was long in coming, as seen in Trevor Dennis, “Man Beyond Price: Gregory of Nyssa and Slavery,” in Heaven and Earth: Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Andrew Linzey and Peter J. Wexler (Worthing, West Sussex: Churchman Publishing Limited, 1986), it was Christianity, or Christendom, at least in part, that brought slavery to an effective end between the fourth and tenth centuries, with serfdom developing in seignorialism and feudalism subsequent to slavery’s diminution. Though Kyle Harper, in Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), showed that slavery lasted deep into the Christian era, in his most recent book, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), he shows that Christianity’s strict moral code was particularly sympathetic to the sexual exploitation of the slave. So Christianity played an important role in reforming and ultimately ending ancient slavery."

    All this is to say that when, in the modern era, Christians played no small part in introducing a racially-based slavery that arose with the development of early capitalism, it is to our eternal shame. Presbyterians did, as others here have noted, recognize this, both in the era of the Revolution and afterwards, most notably in the famous statement condemning slavery in the 1818 GA, but we were quite complicit with an institution for far too long that not only had no biblical warrant but ran directly counter to the biblical commands of how we are to treat fellow humans made in the image of God. Our own Dr. Ritchie has written well in this area.

    So--bottom line--Trevor: Had you lived in Paul's day and had slaves (and thus not been a Baptist :)), I would say that the Apostle would intend for you to baptize them, though, at the same time, he would prefer that you not hold them as slaves, especially if they are Christians, and that you endeavor to manumit them (Philemon). This same Paul would have rejoiced to see slavery finally eliminated and lamented its racially-based return in the modern era, calling on all Christians to have nothing to do with that. So, as MW said, if you had slaves now, he would surely tell you to manumit them. Bruce B. has also had a lot of good stuff to say about this and unless and until the whole Reformed and Presbyterian Church head in this direction (there are still those among us who seek to justify modern slavery), we remain in trouble, a kind of corporate failure to be convicted of sin.

    Modern slavery was sin--man-stealing (I Timothy 1:10)--and some Presbyterians saw it all along (like the Covenanters), while others of us have had to play catch up and some, amazingly, have still not caught up and continue to justify it. So, as you can see, much conviction for sin still needed even among the saved.

  28. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The white sex slave trade is still ongoing in the Muslim world. And even the US Constitution today allows for slavery in the form of debt.
  29. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Are you speaking of parents who default upon their obligations to support their children? If so, you are using a fairly unusual definition of slavery.

    What the Constitution actually says about permissible slavery is this:

    1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    If I have misunderstood your point, please state it a bit more clearly.
  30. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    No that is not what I mean. To clarify I mean what the second clause in the amendment reads
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