Anachronism

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (Philemon 15-16, NIV).

Anachronism — “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place, especially: one from a former age that is incongruous in the present” (Merriam-Webster). 

There is a lot of discussion in our day concerning the founding of America, especially that it was flawed because the men and women who founded the nation were owners of slaves, and that the Constitution initially recognized black slaves as only three-fifths of a person. This part of the US Constitution (historians call it the Great Compromise) that was ratified in 1787 is abhorrent (properly) to most Americans today who recognize that God does not diminish a person’s worth on the basis of either race or economics and neither should we. Historically, however, it is important to see the issue from the perspective of the late Eighteenth Century. To question the legitimacy of this nation based upon values that we hold today, that were not held then, is an “anachronism.”

This nation has legalized abortion today. I hope for and work for a day when the unborn children of this nation will be fully valued. When that happens and the future generation looks back at the early Twenty-First Century, will all of our decisions be considered as illegitimate because we de-valued human life in this way? I hope not; I hope that future generations will study the history of our generation to see that many good people worked hard to oppose this form of human sacrifice.

When we today look into the debates that took place to establish the governing documents of our nation, we will see a similar debate in that day over slavery. It was an evil that was already present, and abolishing it by decree was not possible. On the other hand, the debate focussed on the human worth of black men and women. At stake was the balance of representation in the newly formed House of Representatives. For the first 90 years of our country’s existence there were many who worked tirelessly to end this injustice, just as many are working tirelessly today to end the sin of abortion. Both issues centered on the worth of human beings.

But there is a deeper logical flaw to the anachronism that says that our Founders should have eliminated slavery from the very beginning. That flaw is embraced by some in the Church who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture. If we can attribute today’s understanding of slavery to the Founding Fathers in the Eighteenth Century, then we must do the same to the history of every generation. Moses surely should have known the evils of slavery — he led the Hebrew nation from it — yet he gave permission for the Hebrew people to own slaves themselves (Lev. 25:44, et. al.). The Apostle Paul also sent the slave, Onesimus, back to his owner — Philemon.

Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who, for reasons that are unknown to us today, ran away from his duties. Whether the personal offense to Philemon was merely that he was financially inconvenienced because he lost the labor a slave would provide for him for a period of time or, more, that Onesimus had actually stolen from him before escaping, we cannot know. But Onesimus ran from Philemon and tried to get lost in the city of Rome. In God’s providence, he met Paul and was converted to Christ. According to the laws of his day, Onesimus was the property of Philemon, until Philemon himself should free him. Paul “leans” on Philemon, but never requires that he free Onesimus, although he might have used his apostolic authority to do so.

If the values that we hold today concerning slavery are binding upon the Founding Fathers of the Eighteenth Century, then how much more should the writers of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have been bound by this universal value. Yet some in the Church today attribute authority to Scripture while asserting that the writings of the leaders in the Eighteenth Century are invalid. To be consistent, if we hold these values as binding upon our ancestors, then neither Moses’ writings nor Paul’s should be considered authoritative. Adopting an anachronistic perspective destroys Biblical authority. This is why Scripture must be read and interpreted from a grammatical and HISTORICAL perspective.

His Ways Are Different Than Ours

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9)

God’s ways are mysterious. He doesn’t act predictably, at least by human understanding. Moses and Pharaoh were both surprised that He led the Hebrews right to the obstacle of the Red Sea when they were fleeing from Egypt. Gideon was surprised that God whittled his army down to 300 men to defeat the vast Midianite army. The Jews knew all of the prophecies that predicted Messiah, but were surprised that He came in the Person of Jesus. The list of God’s surprising methods is endless.

In every era of history men have been told to believe the Scripture. Moses’ last commandment to Israel was, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut 32:47). God’s first commandment to Joshua after the death of Moses was, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Isaiah told his audience in the passage above that God’s Word would never return empty (vs. 11). The Psalmist in multiple places spoke of the importance of the Scripture, including at least 174 times in the marvelous literary creation, Psalm 119. Jeremiah, Jesus, and the Apostles all tell us of the importance of the Scripture.

But when “push comes to shove,” we humans (at least in this era) choose to believe the changing opinions of science and/or the prevailing popular opinions of the larger society. Certainly we understand the fickleness of humanity, but often we fail to realize that scientific conclusions are determined inductively and therefore are also fickle. A single example can destroy the conclusions of years of experimentation. In the 1970s the scientific news was that the earth was heading into a new ice age; today we will be destroyed by global warming. To reduce the criticism, we’re now worried about “Climate Change.” Medical science has told us that coffee would kill us, among many other substances, only to change a few years later when new studies surfaced. 

On the other hand, the conclusions of Scripture are deductively determined. We start with the premise that those words are true, even if we don’t understand them fully. In much the same way, the Founding Fathers of our nation made absolute the rights of Americans to be free to worship, speak, assemble and to own a gun (et. al.), even though they probably did not conceive of a time when the right to defend oneself (for example) would not be assumed. 

Both the Scripture and the US Constitution arose from the conviction of their (A)authors that the human heart is deceitful. The Founders wrote into the Constitution a set of checks and balances for that reason — they knew that power could and would corrupt people in leadership. The divine Author of Scripture knew this was true also. He inspired Jeremiah to write, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). Jesus Himself “on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). Paul, despite his own teaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, recognized that the Church in Ephesus would fall prey to deceitful and corruptible men (Acts 20: 29-32). The antidote that Paul gives is careful attention to the “Word of His grace” (32).

The current COVID-19 flap that has created fear in the hearts of the people of this world could have been averted if we (including our leaders) had chosen to adopt the position that the human heart is desperately sinful. It is an insidious lie of the enemy of our souls that has been foisted upon men — the idea that “all men are basically good.” No, we are not. Men lie and deceive; men in power lie and deceive to retain that power; they use information to manipulate opinion to their own advantage. It SEEMS to be true to the naive and unsuspecting person, even though it denies the Truth that we know absolutely is true.

We thank God for the many exceptions to these statements, but the only way we will truly know if our leaders are honest in their decisions is if we hold them accountable to the (D)documents that form the foundation of our society as the (A)authors intended. But we first have to know these (D)documents ourselves! Otherwise, the deceitfulness of the human heart will prevail, and we will be surprised when our society fails, while we hear God say, “You chose not to believe My ways!”