Christian Ethics Free Course: LESSON TWO: HUMAN RIGHTS (PART 2)
Read: Eph. 2:11-19: Gal. 3:28
In this session we shall look at the issues of Race; Sex and Class and their implications for the Human Rights issue.
A. JEWS AND GENTILES
Read again Eph. 2:11-19. No greater divide existed in the ancient world than that between Jew and Gentile. It is difficult to imagine just how great the impact was when suddenly they began to live together in harmony. This is what the cross accomplished. Rival alienation is abolished when we become members of a new nation which embraces faith in Jesus.
Notice that the Council of Jerusalem did not require Gentile converts to embrace Jewish circumcision and ceremonial laws in order to become part of the Christian church (Acts 15:5-11; 28-29). Nor were Gentiles to be insensitive to Jewish scruples about food. (Romans 14:1-6; 13-17). The early church also dealt with tribal favouritism. Read Acts 6:1-7.
What was the complaint? And how did they deal with it?
As Christians, we are opposed to all forms of racism: including racial prejudice, discrimination, apartheid, whether blacks against whites or whites against blacks, because of our belief in the dignity of humanity. But we believe that only the gospel of grace can make this a reality.
We aren’t opposed to racial distinctiveness, however. That is a part of human identity. As we embrace biblical principles together, so a new culture emerges which enables us to live in harmony and yet be enriched by our diversity.
B. MEN AND WOMEN
The battle of the sexes has its origin in the Fall. In Eden was born male chauvinism, female vulnerability and mutual mistrust. In this way a society was evolved in which Aristotle considered females to be imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind!
And Josephus, the Jewish historian, stated that: “the woman is inferior to the man in every way.”
The gospel restores the original creation model – as it was in the beginning. Eve was of co-equal status with Adam. Her role was as complementary helper to him in his leadership (Gen. 1:26-27).
She was received as a gift from God and in no way inferior to Adam.
They functioned as a unity. In the words of Peter Lombard (1157 AD), “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his lord, but from his side to be his partner.”
Women are of equal status to men as regards salvation – See Gal. 3:28. But equal status doesn’t imply sameness or loss of masculinity and femininity. The modern world confuses status with function and many feminists suggest that the traditional functions of home- making or exercising feminine virtues imply lower status. This can be true, but it doesn’t have to be. Read Prov. 31:10-31. Here was a woman with a home-based ministry which provided full scope for all her many talents.
There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the creational model means a cultural stereotype. Women have the right to pursue a career and earn their own living. Married women don’t have to do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning and baby-rearing. But neither should the latter calling be despised as unfilling or demeaning.
However, the creational model does throughout Scripture assign a headship role to men.
That means they have the responsibility to lead, especially in marriage. Paul appeals to the priority of creation (see 1Tim. 2:13); the mode of creation (see 1Cor. 11:8); and the purpose of creation (see 1Cor. 11:9) to uphold this.
Properly exercised male headship releases a woman to fulfil her calling and enjoy her God-given rights. This does NOT mean that any man can, by virtue of his maleness, order women to submit to him! Read 1Tim. 5:1-2 for the correct relational attitude.
[NB. The issue of women’s ministry is a separate issue and is confused by talking about rights because Christian ministry is not a right!
It is perfectly appropriate that women should be afforded equal opportunities, pay and conditions with men, and be entitled to equal legal status and franchise.]
The realism of the gospel meant that Christians were not encouraged to fight directly against slavery. At that time it would have been a futile exercise. Freedom was desirable, (1 Cor. 7:20-22) but was not the prime issue. Christian slaves were the Lord’s freemen and should serve Him in their situation (Eph. 6:5-8).
However, the seeds for emancipation were sown in the early church. Masters are instructed to care for their slaves (Eph. 6:9). Instead of treating them as animals they were to be considered the Lord’s people. Nowhere is this clearer than in the letter to Philemon. A captured runaway slave would normally be executed. Paul instructs Philemon to receive him back as a brother and to treat him as though he were the apostle himself. (Philemon v15-17). The implications of this are very far-reaching. The axe was laid to the root of slavery. What a tragedy it took so long for the wretched tree to be felled!
Nor is it entirely dead. Slavery still exists in many parts of the world. That is to say nothing of economic slavery which binds multitudes in sub-human conditions, usually for the material benefit of the affluent West. We should not remain silent about this.
1. What is the value or otherwise of ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of minority groups.
2. “Black people are inferior to whites because God decreed it.” Ponder this statement. Do you agree or disagree? What is the Biblical basis for your answer?
3. “God considers women to be of equal status with men.” Do you agree or disagree? Give Biblical reasons for your answers.
4. For something really radical! – Why not host a ‘multi-cultural evening’ in your home and ask what others find difficult with your culture. (Also an opportunity for low-key evangelism!).
1. What is your personal attitude to people from a different culture, race or social grouping than yourself? Be honest here!
2. Are your attitudes to ‘Women’s Rights’ issues formed by Scripture or your denomination or your own upbringing?
3. Begin to pray regularly for persecuted Christians.