By Joel Hess –
On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 Federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the Federal Government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3”, announcing the total emancipation of slaves:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
This Sunday, and this week, many right minded Christians celebrate God’s ongoing Reformation of His precious Church. With the pounding of the 95 Theses, the message of freedom in Christ spread from ornery priests and theologians at the upstart Wittenberg University to the peasant feeding the hogs on his patron’s vast estate. Though some misused its message, the Reformation was not about economic or political slavery, but Satan’s slavery of men and women under the tyranny of a man made construct that had become the Church in the West. Just as Lincoln had freed the slaves, yet the masters and slaves in Texas knew nothing of it, so Christ had died and rose for those enslaved in sin, freeing them of their guilt, shame and punishment. Yet by the Middle Ages, few knew this at all. Few enjoyed Christ’s peace.
Oh sure, parishioners had been told that Jesus died for their sins, but the Church’s preaching (if there was any) and practice sounded a lot more like General Granger’s pronouncement in Galveston. Did you notice the irony?
The good news of Galveston said, “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.”
Oh, you are no longer a slave, now your master has become your employer! A distinction without a difference! And you freedmen are advised to stay and be quiet. Oh thanks! As expected many slaves probably said something like, “get me the *&^%$ off this plantation!”
So it was with tyranny of Rome. It graciously preached to its people: Jesus died for your sins; well, not all of them. Stay where you are; keep working for your master. You are God’s employee now. Do this, do that: in order to rise up the ranks of holiness, sweat and strain to please God. He has given you an opportunity to please Him and earn a place in His kingdom. Isn’t that nice of master? He’s going to pay me for my labor.
Beware of churches that tell you to stay on the plantation! Beware of churches that preach that you were never a slave to begin with. Beware, even if they talk about Jesus and love and everything in between. Beware, even if the rich looking massa (in Texas ironically) raises his Bible before thousands saying, “this is my Bible, I am what it says I am”, yet tells you that you can be free if you get rid of negative thoughts. You got to earn it! Oh, God will help, but…
That ain’t the Good News. That’s slavery with velvet chains. You are still an employee in the cotton fields.
The Reformation ain’t over! There are still slaves right in your own community who don’t know they are free! There are still slaves in churches who have been convinced to keep working to earn their keep! There are still people who think they are free while they blindly obey their passions and lusts, making a wreck of their lives and others.
You aren’t an employee in God’s kingdom anymore! You are a son, rescued by the Son who was chained, bound and nailed to the cross meant for you. The master of this world has been thrown out of the house. And you have been welcomed in, forgiven of everything and given eternal life!
This Son, Jesus, says quite clearly, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”