Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History

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Religion

Resolution of Presbyerian General Assembly, 1845 (Adopted by Vote of 168 to 113)

The question which is now unhappily agitating and dividing other branches of the Church, and which is pressed upon the attention of the Assembly by one of the three classes of the memorialists just named, is, whether the holding of slaves is, under all circumstances, a heinous sin, calling for the discipline of the Church.

The Church of Christ is a spiritual body, whose jurisdiction extends only to the religious faith and moral conduct of her members. She cannot legislate where Christ has not legislated, nor make terms of membership which he has not made. The question, therefore, which this Assembly is called upon to decide is this: Do the Scriptures teach that the holding of slaves, without regard to circumstances, is a sin, the renunciation of which should be made the condition of membership in the Church of Christ?

It is impossible to answer this question in the affirmative without contradicting some of the plainest declarations of the word of God. That slavery existed in the days of Christ and his Apostles is an admitted fact. That they did not denounce the relation itself as sinful, as inconsistent with christianity; that slave-holders were admitted to membership in the Churches organized by the Apostles, that whilst they were required to treat their slaves with kindness and as rational, accountable, immortal beings, and, if christians, as brethren in the Lord, they were not commanded to emancipate them; that slaves were required to be ’obedient to their masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, with singleness of heart as unto Christ,’ are facts which meet the eye of every reader of the New Testament. This Assembly cannot, therefore denounce the holding of slaves as necessarily a heinous and scandalous sin, calculated to bring upon the Church the curse of God, without charging the Apostles of Christ with conniving at such sin, introducing into the Church such sinners, and thus bringing upon them the curse of the Almighty.

In so saying, however, the Assembly are not to be understood as denying that there is evil connected with slavery. Much less do they approve those defective and oppressive laws by which, in some of the States, it is regulated. Nor would they by any means countenance the traffic in slaves for the sake of gain; the separation of husbands and wives, parents and children, for the sake of ’filthy lucre,’ or for the convenience of the master; or cruel treatment of slaves in any respect. . .

Nor is this assembly to be understood as countenancing the idea that masters may regard their servants as mere property, and not as human beings, rational, accountable, immortal. The Scriptures prescribe not only the duties of servants, but also of masters, warning the latter to discharge those duties ’knowing that their Master is in heaven, neither is their respect of persons with him.’

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As to the extent of the evils involved in slavery, and the best methods of removing them, various opinions prevail, and neither the Scriptures nor our constitution authorize this body to prescribe any particular course to be pursued by the churches under our care. . .

In view of the above stated principles and facts,

Resolved, 1st, That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States was originally organized, and has since continued to be the bond of union in the Church, upon the conceded principle that the existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the Southern portion of the country, is no bar to christian communion.

2d, That the petitions that ask the Assembly to make the holding of slaves in itself a matter of discipline, do virtually require this judicatory to dissolve itself, and abandon the organization under which, by the Divine blessings, it has so long prospered. The tendency is evidently to separate the northern from the southern portion of the Church, a result which every good citizen must deplore as tending to the dissolution of the union of our beloved country, and which every enlightened christian will oppose as bringing about a ruinous and unnecessary schism between brethren who maintain a common faith.

Text—Robinson: Testimony and Practice of the Presbyterian Church in Reference to American Slavery, pp. 35–39.

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Chicago: "Resolution of Presbyerian General Assembly, 1845 (Adopted by Vote of 168 to 113)," Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History 566–568. Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L1D1UZSZ199A3AD.

MLA: . "Resolution of Presbyerian General Assembly, 1845 (Adopted by Vote of 168 to 113)." Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, pp. 566–568. Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L1D1UZSZ199A3AD.

Harvard: , 'Resolution of Presbyerian General Assembly, 1845 (Adopted by Vote of 168 to 113)' in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History. cited in , Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, pp.566–568. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L1D1UZSZ199A3AD.