I have moved up the economic ladder a little bit in recent years. I'm in IT, though, so job security is a little bit of an issue (not much, just enough for the analogy I'm drawing.)
As I understand the socio-economic climate of the first century, that probably makes me somewhat equivalent to a "freedman." I'm still a member of the unwashed masses, but I am no longer a slave. I have earned my freedom from my previous owner, and can now seek any employment that happens to jazz me. In fact, that's how it happened. I was freed from doing mechanic work for my employer, and continued to work for them as a programmer. After a couple years, I found another job and moved on.
The point is that I am not a scholar, priest or merchant. I am not in the upper class of professional society, and never will be.
But I could be.
This is America. Upward mobility may be our only common religion.
In the first century, there was no such thing as upward mobility for freedmen. Only the rarest of individuals might make it as high as merchant in a lifetime of work.
The church was the sole shining counter to that example. In the church everyone was known solely by their first name. Class was no obstacle to God, and no obstacle between brothers.
With that background in place, here is my first discussion question.
Could a slave/freedman be a presbyter/elder/bishop/pastor?
We have all agreed that authority/judgement must be exercised by a leader in God's kingdom. Could a freedman carry that authority with the people of God? Could a slave exercise that judgement? Would a merchant submit to a slave?
On to the second question. First a little more background.
In the first century, being a slave carried less stigma than being on welfare does today. It was not your fault you were a slave. It didn't mean you were a less capable person or had made any mistakes to be forced into slavery. Your village was just in the wrong place when the Roman army rolled through, or when your chieftain decided to take on Rome. Stuff happens.
The same was not true in America in 1850. Christianity was complicit in the redefinition of race as a justification for slavery. The Quakers really shone as a beacon against the lies that undergirded slavery. The rest of Christianity, though, was an example of how confused good people can become when interpreting the bible. There were strong abolitionists in our ranks and strong advocates of slavery all quoting from the same word of God.
Repeat question #1 for America in 1850.
Could a black slave be a presbyter/elder/bishop/pastor?
In the North? In the South? (In California? ;-) In an "unenlightened" congregation?
Tomorrow morning at 6:20 I am on a plane bound for California to grace my family and a couple old friends with my presence. My Internet connectivity during my vacation will be spotty. I cannot predict how much I will be able to chat, but I will make the effort.