Witherington writes of 1 Peter 1:22:
The basis of Christian community and brother/sisterhood is conversion, not patriarchy or ethnicity. What Elliot [a commentator on 1 Peter] misses altogether is that the fatherhood of God as here enunciated has nothing to do with propping up patriarchy in the physical family’s household or in the empire. It has to do with the intimate relationship of God with Christ in the first place and with those who are in Christ in the second place….Here we see the connection between love and holiness: love, if it is to be real and sincere and wholehearted must be pure and coming from a pure heart. Conversion leads to holiness which produces love in the believer, though the converse is also true — loving sanctifies the lover. Thus, Wesley stressed that holiness was a loving of God with whole heart and neighbor as self.
Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 2, 110.
Love and holiness must flow from a right understanding of oneself, the other and God. The love and holiness commended and commanded, flows out of an understanding of one’s primary identity flowing from conversion — the new life in Christ:
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Gal. 3:27-29. Our new status in Christ overcomes and supplants our prior status as determined by our culture. In Christ, our new status dictates love for one-another, based upon the love of God for us and thus our love for others (1 John 3).
The discussion concerning Propoganda’s “Precious Puritans” seems in some places to have missed this point. That slaveholding based upon kidnapping was (and is) a grave sin cannot be denied. That we must understand that even men and women otherwise as careful Christians as the Puritans failed miserably in this respect must be admitted.
Here is the point which is missing in much (though not all) of the discussion. The premise of the discussion has been that the Puritans somehow more belong to Christians of European descent than to Christians of African descent (largely marked by skin — what is to be thought of Christians of descent from more than one place is not clear). Yet, as Peter and Paul make clear, the Puritans are more closely related to Propoganda than the African slaves who did not know Christ.
And the matter works in the direction: the African slaves belong to the Christians of European descent. First, there is only one race (Acts 17:26). Thus, when a man with white skin sees a slave with black skin, he must think, like me. Those who were enslaved where my family; that they differ from me in skin color tells me nothing more than members of a family may differ in skin color. Second, Jesus explains that when we come across the weak we must see them as Christ. Matthew 25:40. And while this applies most plainly to those who are in Christ; it is difficult to think of one who is more “least of these” than a man or woman enslaved – bought and sold like a chair or a cow. One should shudder at the wickedness of such disregard for the image of God.
Thus, the entire premise of much of the discussion is wrong. The slaves belong to us all, because we are all related in Adam. There is only one race. Second, the Puritans belong to all Christians. In short, my brothers and sisters (in Adam and often in Christ) were enslaved by my brothers and sisters (in Adam and often in Christ). Thus, even though my skin is white, when I see men and women enslaved, I must think my family, at least in Adam if not also in Christ. And when a man with black sin sees a slaveholder, he must think my family; at least in Adam, if not also in Christ.
One final point: The parable should frighten us all. That Christians could catch their culture sin so grotesquely means that we all stand in danger of catching our culture (1 Peter 1:18; Rom. 12:1-2). Were the Puritans to come to us, what sins would we be blindly accepting as somehow normal and acceptable. What of Christians from some other time or place: how deeply would they see our sin and shudder and wonder how anyone could be a Christian and sin so blindly.
This is not to make the sin of slaveholding less onerous; quite the contrary. Rather, we must own the sin more deeply. The fact that much of the discussion presumes that slaves belong more to the Africans and the slaveholders belong more to the Europeans shows how little even Christians have moved. To see the slaves and slaveholders as ours should only cause us to see the horror of the slavery with greater clarity — and spur us on to greater love.
We realize too little how conversion, how new birth has made us different, has made us new in Christ. This lack of understanding necessarily defeats our love and thus our holiness.
Here are some places to get started in looking through the Precious Puritan discussions: