At the root of all abolitionist movements you will find the presence of two interrelated theological propositions. The first is that human beings are created in the image of God and created to reflect that image. The second is that the Creator himself became a man in order to rescue mankind from sin, self-destruction, death, and eternal separation from God.
The work of abolition has been carried out over the centuries in obedience to the Biblical command to love one’s neighbor as themselves and glorify God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. Abolitionism is the expression of vital Christianity in a culture that enslaves and murders image bearers of God and the neighbors we are commanded to love (Matthew 22:37-39). Abolitionists have attempted to “rescue those who are being taken away to death” and “hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11-12). Abolitionists have been committed to the practice of “true religion”: caring for the fatherless, assisting widows, and keeping themselves unstained by the world (James 1:27). Abolitionists boldly engage in the work of fighting evil head-on, but they also commit to helping those caught up in the injustices they seek to remove from the culture.
The first Abolitionists were the first Christians. Though they did not employ the term “Abolitionist,” the earliest followers of Christ certainly engaged in the work of “removing grave evils.” As they spread out in the ancient world proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, they consistently set themselves in bold opposition to their culture’s widespread practices of bloodsport, infanticide, child-abandonment, and abortion.
They rescued discarded babies from the trash heaps and river ways of Rome. They set up orphanages and hospitals. They tore down infanticide shrines and drove out abortionist guilds. They petitioned their rulers to outlaw their culture’s acceptable forms of child-sacrifice. And they succeeded.
Everywhere they went they brought the light of the Gospel to those dwelling in darkness. From the brothels to slave-markets, to demonic killing-centers and to the high-places which protected these practices, these “abolitionists” replaced their culture’s “way of death” with the “way of life” they were instructed to walk in by their risen Lord. Everywhere these Christians went, they did not cease from teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he had the power to forgive sinners (Acts 5:42). And in everything these Christians did, they demonstrated the new life they found in Him, and lived according to His teachings before the watching world.
They focused on teaching people to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and to love their neighbors as themselves. They brought the Gospel of Life into Conflict with the Culture of Death.
Read more on the history of Abolitionists here.