Friday, 24 July 2009

Dear Diognetus...

"Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred."

Did the style of that seem a little archaic? No wonder, it was written somewhere around 130 AD by an anonymous Christian writing to an 'interested pagan' who is named as Diognetus; it is, in the language of our day, 'seeker-friendly'. It is usually called the Epistle to Diognetus and is a fascinating document. The letter is remarkable for its gentleness. This is not abrasive' in-your-face evangelism' but shows a genuine readiness to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience... 1 Pet 3:15-16 NKJV It is not a long letter and well worth reading, it's more in the style of a gentle evangelistic tract. Perhaps we should write some tracts like this?

For this blog I am more interested in the description, in italics above, of the Christian attitude to the world and culture in which we live. They live here as 'sojourners'. That's an archaic word now but it simply means someone who isn't staying, they are just passing through; you can see the French word for 'day' in the middle of it. These 'citizens' were living the same kind of cultural experience as those around them, but they weren't staying. It's that theme of 'pilgrims' again. The word 'pilgrim' draws our attention to the fact that he is on a journey, the word 'sojourner' draws attention to the fact that he is not settling down. They are the opposite sides of the same coin.

For the early Christians this was their prevailing world-view. Writing a little earlier at the turn of the first century Clement, an elder in the church in Rome, wrote to the church in Corinth. I am always thrilled with the opening sentence of his letter; The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied. It's that same persistent theme that shaped the thinking and ambitions of the early Christians. Like Abraham of old, they had their eyes fixed on another city; ...he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Heb 11:10 ESVS

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