Monday, November 5, 2012

Old Letters - Second Time Around

Generally speaking, I do not recycle my previous blog posts, but with the election tomorrow (finally!) I thought this a good time to make an exception.  Since this was originally posted in January of this year, one can appreciate how much the fever pitch of the rhetoric has accelerated in the interval.  Whether the turmoil dies down after the election or not remains to be seen, however, by way of a second century letter, I would like to share a comforting thought or two.  So, without further fanfare:

For those who pay attention to such things, we are in the midst of the political season, if indeed that season can be said to have a beginning or end anymore. Nevertheless, it cannot help but to wear on the mind, and as often as not, leave one in despair over the future of our nation. The rhetoric only promises to increase in volume and pitch until at least November.

That is why I found myself somewhat chastised, yet at the same time encouraged, by my discovery of a letter written somewhere between 130 and 200 A.D. by one identifying himself as Mathetes to a person named Diognetus. Of course I did not stumble on it as though it were a root across my path as I explored the jungle that is the Internet, but rather I found it quoted on one of my regular stops which is a Christian blog that goes by the clever name of Pyromaniacs.

It has often been my thought that if one could go back to the very early Christian Church, it would be possible to see the right way to live. That those who were taught directly by the Apostles, or perhaps only a generation or two removed from them, would have had to have gotten everything right. Of course, in truth, that is to a large extent a fallacy. Even as the Apostles were still penning the letters of the New Testament, false prophets were making their way into the Church. (2 Cor. 11:13) Still, those early followers of Christ can certainly, by their example, point us toward scripture that we should remember to take heed of.

The following is a small section of the letter from Mathetes. You can find the rest of it here. I used the translation by J. B. Lightfoot.

"For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life. Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous,and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility."

That's right - as a Christian, our real citizenship is in heaven! And though we find ourselves in the flesh, we are not to live after the flesh! It seems that Mathetes' description of the lifestyle of the Christians of his time should make us ponder whether we fit that mold or not. And most of all, it reminds us that there is no "salvation" to be found in any government or secular leader, but that our only hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ!

I feel better now.

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