I DID THIS MIXED MEDIUM painting from a magazine cover nearly twenty years ago. I was drawn to the child’s facial expression and the season it suggests. I used Watercolor, Acrylic and Ink. We display it each Christmas season.
I chose it for this week’s Thought—Exemplar. It suggests a reflection on childhood and what, for a child, was an exciting time—Christmas!
SOMETIMES I THINK ‘time travel’ could be a handy tool. We could take our ‘smart phones’ to interview people about their day-to-day lives. One of my interview questions, for followers of Jesus in the first and second century, would be: “In such a hostile environment, how did you carry out Jesus’ strategy in Matthew 28:18-20?” Rome and Judaism, for different reasons, dominated the culture where Christianity exploded, without resorting to their kind of power. How did they actually implement ‘the great commission’ of Matthew 28—make disciples?
Our next best resource is written records they left behind. “The Letter to Diognetus, dating from approximately 125AD, is the earliest example we have of an “apology,” a document defending the Christian faith addressed to a non-Christian. Its author is anonymous and the “Diognetus” to whom it is addressed is also unknown. This brief but wonderful document is so close to the time of the Apostles that it is reckoned as falling within the category of the “Apostolic Fathers.”—Wickipedia. I believe it answers the ‘How’ in my question.
The Letter to Diognetus
“FOR THE 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 dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; 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.”
How Did They Do It?
A GOOD PHRASE to describe what this observer saw firsthand, comes from James D. Hunter— ‘faithful presence’. They were undeniably ‘present’ in their world, not normally hidden and out of site. They were ‘faithful’: fully committed to living as disciples—followers of Jesus—at home, in assemblies, occupations, communities and world.
Their power to transform was not like the Roman or Jewish leadership. I think yeast (a microscopic fungus consisting of single oval cells that reproduce by budding) illustrates what took place. It is the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit ‘budding’ through the followers of Jesus as they went about normal life that resulted in the explosion and spread of the ‘good news’ of God’s true love and peace in the first and second century. Political power would have failed.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7
 CHAP. V.–THE MANNERS OF THE CHRISTIANS.