Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Epistle to Diognetus

My home and native land

I am Canadian by birth. I am part of this country and its people; this country and its people are part of me. The history and culture of Canada are an integral part of who I am. I have lived and worked in five of Canada’s ten provinces and visited three more; I am at home anywhere in our land; I speak both official languages.

flag-1179160_640

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Being a citizen by birth is much like being part of a family. We may not always agree, but our roots go deep, our histories have intertwined so we cannot escape the fact that we are family. People from other countries, other cultures, have married into our family and become part of who we are as a family. So it is with our country. We used to have a family doctor who came here from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had received his medical training there. He told me once that he sometimes thought of going back, but his children were Canadian, their roots were here.

I love the land of my birth, my home and native land. I love her people. And yet. . .

By the new birth I am a citizen of another country, the kingdom of God. Specifically, I am a member of one special part of this kingdom, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Not by natural birth, my parents and my wife’s parents were not members of this church. The natural birth does not make anyone a citizen of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning, we had no roots here. They soon grew and twined together with our brothers and sisters so that we cannot imagine being spiritually at home elsewhere. We love our brothers and sisters. Like us, they are sometimes weak, sometimes clumsy, we all make mistakes but we are family.

We are citizens of two kingdoms, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our Canadian citizenship is only for this life, our heavenly citizenship is for eternity. As the second century writer of the Epistle to Diognetus so eloquently described the life of Christians:

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.. . 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. . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

There is an election in Canada on Monday. I will not vote. However, I will continue to pray for the members of our government, for they are ministers of God for the matters of this life. I will pray that God will bless them with wisdom and vision to exercise their ministry for the good of all the people of our land, so we can live in peace, order and safety. Above all, that we may be at liberty to worship and serve God according to His will.

The love of God

[The following words were written 19 centuries ago, not long after the time of the apostles. It is part of what is known as The Letter to Diognetus. Neither the author of the letter, nor Diognetus, have ever been satisfactorily identified, but the letter breathes an authentic and dynamic faith. Shouldn’t those two qualities still go together?  Is it just me, or is it really so that those today who profess a dynamic faith are lacking in authenticity? And those who rigorously seek an authentic faith are lacking in dynamism (or vitality)?)

VII. For this is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was delivered into their charge; it is no mortal idea which they regard themselves bound so diligently to guard; it is no stewardship of merely human mysteries with which they have been entrusted.

2. But God Himself in very truth, the almighty and all-creating and invisible God, Himself from heaven planted among men and established in their hearts the Truth and the Word, the holy, incomprehensible Word, sending to men not a servant, as one might imagine, or an angel or ruler, or one of those who administer earthly things, or of those who have been entrusted with the ordering of things in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the universe Himself, by whom He made the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea within bounds of its own, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine at night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and defined and placed in subjection, the heavens and things in the heavens, the earth and things in the earth, the sea and things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, things in the heights above, things in the depths beneath, things in the space between — He it was whom God sent to men.

3. Did He send Him, as a man might think, on a mission of domination and fear and terror?

4. Indeed He did not, but in gentleness and meekness He sent Him, as a king sending his own son who is himself a king; He sent Him as God, He sent Him as man to men, He sent Him with the idea of saving, of persuading, not of forcing; for force is no part of the nature of God.

5. He sent Him as inviting, not as pursuing man; He sent Him in love, not in judgment.

6. For He will send Him in judgment; and who shall stand before His presence? . . .

7. (Dost thou not see them) flung to the wild beasts, to make them deny their Lord, and yet unconquered?

8. Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished the more their numbers increase?

9. These things look not like the achievements of man; they are the power of God; they are the proofs of His presence.

VIII. Who among men understood at all what God is, before He came?

2. Or dost thou accept the vain and foolish theories of those famous philosophers, of whom some said that God was fire (giving the name of God to the element into which they themselves are destined to go), and others that He was water, and others again some other of the elements created by God?

3. And indeed if any one of these theories deserves acceptance, each of the remaining creatures might just as readily be proved to be God.

4. But these notions are but the trickery and imposture of magicians.

5. No man ever saw God or made Him known; God revealed Himself.
6. And He revealed Himself through faith, to which alone it has been granted to see God.

7. For God, the Lord and Creator of the universe, who made all things, and set them in order, proved to be not only loving unto man but also longsuffering.

8. Such indeed He ever was and is and will be, kind and good and dispassionate and true — in fact He alone is good.

9. But He conceived a great and unspeakable thought, and this He communicated to His Son alone.

10. While therefore He kept and guarded His wise counsel as a mystery, He seemed indeed to be negligent and careless of us.

11. But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and made manifest what had been prepared from the beginning, then He bestowed upon us all things at once — to partake of His benefits, and to see and understand things which none of us could ever have expected.

IX. Having therefore planned the whole dispensation already in His own mind in union with the Son, He permitted us during the former time to be carried along by disorderly inclinations just as we wished, and led astray by pleasures and desires, not in any way taking delight in our. sins, but bearing with them, nor again assenting to that age of unrighteousness, but creating all the while the present age of righteousness, so that we, having then been by our own works convicted of our unworthiness of life, might now be rendered worthy by the goodness of God, and having plainly proved that we were unable of ourselves to enter into the kingdom of God, might be enabled so to enter by the power of God.

2. But when our unrighteousness had now been fulfilled, when it had been made completely manifest, that its retribution was awaited in chastisement and death, when the time came which God had ordained to manifest His own goodness and power (O the surpassing kindness and love of God for man!), He did not hate us or reject us or take vengeance upon us, but showed His longsuffering and forbearance; in His mercy He Himself took up the burden of our sins, He Himself gave His own Son as a ransom on our behalf, the holy for the lawless, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

3. What else could cover our sins but His righteousness?

4. In whom could we lawless and ungodly men be justified but in the Son of God alone?

5. O sweet exchange! O inscrutable operation! O unexpected blessings, that the lawlessness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, and the righteousness of one should justify the lawless many!

6. Having therefore proved in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to win life, and having now revealed a Saviour powerful to save even the powerless, in both these ways He wished us to believe His goodness, to regard Him as guardian, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength, life, and not to be anxious about clothing and food.

X. If thou, too, desirest this faith, first obtain the knowledge of the Father.

2. For God loved men, for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and intelligence, to whom alone He granted to look upward to Him, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He promised the kingdom that is in heaven, yea, and will give it to them that have loved Him.

3. And when thou hast attained this knowledge, with what joy, thinkest thou, wilt thou be filled? Or how wilt thou love Him who so first loved thee?

4. Loving Him, thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. Wonder not that man can be an imitator of God; by the will of God he can.

5. For happiness consists not in exercising lordship over a neighbour, nor in wishing to have advantage of weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force against inferiors. Not in ways like these can a man imitate God; such ways are far removed from I lis majesty.

6. But whosoever takes up his neighbour’s burden, whosoever is willing to use his superiority as a means of benefiting another man who is in this respect his inferior, whosoever bestows upon the needy what he himself holds as a recipient of God’s bounty and so becomes a god to the recipients of his bounty, he is an imitator of God.

7. Then though thou art yet upon earth thou shalt behold that God ruleth in heaven, then shalt thou begin to speak the mysteries of God, then shalt thou love and admire them that are punished for their refusal to deny God, then shalt thou pass judgment upon the deception and delusion of the world, when thou hast learned to know the true life that is in heaven, to despise the seeming death here, and to fear the real death there, which is reserved for them that shall be condemned to the eternal fire which shall punish them that are delivered over unto it, even unto the end. Then shalt thou admire them that endure for righteousness’ sake the fire that lasteth but for a time, when thou hast learned to know that fire yonder. . . .

We don’t need better politicians, we need better Christians

Well, better politicians would be good, too. But we get what we deserve; and the present crop of politicians are doing the best they can with the information they have. Better Christians could be a means of making better information available to the politicians, as well as everyone else.

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them” (the words of Jesus in Mark 13:9). Jesus didn’t teach that Christians should try to negotiate with the rulers to institute better practices of governance. His concern was that the testimony of the gospel should be heard in all places, despite the dangers.

There is no hint in the New Testament that governments will ever be favourable to Christians. Nevertheless, we are to pray for them that they might have wisdom to restrain evil-doers and maintain a modicum of order and freedom. That is the realm of governments, not of Christians, and we should give thanks to God for all that our governments are still doing in those areas.

But we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian nation and that we should rightfully have some influence on the governments. That has led to a laxity among Christians that leaves us feeling helpless when we realize the extent of our deception. The correct way to deal with that is to set our own house in order and not waste our breath trying to set the government house in order.

We need a revival of true faith and righteous living. We cannot tolerate lowered standards of honesty and moral purity in our own circles, then complain that the government has let us down.

Nineteen hundred years ago an unknown Christian wrote: “In a word, what the soul is in a body, this Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible; so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war against it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, because they set themselves against its  pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meat and drink is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office to which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.” (The Epistle to Diognetus, circa AD 150).

Can the same be said of Christians today?

Soul and body

[This is another excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus, written circa 129 AD, translated by J.B. Lightfoot, © 1936.]

In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world.

The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible: so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures.  The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members; so Christians love those that hate them.

The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens.

The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meals and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.

Their citizenship is in heaven

5:1  For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs.
5:2  For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.
5:3  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.
5:4  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.
5:5  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.
5:6  They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring.
5:7  They have their meals in common, but not their wives.
5:8  They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh.
5:9  Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
5:10  They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives.
5:11  They love all men, and they are persecuted by all.
5:12  They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life.
5:13  They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things.
5:14  They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated.
5:15  They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect.
5:16  Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life.
5:17  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.

[Chapter 5 of The Epistle to Diognetus, 2nd century AD, English translation by J. B. Lightfoot, 1891.]

%d bloggers like this: