Our neighbors across the road moved out yesterday. We didn’t get the chance to say good-bye. Not that we had ever really said hello. Our daughters knew each other of course and yes, we waved at each other from time to time. But that was about it. Oh, we were planning to get to know them better—eventually. But that never happened, and now they’re gone. I wonder what they thought of us? Were we simply the “friendly-from-a-distance” neighbors? The folks across the road who keep to themselves? How about “radical Christians” typical of those found in the book of Acts? Probably not.
This week I’ve been repeatedly processing the theme of radical Christianity. First was a webcast I watched in which Gabe Lyons and Tim Keller discussed “Next Christians.” While introducing the webcast Gabe referenced a letter that will be the main feature of this blog post—the “Epistle to Diognetus” written in the 2nd century that describes Christianity in amazingly powerful terms. Next was a short clip from a sermon Francis Chan recently shared at a Catalyst Leadership Conference on thinking Biblically. He asks us to ponder the question: “Who is really weird?” Last was a short radio interview conducted with Francis’ wife Lisa on hospitality that my wife and I just listened to yesterday. She talks about downsizing to a 1000 square foot home and re-thinking what is necessary for hospitality.
Here’s the letter from the 2nd century by an unknown author to a certain Diognetus:
“The Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, by language, nor by civil institutions. For they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue, no lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers.
“They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is a foreign. They marry, like all others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common, but not wives. They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives.
“They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are killed and are made alive. They are poor and make many rich. They lack all things, and in all things abound. They are reproached, and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated, and are justified. They are cursed, and they bless. They receive scorn, and they give honor. They do good, and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens, and by the Greeks persecuted; and the cause of the enmity their enemies cannot tell.
“In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul, invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason, but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members, by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is inclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison; but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink; and the Christians increase, though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world; and it cannot be taken from them.”
Powerful isn’t it? Perhaps one of the best descriptions about what it means to be salt and light in the world. They were in the world but not of it. They engaged their culture yet were counter-cultural.
So how about you and I? What are our neighbors saying about us? Or not saying about us? Are we radical Christians making a difference in our communities?