In But Not Of This World (Epistle to Diognetus)

Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers in English

This is such a great section of the 2nd century Chrisitan letter called “The Epistle to Diognetus“.  It is good commentary on the teaching of Christ and his apostles that this present age, this present world, is not our permanent home (John 17; 1 Pet. 1:1, etc.).

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

 Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 505–506.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Wilderness Situation

We’ve been using Hywel Jones’ Let’s Study Hebrews for our winter Bible study material.  So far we really appreciate it.  Here’s a section that brought some encouraging discussion.  In these comments, Jones comments on how Psalm 95 is used in Hebrews 3-4.

“As has been said, the writer wants those he is addressing to realize they are in a wilderness situation.  The Bible nowhere overlooks, let alone denies, the reality of the earthly existence of the people of God.  Although it emphasizes and exults in the fact that those who belong to the household of Jesus Christ possess a heavenly life and destiny, it makes clear that they are not yet in the full possession of all that is prepared for them.  They are already part of a great company that transcends time, space, and even death (see 12:22-4), but they are not yet in the ‘city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’ (11:10).  They are therefore ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in this world.”

“The writer wants the Hebrews to visualize themselves as being in the wilderness with God’s rest before them.  He wants them to realize the danger that faces them, but to know the way to respond to it.  He therefore warns and encourages them.  This is his regular mode of address, warning and encouragement, usually in that order.  In particular, he wants his readers to avoid the repetition of their forefathers’ unbelief and to appropriate the reality of the rest of which the Psalm speaks” (p. 38-9).

Hywel Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002).

shane lems

People as Commodities

Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of  Cultural Resistance, John F. Kavanaugh, 157075666X If you’re looking for a fascinating study on how consumerism, capitalism, and Madison avenue have contributed to the watering down of Christianity, you’ll have to get Following Christ in a Consumer Society by John Kavanaugh.  I like the subtitle of the book: “The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance.”  While I disagree with parts of his Catholic ecclesiology and anthropology, Kavanaugh has some powerful insights in this book that are certainly worth investigating.  Here’s a helpful section I appreciated.

“It should not come as a surprise that a follower of Jesus might find himself or herself to be an outsider in a culture dominated by the commodity.  It should be no shame to feel different, even to feel a bit disjointed and out-of-place, in a civilization that divinizes the thing [i.e. smartphones, money, bodies, TVs, etc.].”

“A Christian’s values, if they have not been fully acculturated, are bound to be different.  If we do not feel different, even embarrassingly different, something is wrong.  Madison Avenue-land, television, …radio, advertising, will trigger constant reminders of our almost displaced existence.  We will feel like strangers.  The facts that life is cheapened, that retaliation and competition are conceived as ultimates, that familial consent and commitment seem alien, that armament and defense are so universally accepted, that fidelity in marriage seems strange – are thus not so dumbfounding as they might first appear.”

“I have heard Christian couples ask quizzically if they were the ‘weird’ ones, so little does anything in this culture seem to agree with their deepest beliefs.  They should not be distraught.  They have merely come into contact with their faith as a lived, historical option.  They have discovered that atheistic communism is not the greatest or only threat to their belief.  It is lived atheism – whether capitalistic or communistic – which assaults their faith.  And they have finally discovered the closeness of the danger – not in some different land, but in their own culture and its idolatrous belief system” (p. 128-9).

Following Christ in a Consumer Society is an outstanding book that I highly recommend.  It is a great discussion of how people have been depersonalized and commodified.  It wisely notes how consumerism and marketing ‘evangelize’ people and change they way they live and think.  It talks about idols, sex, money, and violence.  You’ve got to get this book if you want help navigating through the culture in which we live.  Alternatively, you’ve got to get this book if you want to dig deeper in the “Christ and Culture” debate.  Kavanaugh’s book will go well with other similar ones like Idols for Destruction, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, The Narcissism Epidemic, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, and Perfecting Ourselves to Death.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Heavenly Mindedness in the Early Church

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      When Cyprian (d. 258 AD) wrote to Christians who were being persecuted, one thing he told them (among many) was to keep their eyes fixed on heaven. Perhaps with Hebrews 11 in the background, Cyprian told fellow believers to stand firm in the Christian faith and focus on the life to come. Here are a few examples of his pastoral call to heavenly mindedness.

“The one peaceful and trustworthy tranquility, the one solid and firm and constant security, is this, for a man to withdraw from these eddies of a distracting world, and, anchored on the ground of the harbor of salvation, to lift his eyes from earth to heaven.”

“Let us not look to things which are behind, whither the devil calls us back, but to the things which are before, whither Christ calls us. Let us lift up our eyes to heaven, lest the earth with its delights and enticements deceive us.”

“But we who live in hope, and believe in God, and trust that Christ suffered for us and rose again, abiding in Christ, and through him and in him rising again, why either are we ourselves unwilling to depart hence from this life, or do we bewail and grieve for our friends when they depart as if they were lost, when Christ himself our Lord and God encourages us and says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall not die eternally?’ If we believe in Christ, let us have faith in his words and promises; and since we shall not die eternally, let us come with a glad security unto Christ, with whom we are both to conquer and to reign for ever.”

“We should consider…that we are…living here as guests and strangers. Who that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country? Who that is hastening to return to his friends would not eagerly desire a prosperous gale, that he might sooner embrace those dear to him?”

These – and many other such excellent quotes – are found in the letters and treatises of Cyprian. You can read these in The Ante Nicene Fathers, volume 5, pages 279, 287, and 473f.

shane lems

Cultural Engagement (God’s Two Kingdoms)

 More good stuff from this new book.

“God still calls us to engage in cultural labors.  He has not taken us out of this world but entrusts us with a range of responsibilities within it.  Yet we are not called to engage in cultural labors in order to attain or to build the world-to-come, the new creation.  As noted in the first chapter, many recent books on Christianity and culture suggest that redemption in Christ consists in the restoration of God’s good creation.  They do not mean that we are placed literally back into the garden of Eden to start from the beginning, but that we resume Adam’s original task of working and developing the creation.  This includes reforming the cultural development that has occurred until now and continuing that development toward the original eschatological goal.”

“But this is not the New Testament’s teaching.  The New Testament does not speak about the completion of the first Adam’s original task and the attainment of his goal, but it always attributes this work to Christ, the last Adam.  We have not been given a plot of land as a holy temple to work and to guard; Christ has already purified a place for God to dwell with his people.  We have not been commissioned to conquer the devil; Christ has already conquered him.  Christ did not come to restore the original creation, but to win the new creation and to bestow its blessings upon his people apart from their own efforts.”

“Thus Christians’ cultural endeavors should not be understood as getting back to Adam’s original task.  This claim should become increasingly clear as we consider the final topic in this chapter [Christ’s second coming].  The story of the last Adam finally comes to its climax at his second coming, when he returns to this world from his glorious reign in the world-to-come.  On that day the world-to-come will be revealed to our eyes, and the cultural activities and products of this world will come to a sudden and drastic end” (p. 62).

I agree with this perspective, based on the classic Reformed/Presbyterian teaching of the covenant of works and the two Adams.  Wondering out loud here: does the Dutch transformationalist theology that came up in the mid to later 20th century have to do with some 20th century Dutch theologians’ rejection of the covenant of works?  As a side note, it would be a fascinating and insightful study to see how many theological errors and problems have resulted from a rejection of the covenant of works in Reformed/Presbyterian theology.

shane lems

Christians in Community

 What a book!  I’ve not read anything by Eugene Peterson before, and now I wish I would have!  I realize I’m an “optimistic” reviewer of books (i.e. I’d rather focus on the strengths of a book than the weaknesses), but seriously, I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic here.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of The Message, this book will certainly make my top 20 list for 2010.  I even love the title: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant SocietyHere’s a small taste.

“The Bible knows nothing of a religion defined by what a person does inwardly in the privacy of thought or feeling, or apart from others on lonely retreat.  [Peterson here briefly discusses Matt 22.34-40 – Love the Lord above all and neighbor second.]  Christians make this explicit in their act of worship each week by gathering as a community: other people are unavoidably present.  As we come to declare our love for God, we must face the unlovely and lovely fellow sinners whom God loves and commands us to love.  This must not be treated as something to put up with, one of the inconvenient necessities of faith in the way that paying taxes is an inconvenient consequence of living in a secure and free nation.  It is not only necessary; it is desirable that our faith have a social dimension, a human relationship.”

The book is a sort of meditation on the Psalms of Ascent.  To me, it reads like Bonhoeffer + Calvin + Barth + Willimon + Horton + Lewis.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was very helpful to me in tons of different ways.  I’m certainly going to read it again and again, and now get a few more of Peterson’s works.

Side note: If you get it (please do!), you may want to get the 20th anniversary edition (2000).  Though it hasn’t changed much, the few additions (I think) were really good.  Here’s the link to the one I’m talking about.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Luther: Finis Politiae et Finis Ecclesiae

 In an Advent sermon from 1532 preached at the stadtkirche,  Luther noted the difference between the Lord Christ’s kingdom and that of the lord Caesar.  Luther said it in Latin: finis politiae est pax mundi; finis ecclesiae est pax aeterna.  Here’s his explanation:

“The end purpose of the government is temporal peace, while the ultimate end of the church is not peace and comfort on earth, nice homes, wealth, power, and honor, but everlasting peace.  Caesar does not care whether I die a blessed death and come to everlasting life, nor can he be of help against death, but must himself die just like me.  Death comes to him as [it does] to the lowly beggar.  Caesar’s jurisdiction pertains to this temporal, transitory life; but where this temporal life ceases, there the rule of the Christian church intervenes.  Let this be the goal and purpose for which the Christian realm strives and aims: to proclaim the treasure for troubled and anguished consciences which Christ has earned for and committed to his church, namely, the forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace.”

Quotes taken from page 103 of volume 5 of the Baker set of Luther’s sermons.  For more info on Luther’s two kingdoms, along with the Lutheran confessions be sure to check out this book – (just released).

shane lems

sunnyside wa