Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mathetes 1 - All things are new again

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

There was a time when, in almost every western culture, people had some knowledge of Christianity; they may not have been Christians, but they at least understood the basics of Christianity. However, increasingly, western culture has been following a trajectory towards becoming a "post-christian culture." With each new generation, fewer and fewer people are being raised with a basic understanding of Christianity. For them, Christianity has become new again; a new idea they have not previously considered or examined. With the advent of this new generation that has little or no knowledge of Christianity, we once again have the challenge and the opportunity to introduce them afresh to the christian faith. This was also the task before Mathetes.
"Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe,... I cordially welcome this thy desire, and I implore God, who enables us both to speak and to hear, to grant to me so to speak, that, above all, I may hear you have been edified, and to you so to hear, that I who speak may have no cause of regret for having done so." (Mathetes 1)
For Diognetus, Christianity was a "new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, and not long ago." (Mathetes 1) He had heard of Christianity, but knew little of its faith or practices. All the world was a buzz about Christianity but few really understood anything about it. However, they knew that Christians were different; different from the Romans and different from the Jews; and it was this difference that made Diognetus curious. It was the fact that Christians stood out as different from the world that made people take note and made them desirous to know and learn about this "new religion."
"so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves." (Mathetes 1)
So what made the Christians so different from the world around them? First, they were people who did not cherish the things of this world nor even their own life. Their love and affection was turned else where. Something else of such great value had filled their lives such that the things of this world had become dull in comparison. They no longer lived for earthly rewards but rather pursued those things that were eternal, those things that held heavenly rewards. They were truly people that were "in this world but not of it."

Secondly, they were people who did not worship the popular gods of their culture. They did not fear the Greek gods nor held to the superstitions of the Jews. They believed in one God what was supreme over all and their religion was based on a relationship with God rather than in prescribed practices aimed at placating or propitiating god. To them, God was living and close, not a god to be feared but a God to be loved.

Lastly, they had a deep love for one another. In Christ they had been made one, regardless of their background, social status, or ethnicity; in Christ they were one. Their love for one another was a shining evident of the God who lived in them. It was as Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Everyone wants to be loved, and in the expressions of the early church, people got to see true love for one another.

So how do people today, in our post-christian culture, see the church? Do they see anything different? Do they see anything desirous? Do they see a new and living way or simply a repackaging of the same-old-same-old? Maybe the reason people are not asking or inquiring into Christianity is because they see nothing worth looking into. As Christians we were meant to be different, to be a shining light, a city on a hill; let us take courage and live up to our part.

David Robison

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