"Keeping, then, to our aim, and selecting the Scriptures which bear on the usefulness of training for life, we must now compendiously describe what the man who is called a Christian ought to be during the whole of his life." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)Here, Clement states in clear terms his purpose for this entire work: to show believer how to behave and walk during their time on earth. Clement lived in a time when many were coming to Christ and the church in Alexandria was flourishing. However, most of these new believers were coming out of a culture and a heritage that was devoid of God. They lacked any basic understanding or knowledge of the scriptures. Most of them would have never read the teachings of Moses let alone heard them expounded upon in public or at home. They were steeped in a culture that served various daemon gods and, in many cases, lived lives of licentiousness and lives spent in seeking hedonistic pleasures. The issue for Clement was how to introduce these new believers to the culture of Christ and how to indoctrinate them into a Christian way of living? This was the purpose of his book, "The Instructor".
"We must accordingly begin with ourselves, and how we ought to regulate ourselves. We have therefore, preserving a due regard to the symmetry of this work, to say how each of us ought to conduct himself in respect to his body, or rather how to regulate the body itself. For whenever any one, who has been brought away by the Word from external things, and from attention to the body itself to the mind, acquires a clear view of what happens according to nature in man, he will know that he is not to be earnestly occupied about external things, but about what is proper and peculiar to man—to purge the eye of the soul, and to sanctify also his flesh. For he that is clean rid of those things which constitute him still dust, what else has he more serviceable than himself for walking in the way which leads to the comprehension of God." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)Having completed his introduction in Book 1, in which he presented us a children and Jesus as our loving instructor, he now turns to what he refereed to as "a system of reasonable actions." Specifically, looking at how one aught to regulate their lives and discipline their bodies for this new life that has been granted to us by God. It is a life that is to be no longer lead by our flesh or our passions and desires but a life that is to be lead by our spirit; that rational part of our soul that Clement refers to as the mind.
Some, while reading Clements "system of reasonable actions" will be offended, others will decry "legalism!" However, for both, when reading with simplistic minds, they miss the whole point of Clements teaching. This book is not for those who are content with their present lives nor is it for those looking for an excuse to continue their current lifestyle. This book is for those who are seeking and desiring a new way of living, a new lifestyle; one that is built upon eternal principals, a life style that is good, wholesome, and healthy, a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. For such people seeking something better in their lives, this book is for them.
The key to understanding Clements "system" is to view his remedies in light of his principals. For example, when he speaks against women coloring their hair he does so in encouraging them not to imitate the prostitutes that were common in those days and to not offend God by believing that He had not made the pretty enough and that they had to take matters into their own hands. The principals of not imitating the evil of our culture and not offending God by casting dispersion upon His creation are sound principals and, once understanding his principals, we can discuss the merits of his remedies or how such remedies might be adapted to our present time and culture.
Such us of intellectual reasoning should not be foreign to us and its use and value can be demonstrated in many places throughout the scriptures. For example, consider Paul's instruction to Timothy, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Timothy 2:12-14) Notice Paul says "I" in "I do not allow" not "God does not allow." Paul was establishing an apostolic tradition in the churches he started that women were not to teach or have authority over a man. This was the case in Paul's churches but not necessarily in all churches, for example, in those that might have been started by Peter, John, or another apostle. Regardless of what you think about Paul's injunction, it is clearly shown as a remedy built upon Paul's established principles, that women are more easily deceived than men and men are more easily tempted to sin then women. When we read Paul in such places we must understand his remedy in light of his principal and then examine how the principal and once such remedy might be applied to our present day and time. By using such reasoning we will be able to glean wisdom and counsel from Clements "system of reasonable actions" that will aid us in adopting for ourselves a better life, a superior lifestyle, and a more godly way of living. Such a goal is noble and the end of all good and right teaching.