I am convinced that the church needs to re-learn how to be the church in the neighborhood. Thirty-five years of seeker-sensitive, seeker-targeted methodology has created congregations that have no ability to herald the gospel and who can do little more than invite people to programs. Our people need to be retaught, after the leaders have re-learned, to be intensely local in their missional focus so that they can be maximally effective in the global task of taking the gospel to the world.
For too long we have expected people to come to us and have forgotten the power of “living-among” our neighbors. Living passionately for and like Jesus in the midst of and for the gospel-good of our neighbors is critical to the task of re-evangelizing what was formerly called Christendom. We need to relearn what it means to take the gospel into the marketplace, into the homes and backyards and schools of our neighbors. We need to have them into our homes. The early church knew how to make a difference.
Aristidies was an Athenian philosopher and convert to Christianity. Jerome called him “our philosopher.”1 Aristidies wrote an apology for the faith and addressed it to the Emperor somewhere between A.D. 125 and 137.2 In his Apology, Aristidies wrote about the radical nature of the lifestyle of the early church and of the remarkable joy that characterized them despite having little of this world’s treasures. Even in death and loss, early Christians who knew themselves to be sojourners on the earth, experienced joy.
“The second-century apologist Aristides wrote to the Roman emperor Antonius Pius a description of Christians that said if any righteous person from among them passed from this world the Christians would rejoice and give thanks to God. When a child was born to Christian parents, they would praise God. If it died in infancy, according to Aristides, the parents thanked God even more because the the child would be one who had passed through the world without encountering sin. (See The Apology of Aristides, trans. Rendel Harris [London: Cambridge, 1893].)3
Aristidies Apology gives a powerful window to the sojourning lifestyle that eschewed security and comfort, and convenience for the greater glory of the God they followed. Here is part of what he wrote to the Emperor in defense of Christians:
“Now the Christians, O King…have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself engraven on their hearts, and they observe, looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness. They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother, and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man. They do not unto others that which they would not have done unto themselves. They comfort such as wrong them, and make friends of them. They labor to do good to their enemies (they are meek and gentle). … As for their servants or handmaids, or their children if any of them has any, they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction ‘brethren.’
“They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hath distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him, as if it were their own brother; for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God. … And if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him.
“And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food. For Christ’s sake they are ready to lay down their lives.”4
Clearly, we need to relearn what seemed to be the normal for early Christians. We need to live lives that evidence a supernaturally motivated sacrifice for our Lord and our neighbors.
1. Sell, H.T. 1998, c1906. Studies in Early Church History. Woodlawn Electronic Publishing: Willow Grove, PA.
2. Orr. J., 1999. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1915 edition (J. Orr, Ed.), Ages Software: Albany, OR.
3. MacArthur, J. 1996, 1992. Colossians. Moody Press: Chicago, IL.
4. Cited in John Piper, A Godward Life: Book 1 (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1997), 303-304.