Eduard Bendemann “The Sorrowful Jews in Exile,” 1832 (from Psalm 137)
This Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is a strong contender for the earliest Christan apologetic. Chapter five spells out a simple and beautiful attitude of early Christians toward the world around them:
CHAPTER V — The Manners of the Christians.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
Today I was at the Society for Classical Learning conference where Ken Myers (of Mars Hill Audio) challenged us to consider (among many other earnest issues) how the church (the assembly of God’s people) should live together with a distinctive culture of their own, one that is not arbitrary but like a stable, growing and ongoing new nation diffused within and throughout the nations of the world. This favorite passage about the “Manners of the Christians” seems in some ways to say that the church is not called to produce a unique community with a full culture of its own, so it continually came into my mind as a question during this lecture. However, upon reading the passage again, it is hard to imagine how such a tightly-knit and unique community within any nation could help but form a distinct counter-culture that would mature in beautiful ways, presenting a continual contrast and challenge to the culture of the surrounding nation or empire.