Church, Faith

How is our faith today as compared with that of the early Christians?

I am sure most people would have played the game pass the message (or telephone), in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. Some players also deliberately alter what is being said in order to guarantee a changed message by the end of it (Wikipedia). The game is supposed to show how easily information can become corrupted by indirect communication. Likewise, I think the game demonstrates how easily one’s faith can become distorted in a world where man-made philosophies (e.g. social darwinism, materialism and moral relativism) are gaining in popularity.

St. Peter warned Christians not to be carried away by those who have gone astray and lose their secure footing (2 Peter 3:17). Are we growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) or are we backsliding (Pro 26:11; Luke 9:62; 2 Peter 2:20-22)? I propose that we use the lives of early Christians (AD 1-300) as a yardstick to examine and test ourselves to see whether we are acting according to faith (Lam 3:40; 2 Cor 13:5).

Early Christians lived by the pure, vibrant and simple Gospel message they received directly from the Apostles, and shared it with all who would listen. This is how St. Aristides described them: “They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindness toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him.” (Aristides, Apology, II c.) Here is another description by St. Theophilus of Antioch. “For with Christians, temperance dwells, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy is observed, chastity is guarded, iniquity exterminated, sin extirpated, righteousness exercised, law administered, worship performed, God acknowledged: truth governs, grace guards, peace screens them; the holy word guides, wisdom teaches, life directs, God reigns.” (St. Theophilus of Antioch, Books to Autolycus, II c.)

Early Christians were dedicated to others. According to St. Aristides: “They appeal to those who injure them, and try to win them as friends; they are eager to do good to their enemies; they are gentle and easy to be entreated; they abstain from all unlawful conversation and from all impurity; they despise not the widow, nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of Christ, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.” (Aristides, Apology, II c.)

Early Christians were citizens of earth and heaven. St. Aristides wrote: “For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received laws which they engraved upon their minds and hearts and observe in hope and expectation of the world to come. Wherefore they neither commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure.” (Aristides, Apology, II c.)

Early Christians celebrated the Eucharist. In one of the first Christian texts, St. Justin the Martyr narrates how the Eucharist was celebrated during the ancient times. “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying “Amen”; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit.” (St. Justin the Martyr, Letter to Antoninus Pius, Emperor, 155 AD)

The early Christians remembered the very testimony of Christ with their life of work since “Christ was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life.” (St. Justin the Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho)

In contrast, the world today is greatly influenced by the Prince of this World (John 14:30, 1 John 2:18) and his followers. They have created philosophies that oppose Christian believes and ridicule Christian living. Such philosophies have permeated into classrooms and workplaces. They have such great influence over our lives that we find it hard to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who came so that we might have life in abundance (John 10:10). We can examine and test our faith by comparing ourselves with the early Christians. In the process, we can learn from them who did not conform to the behaviour and customs of this world, but allowed God to transform their minds so that they could discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Roma 12:2). May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Note: All quotations on early Christians are taken from http://www.earlychristians.org/how_did_they_live_1.html

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