This is the second of the four Christian lifestyles we’ll examine from our past. Remember we are talking about designs for living rather than theologies, histories, or even ethics. Some believe this radical lifestyle is the only genuine one, because it was the first. It is certainly exemplified by the first three hundred years of Christianity.
The radical Christian lifestyle imitates Jesus. John wrote, “Whoever claims,”I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked”. (I John 2:6) So the first Jewish Christian sect called herself “The Way” (Acts 9:2, 19: 9, 19:23, 22:4, 24:22), indicating she intended to live the way Jesus did. Paul meant much the same when he described the Church as “The Body of Christ”. The Christian picks up her own cross and follows Jesus. She practices the hospitality Jesus practiced and is willing to be martyred as he was martyred.
This lifestyle remains more prophetic than priestly, believing Jesus provided a better way than any human society that can not fulfill its promises of lasting peace for all. It waits for Jesus’ return to rule the earth. Mike was right on when he observed its hope is not passing a test to enter some afterlife, but waiting for God’s coming to make things right for all. As Christians wait, they lead lives that demonstrate how things are going to be in the future. That can mean handling everything in the Church, not even using society’s law courts. Six prominent characteristics, drawn primarily from Acts 2: 37-47, are:
1. They gather together constantly to strengthen one another
2 When they gather they remember what Jesus said and did, so they know what they should say and do.
3. Their worship is a meal which reminds them of the meals they shared with Jesus and especially the last one. Just as they share food, so they should share all things.
4. They practice a radical, unconditional love that always responds to evil with good and offers forgiveness “seventy times seven times”.
5. They sell their possessions and hold all in common. During the first 300 years they made little jokes, such as they had all in common except their wives or they had a common table but not a common bed. All contribute according to their abilities and take according to their needs. The greatest serves the least.
6. They refuse to act violently. In fact, for the first 300 years they would not participate in the military, because they refused to shed blood.
Notice that each step grows tougher, at least for 21st century Christians. Notice, too, the emphasis is on the community rather than the individual. To love is to share, not only material resources, but also the gifts of the Spirit. The Body of Christ functions by a division of labor.
Later documents such as the “Epistle to Diognetus”, a letter written to a pagan by a second century Christian, describes this counter-cultural nature “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… 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 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 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 dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They…are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers….. To sum up all in one word-what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.” (Read it all at http://ecclesia.org/truth/diognetus.html)
Bob is helpful when he suggests we should be asking if this or any other past lifestyle is really relevant for our situation. Many scholars see a resemblance between the first century church and our own as we become a more counterculture group. However, there are great differences as well. Perhaps the radical serves as an ideal more than as a realistic option. That’s how Marlin and Mikeg used it in reflecting on their actions. The next two lifestyles take human frailties into consideration,. They deal with the evil we find in society and ourselves in a different fashion. Royler’s intimation that we might find help by tapping Buddhist insights might speak to Mike’s yearning for a faith that confronts evil without falling into anxiety or despair. Every one of the comments got us off to a good start building a modern lifestyle. What do you think?