In my last post “Being Church, By What Power?” I asked the question what does is look like for a local church to live and function by the power of the Holy Spirit? One commenter reminded us of the important relationship between the Spirit and scripture, to which I fully agree. Another commenter reminded us that the Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to open their hearts to the resurrection power through the Spirit who then is able to accomplish far beyond our imaginations. Then after writing that post, I was reminded (which I believe was the work of the Spirit) that those who live by the power of the Spirit as opposed to the flesh will display the “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives (cf. Gal 5.22-23).
So now I offer this description of the 2nd century Christian church and ask yourself if this description helps us understand what it looks like when the church (or a local church) is led by the Spirit of God:
But the Christian, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. 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 commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour [sic] 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. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. …Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. 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 their Messiah, 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. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them.
This was written by a man known as Aristides who purportedly was both a Greek Philosopher and a Christian (yes, strange bed-fellows) pagan.
Let me offer a few observations about what Aristides tells us about the church of his day. First, we notice that the life of the church is both vertical and horizontal. That is, the trajectory of the church’s life points both to God and people. Second, the life of the church described here seems to be pursued much more as an everyday community than a bunch of individual Christians who come together a couple of times during the week. Third, we don’t read of anything “miraculous” (i.e., sudden healing of illnesses through prayer, laying on of hands, etc…) though that does not means such occurrences did take place. Instead, we read of a radical lifestyle lived that took serious the concerns for the poor and oppressed, high moral standard, self-denial (cross-bearing), community sharing, and so forth – all in an effort to be salt and light, a sanctified community, a holy nation among their world. Fourth, their lifestyle was not based on legalism nor does it appear to be a cloning of church model constructed from scripture (patternism) but based on what they observed in “their Messiah” Jesus.
What thoughts do you have?