322: RED CHRISTIAN DOCUMENTS #19: EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS (2nd Century)

“A warm welcome to the 321st Post of the Zingcreed blog. And an especially warm welcome if you’re doing NYU’s ‘Socialist theory’ course this Fall, as Zingcreed is now on your reading list. Why not send in a comment – negative or positive, it doesn’t matter. I’d like to know how useful you’ve found Zingcreed, especially for the part of the course on ‘Jesus and Socialism’.

Zingcreed aims to do 3 things:
(i) shine light on obscure and forgotten corners of Christianity – occasionally! (Like this Post);
(ii) but it mainly aims to follow, explain and encourage the current paradigm shift going on in that faith. If you don’t know what that refers to, check out Funk or Jesus Seminar in my index.
(iii) Zingcreed is also looking for (and finding!) convergences between Jesus’s teachings and socialism/communism/anarchism/marxism.

These are my personal ongoing research projects. I’m a total amateur but I’m having a v. interesting time. This blog is made up of my personal musings, and you’re very welcome to follow me and observe all my mistakes (and discoveries!)
Zingcreed, as I call these 3 entwined projects, has had nearly 7000 hits which totally astonishes me. Watch this space and you may find stuff you never heard about before! or, more usefully, stuff you can quote in your college essays.

Do you know, I stopped to chat to a pavement preacher today, a fundamentalist I’m sorry to say, and in the course of our conversation it turned out:-
He had never heard of the Q gospel,
He had never read the gospel of Thomas,
He didn’t know that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians before any of the gospels were written,
He didn’t know the order of the epistles in the NT is according to length,
He thought Matthew was the earliest gospel because it comes first in the NT.

And this guy stands outside a supermarket in N. London on a Saturday morning preaching to passers by, while all the time he is biblically illiterate. Am I being too hard on him? He’s out to change people’s lives, yet he’s ignorant of some of the fundamentals. He needs to go back to school! If a total amateur like myself  with only science qualifications can go to the library and on-line and find things out, why can’t he? Laziness? Inertia? The smug conviction that he knows all the answers already? No-one knows all the answers, brother! And no-one ever will.

I’m getting off the point. Below is a beautiful, inspiring piece of writing which I found in a ground-breaking book (highly commended on the cover by various well known humanists) by the British Anabaptist Noel Moules. This ‘Red Christian document’ is from p. 103 of  his “Fingerprints of Fire…Footprints of Peace. A spiritual manifesto from a Jesus perspective” Circle Books (2012, I think – it’s not dated).
Today’s world needs more people like the ones described here. Their radical lifestyles are a challenge to all, atheist and believer alike.
Footnote 9, p.115, explains that it is Moules’ own paraphrase of part of ‘The Epistle to Diognetus’, based on reading a number of translations which he lists. The name of the Christian author is unknown. She/he was asked “What is a Christian?” This is the reply:-

 

Red Christian document #19:

Epistle to Diognetus (Second Century)

“You cannot identify Christians from other people by nationality, language or customs.
They do not live in isolated cities, speak some strange dialect, or adopt a peculiar lifestyle.
Their teaching is not the inventive speculation of inquisitive minds.
They are not propagating mere human teaching as some people do.
They live in a Greek or foreign city, wherever chance has placed them.
They follow local customs in clothing, food and other aspects of life.
But at the same time they demonstrate the the strangely wonderful form of their own citizenship.
They each live in their native land, but as strangers.
They shoulder all the duties of citizenship, but are made to suffer like aliens.
Every foreign country is to them like a homeland, while every homeland is like a foreign country.
They marry and have children just like everyone else; but they do not kill unwanted babies.
They share a common table but not a common bed.
They are present ‘in the flesh’, but they do not live ‘according to the flesh’.
They live upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey human laws, but surpass these laws in their personal lives.
They love everyone, but are persecuted by all.
They are unknown, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death and yet they are more alive than ever.
They are poor and yet make many rich.
They are short of everything and yet live in abundance.
They are dishonoured and yet their dishonour becomes a glory.
Their names are blackened; nevertheless they stand innocent.
They are mocked and yet they bless in return.
They are treated outrageously and yet they behave respectfully to all.
When they do good they are punished as evildoers.
When punished they rejoice as if being given new life.
They are attacked by some as aliens and persecuted by others.
Yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility.
To put it simply – life is to the body as Christians are to the world.
Their life is in the body but is not of the body.
Christians are in the world but not of the world.
Life is locked into the body, yet it holds the body together.
Christians are held like prisoners in the world, yet it is they that hold the world together.”

After copying it out on my keyboard I almost deleted this moving piece on the grounds that it wasn’t sufficiently ‘red’ or politically radical, then I read Moules’ own follow up comments and I decided to let it stand:
“Notice this early description of a Christian points to the character and quality of their lives which were ‘turning the world upside down’. (Acts 17:6)
Jesus-inspired ethics should be provocative in any society; they are neither easy nor comfortable and often controversial. To understand ethics from a Jesus perspective reach deep within yourself and dream. Dream of being free … to achieve your full potential, …to express yourself in a way that is true,… and free from injustice.
Anarchists are one group of people who have endeavoured to live this dream. We have seen they believe that each individual should be free to live their lives out of an inner sense of justice and kindness; and that law, in the way it imposes other people’s desires upon us is essentially exploitative. People should be free to explore and express their individuality. Most (but not all) anarchists  live gently and nonviolently, working to build community. They are all engaging with the God-given truth that we are created to dance to the spirit of freedom. Jesus and the early Christian community put it in these words:
‘You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (Jn 8:32)
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.’ (Gal 5:1)
‘For where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.’ (2 Cor 3:17)
Jesus-ethics are a call to live spontaneously in harmony with the character of God in the power of the Spirit; and the first fruit is freedom. The only phrase I can shape that begins to describe such an identity is ‘Messianic Anarchist‘ – nothing else gets close. Anarchist means ‘one free from the powers’, remember this was the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection:
‘He disarmed the powers and authorities…triumphing over them.’ (Col 2:15)
The deep dream of the anarchist is seen as too disturbing for most individuals and societies to engage with…
‘The wind blows where it wants to, you hear its sound but you know neither its origin nor its destination; so it is with everyone born of the spirit.’ (Jn 3:8)
This is how Jesus lived, exampling the ‘Messianic Anarchist’ in every act and action. like the wind he was a powerful presence yet moved to rhythms that were a mystery to those around him, akin to wild nature, inspiring and disturbing in equal measure. He invited every person to live the same way, a call to celebrate the way of freedom.
The way Jesus lived presented a constant paradox.” (p. 104-112)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Alphabetical index of other ‘Red Christian documents’
Jesus’s real political message
Zingcreed commentary on line 2, ethics & healing

[321, indexed & linked, t&c]

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: