[@] Orthodoxy? Does it matter? (3)

In part (2), I refered to a history book which underscore the meaning of orthodoxy in the sense that the earliest church abided by it. (please see my subtle correction in that blog entry, btw) That book, for the record, is Schaff’s History of the Christian Church (which some nitwit called a “secular” source, but he shall remain nameless to curtail controversy), and the primary source Schaff refers to in this case is a document called the the Epistle to Diognetus. I found the full text of the epistle here, and it’s quite a read.

The part most frequently cited on internet sites is Chapter V, also called “The Manners of the Christians”, and I’ll drop it in here for quick reference:
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.
”Yes, yes, “ I can hear the rabble in NJ moaning, “I’ve read it. More ‘good works’ hoo-ha which doesn’t actually make your point, cent. What’s this got to do with orthodoxy?"

In fact, it has everything to do with orthodoxy – because it is not all the author has to say about these “Christians”. A little background on the origin of this letter and its apparent writer and/or intended reader: It was clearly composed during a severe persecution. The manuscript attributed it with other writings to Justin Martyr; but that earnest philosopher and hasty writer was quite incapable of the restrained eloquence, the smooth flow of thought, the limpid clearness of expression, which mark this epistle as one of the most perfect compositions of antiquity. The last two chapters (xi, xii) are florid and obscure, and bear no relation to the rest of the letter. They seem to be a fragment of a homily of later date. The writer of this addition describes himself as a "disciple of the Apostles", and through a misunderstanding of these words the epistle has, since the eighteenth century, been classed with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. (source: Catholic Encyclopedia, so excuse some of the flower stuff)

So in extolling the Christians, this work is certainly an apologetic work. But when it ascribes these amazing works to these Christians, what does it say the basis of this work is and must be? Well, let’s look.

First, it says this about the Jews:
I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews. The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, {are right}; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err. For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship. For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him. But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices {acceptable} to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect,-these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours. (III)
This says in fairly clear terms that trying to appease God with sacrifices – as the Jews have done – is not really any better than offering sacrifices to idols. Why? Because God has no need of anything man can offer: there is nothing man has which God does not already possess, and which man somehow “gives back” to God in a meaningful way that God needs. So whatever the Christians are doing, it is not as a sacrificial offering.

Next we should read this:
I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common {to both Jews and Gentiles}, and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.(IV)
Think on that: the Christian abstain from error, and the reader is warned not to try to learn how to worship God from any mortal.

From whom then should he learn?
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, {Him who is} the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.(VII)
So Christians did not learn to act a certain way from each other, or from the Jews, or from the Greeks – they learned it from God Himself who “sent from heaven … the holy and incomprehensible Word”. That’s pretty high talk, I think, coming from a pre-Nicene apologist.

But there’s more:
{God} did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things … As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God37 He sent Him; as to men He sent Him (VII)
So Him who was sent was actually the creator of all things! WOW! Doctrine! And that’s not all:
This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?(VII)
We might debate whether this writer is a 5-pointer or not, but the reality is that he says that Christ was sent, as very God, to save men prior to the coming righteous wrath of God. That’s 100% doctrine – all critical, essential doctrine. But, as we are asking in this monologue, who cares? Does it matter? This writer seems to think so – because he says:
Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.(VII)
That is to say, what these people are doing is the evidence of God’s power in them. Certainly, this is directly applied to the fact that their numbers grow in spite of persecution, but it is also applied indirectly to their “manners” when it is said that they have learned their way of life directly from God.

But what kind of doctrine is this? Is it a kind of “mere Christianity” that only covers the barest essentials? I think if we stop right here and don’t read another word of the Epistle, we might have to say so. But see what comes next:
For, who of men at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? of whom some said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself. And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them.] Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service]. Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them.
Man! PREACH IT! No man knew anything about God, apparently, until God revealed Christ to men – and that thereafter “we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active”. So whatever we know about God is what causes us to act in worship of God – and among those things is the counsel of God’s will to save us. HUH!

But there is more still:
If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.
Faith is the means of receiving God’s blessings; God made man in His image; God sent the Son and has promised a kingdom to those who have loved Him.

That’s not a “mere” definition of the faith: it’s a thorough definition of the faith – especially when considered in the context of the refutation of the non-Christian entities already denounced by the writer.

And it all comes back to the description of orthodoxy – of the right relationship of man to God. The Christians are described in this letter as having been taught rightly by God through the Son for the sake of acting right in all the things they do – and the content of that teaching is plainly spelled out.

So when we come across a person who says that orthodoxy does not mean we are exclusive about the kinds of people we bring into the house with many mansions, and that it doesn’t matter if we venerate the dead, or that it doesn’t matter through what source we claim to receive the right teaching, you can point back to the right-acting Christians in the letter to Diognetus and ask the question, “how were these Christians defined, and what made them act the way they did?” The answer is a very strong argument in favor of orthodoxy as a standard and not a sliding scale.