Monday, August 08, 2011

The Apology of Aristides

[This post follows a sermon called "A Model for the Church".  Click the title to find the audio.]

This past Sunday, we looked at a familiar passage of Scripture when it comes to the life of the early church.  In Acts 2:42-47, we see a kind of model for the ideal for which we can all strive.  No...the early church was not perfect.  After all, they had to deal with sin (Acts 5:1-11), division (Acts 6:1), and persecution (Acts 8:1).  Yet, Luke records this paragraph to let us know what was typical among the people of God.  These Spirit-filled believers lived together, worshiped together, learned together, and interacted with one another in a particular way...a way which sets forth a model for us to follow.

One of the results of this behavior was that they were "having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:47).  Yes, their distinction would also bring persecution, but there was (and still should be) something attractive about the community of believers.  In fact, one 2nd century philosopher named Aristides used the nature of the Christian community in his defense of the faith.  One early church father noted, "Aristides, a most eloquent Athenian philosopher, and a disciple of Christ while yet retaining his philosopher's garb, presented a work to Hadrian [i.e.- the Roman Emperor]...The work contained a systematic statement of our doctrine, that is, an Apology for the Christians, which is still extant and is regarded by [experts] as a monument to his genius" (Jerome, in Lives of Illustrious Men).

Here is part of the apology of Aristides for us to consider as we think about pursuing a model for the church.  This follows a discussion of Barbarians and Greeks and their worship of false gods.  It also follows a discussion regarding the practice of Jews, and he says that "they too erred from true knowledge."  Then, the philosopher speaks of the Christians:

"Now the Christians, O King, by going about and seeking, have found the truth.  For they know and trust in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who has no fellow.  From him they received those commandments which they have engraved on their minds...

"For this reason they do not commit adultery or immorality; they do not bear false witness, or embezzle, nor do they covet what is not theirs.  They honor their father and mother, and do good to those who are their neighbors.  Whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly.  They do not worship idols made in the image of man.  Whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they in turn do not do; and they do not eat the food sacrificed to idols.

"Those who oppress them they exhort and make them their friends.  They do good to their enemies.  Their wives, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest.  Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hope of recompense that is to come in another world.

"As for their bondmen and bondwomen...they persuade them to become Christians; and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.

"They refuse to worship strange gods; and they go their way in all humility and cheerfulness.  Falsehood is not found among them.  They love one another; the widow's needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan...He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting.  When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother.  They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but those who are brethren after the Spirit and in God.

"When one of their poor passes away from the world, each provides for his burial according to his ability.  If they hear of any of their number who are imprisoned or oppressed for the name of the Messiah, they all provide for his needs, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free.

"If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities.  They observe scrupulously the commandments of their Messiah, living honestly and soberly as the Lord their God ordered them.  Every morning and every hour they praise and thank God for his goodness to them; and for their food and drink they offer thanksgiving...Such, O King, is the commandment given to the Christians, and such is their conduct."  (The Apology of Aristides, translated by Rendel Harris [London: Cambridge, 1893] quoted in John MacArthur, Acts 1-12 [Chicago: Moody, 1994].)

In Acts 2, and in the Apology of Aristides, we see a portrait of a church deeply committed to God, His Word, and one another.  May God give us the grace to follow these great examples...both individually and corporately.