Yesterday before our worship services I was able to complete my readings in this month’s Tabletalk (see the previous Monday posts this month for more on this issue).
The final article I read was the last one in the magazine – “The Example of the Early Church” by Dr. Michael Haykin. In connection with the theme of this issue (“The Christian Sexual Ethic”), Haykin takes us back in history to a key Christian apologetic work in the early church – The Letter to Diognetus (2nd century).
In this letter of a Christian (unknown) to an unbelieving inquirer (Diognetus) the apologist speaks to the way believers in Christ handle sexual matters in the world of their day, among other things.
The following paragraphs are a quote from this letter and some commentary by Haykin on it. It makes for interesting and instructive reading. So does the rest of Haykin’s article (cf. Ligonier link below), and I am sure, the rest of The Letter to Diognetus (shall we agree to read it together?).
In the World, but Not of the World
The author of the letter notes that, unlike the Jews, Christians are not to be distinguished from their fellow Greeks and Romans by virtue of their geographical locale, distinct language, or various unique customs of dress, food, and other matters of daily life. When it comes to all of these things, they lived like the other citizens of the Roman Empire. Yet, their Christian commitment did draw certain lines of demarcation between themselves and their surrounding culture:
They live in their own native lands, but as sojourners; they share all things as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners…. They marry, like everyone else, have children, but they do not expose their infants. They share a common table, but not the marriage bed. They are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend [their days] on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (Letter to Diognetus 5.5–9)
Here the New Testament language of sojourning and heavenly citizenship is pressed into service to affirm the paradox of Christian existence. The Christian life is one that was similar in so many ways to the mores of Greco-Roman society, but in certain key areas—notably with regard to the treatment of children and sexual expression—it bore witness to a completely different ethic.