This morning I read something intriguing about the early church that greatly encouraged me. In his book, All the Saints Adore Thee, Professor Bruce Shelley notes that when believers were ignored, hated, persecuted and maligned in the first three centuries, they had only one defense -- the way they lived their daily lives. Simply put, when others judged and condemned them for the absurdity of their faith, they held up the purity, simplicity and beauty of their own lives as evidence that the charges were ill-founded. Shelly says that this was the most effective defense, because the pagan population simply could not deny it.
As I thought about this, I realized that growing up in a country that guarantees me the right to practice my religion has not offered much opportunity for this kind of defense. Instead of having only my own life to testify of the validity of my faith, I and multitudes of other Christ-followers have held up our inalienable rights as citizens of a free country, asking only that we be given the fundamental respect our constitution demands. The problem though, is that while this may work as a legal defense, it does nothing to impact the hearts of those who watch us from afar. It may, in fact, drive the wedge of disdain even deeper.
For this reason I am excited about my new venture, albeit with a bit of fear and trepidation. I realize that within the hallowed realms of academia, that the most effective defense of my faith, indeed, the most powerful promotion of my beloved Redeemer, will be how I live out my life in front of the very people who may reject me for it.
This reality brings me a great deal of peace. In truth, though all the circumstances of my life are about to undergo a drastic revolution, I need only cling to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, as I have sought to do for decades now. And by His grace, this will be not only my best defense, but the means by which I can display the beauty of His being and perhaps draw others to Him.
The following quote from a letter written by an anonymous believer in the early second century deeply moved me along these lines, and perhaps will encourage and challenge you as well:
They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their dishonor, are glorified; they are defamed, and they are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evil doers; underoing punishment, they rejoice because thy are brought to life. They are treated by the jews as foreigners and enmies, and are hunted down by the Greeks and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity. (The Letter to Diognetus, as quoted in Early Christian Fathers).If indeed I do face enmity in this new venture, may those who reject me find it impossible to justify their enmity in light of the life I live. This is the desire of my heart and will be my prayer with each new day.