The Church is so whiny at times. At least in the West it seems, from the various news outlets which like to showcase the "worst" (and actual worst) of the bunch. Sometimes I read articles and wonder why do certain Christians care so much about this!? It's usually a non-issue really, often under the guise of "principles" or "persecution."

Now I realise that some of the articles I linked to above could also relate to serious issues that we, as Christians, should face and discuss. But even from a quick search on Huffington Post and the BBC News for "Christian", the majority of articles (as of writing) from America relate to homosexuality in some form, and for the UK, they are about David Cameron saying we are a "Christian country" (though, admittedly, that last piece of news probably has non-Christian's whining more).

Though nothing quite sums up the Christian attitude more than the recent fiasco in the news about Google's doodle for Easter — or rather, lack thereof.

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Here is the "offending" Google page on Easter day:

google.png

Shocking, isn't it. 

Apparently it was/is to many Christians who felt the need to vent their frustrations and outrage on the Google forums (and even declare a boycott), as you can see from the screenshot below (click for larger view):

google_celebrated_easter_by_persecuting_christians_with_offensive_doodle_screenshots_americans_against_the_tea_party.png
I'm sure there was probably many more comments too. Source: aattp.org
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Yep, even Google not doing something is something to get in a flap about. The thing is though, Google has done an Easter "doodle" before, and also has done a Christmas "doodle" pretty much every year since 1999!

Except the real problem here isn't really the lack of a "doodle," but rather the fact that these Christians are apparently happy when Christmas and Easter is 'doodled' using nothing but secular imagery. Even if Google decided to honour the holiday with a "doodle" — do you really expect them to draw a crucifixion or a nativity scene? No, they are going to, and do, generally appeal to secular culture, rather than pick out a particular religion (unless the "doodle" is about a specific religious holiday) especially since Christmas and Easter have mixed origins and is largely a secular holiday just as much as a religious one.

Christmas Doodle
Easter Doodle
Christmas and Easter "doodles," by Google.

How did this happen? When did this happen? One need only type into Google "why are Christians..." and it will auto-complete with "...so mean." Changing the search terms to "...so whiny" will yield many results of people asking why Christians whine about the spelling of "Xmas", or if they really are being persecuted, or various blogs about people getting sick of Christians whinging about nearly everything!

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I realise the irony that I now may seem like I am whining about  people whining, but this is more than that - this is a call to action; a call to get back to our roots.

The early church was characterised by complete and total unabashed love for one another and their fellow man.

Let's look at a few excerpts from the early Christian writers when defending and describing their faith to others and explaining how and why they do things:

The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130

[The Christians] dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners ... 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 dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. 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. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

Quite a statement, especially that last line: "what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world" — is it possible to still make such a claim?

Apology of Tertullian, AD 197

Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill.

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Tertullian notes how onlookers to the Christian faith would exclaim, "See how they love one another." The early church's actions, faith and motivation was so real, so tangible, that non-believers would stop and take note!

A letter written to Emperor Trajan seeking advice to deal with "The Christian Problem," AD 112

[Christians] ... were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit, fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.

why_are_christians_so_mean_google_search.png
Google results about Christians

This was at a time when Christians were being forced to deny Christ and worship an image of the Emperor and to also offer incense to him as a god. Governor Pliny (who wrote the letter quoted above) also tried to gain more information about Christianity by " torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses" - but only discovered what he refers to as "depraved, excessive superstition." Even in the face of death and torture, the early Christians held fast to their faith in God.

Dionysius c.260 AD

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred or death to themselves and died in their stead…. the best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that their death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.

They heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease they push the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spreading contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might they found it difficult to escape.

Here, Dionysius wrote a tribute to the efforts and labours of the Christians who literally risked their lives to aid others during great epidemic. Emperor Julian is also known to have made a comment about this aspect of the Christian life and faith too:

Emperor Julian (AD 361-363)

[T]hese impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae [love feasts], they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.

One last quote, from Aristides (AD 125)which I think portrays the level of love that the early Christians displayed as plain as can be:

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hast distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs. . . .

And if there is among them a man that is needy and poor, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.

Can we get back to this level of love? Yes, I believe so. In many cases and places it's already happening, but there's obviously still a lot more work to be done — hard, but loving, work. We need to be living in a mindset of Matthew 25:35-36 every day.

It's not like you can reverse hundreds of years of 'bad press' overnight, but it needs to be done and it's got to start somewhere. I'm glad that there are already many churches and movements trying to "reclaim" Christianity back to what it is meant to be, as Jesus instructed us to be, but whether we belong to one of those churches/movements or not, the change begins with us. 

When Google's auto-complete ends the sentence, "why are Christians..." with "so loving," then I think we will have begun to make some difference in the world and in the minds of all the onlookers.

Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

 


 

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Early Church: Ancient Practices for the 21st Century

| 17th June 2019 | Early Church

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