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Early Church History Newsletter: April 22, 2008 - Do's and Don'ts in Christian History
April 22, 2009

Do's and Don'ts

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Let's begin with a caveat: After much internet research, I have discovered that the "correct" plural of "do and don't" is "dos and don'ts." I decided to commit a grammar sin and use "do's and don'ts" in the title. I think it looks better.

One grammar blog I read, by a guy who looks like he could play someone who loves grammar on an evening sitcom, said, "Darling, grammar isn't about looks, it's about clarity and precision and silently agreed upon rules that allow us to communicate with each other easily."

Yeah, thanks.

Okay, given that I'm clearly sinning, grammar-wise, I hope you'll forgive me.

I know this email is long. It comes out only once a month, so I want to make it useful. Christian history, even just early Christian history, is a big subject.

Skim the email when you get it, looking for headlines that pique your interest. Then peruse it through the month, meandering as you have time.

Most of this newsletter is directly from the early Christians, with some explanation. There's a lot of substance here!

Introduction to "Do's and Don'ts"

Do's and Don'ts
and Warfare for Christ

This has always been one of my favorite early Christian passages. It's especially applicable in the USA, where the chances of being martyred are pretty slim and the temptations to worldliness are extreme.

You try to wage war, o fool [a reference to desiring to be martyred], as if wars happen during peace-time [i.e., when no persecution is going on].

From the first day you were made to the very end you must fight. If lust moves you, there is war! Fight with it! If luxury calls to you, ignore it! In this way you are a victor in the war.

Be very careful about too much wine, lest by means of it you should go astray. Restrain your tongue from cursing because with it you adore the Lord. Repress rage. Make yourself be peaceful to everyone. Beware of trampling on your inferiors when you are feeling miserable. Give yourself out as a protector only. Do no harm.

Lead yourselves on a righteous path, unstained by jealousy. In your wealth make yourself gentle to those who are not held in high esteem. Give from your labor; clothe the naked. In this way, you will conquer.

Do not lay a trap for anyone since you serve God. Be aware of the beginning of time, when the envious enemy perished.

I am not a teacher, but the Law itself teaches by its proclamation. You wear your great words in emptiness if you try to raise a martyrdom to Christ without labor.

~Instructions of Commodianus 63; A.D. 240

The real heart of this email is below. You can jump there with this link. There you'll find some interesting lists of do's and don'ts found in historic Christian writings.

However, due to the nature of our age and our aversion to the preaching of good works I have given an introduction to those lists.

Do's and Don'ts

Do's and don'ts began to fall out of favor in the late 20th century. As Scott Wesley Brown (a terrific contemporary Christian singer) put it, "I'm not religious, I just love the Lord."

I like Scott Wesley Brown, but if you love the Lord, you need to be religious sometimes:

True religion, that which is undefiled before God, is this: to visit the widows and orphans in their distress and to keep yourself unspotted by the world. (Jam. 1:27)

Prior to the late 20th century, do's and don'ts were considered to be at the heart of Christianity, and very few believed that this was a problem.

Way back in the 2nd century, for example, Justin Martyr wrote:

Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. (First Apology 12)

This is heresy, of course, by modern standards. But is it heresy by Biblical standards?

Paul says something almost exactly similar. In Romans 2:6-7, he tells us, "[God] will repay everyone according to their works. To those who, by patiently continuing to do good, seek after glory, honor, and immortality, [he will repay] eternal life." Where did Paul get this teaching from?

Maybe he got it from Jesus, who said:

The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves shall hear [the Son of Man's] voice and shall come out. Those that have done good [shall arise] to the resurrection of life and those that have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)

The writer of Hebrews adds: "[Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (5:9).

What About "Not of Works, Lest Anyone Should Boast"?

New Pages at Christian-History.Org

I thought it would be good to keep you updated on the progress at Christian-history.org. The problem is that there's so many new pages since the last time this newsletter went out that it's impossible to list them.

To catch up, you can go to my site progress page. It gives you links to the new pages going up almost daily.

The answer to this question is pretty long, and it's addressed at http://www.christian-history.org/sola-fide.html. However, the short version is as follows.

Paul spends several chapters in Romans trying to prove and explain that the only way to walk in righteousness is by the grace of God.

The grace of God is not a way around the fact that it is only the righteous—and that means those who live righteously, according to 1 Jn. 3:7—who go to heaven (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:5). The grace of God is a way for those of us who are human, born as slaves of sin, to be "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works."

Titus 2:11-12 has always been my favorite description of that wonderful, powerful grace of God:

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to everyone, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, godly, and sober in this present age.

Finally, even Justin Martyr (lest our earlier quote make him seem to be a preacher of salvation by works) acknowledges that our good works come only through the power of Christ. He writes:

The Word

In modern Christianity, "the Word" is usually a reference to the Bible. Not so in early Christianity.

In early Christianity, "the Word" was almost always a reference to Christ. In Justin Martyr's quotes on this page, he is referring to Jesus Christ when he mentions "the Word," who is Divine and drives out the fearful passions of our sensual nature.

There is no clear instance in Scripture where "the Word" means the Scriptures as a whole. Hebrews 4:12 is often read that way, but when verses 12 and 13 are read together, it's clear that "the Word" there is Christ.

The restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, since he is Divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons—taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man—scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which are true of us. (First Apology 10)

Far more eloquently, he adds:

These have conquered me, the divinity of the instruction and the power of the Word. For as a skilled snake charmer lures the terrible reptile from the den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul. (Discourse to the Greeks 5)

A Quick Comment on Faith

Faith is what gives us access to the grace by which we live and stand (Rom. 5:2). As Paul puts it, "For by grace are you saved through faith."

Faith is that wonderful thing that gives us access to the grace that saves us, transforms us, makes us new creatures, and breaks sin's power over us (Rom. 6:14).

God does not give grace in response to good works. God gives grace in response to faith and faith only.

However, God does give eternal life in response to works—works you will only do by the grace of God. Paul says repeatedly (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:9) that eternal life is a repayment for good works. We saw earlier that Jesus told us the same thing in John 5:28-29.

Most of the time (but not always, as we just saw), it is "inheriting the kingdom" that the Bible speaks of when it talks about a reward for good works. The verses that say so are so abundant that I will simply list them. We have no room in an email like this to quote them. Some of the major ones are Matt. 25:31-46; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; and 2 Pet. 1:5-11.

Do's and Don'ts from History

Lists of Christian do's and don'ts start in the New Testament. The last half of Ephesians 4 is a well-known one, but there are many others. Romans 12 has a list of do's and don'ts. Even Galatians has a short list of do's and don'ts at the start of chapter five. In fact, Paul includes at least one such list in almost every letter, as do most other New Testament writers.

The most famous sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, is almost entirely a list of do's and don'ts. It's clear that Jesus not only did not object to them, but he believed in continually bringing them up!

Why not? Eventually he will judge us based on do's and don'ts, on what we did and did not do (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10).

In the early church there was a similar list—which borrows a lot from the Sermon on the Mount—that likely circulated as a tract. It is called "The Way of Light and the Way of Darkness" (or Life and Death), and it made its way into both the Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and the Letter of Barnabas, both early 2nd century documents. I wish we had room to list the entire tract, but we don't.

You can read both the Letter of Barnabas and the Didache for free online at http://www.ccel.org/search. Or, you can have a variety of book versions and prices searching for apostolic fathers at amazon.com or at ChristianBooks.com.

Here's the tract in shortened form. I have used the version from the Didache. The version given in the Letter of Barnabas is very similar.

I'll close out with the tract, and that will make this month's newsletter mostly excerpts from the early Christian writers. How can things be better than that? This tract is incredible reading with important insights into the mindset of the apostles' churches.

The Way of Life and the Way of Death

From the anonymous author of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two.

The Way of Life

The way of Life, then, is this:

First, you shall love God, who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself. All the things that you would not like to happen to you, don't do them to anyone else.

Concerning those sayings, the teaching is as follows:

Bless them that curse you, pray for your enemies, and fast for them that persecute you. Love them that hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other to him, and you will be perfect.

Giving

Give to everyone that asks something from you, and do not ask for anything in return, for the Father wants us to give to everyone of our own blessings. Happy is he that gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receives, for if one having need receives, then he is guiltless, but the one without need will pay the penalty. He will answer for why and what he received.

Christian History E-course!

I am working on a 7-day e-course on Christian history. Watch for it on the Christian-history.org home page!

It will be a general overview of church history, allowing you to get an timeline in your mind. This will help you remember the things you care about in the history of Christianity.

I'm done with the 3 of the 7 days. 4 lessons left to put together! Day 1 gives some compelling reasons for knowing church history.

Again, keep your eyes open. I can't wait to see you there!

Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give.

Various Commands Concerning Righteousness

You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not practice magic; you shall not practice witchcraft.

You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill a child that is already born.

You shall not hate any man, but some you shall reprove, for some you will pray, and others you will love more than your own life.

My child, flee from all evil and every form of it.

Don't be prone to anger, for anger leads the way to murder. Nor be jealous, quarrelsome, or hot-tempered, for out of all of these murders are born.

My child, do not be lustful, nor a filthy talker or coarse jester; for out of all these adulteries are engendered.

My child, do not be an observer of omens since it leads the way to idolatry. Nor be an enchanter, astrologer, or purifier, and don't look at any of these things.

My child, don't be a liar since a lie leads the way to theft. Nor be money-loving or full of pride, for out of all these thefts come.

My child, don't be a complainer since since it leads the way to blasphemy. Nor be self-willed or evil-minded, for out of these things blasphemies are born.

Humility

Be meek, since the meek will inherit the earth.

Be patient, sympathetic, honest, gentle, good, and always trembling at the words which you have heard.

You shall not exalt yourself nor allow your soul to be overconfident. Your soul shall not be joined with the lofty ones, but you shall associate with the righteous and lowly.

The things that happen to you, count as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass.

Fellowship in the Church of God

My child, remember night and day the one that speaks the word of God to you, and you shall honor him as the Lord; for in the place where lordly rule is uttered, there the Lord is.

And you shall seek out the face of the saints every day, so that you may rest on their words.

You shall not long for division, but you shall bring those who argue with one another to peace. You shall judge righteously. You shall not be partial when you reprove for transgressions.

Giving Again

Don't stretch out your hands to receive, then draw them back when it is time to give. If you have anything, then through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins [perhaps Prov. 16:6 is the reference here]. You shall not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give, for you know the good One who repays you for your hire.

Concerning the Way of Death

The long lists in the Way of Death may look boring. Don't be fooled!

Look through them and catch the interesting tidbits you've never considered.

Despite how negative that list was, I was greatly encouraged as I typed these out (as I was updating the language from my Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII version of the Didache).

I believe there's something in tracts like this that feeds the soul of those who love the Lord. It reminds us of what we should and shouldn't be doing and gives us new insights into following God.

You shall not turn away from the one in need, but you shall share all things with your brother. You shall not say they are your own, for if you share in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?

More Miscellaneous Commands

You shall not remove your hand from your son or daughter, but from their youth you shall teach them to fear God.

You shall hate all hypocrisy and all that is displeasing to the Lord.

Do not in any way forsake the commands of the Lord, but you shall keep what you have received, neither adding to nor taking away from them.

In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come to prayer with a bad conscience.

This is the way of life.

The Way of Death

The Way of Death is this:

First of all it is evil and full of curses.

The Shepherd of Hermas, written around A.D. 161, has a section of commandments, too. When Hermas wondered if those commands could be followed, the Shepherd told him, "Put … the Lord in your heart, and you will know that there is nothing easier, sweeter, or more manageable than these commandments."

He added:

"Don't fear the devil, for there is no power in him against you. I, the angel of repentance, will be with you, and I am lord over him. … Don't fear him, and he will flee from you. … The devil goes to all the servants of God to test them. As many as are filled up in the faith resist him strongly, and he withdraws from them because he has no way to enter them."

Murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, overconfidence, boasting.

Persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not recognizing a reward for righteousness, not adhering to good or righteous judgment, not watching for what is good but for that which is evil.

Being far from meekness and endurance, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing him that made them, murderers of children, destoyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from the needy, afflicting the distressed, being an advocate for the rich, being a lawless judge of the poor, utter sinners.

Be delivered, children, from all these.

Call to Action

See that no one causes you to wander from this way of the Teaching, since along with God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, then you will be perfect.

If you are not able, then do what you are able.

One More Quote from the Shepherd of Hermas

"You will keep [the commandments] if your heart is pure towards the Lord. All will keep them who cleanse their hearts from the vain desires of this world, and they will live to God."




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