I just read a fantastic book. It's called Disciples and Citizens (by Graham Cray) and it presented a vision for Christian living that incorporates both genuine Christian worship and radical community involvement.
I once did a geography subject called "Cities and Citizenship" and I think it was one of the best subjects I have ever taken. Our lecturer Kurt took us through a range of issues linked with citizenship in urban areas - social capital, social norms, everyday life - and applied them to different communities - the homeless, children, queer people. It was everything I wanted in a course, and ever since, it has got me thinking about how I should respond to all these issues as a Christian. Disciples and Citizens summed it all up in 190 pages - a fantastic fusion of Kurt's geography courses, second year sociology, every teaching I've ever received from 1 Corinthians and Philippians and a beautiful argument for the Christian hope as a bodily resurrection rather than an escape to an immaterial 'heaven'.
I wanted to share the following quote that was quoted in the book. It's long but so so good. It's a translated segment of a second century Christian manuscript, the Epistle to Diogenetus.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, no the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity... But inhabiting the Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. 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... To sum up all in one word - what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.My challenge after reading this is to live a life that is true to this description, and to pray that the whole church will live like this. We need to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, and we need to be a vibrant and change-affecting part of the community. Don't hide the light of the gospel under bushels in church buildings!!
In the late 18th Century, a group of Christians from Clapham in England got serious about praying and bible reading and giving to the church. But it wasn't just an inward looking thing to build up their personal spirituality or build up the church. They also were super actively involved in the life of the London community, in sharing with the poor and getting super politically active. How politically active? The Christians from Clapham:
- Encouraged education and supported the Sunday School movement for people with poor schooling
- Supported the Factory Act to get children out of inhumane working conditions in factories
- Founded the RSPCA
- Fought against blood sports, gambling and dueling
- Helped to establish the Church Missionary Society (Matt works for them now!)
- Encouraged better administration in India and Sierra Leone
- Led the movement to abolish the slave trade in India
- Have you ever written a letter to a politician about an issue you are concerned about? Why not?
- Do you think that we don't need to look after the planet because is gets destroyed when Jesus comes back? Wake up! Jesus' resurrection has affirmed the goodness of creation, so we'd better look after the good things God made.
- Do you get overwhelmed by the needs of the socially excluded? We have a fantastic role model in Jesus, his own Spirit empowering us to work here and now, and the promise of a future where justice is completely restored.