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April 9, 2020 2:00 am
Best-selling author and church history professor Jerry Sittser gives us a peek into the lives and marriages of the early Christians who were an influence for good in the Roman culture. How did they do that? Early Christians valued marriage and children, unlike their Roman contemporaries who divorced at will and practiced abortion and infanticide. Early Christ followers also upheld their vows of faithfulness, and even took in abandoned babies left to die. Christians also had a strong sexual ethic, and valued the lives of all, including singles, widows, and orphans.
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The early church was concerned that Christians believed the truth that they were Orthodox in their beliefs.
Center says they were equally concerned that Christians lived out there during the rites of initiation when they were being scrutinized or examined for baptism. They wouldn't simply ask and do you believe in God the father Almighty, and you believe in Jesus Christ his only son, and I believe in the Holy Spirit and you would say yes yes yes repeat that, then they would ask and or are you visiting widows. Are you reaching out for you visiting prisoners that was as important to them as having correct.
Dr. this is family life today. Our hosts are Dave and Wilson on Bob Payne's online family life today.com in our world today.
Both orthodoxy and or the proxy are essential if were going to be salt and light in our world. Jerry Citro joins us today to talk about that. Stay with us and welcome to family life today.
Thanks for joining us and I remember thinking maybe 10, 15 years ago as the Internet was beginning to emerge in the culture. I thought inter-web, we can who have the right grow dialect III begin to think we've got away to reach the ends of the earth.
I mean who you go through remote African villages and look at the people around their cell phones connected to the Internet and in recent days. I wondered, is that a blessing or is that an impediment to the gospel. How how can we figure out how to use that and how can we avoid the traps that are there, and I'm thinking about this in the context of the book were talking about this week and our friend Jerry Setser is joining us on family life today. Welcome back. Thank you Bob Jarrett is an author, a professor for more than 30 years he has taught at Whitworth University in Spokane Washington. His new book is called resilient faith how the early Christian third way change the world they didn't have the worldwide web. In the end of the early Christian movement. They had that the roads through Rome.
They did that with their own version of it. Bob, honestly because life was so public so they didn't have the speed of the Internet. That word got around really quickly you take. We were talking about this earlier you have for the last two dozen years taken students in January into a monastic setting for three weeks away from all electronic media, no Internet, no media, none of that and put them through, and they don't die. That's a fascinating not let out a cell phone, yet they slow down and they study and they spend time in community and they spend time in worship. They have a whole different rhythm of life, which a lot of blisters are going. How do I sign up for that class because I would like three weeks where I hold different rhythm of life. What you find. Happens there. I made it. What I'm getting at is the technology good bad dynamic that were dealing with your, how do we understand that it's about pondered this question so often, the world is always advanced technologically one step after another. I mean, that was not the will and the wheelwright and we didn't have the printing press and all books were him copied and then we have the printing press in it. It exploded print media. Then we had the radio and then we had the TV it's inevitable and it will continue.
That's just the nature of human creativity to one of push boundaries in advance in the new frontiers problem is when we forget the old. The old is not irrelevant to the old has to be integrated into the new or better put the new has to be integrated and that the old so you look at something like Twitter and Facebook and all of these Instagram and all of these mediums which are instant there more impersonal, even if you're doing with friends, nobody can have a 500 friends or thousand or whatever it it's simply not possible those mediums, however good they are and they can be useful for the kingdom.
Just like the printing press was or the radio was think about early Christian radio slightly as I felt like you exactly right now it is.
It can't replace old mediums because we are fundamentally human persons made in the image of God.
We are made for relationship and we are embodied. Think about the incarnation. Think about how radical it is that when God shows to communicate with us in his final work. He came as a human being and that means he was confined to what time he was confined to a place he looked a certain way. Jesus did not have blonde hair. Jesus did not speak English or Chinese. He spoke Aramaic. He never traveled very far from home its particularity and particularity is essential for human relationships.
We can't lose that by ultimately as Christians that's how we grow followers of Jesus were never going to be able to mass produce mature Christians, we can use the Internet and all the modern technological devices we have, but it can't be at the expense of the more traditional ways that we produced anything of worth worthwhile. I mean the Sistine Chapel, a great musician.
A great composer anything like that. And in relationships and relational relationships online are not the same as face-to-face how to grow a marriage.
I mean I'm with marriage expert to hear the hits day after day.
I say it, I was ordered for 20 years, but knows and I got remarried nine years ago and I say to my sweet wife Patricia, I say. Every morning I get up you are still there. Jerry, that's so say anything that's not a good thing that I smile and I give her a hug when I say it's that's the daily leanness of marriage to that real person I married to him.
He has habits and a way of using language in a way of being in the world. That's the particularity marriage. That's the particularity of desire and yet the social media connection that so many millions are finding is a symptom because they wanted and they long for really a symptom that they really want skin they write again and I also how to get my right yeah we as Christians can help them get there. Because ultimately, as disciples, we have to be embodied right and that means having coffee with somebody and doing holiday with somebody inviting neighborhood kids into your backyard to play in sewing are you on twitter and Facebook.
And my publishers don't like me, for I have in Instagram account. I followed 10 people in their all my children or in-laws if you're talking with your student do you tell them the way to get culturally engaged is to be online and to capture these arenas for the gospel. Sure, I mean I think when I talk about being online and talk about how you present yourself that you can't ever take anything back an image that you put online something that you say something that you engage in a pastor friend I know about a year ago wrote. I hate the president he didn't realize me. There was a huge mistake on his part. So there are some dangers we have to use it as a medium in which to exhibit Christian virtues that several months ago I tweeted. Let no unwholesome word come out of your keyboard and Emmett was really as my mentor that he doesn't know that when nothing else because the temptation is there is your scrolling through your twitter feed or your Facebook account ago.
I want to engage in that memo say something that's going to shut this thing down and it is so rarely thoughtful. It tends to be impulsive.
I mean, I'm so old school. When I text somebody I still use capital letters. Quotation marks. I mean, I like that I do I do I use pros because I just don't want this to undermine thoughtfulness or were not reading great text anymore with any degree thoughtfulness.
Speaking of monasteries you know they practice the method of luck to you Divina which is sacred. Reading what it meant really means is reading for transformation, not just for information.
We don't even read for information anymore. We just sort of skip over text. We bounce from one paragraph or idea to the next without ever thoughtfully engaging with something or responding what you say. Even in the subtitle your book on the Christian third way change the world.
So what can we learn from them in this world in terms take that to the Internet. What lessons can we learn from them.
They were in a totally different culture obviously and again, it is only you know connected to social media, but as we live in this world there's gotta be some lessons a transfer. I think we talked about a couple of them. But what would you say why would say not too much time. It can't become obsessive because it means you're cutting yourself off from a spouse just like watching sports can it can't be at the expense of personal relationships.
Ultimately, it needs to's be a springboard into depth, I don't think you can evangelize online I think and create points of contact. I think you can be suggestive. You can be provocative in the right kind of way. You can sow seeds. But ultimately it takes personal engagement and relationships so I think we have to learn to live in that tension. And when we are online writing blogs, writing emails, I write a lot of emails I get a lot of mail from readers. I just wrote somebody yesterday was widowed a couple years ago and he will we've had a thoughtful exchange.
I can't just rip through those I have to be careful. But what's come from. It has been a personal relationship. That's how ultimately how you grow tentacles. Our focus here is you, nose, marriage and family were the Christians living in Rome in the first two centuries different in how they approach, marriage and family relationships. From the way the Romans or the Jews most certainly, first of all, they valued marriage. I mean as shocking as this sounds, it was shocking back then. Maybe not so much now anymore. They help mend at the same standards as women that was radical in the same moral, ethical, sexual, standard which means that men had to be married to that one woman, no concubines, no prostitutes, nothing that was radical back then it was good for women and one wife. Not multiple on lifeline and it's interesting to observe that women outnumbered men in the Christian movement men outnumbered women in the Roman world because women died in childbirth.
Many children died but Roman families didn't want a lot of girls it was too expensive. They wanted boys and so they would be more inclined if they practiced infant exposure put girls out baby girls not baby boys infant exposure, meaning leave the child in a fantasy. Yeah, I mean just leave them out to thy Christians would sometimes take them and adopt them. By the way, so there were a number of ways that made Christians stand out.
Imagine shopping in the marketplace is a follower of traditional religion and coming to a stall where you've got a husband and wife and their kind to each other. There is no sign of gods and goddesses. They don't go to temples and shrines and monuments. None of that stuff and they have three daughters, and they're happy to have them know that would've been a radical statement. Okay, so they valued marriage.
There's no question about that, but they also honored people who chose to remain single. Early on, they developed orders for virgins so it wasn't as if deciding not to bury made you second-class in the Christian movement. It did make a second class worse in the Roman world was strongly urge that you would marry, they cared for widows once they reached a certain age, there is evidence that in the year 250 Rome had on its payroll 1500 women and other needy people in the church in Rome just in the church in Rome so they gave alternatives for people who did not follow a route of traditional marriage and not make them feel like second-class citizens and would include them in the life of the church so what we would call traditional families now became a kind of nucleus for an extended household of other people who were valued and cared for and in discipleship take place in the homes in the early church they did. I mean, we didn't have any church buildings as we understand them to today and tell well into the third centuries, and there was no youth pastors you know actually know I mean.
So for the least the 200 for the first 200 years they would be there house churches. Sometimes they rent halls. I estimate that the average church was somewhere between 50 and 75 people and they would multiply them so there be many many churches in the community that were kind of organically connected together but no notion of you get your car you travel, you go to a big church and then you go home again. It was much more integrated into just the normal life of people who one that meant. You know you could walk a block and join a house church for morning prayers every morning at 6 AM it would be impossible for us to do that now, except in our homes right and that's what I was then asked what was the discipleship process that you're aware of that we can implement today in our own homes when he thinking what did you do as a father with your own kids.
Well not enough. Obviously, we never knew enough, but I I did learn from this. And I think there are things we can learn a number of things we can learn so one of the most important things in our home was a really clear bedtime routine that would include a lot of reading prayers.
I'd sing hymns every night with my kids. I probably had about 50 or 60 hymns memorized that I would sing to them. Sounds really nerdy. I know and teach church history so I am a nerd and hospitality was an important value in our home actually wrote a rule of life for a home after I lost my first wife. We had six principles that we followed in hospitality was one of them. I didn't want my kids to feel that with your mom gone. We were sort of that family that was always kind of the victim and so we'd invite people into our home and in it at at our table, sometimes at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We have 2022 people. It's interesting all my kids do the same thing. Now they're not very hospitable. My son John who lives in Seattle once a month with a good friend is an excellent chef.
They have a neighborhood feast at their house and, if not all the food once a month, about 40 people show up just neighborhood so hospitality was important.
Service was important. Bedtime routines and prayers was important Bible reading was important. We always went to worship on Sunday also a number of things like that. I wanted the home to be, you know, a disciple making unit without being too self-conscious or too heavy-handed in in that process. Today it's it's common I would. I would guess in the church for a lot of families.
Maybe most families, the farm that out.
It's like that's what the church does for our family. Everything you said right or a Christian school that leads to isolation, you're always with your own kind of people remember at the beginning in yesterday's show I talked about accommodation you want to win Rome's approval, but you over accommodate, and then Rome absorbs that's what our culture is doing to a lot of Christians. It's absorbing us or you isolate to maintain your purity and distinctiveness.
But it's at the expense of impact and relevance. And so when we create Christian enclaves know it's going to sound critical Christian schools homeschooling my wife, my first wife was homeschooler, so I'm not down on homeschooling, but the impact is gotta be eventually to train children and their friends to have an impact on the larger world for Christ, for whom Christ died. As I've mentioned you before, and I I'm afraid we forget to do that we want to just isolate ourselves and has refrained where frightened and we see how the culture is advertising our kids and were concerned too much exposure to the culture is going to have that kind of impact in their lives always withdraw right so how do we raise kids who don't get discipled by the world as we have them in the world without the ring disciple, but I'll tell you this much. Our world is mild compared to the Greco-Roman world so these early Christians had a far bigger task before them than we do. For one thing, we still have a ton of Christians in our culture. We've got technology Christian schools Christian publishing houses mega churches with all kinds of sophisticated programs.
We have family life for your organization and the Empire you have in the kind of impact you have which we can be grateful for. We have so many resources what'd they have they have the gospel they have the example of Jesus, and they figured out how to be patient. Small-scale organic and very determined. I love that. And then they didn't pull away that employee.
They realize they were feeling sent they could if they were pulled away would've been let's all wear red hats a row knows who we are and and then live in their own enclaves and just kind of be avoidant of the larger culture now did they go to temples, obviously not.
Did they sacrifice to the gods into the Emperor. They obviously did in fact they were martyred because they did a sacrifice to the park but listen to this. When Christians were brought before pagan officials for trial. They asked them only one question. Only one are you a Christian and or your Christian yes and then they would say again think twice now because you know it's going to happen. Are you a Christian. Yes, they would ask 1/3 time and if you say 1/3 time you're Christian and you refused to offer a sacrifice to the gods or to the Emperor as a God, you'd be executed know that kind of pressure you have to produce what I call functional Christians I am. It's like it's like a functional athlete. I remember when my boys played AAU basketball. By the time they were about 6/7 grade they became what I call functional players put them on a court.
They always know what to do with him like they could've gotten better, they did get better at shooting, dribbling, and so on but they had skills that made them functional on the court.
Our job is to produce functional Christians, so that no matter where they are. They know what it means to follow Jesus. It's like if we put a private detective on my tail for a week and I didn't know it, no matter what I was doing. I would be recognizably Christian all the time now. Now you can't do that by just sitting in church and when you have persecution you are desperate for Jesus. You are desperate for knowledge and growth here in the word gear worshiping because you could die and see your Savior is your link to life right it. It tended to to reduce the number of what I call what we could call nominal Christian right, you're kind of in or another was always a little band of nominal Christian. That's always been the case in the history of Christianity, but generally speaking, it was a little bit more extreme. That was in a bell-shaped curve. It was two humps Christian not Christian with a small number of nominal and in between. And of course now it's easy to be nominal and I think with the evangelical movement has created a new kind of nominal Christianity and it concerns me what you mean. I mean, I call myself an evangelical Christian. Mainline is kind of led the way in the 50s and 60s by in my opinion, accommodating culture in certain ways, and I see evangelicals doing it in a different kind of way more oriented towards a health and wealth gospel, prosperity, thinking of the things like that accommodating Christianity to cultural values that run contrary to the gospel when you were writing resilient faith. Who were you hoping would read it and what were you hoping the impact on it would be for their lives. While I wrote it for Christians, thoughtful reading Christians. It's too demanding a book for just you know kind of casual reading that need an alternative example and we have it in history. One scholar called it a usable past, we can learn from the people who went before us. They didn't do everything perfectly. We are neither right, but they did it different in the they can teach us things inspiring.
Somehow they went from a couple of thousand to 50 million we could learn from and analyze 5 million 5 million to write but organized very differently from us.
I just think there's a lot we can learn from them. Thank you for this book. Thank you for being here, and for this conversation. This is been rich pleasuring this here good people.
Anything you only get copies of juries book resilient faith available.
Our family life to the resource center go online and family life today.com to get a copy or call one 803 586-329-1800 FL today. Again, our website family life today.com or call one 800 FL today. Get a copy of Jerry Setser's book resilient faith how the early Christian third way changed the world. David Robbins was the president of family life is here. I've been watching you on the corner my eye as you kinda been nodding in and just penitential. We were talking about. This was fascinating how this was is one of those days that it is so rich there's one particular line that I keep dwelling on family should think of themselves as units of discipleship in a church history.
Challenge us to take seriously our call to make our homes a type of life on life discipleship school. It involves apprenticing our kids and grandkids with the ways of Jesus but but also imbibing our kids in the journey of reflecting Jesus to our neighbors and to our community and no one doubts that kids need to be taught content about Jesus and in the West.
We have a lot of access to it, but so much fruitful discipleship happens when parents pursue Jesus and his ways inappropriately invite their children to learn along with them and be part of the process and family life. We are about fueling families discipling families is not just about getting biblical blueprints out but resourcing you to pass them on to your corner of the world. We are so grateful to be connected to people like you because we really do believe that every family who follows Jesus can have an extraordinary impact on others for the kingdom, effectively developing godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.
That's what we are all about here and thanks to those of you who are world changers. Those of you who partner with us in the ministry of family life today. I know some of you listing our volunteers. Some of you who are listening, pray for us regularly. Thank you for that. Thanks to those of you who are monthly legacy partners. Your financial support is the backbone of all that we do here at family life today and we are so grateful for your partnership with us. If you're a longtime listener and you've never made a donation to support this ministry me tell you what you're investing in every time you donate your investing in providing practical biblical help and hope to couples to individuals to people who are trying to live out their faith in their relationships in the marriage, their family or community, their neighborhood you're investing in the kingdom of God. When you invest in the work of family life today. We'd love to have you join the team.
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