“Generation to Generation”

Water from a Deep Well is a book written by Gerald Sittser exploring spirituality over the past two thousand years.  From the early martyrs of the first century to the more recent missionary movement, Prof. Sittser explains how the measure of godliness is very fluid, and the standard where by the church separates the super Christian from the normal Christian is ever-changing. In exploring church history, the argument is made that a generation that experiences something in the way of godliness is followed by another generation that see to replicate the result without desiring the process. As we all know, what they are missing is the process where God receives the glory.  

For example, in the first century there were many martyrs who gave up their lives proclaiming a risen Lord.  So powerful was this movement that the church fathers had to tell their congregations that the goal of your faith is not to be a martyr but to proclaim that He is alive.  The fathers preached that if you die as witnesses to the resurrection, so be it, but you cannot—as some were doing—provoke the government in order to become a martyr and thereby be thought of as godly.  Other centuries had their own issues, be it the desert saints, the birth of icon worship, the monastic movement, the elevation of the sacraments or even the movement toward reformation that continues to this day.  In each case, movement toward godliness eventually became the standard to measure godliness by, and new idols were born.  

In our current circumstances I am particularly moved by Sittser’s exploration of the social gospel coming out of the second century.  As a relatively small group in a big empire, Christians numbered 50,000 people in an empire of 60 million people. Christians were influencing pagan culture, so much so that Pagan the Younger (62-113 AD) would seek advice from Roman Emperor Trajan on how to deal with the growing menace of the Christian movement.  It seems the “love thy brother” example was truly winning the hearts of those who knew no love. Never was that more noticeable than when Christians began operating their own welfare system or when the churches gained notoriety for welcoming outsiders simply because they were made in the image of God. From the care of widows to the value they placed on children, Christians treated the world with dignity. 

The real test came in A.D.165 when a plague brought death to a quarter of the world’s population. It was then that those who had already died to Christ began to care for the sick, even at risk to themselves. As you might imagine, to love and care in such a way was a very godly thing to do that eventually became the test of godliness in their generation. Once again, the church fathers had to intervene in order to say that loving your brother is Christ-like, but in doing so, don’t neglect to preach and pray for your brother’s salvation. Don’t forget to speak the words that bring life everlasting.  To love like Christ without pointing the world to Christ was merely to masquerade the pain of this world. To trade it for the everlasting pain that awaits for unbelievers, even if they are well fed, comforted in sickness and accepted by the church.  

I am overjoyed to see the creative ways that Christians in our day and during our trial are meeting the needs of the world, and indeed we must do so. The physical needs are not a replacement for the spiritual needs and in the later, the church must excel.    
 
Lance Tamerius – Director of CCH