With startling relevance, an early church document pictures the Christian as God’s infiltrator in the world

The struggle of the Church to find its proper place in today’s world has produced … words—many words (probably too many) and diverse words (some undoubtedly too diverse). But none of these words are more applicable to the contemporary situation than a few pagefuls written by an early Church Father almost two thousand years ago.

His ancient but superlative portrayal of the Church in the world takes the form of a letter not unlike those of the New Testament. In length it is comparable to the First Epistle of John. It may have been written as close to John’s time of writing as thirty years (i.e., during the first half of the second century). It seems to have come out of the same sector of the Church—Asia Minor. And it exhibits a strongly Johannine flavor and point of view. It is known as The Epistle to Diognetus. The text is readily accessible to modern readers in the Mentor (New American Library) paperback, A Treasury of Early Christianity, edited by Anne Fremantle. However, a better translation, with a more adequate introduction, is that by Eugene R. Fairweather in Early Christian Fathers (Vol. I in the “Library of Christian Classics,” edited by Cyril C. Richardson and published in 1953 in the U. S. A. by the Westminster Press; quotations in this article are from this volume and are used by permission).

The picture of the Church drawn in this letter was best epitomized some eighteen hundred years later. Sören Kierkegaard was probably not thinking of, and perhaps not even familiar with, The Epistle to Diognetus when he suggested that the Church is called to be God’s expediti; but he was thus giving a name to the diognetian ...

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