I am more and more of opinion that one major reason why Christianity is not the fire that lights up the world because we have embraced the worldliness of the world.
We make a big deal about “using the things in the world” and “embracing them with moderation.” But really, we are gunning after pleasure. A moderate life of pleasure is our norm, that which governs our activity. But that is basically Epicurean. Not hedonism, but Epicurean navigation of this life’s opportunities. We are tapping this life for pleasure and banking on eternal rest as well.
How did the Early Christians promote the fire of Christ’s love to the pagans who lived worldly lives? By showing them [the pagans] just how normal and worldly they [the Christians] could be? Well, the Christians did not point out how odd they were. They denied their being odd and outlandish. However, they stressed how other-worldly, how heavenly, is there moral doctrine. Let us listen to the great Athenagoras:
What, then, are those teachings in which we are brought up? “I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Allow me here to lift up my voice boldly in loud and audible outcry, pleading as I do before philosophic princes. For who of those that reduce syllogisms, and clear up ambiguities, and explain etymologies, or of those who teach homonyms and synonyms, and predicaments and axioms, and what is the subject and what the predicate, and who promise their disciples by these and such like instructions to make them happy: who of them have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them (to abstain from which is of itself an evidence of no mean forbearance), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives? On the contrary, they never cease with evil intent to search out skillfully the secrets of their art, and are ever bent on working some ill, making the art of words and not the exhibition of deeds their business and profession. But among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. (ANF, vol. 2, p. 134).
Just how equipped are we, before today’s pagans, to make this argument? I dare say: Just as the Sultan refused to convert because St. Francis was alone following Christ’s doctrine, so the pagans of today will refuse to convert, because we are living such “balanced” lives. What at all is desirable in Christianity? What at all is distinctive? Are we really ordering our lives to God? Or are we rather pegging sundry “basic goods”: A good amplifier, a good car, a good home, a good set of values, oh … — and a good religion.
I count myself guilty above all. This is a call to conscience, not a pharisaical rebuke.