I’ve been inspired recently in reading a work by the early Christian writer, Mark Felix. In one respect, I was surprised to see how little society changes. As we age, many of us in conservative Christian circles tend to bemoan the downward spiral of moral depravity which seems to be more and more commonplace. Yet, when one looks carefully at the annals of history and cultures past, it is easy to agree with Ecclesiastes 1:9 which states “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Mark Felix amply demonstrated this in his work, Octavius (which is contained in the book We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them).
In this defense of Christianity, Mark Felix recounts a heated debate between a non-Christian (Caecilus) and his Christian friend, Octavius. The work can be briefly summarized as an account where Caecilus accuses Christians of all sorts of hideous atrocities and illogical beliefs and Octavius responds.
At one point in their arguments, however, I was struck by an uncanny parallel to today’s society. In a way, things certainly haven’t changed much – or have they?
“So among ourselves, we [Christians] honor others for their character and their modesty. For that reason, we abstain from evil pleasures and public games. We condemn these enticements knowing from sacred things their origin. We shudder from the madness of the crowds brawling among themselves at the chariot games and from the teaching of murder in gladiatorial contests. The madness is no less at your dramas. Instead, debauchery is prolonged. Sometimes an actor expounds on adultery, other times he acts it out. Another actor may entice the audience to lust. Another actor brings you to tears when he plays the part of one suffering or dying. How strange! You demand actual murder in the arena but you weep at fictitious murder in your plays.”
As I thought deeper about this passage, while the moral fiber of society as a whole hasn’t changed much, the Christian response has changed tremendously. Unfortunately, I believe it’s largely changed for the worse. As we look at Octavius’ words, several things made this point clear:
- As Christians, do we really value modesty? Apparently, the early Christians did. But one would be hard pressed to tell most Christians apart from the rest of society by our lack of modest dress and behavior.
- Do we, as Christians, condemn “enticements” of evil pleasures and public games? Many conservative Christians would certainly denounce an obvious evil pleasure such as pornography or prostitution. But what about condemning “public games?” While certainly the bible does not specifically denounce sports or similar forms of entertainment, the bible is very clear on the priorities we are to place in our lives and warnings against idolatry (Exodus 20:4). In this respect, entertainment of all kinds typically takes a front seat, while the study of God’s word, prayer, fellowship – sometimes even family – takes a back seat. Families spend more time shuttling children to sporting events than in prayer together. Many mainstream churches in the United States host Superbowl parties each year or shorten services so that members of the congregation can hustle home in time to catch the game. Some will go to great lengths not to miss a favorite tv show or the lastest installment of American Idol (the name alone should scare Christians), but their daily time in the word is pushed aside by the smallest blip in the schedule.
- How about today’s Christian viewpoint on movies? Again, I know many conservative Christians who abstain from watching R-rated or NC-17 rated movies. But how many professing Christians will happily watch a romantic comedy that promotes themes like adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexuality and other such topics that don’t quite line-up with a Christian lifestyle?
- How many Christians weep at cinematic tragedy and ignore real-life tragedy? We cry when a drama unfolds on the screen where parents divorce, but have a divorce rate that rivals non-Christians. We live in a society that glorifies images of war and violence and murder on the screen and permits abortion off-screen. As Christians, we voice an objection to this, but really society is consistent and we are not. Although, no one will admit it, society unabashedly loves violence and murder and can’t get enough of it, so it enters the home via movies, video games and music. Unfortunately, Christians today sanction these very same things with our dollars and by permitting them in our homes.
During the pinnacle of the debate between Octavius and Caecilus, Octavius summarizes his argument and final points with a bold, powerful statement. And it’s one I wanted to encourage Wellsprings Church and my Christian friends with:
“We don’t speak great things – we live them!”
I believe that this, my friends, is the solution to many of the problems we face today as Christians. If we truly endeavor to live our lives in ways that would honor and glorify God, we would demonstrate to others what a true Christian looks like. If we heed the words of John 13:35, all men will know us by the as Christ’s disciples based on how we love each other. If examined our actions, our habits and our motives, we would refrain from honoring God with our lips while our hearts and minds are somewhere else (Isaiah 29:13).
If we use our lives and not just our lips to truly act like Christ (and not just say we are Christian), we would certainly achieve great things for the kingdom. Case in point: the conclusion of our story about Caecilus and Octavius. After their debate, Caecilus was so impressed with Octavius, his explanation of Christian beliefs and the way that he lived his life that Caecilus was moved to become a Christian himself.
My prayer is that we not only speak great things, but live live them! May our lives may be victorious in winning others to Christ and bringing glory to God!
Translation of Octavius and above quotes from We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them by David Bercot (Scroll Publishing, 1989)