First, there were only a handful of us; there are millions of you. Second, we had no money, no church buildings, no clergy, creed or doctrine, and no O & R or manual. You have all of these things. Third, we were feared, and finally hated. You’re respected; at least tolerated, and sometimes not even noticed. Fourth, we were set apart from the world we lived in; you’re so mixed up in it that it’s almost impossible now to tell a Christian from anyone else. Fifth, we lived closer to Jesus and that gave us a radiance that you don’t have; and there was recklessness about us that you’ve lost. We had nothing to lose. You have everything to lose – your personal and institutional priorities, your ecclesiastical status, and your personal reputation: things you lose if you take any risks.
It was easier for us in some ways. We didn’t know anything about science. If the earth looked flat, we thought it was flat. If the world looked ‘done in’ we thought it was coming to an end. If we saw Christ after his death, we knew that he was alive. Besides, the New Testament was just beginning to take shape. We didn’t analyze, criticize, pick it apart, or study it under a microscope. Some of us were writing it, and the rest were listening to the letters that came to us from the prisons where some of the saints were being held. I’ll never forget a letter that came from Paul. We didn’t understand a lot of it, but when he wrote “Be not conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, it was something we needed to hear when the glamour of the world began to dazzle us.
There is indeed a difference between you and us. When you come to think of it, every generation is different from every other, yet each generation has something to learn from the ones that have gone before it, so I’m bold to say that there are some things you might learn from us. First, we took the church seriously. You were either in it or out of it. You take it casually. There’s another thing. We were exclusive, but we had to be, we were too small to mix with the crowd. Your danger is to be one with the crowd, but you must learn to mix without melding. And there’s another thing, we had moral standards, perhaps they were too strict, but your danger is to set them too low. You long to be free of rules and regulations that don’t make sense. So did we, but we always tried to distinguish between the practice and the principle. What we ate, what we wore, were practices that changed with the weather.
It was the principle of love that didn’t change.
The letter ends with an exhortation. You are the saints. You’re the ones holding the line. You’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Don’t let the times get you down. Our times were worse than yours. These are the times that need people like you: people who have renounced hate; people who are slow to condemn and quick to understand; people who make mistakes and therefore are loathe to judge other people’s mistakes; people whose business it is to reconcile, to heal, and to mend; people who are caught up in the whirlpool of time because they belong to “Someone” who is timeless. We trust you, we wish you well. The letter is signed: an unknown saint who found life when she lost it.