Every day the world learns more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But after 2,000 years, we know precious little about the Church of Jesus Christ of Former-day Saints. Apart from the Bible, the record is skimpy.
Were those Former-day Saints pleasant and trusting?
Did they pay their fast offerings and focus on their families?
One day we'll know.
But for the time being, I'm grateful to Richard J. Foster, a Quaker, for pulling together some ancient letters and journal entries written about those early believers.
In his book "Freedom of Simplicity," Foster gets to the heart of first-century Christianity.
To begin with, he quotes the philosopher Aristides, who was born just decades after the crucifixion.
Writes Aristides of those first Saints:
They love one another. They despise not the widow and grieve not the orphan. He that hath, distributeth liberally to him who hath not. If they see a stranger they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother; for they call themselves "brethren," not after the flesh, but after the spirit of God …
And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy their necessary food.
You can almost hear those Former-day Saints now:
"Brother David, greetings. My son will be by your place after the fast to collect your offerings. By the way, there's a widow who we should visit and a new family that just moved in. They're not Christian, but we should see if we can help them with anything."
Hard to fathom, but that attitude is there in the writings of Aristides from 20 centuries ago.
Even the enemies of the early church had to shake their heads in amazement. Julian the Apostate, an avowed enemy of the church, confessed, "Those godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours as well."
And the historian Tertullian concocted a list of all the types of people the early Christians tried to watch over. Among their Christian duties, they:
Buried the poor.
Took care of boys and girls in need.
Cared for the homebound.
Provided for those who suffered accidents.
And they gave to those who lost their jobs because of their faith.
At the end of his chapter, Foster himself chimes in with a thought about Former-day believers.
"This model of simplicity speaks to our condition," he writes. "How desperately we need to discover today new creative ways of caring and sharing."
"Brother Foster," thank you.
You've given me — and now many others — a shot in the arm.
Feel welcome at our wards anytime.
Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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