On the Didache...

I had to answer these questions:
  • What kind of a document is it? (A letter? A sermon?  A hymn?  A manual? A creed? A church law?)
  • What are the theological and/or practical issues at stake in the document?  What is the problem which God’s people are facing?
  • How does the author suggest that the problem be resolved?
  • How do these issues relate to today?  How can they shape or reshape my ideas of theology of ministry? 
The Didache was an early church document, considered for canonization, but ultimately rejected as unispired. It is still used by scholars today for historical and social meaning. Also, there is far more awesomeness in this short book about Christian life than these questions gave me room to explore, especially considering it was a 2-3 page paper double-spaced (hence my weak-sauce ending; I ran out of room, but I don't care because I am a rebel).

The Didache (which means 'teaching' as in the "The Teaching of the Apostle") needs to be explored more for its social and missional implications, especially involving poverty and a Christian's role.


Didache Reflection
            In reading the Didache, I fell in love. It is exactly what I wanted it to be and more. Admittedly I struggle with law over grace and love rules. But as I see a church, time and time again, forgetting her mission and diakonia, my heart is gladdened by this teaching.
            I see this document as primarily a manual. It seems to be giving practical advice for Christian life. Noll says in his book on Church history called Turning Points, “The Didache was used for teaching converts the basics of Christian faith and practice as the church moved out of the Mediterranean World” (p. 45). We can also gather this evidence internally when it gives instructions on routine to its readers. After the Lord’s prayer, the Didache instructs, “Pray this way three times a day” (VIII, v. 3). This conveys a manual style teaching that is instructing basic behavior to its audience. We see a similar event on weekly practices, “Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays” (VIII, v. 1). Even outside of chapter 8 we have similar occurrences, “On the Lord's Day of the Lord come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure” (XIV, v. 1). These two weekly observances are instructions for the new believers life.
            The Theological issues at stake seem to be of vital importance, literally, at least in the metaphysical sense. The first six chapters, out of 16, contain ways to attain life and avoid death. The book begins, “There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death and there is a great difference between the two Ways” (I, v. 1). The next 4 chapters are how to attain life. It is summed up in what is popularly called the “greatest commandment” with an addendum of the Jesus’ version on the golden rule, “The Way of Life is this: ‘First, you shall love the God who made you, secondly, your neighbor as yourself; and whatsoever you would not have done to yourself, do not do to another" (I, v. 2). Then a list of rules and observances are listed. A lot are scriptural taking a lot from the Sermon on the Mount and the OT. The “way of death” is much shorter but follows a similar pattern.
            Some problems this book attempts to correct Church praxis and leadership. In the Didache, we get a great view of the practice of church by the early church. We have in detail readings about how the Lord’s supper should go, the words to be recited, and who could partake (IX). We even have the post-meal blessing to be said (X). As far as baptism goes, we get a great picture of the churches practice, and even “back-up” plans incase certain elements aren’t available. We are told to baptize, “in running water, but if you have no running water, baptize in other water, and if you cannot in cold, then in warm. But if you have neither, pour water three times on the head…” all of which is to be done in the name of the Trinity and with fasting for baptizer and baptizee (VII). This passage is only on of many that highlights the detail in which this manual goes to teach churches and early believers the way of the church.
            As far as leadership goes, this book is solving the problem of how to learn, who from and how they are set apart. Though there is a lot of spiritual elements to these processes (i.e. “Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit… [XI, v.7]) there are some rather practical steps of how to decide who is a teacher and how to honor them. “Whosoever then comes and teaches you all these things aforesaid, receive” (XI, v. 1). More specifically, if someone is preaching this gospel with this teaching, they are reliable. This serves a double function of reinforcing the legitimacy of this document as well as selecting good teachers. Their pay was to be different than mere travelers, who were to take up a craft (XII, v. 3), a teacher/prophet/apostles pay was to be from the people he taught, “Therefore you shall take the firstfruits… and give them as firstfruits to the prophets, for they are you highpriest” (XIII, v.3). Earlier we receive this bit about honoring the prophet, “My child, you shall remember, day and night, him who speaks the word of God to you, and you shall honor him as the Lord…” (IV, v. 1). The prophets, the organizers and teachers of the early church, were to be honored and cared for, commended highly by the people.
            One of my favorite lines comes when there is an absence of a teacher, “But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor” (XIII, v. 4). It is probably a straight forward line about looking out for the “least of these” but it can be taken so much deeper in spiritual way when compared to the rest of the Didache’s teachings about the believer and poverty. Almost as if the poor are the teacher and the teachers are to be poor.
            As far these issues relate to us today, there are many. I think the debate about praxis in baptism can be quenched a little bit with the witness of the early church. For me personally, it has cleared some questions I had about prophets and apostles carrying on beyond the book of acts, and more specifically, what is the role of prophets in the modern church, after Christ.
            I think it stresses on us the importance of works of compassion to the early church and how we should be moving back to that path as the richest church on earth here in America.
            But most importantly, I think it demonstrates that church praxis was a fluid thing, not exactly like the book of Acts and not exactly like now and that’s ok. That God’s story is still being written and his people have room to explore what he desires from us as far as liturgy goes.


Works Cited
Readings in World Christian History, John W. Coakley & Andrea Sterk, eds. (Maryknoll, New
            York: Orbis Books, 2004)

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark A. Noll. (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2000)

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