Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday Reading: “The Didache”

I have mentioned before that one of the holes in my theological education was a lack of exposure to the writings of the early church. In fact a common problem of the more “conservative” theological curricula is a lack of exposure to any Christian writings before the Reformation, as if the church just popped straight out of the Bible in the 16th century. To remedy that I took a couple courses in the “church fathers” and was exposed to some amazing Christians from our distant past. So, in the month of August, at least, I want to reread some of these and expose you to them as well. Most of these writings can easily be found for free on the internet with a Google search. I am using the Logos version of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, by Michael William Holmes. There is a post on my Facebook page which links here and where we can discuss this post.

Though the Didache was known, through references to it from early church fathers, the actual text of it was not found until 1873. It may be the oldest non-biblical church text we have. It was probably compiled around the end of the 1st century from earlier materials and may be older than some of the New Testament epistles. Its main value is the light it sheds on the practices and teachings of the very early church (around the time of the death of Peter and Paul).

The document is composed of two parts: (1) instruction about the “Two Ways” (1.1–6.2), and (2) a manual of church order and practice (6.3–16.8). The “Two Ways” material appears to have been intended, in light of 7.1, as a summary of basic instruction about the Christian life to be taught to those who were preparing for baptism and church membership…The second part consists of instructions about food, baptism, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist, and various offices and positions of leadership.  246-7

The first part (1.1-6.1) contrasts “two ways,” the “way of life” and the “way of death.” The foundation for the way of life is the great command to love God and love one’s neighbor. It emphasizes loving enemies and being generous to them. It gives a long list of sins to avoid especially focusing on greed and pride and counsels to replace them with humility and generosity. The emphasis is that everything we have belongs to God and is for his use. The emphasis is more on right practice of faith than right doctrine.

Accept as good the things that happen to you, knowing that nothing transpires apart from God.  255

You shall not turn away from someone in need, but shall share everything with your brother, and not claim that anything is your own.  255

The second part of the Didache focuses in on instructions for church worship and practice. I especially enjoyed reading the suggested prayers that went along with the instruction about prayer, baptism and communion. I close the post with one below. Another interesting subject was the support of traveling “apostles.” They were very strict concerning who should get money for that kind of ministry. It seems that there were religious hucksters then too.

On baptism and communion…

Baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”23 in running water. (2) But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. (3) But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” 259

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord. 261

On the support and discernment of traveling “apostles” and “prophets.”

Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet…If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet.  263–265.

If anyone should say in the spirit, “Give me money,” or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him. 265

And on the conduct and practice of a 1st century worship service…

On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. (2) But let no one who has a quarrel with a companion join you until they have been reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. 267

And finally part of a prayer to close the communion service…

    We give you thanks, Holy Father,
          for your holy name which you
            have caused to dwell in our hearts,
          and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
            which you have made known to us
            through Jesus your servant;
          to you be the glory forever…

          May grace come, and may this world pass away.
          Hosanna to the God of David.
          If anyone is holy, let him come;
          if anyone is not, let him repent.
          Maranatha! Amen.
  263.

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