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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

The Didache for the Modern Church

The Didache serves as an early Christian manual for how believers are to live within the new faith and the young church. Its author sees two approaches to life, which he calls “ways”, one of which leads to death and the other to life [1]. Both ways are comprised of actions and the desires that lead to those actions. For example, adultery is one of the actions forbidden on the way of life, for it belongs to the way of death [2]. Yet along with adultery, lust is forbidden because it is the desire that leads to adultery and the way of death [3].

While the author spends time warning against the way of death and delivers commands to guard against it, his focus is on the way of life. He defines the way of life in both negative and positive terms: “First, thou shalt love God who made thee; second, thy neighbor as thyself; and all things whatsoever thou wouldst should not occur to thee, thou also to another do not do.” [4] The way of life is a set of actions, obeying the commands of God, and a set of desires, loving the God who gave those commands.

The end goal of the way of life is to be perfect on the last day. "Watch for your life’s sake…Be ye ready, for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. But often shall you come together, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if ye be not perfect in the last time." [5] The western church has lost this sense of urgency. To be as committed in our worship and obedience as the first century church was, we have to begin by recovering an urgent expectation of Christ’s coming in our worship services and our teaching.

It is within the context of the church that Christians find the way of life. The author believes that God is found where his ministers are. “My child, him that speaketh to thee the Word of God remember night and day… for in the space whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord.” [6] It is within the church that God gives his commands for life through his ministers, and it is where believers are held accountable in their obedience to his commands. “But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled.” [7]

For those living in the way of life, the church has been given various markers to identify them as God’s people and keep them in the way; preaching of God’s Word, repentance, fasting, prayers, baptism, and the Eucharist. It is through these acts and signs that believers are shown to be on the way of life and are kept in it. While the church is united by these markers, the Didache allows freedom in how they are used. For example, the author allows variations in the mode of baptism, depending on the circumstances of the congregation." Baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if thou not have living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, in warm. But if thou have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head." [8] While the church is united by these symbols, the needs of the congregation allows for flexibility in how they are used.

The modern church would benefit from learning the balance reflected in the Didache. In the 21st century church, congregations have not always held together unity and diversity in worship. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, unity can be emphasized to the loss of diversity. In Protestant churches, diversity can be emphasized to the loss of unity. Both are important to be kept in the way of life as believers make their way to perfection and the last day.

[1] Didache 1.1

[2] Didache 2.2

[3] Didache 3.3

[4] Didache 1.2

[5] Didache 16.1-16.3

[6] Didache 4.1

[7] Didache 14.2

[8] Didache 7.1-7.3

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