The Didache: Gather together frequently

A report on his study for his dissertation by Alan Knox and some challenging thoughts for us.

I have been progressing slowly (very slowly) on my dissertation. (In case you forgot, my dissertation is titled “Mutual Edification as the Purpose of the Assembled Church in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology.”) Currently, I’m studying what various Christians wrote about the assembled church in different time periods of church history.

Lately, I’ve been studying the Didache. The first part of the Didache (chapters 1-6) deals with the “two ways”: the way of life and the way of death. Many of the exhortations echo what we read in Scripture.

The last part deals with various practical (as if the way of life is not practical) aspects of living together as the church. The author discusses baptism, fasting, the Lord’s Supper / Eucharist (which those eating leave “filled”), various traveling servants (apostles, prophets, teachers), local servants, and choosing elders and deacons.

The conclusion of this book begins with an exhortation to “be on the alert”! What does he want them alert about? Well, several things, but gathering together is one of those things. Here is that passage:

Now, gather together frequently seeking those things which are fitting for your lives. For the whole time of your faith will not benefit you if you are not made mature by the last time. (Didache 16:2 author’s translation)

The author of the Didache tells his readers to gather together for one purpose: to seek those things which are fitting (proper) for your lives (souls).  (Interestingly, worship is not mentioned in this passage.) What are the things that are fitting for their lives?

He says that the entire time of their faith (the entire time of living by faith?) will only benefit them if they mature by the end of their lives. Thus, he wants them to mature; he expects them to mature. In fact, the language is quite shocking. If they do not mature (in the context of their meeting together), then their entire time of faith will be of no benefit.

This sounds very similar to Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

The Epistle of Barnabas (another early Christian writing) also has a similar passage:

For this reason, we should be attentive in these last days; for the whole past time of your life and faith will be of no benefit to us, unless now in this wicked time we should stand against coming temptation, as is suitable for children of God. Therefore, in order that the Black One may find no means of entrance, we should flee from every futility (frustration?), and we should completely hate the works of the way of evil. Do not live separate lives, by each going his own way, as those who have already been justified; but by coming together in harmony, you must discuss what leads to the benefit of all. (Barnabas 4:9b-10)

In the Didache passage, notice the words the author uses to describe the expected gathering: “frequently” and “fitting for your lives.” Also, notice the verbs used to describe the gathering: “benefit” and “made mature.”

Similar phrases are found in the Hebrews passage: “not neglecting,” “love and good works,” and “encouraging.” And, similarly, we find these in the passage from the Epistle of Barnabas: “benefit,” “stand against temptation,” “suitable,” and “harmony.”

While there are some differences in this descriptive terms (some positive, some negative, for instance), they are very similar. And, the instructions were given to all the readers, not just the leaders. (That’s true of Hebrews, the Didache, and Barnabas – all

Community in name only?

Some questions are raised for all churches, especially those who profess “community” in their name by Alan Knox

Imagine that you move into a new city. Just down the street from your new house is a building with steeple and a cross and a sign which reads “Community Church”. On Sunday morning you and your family walk to this building at the time indicated on the sign. You file through the doors, where you are greeted and handed an order of service. You find your way to a seat and wait with others while soft music plays in the background.

The meeting begins with someone welcoming you and your family and other “visitors”, and then quickly transitions into a time of music. You recognize some of the songs and sing along. Other songs are new, but you quickly pick up the tune and begin to sing on the second or third verse. One song in particular speaks to you and the frustrations that have been brought on by your recent move. An offering is taken to support the activities of this Community Church.

Next, someone teaches from a particular passage of Scripture. The teaching makes sense and the speaker is entertaining, but overall the message of the teaching is not particularly meaningful to where you are in life. You agree with everything the speaker says, but find your mind wandering to things that are pressing on you at the moment.

At the end of the service you are again addressed, along with other “visitors”, and you are all encouraged to make Community Church your church home. Several people shake your hand and introduce themselves as you all make your way out of the building, into your cars, and back home or to nearby restaurants.

That afternoon, while you are unpacking some of your boxes, someone from Community Church drops by. You had dutifully filled out the “visitors” card, so you were expecting this visit. The gentleman is nice and polite. He apologizes for interrupting you and asks if you have any questions about the church. You ask him why the church calls itself “Community Church”. He tells you about the different activities available at Community Church, encourages you to “join”, offers you some material, then dismisses himself graciously.

As he drives away, and as you return to your unpacking, you wonder to yourself, “If Community Church is a true community instead of a community in name only, what would I expect of them? How would I expect them to act towards me and my family, as outsiders? How would I expect them to act towards one another? What would I expect to happen on Sundays? What would I expect to happen other days of the week?”

From the Anabaptists: Simons on love and community

by  on The Assembling of the Church

From the Anabaptists: Simons on love and community

Last week, I enjoyed reading an article about Anabaptists and writing about that article in my post “Which Distinctive Practices and Beliefs of Anabaptists are Important for the Church Today?” Reading that article, writing the post, and following the discussion in the comments reminded me of a great book that I read online last year called “The Secret of the Strength.” One of the things that I love about that book is that the author (Peter Hoover) includes many, many quotations from the Anabaptists themselves.

For the next few days, I’m going to post a few of those quotations. You may not agree with everything they wrote, but hopefully they will help us thinking about our new life in Jesus Christ.

This quotation was written by Menno Simons in 1551:

We teach that all Christians are one body (1 Cor. 12:13). All partake of one bread (1 Cor. 10:18). All have one God (Eph. 4:5- 6). It is only reasonable that Christians care one for another. The entire Scriptures speak of mercy and love, the sign by which true Christians are known. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:15).

It is not normal for a person to care for one part of his body and leave the rest uncared for and naked. No. The intelligent person cares for all his members. It is this way in the Lord’s church as well. All who are born of God and called into one body are prepared to serve their neighbours, not only with money and goods, but like Christ did, with life and blood. They show mercy as much as they can. No one among them is allowed to beg. They take strangers into their homes. They comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and do not turn their faces from the poor.

For the Anabaptists, everyone who was in Christ was also part of the kingdom of God and the community (Gemeinschaft) of believers, i.e. they were part of the church. And, the church cared for one another just as a human takes care of his entire body.

The important part of Simon’s quote is who he considered to be part of this “body” with him. Notice he begins with this: “all Christians are one body.” He does not distinguish. If he considers someone a Christian, then he also considers that person to be part of the church along with him. He is willing to lay down money, possessions, life, and blood for that person.

Not only is this service offered to all who are in Christ, it is also the work of all who are in Christ. He wrote, “All who are born of God and called into one body are prepared to serve their neighbours.” All. This is mutual service (ministry). Everyone is ready to serve whoever is in need of service. There is no sectarianism or divisions.

Today, if Christians care for and serve one another, they tend to do so within the boundaries of local church organizations. I do not think this is the kind of service that we see in the New Testament, and it’s not the kind of service that the Anabaptists displayed either.

How do we show more honor to one another?

What a reminder and challenge by Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church

In describing “unhypocrital love” (or sincere love) (Romans 12:9), Paul says, “Out do one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

The command is actually a participial phrase that describes the love mentioned in the previous verse: “Love is unhypocritical (sincere)… esteeming one another more highly with honor.”

How do we show more honor to one another?

The Holy Spirit and the familification of the church

by Alan Knox of The Assembling of the Church

The Holy Spirit and the familification of the church

Dave Black is writing a new book about the church. He has tentatively (or maybe permanently) titled it Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

Over the last few days, he’s shared several excerpts, and they’ve been really good. But the latest except was exceptional (to me) because he also refers to another book that I highly recommend.

Here is that latest excerpt from chapter 4 of his new book (from Monday, September 23, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.):

In this chapter we have seen some of the marks of genuine community that characterized the early church. What a magnificent picture of life together! Maybe theirs was an idealism that cannot be repeated today. We may talk about community, but if we continue to behave like a group of individualists, no one will believe what we say. The picture that Luke gives us of the earliest church should make us stop and think.

Joseph Hellerman, author of When the Church Was a Family, has some interesting comments to make about the vitality of the church (p. 143). “It is time,” he writes, “to inform our people that conversion to Christianity involves both our justification and our familification, that we gain a new Father when we respond to the gospel. It is time to communicate the biblical reality that personal salvation is a community-building event, and to trust God to change our lives and the lives of our churches accordingly.”

Our modern churches could learn a thing or two from the genuine love of the first Christians. Theirs is a shining example. And if we ask the secret of it, we do not have far to look: the secret lay in the presence of the Holy Spirit. His power is available to us all. And it is life-changing. Just imagine what the Spirit could do in our churches if He were allowed to have control. It could happen again.

First, I love the term “familification” that Hellerman uses in his book. It points to the fact that there is a change that happens that moves us from not being a family to being a family.

I also love that Black points out that this is a work of the Holy Spirit. If we are becoming a family, it is because we are submitting to the Holy Spirit.

And, if we are not becoming a family…

1 Peter 3:8 re-mix – as we live it

by Alan Knox

Finally, all of you, obey your church leaders, attend church meetings regularly, give offerings to your church organizations, and practice spiritual disciplines. (1 Peter 3:8 re-mix)

The family of God in Ephesians

Edited from The Assembling of the Church by Alan Knox

In my previous post on Ephesians 1:3-14 (“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…“), I examined the structure of that long sentence and concluded that the spiritual blessings that Paul discusses are based on the fact that God has chosen us for adoption as his children. Because we are adopted by God in Jesus Christ, 1) we have redemption through his blood, 2) we have received an inheritance, and 3) we were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Within that long sentence (Ephesians 1:3-14), Paul uses several terms to refer to our relationship as children of God: “adoption as sons,” “inheritance” (twice), and perhaps “guarantee.” But, these are not the only references in the Book of Ephesians as our status as children in God’s family.

For example, consider these passages:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints andmembers of the household of God… (Ephesians 2:19 ESV)

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:6 ESV)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family [the whole family] in heaven and on earth is named… (Ephesians 3:14-15 ESV)

…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:6 ESV)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1 ESV)

There are other passages in Ephesians that I could point out, such as other places where Paul refers to God as Father or when he refers to others as “brothers” or “sisters.” But, even from the passages above, it is clear that our relationship with God with him as father and with us as his children is very important to Paul and important to the point(s) that he wants to make in this letter.

I think it’s important for us to realize how fundamental this is to Paul (and, I would suggest, for the other authors of the New Testament as well). Of course, this idea didn’t originate with Paul or with Peter or with James or with any of the the other early followers of Jesus.

No, the importance of recognizing one another as God’s family originated with Jesus himself. Here is just one passage in which Jesus explains this to his followers:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50 ESV)

Perhaps one of the most amazing (to me) passages related to our relationship with God as his children is found in the book of Hebrews:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers… (Hebrews 2:11 ESV)

God deals with us as his children, and he expects us to interact with one another as brothers and sisters. This relationship was foundational for Paul, and if we live with one another recognizing God as our common Father and recognizing all in his family as our brothers and sisters, it would change the way we interact with one another.