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Meeting with the Early Church – The Didache

Posted by on Mar 11, 2008 in church history, gathering | 2 comments

The Didache (“Teaching”) was probably written in the late first century or early second century (80-150 AD). While it was referenced very early (Eusebius ~ 324 AD), the actual text of the document was not discovered until 1873.

The book is easily divided into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-6) deal with “the two ways”: the way of life and the way of death. The second part (chapters 7-16) deals primarily with living the Christian life and touches on topics such as communion, baptism, travelling apostles and prophets, and fasting.

While the sections concerning the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and teachers affects the meeting of the church, there are two passages that clearly speak about Christians gathering together:

But gathering together every Lord’s, break bread and give thanks after confessing your transgressions, so that your sacrifice may be pure. But do not let anyone who is at variance with his friend come together with you, until they are reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. (Didache 14:1-2)

But you should come together frequently, seeking the things which are proper for your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not be profitable to your souls, if you are not made perfect in the last time. (Didache 16:2)

In these two passages, the primary concerns for meeting together is 1) the purity of our sacrifice before God and 2) the benefit to each other.

The word “sacrifice” is only used in Didache 14:1-3, and it is not explained further. If it carries the same meaning as found in the New Testament, it refers to both our praises to God (Hebrews 13:15) and the good deeds we do for others (Hebrews 13:16). Meeting together should aid us in both of these endeavors. Notice that the author includes “breaking bread” (eating together) and “giving thanks” (prayer or sharing the Eucharist) as well as confessing our sins to one another. It is also important to the author that believers come together in a spirit of unity, dealing with any disagreements or divisions between brothers and sisters before they are allowed to meet with the remainder of the group.

The second passage (Didache 16:2) focuses on meeting together for the benefit of those gathered. It seems that gathering with other believers should help us mature (“made perfect”) in the faith – looking forward to that time when we will be completely perfect in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Individual activities are not in focus in this passage. Instead the focus is on the outcome or the purpose of meeting together – mainly for the benefit of maturing one another in the faith.

There is also a secondary focus on the time of the gathering. In 14:1, the focus is on the day of the gathering, called here simply κυριακός (kuriakos – “belonging to the Lord” meaning “the day belonging to the Lord”). In 16:2, the focus is on the frequency of gathering together. The believers were to gather together frequently – a subjective description that becomes clearer only when used in conjunction with κυριακός (kuriakos) in 14:1. The author is encouraging his readers to gather together frequently on the Lord’s Day.

As I said earlier, the Didache includes many instructions for the Lord’s Supper, baptism, dealing with travelling apostles and prophets, choosing bishops and deacons, and other activities that probably take place during the church meeting. All of these passages are important for us to understand what the author of the Didache thought about the church meeting. But, only in these two passages (14:1-2; 16:2) do we see a primary focus on the meeting itself.

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Meeting with the Early Church Series
1. Introduction
2. Pliny’s Letter
3. The Didache
4. Ignatius’ Letters
5. Clement of Rome
6. Epistle of Barnabas
7. Justin Martyr
8. Conclusion


2 Comments

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  1. 3-11-2008

    I love the focus on reconciliation and how it is seen as more important than the worship meeting itself. One cannot worship without coming in complete unity.

  2. 3-12-2008

    Bryan,

    Since worship is a 24/7 thing, would you say that one cannot worship withing “being” and “living” in complete unity, instead of “coming” in complete unity?

    -Alan