The Didache 32 – Appoint Bishops and Deacons

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers.

This bit reflects the very early nature of the tradition in the Didache. The bishop was the center around which the church formed and the deacons served those in it. Later in the first century and well-established by the second century when there came to be too many believers in a city for the bishop of that city to personally care for, the bishop anointed presbyters (priests) to act in his stead in many circumstances. (There were still a few things only the bishop of a place could do.)

Christianity was always traditionally centered around physical place. You had the bishop of this city or angel of that city (revelation) or church of this other city. There was no concept of multiple separate churches in a given place even, as we see clearly in Romans, the church was too large and scattered to meet in a single location. We see Paul paying particular attention to the need to draw the Roman church together as one in that letter.

By the second century, we see a developed picture of the fullness or wholeness of the church pictured by the bishop of a place surrounded by his presbyters and deacons and people. It’s only in recent centuries that we’ve devolved into the sort of christian pluralism that permits many different “churches” competing with each other as different franchises within a particular place.

And that’s really sad.

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3 Comments

  1. mike
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    …this post is deeply thought provoking…….through these teachings i am slowly becomming aware of just how little i know of the historical church…the very foundations of my beliefs are being tested….Bishops,priests,Didache,one church…..i was brought up protestant evangelical ….i learned from Christian preachers that the Roman Catholic Church is the antichrist …..i’ve never allowed myself to seriously question being Protestant before finding this blog….i appreciate these teachings and the challenges they pose for me…..

  2. Posted July 12, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Well, to the extent that I’m anything I’m a Protestant evangelical, SBC to be precise. I’ve sometimes referred to myself as the reluctant Christian and the accidental Baptist. I didn’t exactly grow up non-Christian and I didn’t exactly grow up Christian. I grew up exposed to a lot of different Christian traditions. I even went to an Episcopal school and a Roman Catholic school at certain points in my life. I was also exposed to a lot of non-Christian spirituality. The seventies, the decade in which I was a child, were an era of exploration for many people. I suppose my parents were among them. I have family members who are Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish (by marriage), non-Christian of various sorts, and probably a few other things I’ve overlooked. The best I can describe my childhood formation is pluralistic.

    I carried that into adulthood. While Christianity seriously intersected my life a number of times growing up in very real ways (both good and bad), I wouldn’t say that my journey had reached a point where my identity was beginning to be reshaped as a Christian until about fifteen years ago. My conversion was a lengthy process with no specific moment when it finally “happened”. There many “moments” along the way, and lots of things I to which I could point, but no one that did it. Oh, I could shovel my story into one of a number of frameworks if I wanted to. But I prefer to let it sit as it actually is without deforming it one way or another.

    I’m not particularly trying to cause any sort of crisis for anyone reading. That’s not really my thing. But as you can tell, I’m the strange sort who has always loved history. So if you read things I write about faith, spirituality, and Christianity, you’re going to end up with a lot of history — typically in small doses. 😉

    There are issues with the Roman Catholic Church as well as much that is good. I doubt I’ll have much to say about their issues since I’m not Roman Catholic and don’t really have any plans or see much likelihood that I will be. They aren’t my “family” in the same way Protestants are. I will write about and appreciate their good points from time to time.

    I would say I’m influenced by the Orthodox, but I’m not sure that’s exactly true. I had read the ancient Christian writings for years and they had shaped the way I understood Christianity deeply while I thought the Orthodox were simply an Eastern sort of Catholic. By the time I figured out they weren’t a few years ago, it was more like I kept finding things I already believed rather than having my beliefs changed. In a lot of cases, it was a huge relief. I thought I believed something strange and completely different from standard Christians, so would rarely talk about it. When I discovered, for instance, that what I believed about original sin wasn’t strange at all, but was right down the center of Orthodox belief, it felt like a tremendous weight was lifted from my shoulders. The Orthodox have certainly had problems and issues over the centuries and still do today. However, so far I haven’t found anything that is a historical problem with the ancient beliefs and practices of the church. The problems have tended to be other sorts of problems.

    Anyway, I am glad that you find some of what I write interesting. Although truthfully, I think you’ve been more struck by the Didache itself than by anything I’ve said.

  3. mike
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    …..thanks for your reply……

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