Who Am I?

The Didache 25 – Eucharist or Thanksgiving

Posted: July 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

We see here another very Jewish form of blessing or berakhah before the bread and the wine are consumed. However, there are some important differences as well. Berakhot are addressed to the Lord, our God, King of the Universe. These Christian forms address God as Father, the way Jesus taught his followers to pray and they incorporate the idea of God being made known through Jesus who, as the Messiah, is the fulfillment of the vine of David. We also see the idea that the ecclesia or church is being drawn from the nations, that the people of God are now being drawn from all peoples.

One church united in the bread that was broken.


The Didache 24 – Pray This Way

Posted: July 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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

Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever..

Pray this three times each day.

Once again, we see the Jewish influence in the Teaching. Set prayers three times a day were and remain an important feature of Jewish daily life. Those who attempted to trap Daniel knew he faithfully prayed three times each day. The Amidah is the prayer used today and when possible it is said communally (in groups of at least ten men), but can be prayed individually. We see this rhythm of set prayers repeatedly in the Gospels and Acts. The above is the prayer Jesus gave his followers when they asked him to give them a prayer like John the Baptist gave his followers prayers.

The Christian practice of set prayers is a rich and deep tradition that began centered on the prayer above and probably the Shema as Jesus changed it. As a rule, Christians faced East to pray. (Satan and evil were associated with the west while Jesus was associated with the east.) Churches tended to be built with the altar in the east. The tradition of prayer has not yet declined as much as fasting has, but in the West at least it has become a shadow of what it once was. Most people seem to only know of intercessory prayer, which while part of the reason and purpose for prayer, has traditionally only been a small part. And people seem to take Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing as hyperbole rather than something we should actually work to accomplish.

Prayer is a mystery of communion with God. When we pray, we are mystically connected to God whether we “feel” anything or not. The rhythm of prayer is for our healing so that we come again and again to God, shaping ourselves into people who seek God, until one day we find that we do not desire to depart. That is, of course, what it means to pray without ceasing. Throughout the course of our day, we do not turn from God. We are continually aware of his presence with us.

But this is hard to do. And I would say impossible if we do not establish rhythms of prayer in our life. I know that I’m not very good at this at all. But I’ve had a thirst to become someone who prays for a long time now. The Orthodox have a saying. One who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays. I reflect on that and it seems to me there is a lot of truth in it. What better way is there to learn to know God (for is that not the goal of the theologian?) than to stand with him and commune with him?


The Didache 23 – Fasting

Posted: July 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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

But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday).

The “hypocrites” in this context would be those Jews who do not give Jesus of Nazareth their believing allegiance and obey his commands. The usage here echoes the way of using the idea of hypocrite in Jesus’ woes, which was a somewhat novel usage at the time. We know that some of the Rabbis around the time of Jesus (and the Teaching) had established Monday and Thursday fasts. While fasting in modern day Judaism has declined as it has in much of Christianity, sometime to little more than an observance of Yom Kippur, that was not the case when Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount or when the Didache was recorded.

I will note that pretty much only the Orthodox still fast as a community on most Wednesdays and Fridays. Most Protestants have little knowledge and less practice of fasting. And Roman Catholic practice in the U.S. has declined in my lifetime. However, it had already been reduced to a Friday fast of sorts long before the present era. I think we’ve lost a great deal and it truly shows when you explore something like fasting.


The Didache 22 – Baptize This Way

Posted: July 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

The first thing that jumps out at me in this part of the Teaching is the phrase “Having first said all these things”. Those of us who were raised within a literate culture sometimes have a hard time grasping the way in which an oral culture works. It was and is normal for someone in an oral culture to memorize large blocks of oral tradition and be able to recite it verbatim. Oral teaching tends to be trusted more than a written text because you know who is teaching you, but you don’t where a written text came from or who might have changed it before you received it. A literate culture tends to relinquish that capacity for memorization and tends to trust a written text over a purely oral teaching. This phrase, of course, means that the one being baptized was expected to recite the entire Teaching before their baptism. That seems surprising to us only because we were not shaped within an oral culture.

However, it does point out that from very early on the church tried to make sure when possible and reasonable that people had some grasp of what they were doing in baptism. Even in the case of the Ethiopian eunech, we see Phillip cramming as much teaching as he could beforehand. On balance, I think most Protestant traditions do less baptismal teaching than is healthy. The expectation seems to be that people can learn what it all means after they do it, which seems a little backwards to me.

Next we see the Trinitarian formula, already established in the first century. Today, I believe the Orthodox are the only tradition who continue the triple immersion, but most Christians do baptize in the name of the Trinity. Those who don’t tend to have deeper theological issues.

The focus on “living” or running water is very Jewish in its nature, as one would expect since Christianity, flowing from Judaism, is inevitably shaped by the Jewishness of its Lord. However, we see all sorts of accomodation for different situations even in this short section.

I have to confess that even after all these years among them, I still don’t understand the strange relationship modern Baptists have with baptism. On the one hand, it doesn’t “count” unless done by immersion following a “valid” (how do you know?) confession of faith. While on the other hand they insist that baptism doesn’t actually mean anything or accomplish anything, that it’s “just” a symbol and does nothing in reality. And most don’t even seem to see how odd those two assertions are when joined together.

Finally, we see that the baptizer, the baptized, and everyone in the community who could were expected to fast before the baptism. Fasting, an important topic obviously to me, permeated the early church. I’m trying to imagine everyone in my church fasting together before performing baptisms and I’m not having much success. Baptists are known for many things, but fasting is not one of them. 😉

Perhaps that’s our loss?


The Didache 21 – Do What You Are Able

Posted: July 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 21 – Do What You Are Able

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

For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

Once again we encounter the idea of being perfect, this time in connection with being able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord. All who follow Jesus are called to the same yoke, the same rule, the same way. Whether it be love, prayer, ascetism, or vocation, we are all called into the fullness of life. When you read the gospels, the yoke of Jesus can sometimes seem overwhelming. It permeates every aspect of our lives and is so foreign to what we often consider “natural”. And yet there is also boundless mercy, especially in the recognition that we are to grow in faith and practice through the presence and activity of God in our lives. We are not expected to instantly be perfect, in any sense of the word. That would be a crushing weight indeed.

And here we see that reflected here in the very early tradition of the church. Do what you can. Receive the grace of God, which is to say receive God himself, and swim in the mercy of God. Move. Act. Live. And do all that you are able in the yoke of the Lord. This is reflected even today in the life of the Orthodox Church. There is one rule for everyone within the church: monastics, presbyters, deacons, and that first order of the royal priesthood often call the laity. And yet there is economy whenever needed. If in the demands of your work, you cannot pray all the hours and have not absorbed the Jesus Prayer or other prayers to the point that you pray without ceasing, pray those hours you can manage. If for health or other reasons you cannot keep the full fast, work with your priest to find a fast that you can follow. If you are fasting and are given a meal in love and hospitality by one who does not follow the same fast, thank that person graciously and eat the meal. The person is more important than your fast.

We don’t often encounter meat sacrificed to idols in our part of the world these days. It can be hard for us to recognize how prevalent that was in the ancient world. In some markets at some times, it could be hard to find any meat that was not a remnant of a sacrifice. The tension here is the one Paul addressed many times and which the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts faced also. Paul largely dealt with the love expressed to one who offers you a meal when he wrote not to ask and to share in hospitality. Paul wrote that we are free, but that some might remember their worship of those other gods and be drawn back toward. The Council was establishing rules that would allow Jewish and Gentile believers to share the same table.

It might be interesting if we attempted to identify our “meat sacrificed to idols” today. What do we blithely consume today that is in service to dead gods?


The Didache 20 – Who Causes You To Err?

Posted: June 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you.

The construction of the sentence above is awkward in this, probably more literal, translation. I’ve read a number of the available translations and the general sense I get from them all is a warning about those who teach a way that is different than the way in the Teaching (didache) because if you practice the things they tell you to do, your practice of those things will move you away from God.  Father Stephen had a post the other day about belief and practice that seems to me to fit like a glove with this idea. What we truly believe is to a very large degree shaped by those things we actually do. It makes perfect sense to me, as someone who has practiced many different spiritual paths, that when we do the things “false teachers” would have us do, when we follow their way, that we are led astray from God.

The problem in modern, pluralistic Christianity, is discerning true practice from false. This is not an easy matter. The teachers today in Christian pluralism to a large extent sincerely and earnestly believe they are teaching true practice consistent with the teachings of Holy Scriptures and the apostles. They seek to bring the life of God to people even as they teach divergent and contradictory practices. We do not face a problem of motive today as much as a disconnect from the history and tradition of the church.

I’ve heard some suggest that “false teacher” will fail to produce “fruit”. While there are instances where that may certainly be true even today, I would suggest that observation largely does not conform to reality. First and foremost, it attempts to limit God in a way that it seems to me that God refuses to be limited. For my evidence, I point to the pluralism in belief and practice across the Christian spectrum and suggest you show me a place where God is not working at all. That is in spite of the fact that we find utterly contradictory practices in that spectrum and contradictory portraits of God. It is my impression that God surveys the landscape we have created and does what he can in every corner of it. God is eager to save and is not willing that any should perish. And he doesn’t tend to accept or even acknowledge limits. I will observe, though, that some flavors of Christianity today give him less to work with than others. And since we are to a large extent shaped by the things we do, the more iconoclastic among us are actually stripping away tools for our salvation.

As James notes, it is the teacher who will give an account to God. It is the teacher who will be judged more strictly. I pray that I have never led anyone from the way of life. Mostly, though, I pray for mercy. I’ve done the best I knew to do. And sometimes when I survive the modern landscape of Christianity, I marvel that we are not all prostrate before God praying for mercy for that which we have done to the body of the Son. I’m not even sure it’s of supreme importance who is “right” and who is “wrong”. None of us have any excuse for letting things reach this point. We need to beg forgiveness of one another.

I had actually intended to reflect on a larger segment of the Teaching in today’s post rather than this single sentence. I thought I had little to say on it. But as I wrote, the words kept coming in a direction I did not anticipate when I began. I always find that aspect of writing fascinating and sometimes a little disturbing.

Grace and peace, all.


The Didache 19 – The Way of Death

Posted: June 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 19 – The Way of Death

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

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

The section in the Teaching on the way of death is much shorter than the one on the way of life. That is, I think, as it should be. As Peter said of Jesus, “You have the words of life,” so we should strive to absorb and live and speak those words of life. Some of the markers for the way of death are among those behaviors we were warned against in the way of life. Others are listed only here. It’s an interesting list and I think it would do us well to be aware if any speak into our lives. America does not have a culture which is particularly good at pitying a poor man, for example. We have many who are advocates of the rich. It’s worth considering.

There is no suggestion within the Christian faith that we can somehow live within the way of life apart from Jesus. Nevertheless, we must choose how we desire to live, what sort of human being we wish to be, and who we will follow. When we find any of the above shaping our lives, we must remember that they are not a part of the way of life. And since the way of life is Jesus, that means we are not partaking of the life he desires to give us all.


The Didache 18 – Confession

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 18 – Confession

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

In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.

The Teaching emphasizes confession. As in James, the earliest records are of confession before the whole church. Historically, it developed to be just the presbyter listening as you confessed to the Lord because public confession tended to harm those who heard the confession and were not strong enough to bear it. Some would hear the sin confessed and be tempted by that same sin. Others would hear the confession and pride like that of the pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and the publican would begin to weave its way into their hearts. Yet it is important that we confess to someone or the confession simply does not have the same power in our own minds and lives. Silent, inward confession does not tend to lead to change.

Confession has all but vanished from modern evangelicalism. The “altar call” or “invitation” provides a poor substitute among those groups who use it. “Accountability partners or groups” feel creepy and sick to me the way they are typically presented. They seem to be more about artificial control-based relationships than anything else. There is no confession. And as a result we are not honest with each other, with ourselves, or with God.

How can we avoid the masquerade discussed in my previous post if we do not know how to tell the truth?

For that is ultimately what confession is. We tell the truth about ourselves to God in the presence of another human being. And in so doing, we begin to become human once more.

This marks the end of the Teaching on the way of life. It’s been a list of commandments to do and things we need not to do. All of it taken together forms the way of life.


The Didache 17 – Do Not Add Or Subtract

Posted: June 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 17 – Do Not Add Or Subtract

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

You shall hate all hypocrisy and everything which is not pleasing to the Lord. Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom.

Hate hypocrisy. Hate all that is an act. I’m not a huge Casting Crowns fan, but I do think they captured something important in their song, Stained Glass Masquerade. I’m not even sure if the group who did this video around the song even knew the origin of the masks they used or just how appropriate they were to a discussion of what it means when we become actors rather than true human beings with one another.

“Stained Glass Masquerade”

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

However, even worse than the way acting or hypocrisy has embedded itself in the church is the reality that it is extremely hard to find any of the many schismatic branches who have not either added to the faith or subtracted from it. At this juncture in my exploration, I’m willing to say that if Orthodoxy has not traditioned that original faith without addition or subtraction, then it’s probably completely lost to us. I can trace places where every other tradition and schismatic Protestant tradition has either added something or subtracted something. Usually it’s multiple instances. And I can trace it back historically to when they did it. So far, I’ve not found any example of that in Orthodoxy. I’m hardly through looking though.


The Didache 16 – Do Not Engender Bitterness

Posted: June 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 16 – Do Not Engender Bitterness

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

Do not remove your hand from your son or daughter; rather, teach them the fear of God from their youth. Do not enjoin anything in your bitterness upon your bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest ever they shall fear not God who is over both; for he comes not to call according to the outward appearance, but to them whom the Spirit has prepared. And you bondmen shall be subject to your masters as to a type of God, in modesty and fear.

I’ve been around American evangelicalism long enough to know how many in that tradition will interpret the first sentence above. Does it help you at all to know that it is also interpreted “Do not remove your heart”? How about the caution in the next sentence against enjoining anything in your bitterness? Ring any bells with what Paul tells fathers in Ephesians? Sigh. I really don’t have anything I feel like saying. I would be “preaching to the choir” as they say in Baptist circles. The ones who actually need to hear what I might say never would, even if it is part of the way of life.

Christianity was already putting limits on the treatment of slaves in the first century. In Roman culture the head of the household held the power of life and death over children, over wives, and over slaves. It’s hard for us to imagine today. To be fair, in some part these limits did flow from the limits God had worked to place within Torah and within the life experience of all Jews. Christianity just took it to its conclusion in Jesus. Eventually the Church would hold that no baptized Christian could be a slave to another man. While there were issues with the treatment of serfs and other peasants beholden to the Lord of the manor, slavery as such had almost vanished in the West before the introduction of African slaves in the early modern era. It was a huge step backwards for Christians and took centuries to correct. My own denomination, the SBC, was formed in a schism in support of slavery.

Again, sigh.