The Didache is an interesting document from the 1st Century. The document was discovered in 1883 in a monastery in Constantinople. The short text of just 16 Chapters provides a general guide for early Christians. It is possible that some early congregations only had the Didache. The document seems to be closely related to the Gospel of Matthew.
The Didache opens with a general guide to what it means to be Christian. I’ll paraphrase:
- Love God and your neighbor as yourself. Don’t do to them as you don’t want done to you.
- Bless those that curse you and pray for your enemies. “But do ye love them that hate you, and ye will not have an enemy.” 1:3
- Abstain from worldly lusts.
- Turn your cheek, go the extra mile, and give your coat to those who steal your cloak
- Give to everyone who asks. “Blessed is he who giveth according to the commandment, for he is free from guilt; but woe unto him that receiveth. For if a man receive being in need, he shall be free from guilt; but he who receiveth when not in need, shall pay a penalty...’
The Didache continues looking into Christian conduct through Chapter 7, where it has an interesting take on baptism. The Didache lists the Jewish commandments in chapter 2. While chapter 3 emphasizes the need to be compassionate, harmless, and peaceful. Chapter 4 is also interesting. It creates another set of “thou shalt not” commandments for early Christians:
Thou shalt not:
- desire schism
- accept the accusations of a person without looking into it
- doubt whether something will happen or not (this is curious)
- be a hand stretcher but loathe to give
- doubt giving or complain about it
- turn away anyone in need
- turn away from sons or daughters
- make servants bitter toward you
- abandon the Lord’s commandments (likely referring to all the commands listed in the previous chapters)
- come to prayer with an evil conscience.
Chapter 7 goes into baptism with quite a pragmatic view, unlike some churches today. The Didache considers immersion in “living” or running water best. But if it’s not available you can baptize in another water, preferably cold. If you can’t do that, pour water 3 times over the head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also says you have to recite all the previous precepts. It also teaches that the person being baptized and the person doing the baptism should both fast 1 ore 2 days before the event.
The document continues with thanks giving prayers during the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist as usually translated). It also says we should pray 3 times a day using the Lord’s Prayer as a model and privately as Matthew also mentions. Prayer shouldn’t be done in public settings exempting the Lord’s Supper.
The Didache continues with general guidelines to how to assemble for worship, recognize false teachers, and general suggestions on appointing teachers and keeping the faith.
I found the document very interesting. It provides a general summary of 1st Century Christian practices. Their practices were actually quite simple too. Worship involved confessing sins before the Lord’s Supper and brief prayers. That’s it. It doesn’t mention sermons, or singing. The Didache has a pragmatic view on baptism based on availability of water; which makes sense for arid areas. It provides a good overview of the principles presented in the Gospels in a concise format. The text even has a Zen quality to many of its passages.
The Didache opens a window into early Christianity. Christianity is at its heart a simple spiritual system. The complication and extravagance of modern Christianity distorts the quiet, family oriented heart. Archeology suggests Christians met in small groups of friends and family for several centuries before adopting the pomp of Roman religions. They attended synagogues for Scripture instruction but worshiped in homes. Prayer is done in the closet and not the public square. Love and forgiveness are the centerpieces of Christianity.
It would do us well to stop going to churches and instead worship quietly with friends and family. It would do us well to drop all the loudness, entertainment, and public prayer for silence and simplicity.
Sadly, few want to strip away all the artificial things the centuries have tacked onto Christianity. I often feel alone since not even my family wants to give up “going to church” in favor of home based 1st Century Christian practice found in the NT and supported by documents like the Didache.
If you want to read the Didache, this site offers various translations.