Friday, July 6, 2007

Didache on Discernment

So I was working today, doing construction and continuing to ponder discernment. And suddenly I remembered something I had read long ago in a wonderful work called the Didache. Didache simply means "Teaching" in Greek and it is a short work that may have been written as early as the first century. When the canon of Scripture was being formulated, some Church Fathers even argued for its inclusion in the New Testament. I think texts like the Didache, even though they should never be placed on the same level of Scripture when it comes to authority, should have a privileged place when we are seeking the will of God.

Teachings of the Didache:
The Didache is a very interesting text. An important theme is the idea of the "Two Ways." The Didache says, "Two Ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways." The way of life is summarized as, "First, love God who made you, secondly, your neighbor as yourself: do not do to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself." One thing that would be nice if the Didache had been included in the NT would be its prohibition of abortion. The Didache says, "do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide." Although I'm sure that even if this were in the Bible, the loving, tolerant liberals would just ignore it like they do the rest of Scripture... Okay off the liberal thing... Later there is an interesting instruction on the sacraments. The instruction on baptism says that the candidate should fast prior to their baptism and that it should take place in running water. If no running water is available then cold water should be used and if there's not enough water to dunk then a baptism could be done by pouring water on the head thrice and baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There is a powerful and, I think, correct admonition against open communion, "Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: 'Do not give to dogs what is sacred.'"

The Didache begins its teaching on discernment by saying, "should the teacher himself be a turncoat and teach a different doctrine so as to undermine (this teaching), do not listen to him. But if he promotes holiness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as the Lord." So discernmet begins with knowing what good doctrine is and avoiding any teacher who does not believe in and teach good doctrine. In the context of the Didache, good doctrine seems to be the teaching on the "Two Ways" which encompasses Christ's moral teaching and also the instruction on the sacraments. Good doctrine is also described here as a doctrine of holiness and the knowledge of the Lord.

Now to the interesting stuff: "Moreover, if any prophet speaks in ecstasy, do not test him or entertain any doubts; for any sin may be forgiven, but this sin cannot be forgiven. However, not everyone speaking in ecstasy is a prophet, except he has the ways of the Lord about him. So by their ways must the true and the false prophet be distinguished. No prophet who in an ecstasy orders the table spread, must partake of it; otherwise, he is a false prophet. Any prophet that teaches truth, yet does not live up to his teaching, is a false prophet. When a prophet, once approved as genuine, does something by way of symbolizing the Church in an earthly manner, yet does not instruct others to do all that he himself is doing, he is not liable to your judgment, for his judgment rests with God. After all, the Prophets of old acted in the same manner. But if anyone says in ecstasy, "Give me money," or something else, you must not listen to him. However, should he tell you to give something for others who are in need, let no one condemn him."

There's a lot of good stuff there. The first admonition is strong and convicting, equating doubting the words of a prophet with the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit seen in the NT. The primary standard of discernment seems to be the way the prophet lives his life. Does the prophet have, "
the ways of the Lord about him?" Even if a prophet teaches truth, if he hypocritically does not live up to that teaching, he must be considered a false prophet. Instances where a prophet says something for their own gain, like ordering food (having a table spread before them) or asking for money are fundamentals in distinguishing true from false prophets.

For true prophets, the Didache establishes a high place of honor: "Every genuine prophet who is willing to settle among you is entitled to his support. Likewise, every genuine teacher is, like a laborer, entitled to his support. Therefore, take all first fruits of vintage and harvest, of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets; for they are your high priests."

In discerning who should be in leadership in the Church, the Didache teaches, "elect for yourselves bishops and deacons, men who are an honor to the Lord, of gentle disposition, not attached to money, honest and well-tried; for they, too, render you the sacred service of the prophets and teachers."

Near the end of the text is a warning and a retelling of our blessed hope, "For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will come in swarms; the sheep will turn into wolves, and love will turn to hate. When lawlessness is on the increase, men will hate and persecute and betray one another; and the Deceiver of this world will appear, claiming to be the Son of God, and give striking exhibitions of power; the earth will be given over into his hands, and he will perpetrate outrages such as have never taken place since the world began. Then humankind will undergo the fiery test, and many will lose their faith and perish; but those who stand firm in their faith will be saved by none other than the Accursed. And then the proofs of the truth will appear; the first proof, an opening of the heavens; the next proof, the sounding of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead - not all indeed, but in accordance with the saying: The Lord will come and all the saints with Him. Finally, the world will behold the Lord riding the clouds in the sky."

May we heed this warning and stand firm even in the midst of false prophets and wolves.


1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, the early Fathers of the Church were wise and placed defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a high priority. For were we convert many, if we convert them to falsehood, what have we accomplished? Something shameful and deserving condemnation.

But thanks be to God! His true servants won't compromise the Gospel.

Somne great thoughts here, Matthew. I agree that the Didache is important reading for Christians.