Tony Jones – Teaching of the 12


Welcome to day nine of the Tony Jones’, The Teaching of the Twelve, blog Tour.

Let me begin expressing my gratitude for the thoughtful engagement with the Didache not only by Tony Jones but also by the other bloggers who have engaged this classic work through Tony’s new work.  I am thrilled to see the way Tony has personally explored the Didache and now offers his engagement with this important text to the world.

Given that I am no Didache scholar I want to make couple of important, though straightforward observations in response to the following question.

“Does the Didache teach or advise anything that substantively differs from what was decided at the earliest ecumenical church councils.  (such as Nicaea)”

No doubt there are a number of ways a person could respond to this question, as for me I begin simply by making a genre observation.  The Didache or “The Teaching” is a different type of writing then a Creed; they are different genres.  Granted “genres” are rather loose sets of criteria for a category of literature and/or speech; nonetheless genres tend to have different functions so we would be wise to be careful that we’re not comparing apples with oranges.

Comparing the Didache to a Creed may be a little bit like comparing a sermon with systematic theology.  We can see they are related, but the goals, language and function within the life of the faith community are different.  Therefore I want to be a little bit cautious about drawing too firm a conclusion about substantive differences between the Didache and the early creeds (and for the sake of simplicity let’s focus on the Creed born of the First Nicaea Council).

Having said this I think it is not insignificant that the Didache – which predates our first council considerably – is a teaching which stresses communal life lived in the Way of Jesus.  The four movements of the Didache are very practical teachings on how to live and surprising little about what to believe.  The four movements as Tony outlines them are (see pages 7-8):

  1. Training in the Way of Life (1:1-6:2)
  2. The Rhythms of Community Life (6:3-11:2)
  3. Visitors Welcome (11:3-15:4)
  4. The End is Nigh (16:1-8)

While the Didache is a one of our earliest glimpses into the practical life of primitive Christians; a glimpse into how the people gathering together in Christ and seeking to live in the way of Jesus actually engaged culture, economics, community, and ritual etc. it is striking at how little doctrine it presents.  While just the opposite could be said of the Creed born of our First Church Council at Nicæa (325) . . . in the document out of Nicæa we have a fairly clear confession of beliefs with no practices or rituals.

This to me is the primary difference between the two documents.  One is concerned with how we should live, the other what we confess.  Part of me would like to jump to the conclusion that how we live should trump what we confess.  Personally I’m not convinced I can make that jump based on these two documents.  Confessions of belief tend to follow transformed lives.

Again the question posed to me asked, “Does the Didache teach or advise anything that substantively differs from what was decided at the earliest ecumenical church councils?”

I would propose that any substantive difference lies not in the claims per se, but in the types of discourse which the two documents engender.  Creeds tend to engender debate, binary agreement or disagreement, the choosing of sides, “I believe/I don’t believe.”  Such discourse is often abstracted from the “real world.”  By contrast the Didache seems to invite a discourse about exploring questions of embodiment, the nature and function of community, it raises questions about how we show live and follow Jesus now where we are.

BTW – I highly recommend you The Teaching of the Twelve to you.

Peace, dwight

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  1. The creed is not simply a list of things we confess. It is the outline of the gospel because it is a summary of scripture. Without the creed, you cannot read and understand the bible and without the bible, you cannot even begin to know how to live. You are the one separating how to live and what to confess. Traditional Christianity keeps them neatly intertwined.

  2. An excellent point Dwight. It is the main reason that we chose the name Cymbrogi when
    referring to ourselves. As TruckerJohn mentioned to me the other day we are companions
    of the heart not companions of the creed. We cross traditional church lines in that we come
    from various creedal backgrounds. While I can say we all accept the historic creeds such
    as the Apostolic, it is our commitment to love God, one another, and our enemies that truly
    binds us together. This goes beyond just assenting to a particular doctrinal statement.
    Thanks for listening, Grace and Peace.