With a topic such as cremation, it is understandable that opinions are strong. There are numerous cultural reasons for the acceptance of cremation, including financial and real estate. It is also acknowledged that God is able and capable of resurrecting humanity from the devastating effects of a fire. Assuredly, this article is not comprehensive, but I find it quite alarming with the increase of cremation. Bear with me; this article intends not to cast judgment, but to present the biblical understanding of the imago Dei, the dignity of life, rest, and theological underpinning of the preservation of the faithful.
All people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This means that we are image-bearers of the one true God. As the image-bearers of God, from the beginning, life was sacred, relational, and honorable. The Lord’s response to the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain is a testimony to life’s frailty and the body’s ability to speak beyond the grave.
The Lord asserts to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). While one would suspect that God witnessed the killing and received Abel’s soul, the choice of words is interesting—the blood crying up from the ground is weeping. The ground receives Abel’s blood. Cain leaves his brother’s body lying on the ground. Cain has no regard for life; even after death, he neglects the body of his brother.
When John the Baptist was beheaded, news returns to Jesus. Matthew records, “And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (Matt. 14:12). Imago Dei. Biblically, whether in early church history or Judaism, the bodies of those that passed on were honored, sacred, and treated with dignity.
Dignity of Life
As image-bearers of God, Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, whether in birth or death. Contrary to this belief is paganism. Throughout history, the worshippers of Baal, Barbarians, pagans, and idol-worshippers burned their dead. But, that was never the case for those that believed in God Almighty.
The promising covenants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding their burials and bones were clear (Gen. 23:4; 47:29-30; Ex. 13:19; Heb. 11:22). Jacob’s lasts words to his sons, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers” (Gen. 49:29), is a testimony to the dignity of life. There has always been an ethical and honorable treatment and preservation of the bones of the faithful. Whether it be the kings and their families (2 Sam. 21:12), priests, or prophets (1 Ki. 13:31; 2 Ki. 23:18), the bones of the faithful were preserved. The early church was adamant about protecting the bones of the dead that they hid and buried them in the catacombs, away from Roman fire.
However, biblically speaking, when a curse from God was pronounced, fire was to desecrate the bones of the faithless, “And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you’” (1 Ki. 13:2). The writer of 2 Kings provides the fulfillment of the prophecy, “[Josiah] burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Ki. 23:5). The burning of the bones of the faithless was considered a cleansing of wickedness.
Through Jeremiah, God pronounces judgment upon the bones of the kings, officials, prophets, and priests that worshipped other gods—so that their bones would not receive dignity or rest (Jer. 8). As well, when Moab transgressed by cremating the king of Edom, the Lord declared, “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. So I will send a fire upon Moab” (Amos 2:1-2).
The point being made is not that modern cremation is evil, or that people intend evil; the point is to illustrate that humanity ought to have more honor, respect, and dignity for the faithful. It’s alarming at the amount of Christians that no longer honor the bones of the saints to lay them to rest. Through movies and television, our current culture glorifies the burning of peoples, as if it creates dignity (more on that in a moment, see theological).
When Christ was crucified, a person alleged to be a blasphemer by claiming to be God, was meticulously prepared for burial and laid to rest. While the disciples and His followers did not understand the resurrection (yet), they did believe in honor, respect, and rest. Judaism always adhered to the rest and dignity of the body.
Sherrie Johnson, researching and writing about the catacombs, states,
“Many of the people living in and around Rome during the turn of modern times believed in burning the bodies of their dead. Christians of the time believed that the cremation of their dead was morally wrong. Since there wasn’t enough space above ground to store their dead, they started building tunnels underground to bury the dead, as the Jewish communities had done before them … The bodies of the dead are meant to be treated with respect. In Christianity, death is a transitory phase that leads to eternal peace in heaven for the righteous. This is one reason why people bury the dead with utmost respect and care.”
Another reason why burial was important was the unwavering faith of the believer. A believer’s burial was not only a committal to the ground in which man was formed, but a resting place until the resurrection. Without a proper burial, like Abel, the body was not at rest, peace, and awaiting a return of Christ. Christians believe that God will provide new life to the mortal body.
While some modern believers may argue, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” God is fully capable of resurrecting both. Indeed, God is, but the confronting question should be, are we treating the saints with dignity, honor, and respect as the imago Dei and as a redeemed saint? If the early Christians went to such drastic measures to avoid the burning of bodies, have we strayed so far from orthodoxy, or are we sacrificing honor for convenience? (read the invasion of 8th-century Germanic tribes into Rome and how the Christians hid their dead).
Animism and paganism believe that gods exist in things—trees, water, mountains, weather, rocks, etc. The burning of the dead was supposed to release the soul from the body to enter into the spiritual state of oneness with eternity. Similarly, Buddhism believes in nirvana, the state after death that a person can become one with the universe.
This is why modern movies and television promote Barbarian and Roman warriors’ burning—they burn their remains to let them become one with the universe, to be released from the body, forever. Unfortunately, that is not Christian theology. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, when these bones will be renewed, and become like Christ (Rom. 6:5). We believe in the Holy Scriptures, which testify of our earthly bodies being transformed (Phil. 3:21).
As I stated in the beginning, this article is not intended to judge anyone, especially when they may have had a loved one cremated. The focus of the article is to present the biblical precedent of the imago Dei, the sanctity and dignity of life, honor, respect, and the tradition of rest. It is obvious that I am revealing my convictions, but I would hope that this article opens a conversation with loved ones, a deeper study of the Scriptures, and a more profound love of laying to rest the bones of the saints.
Working on my next book project, part of my research encompasses my favorite church planter, St. Patrick. Unveiling the likelihood that the “Apostle of Ireland” may have been the first itinerant-apostle to seriously apply the Great Commission to his missionary endeavors was encouraging. The utilization of the term “Great Commission” is most notably attributed to William Carey. Still, Patrick viewed his missionary efforts to the Gaelic peoples as part of the bigger picture of “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Having a passion for disciple-making, church planting, and the gifting of redeemed believers (Eph. 4:11), Patrick’s life enlightens my soul. When researching Patrick and the earlier Church Fathers, it became apparent that the contemporary church misunderstands early missions, missionary roles and attributes, and the foundational importance of the itinerant-apostle.
For clarity, contemporarily, the usage of the term apostle is not without contention. Most often, people equate an apostle with an office. Within biblical Greek, the term apostle (apostolos) means to send. While Christians tend to (rightly) denote the word apostle with the original Twelve disciples of Christ, the word serves a much broader comprehensive function. Interestingly enough, the term carries nautical weight, as a gathering of seafaring ships embarks upon a maritime expedition. The role of the itinerant-apostle/prophet was much like a seafaring entity, leaving one harbor to enrich another.
Early Itinerant Apostle-Prophet
Assuredly, there has been an ample amount of scholarly research concerning the Didache, its authorship, dating, and possible influence on the Gospel of Matthew. While I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying the text, missional disciple-making is the driving force for my interest. Knowing that a first-century disciple-making resource was available to the early church is more than motivational; it’s illuminating.
Without delving into an argument, we’ll assume the abundant scholarly research on the Didache is sufficient. With that stated, the Didache and its “two ways” open the door to understanding the traveling apostle-prophet. Milavec notes, “The oral tradition of the Didache devoted so much attention to the apostle-prophets because it needed to. Thus, they were dealing not with just a rare visit but regular visits.” The wandering prophet in the Didache is uncannily similar to Matthew 10:41.
While the Didache notes the itinerant apostle-prophet should not stay longer than two days to assess honesty and integrity, it is reasonable to assume that they carried letters of authority for lengthier stays, much like that of the apostle Paul (e.g., Acts 9:2; 15:22-29). Regardless, the itinerant-apostle was a traveling servant; this is evident in Paul’s church planting and edifying travels.
Craig Keener notes there were approximately nineteen stops of Paul’s new communities in his second journey. Of the nineteen communities that Paul’s itinerancy logged, he remained in four less than three days, seven less than seven days, and 13 communities less than 14 days. The role of the itinerant-apostle-prophet was more than a mere ekklesia check-up; it was a reproducible disciple-making whirlwind with divine instruction.
It seems highly plausible that Pauls’ role became Antioch’s itinerant apostle-prophet. This credibility exists, as Luke records Paul proclaiming to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). The itinerant prophet made the rounds to encourage the churches and begin new ones. As recorded in the Shepherd of Hermas, “When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God … the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes.”
As well, Luke recognized five apostle-prophets within the Antiochian church community (Acts 13:1). Most notably, three of these “apostle-prophets were commissioned, being ‘sent out’ to plant new churches.” In the spirit of the itinerant-apostle Paul’s journey to Gaul, Patrick would also employ the itinerant strategy.
While previous historians and missiologists have scoffed at Patrick’s usage of offerings or monetary gifts to gain inroads with tribal chieftains, the ends justified the means. Today, we would equate Patrick’s kingly gifts as contextualization and discernment. Patrick knew the extreme dangers of the Barbarian life.
Having been enslaved to the Celtic people as a youth, Patrick was well aware of the endangerments ahead. Traveling the roads alone was not advisable, not with the marauders and rival tribes. Giving a gift to a tribal king would assure not only safety but a guide, translator, and ambassador. Most of Patrick’s provided emissaries became converts.
Patrick knew the importance of receiving permission to perform discipleship among the small extant Christian communities. Permission would allow him access to the unchurched in neighboring tribes. And, as an itinerant-apostle, Patrick utilized every opportunity.
Itinerant Church Planting
Much like the Apostle Paul’s passion, Patrick was known to move to “new areas” and regions “where the gospel had never been preached” One may doubt Patrick’s journey strategy or impact but could never suspect his motive. In his Letter to Coroticus, Patrick confesses:
Church planters are pioneers that pave the way for souls to enter eternity. The impact of the pioneering itinerant-apostle was to bring the gospel and its power to unreached peoples. While the descriptions of Patrick’s life include “many miracle stories … we see that such stories proliferate when the gospel moves into pioneer territory.”
Patrick’s zeal and Confessions show that he was a pioneering itinerant as he moved “from place to place to befriend the various tribal” peoples. As an apostolic-itinerant, Patrick is attributed to planting over 200 churches.However, Patrick wasn’t a mere traveling evangelist; he baptized and discipled an uncountable number of individuals. Some scholars estimate Patrick to have baptized over 100,000 converts. Needless to say, the church needs more like Patrick; it needs more itinerant-pioneers.
 Smither, Ed. Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 57.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Apostle, Apostleship,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 131.
 Garrow, Alan, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (NY: Bloomsbury, 2004).
 Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities (New York, Newman Press, 2003), 441.
 Keener, Craig, S. Acts : An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids : Baker, 2014), 2298.
Shepard ofHermas, Book II, Commandment 11, Vol. 2, 28.
For some people, the feeling of living within the dark crevices of depression is not a dream, but a reality. The daily anxieties of this present life compiled with the vivid memories of the past, can feel as though there is no place of escape. As someone with past fear and anxiety issues, I know the reality of this darkness.
I’ve also counseled and listened to numerous people with depression, whether present or former military, those suffering from addiction, or a troubled spouse. The dilemma with depression is that it won’t just fade away on its own and the world doesn’t stop turning.
But one beauty of the ancient Scriptures is their divine way of speaking to the human heart, mind, and soul. Assuredly, the Psalmist illustrates the human side of the deep dark world of those who suffer with depression. I know this may be a bit long, but it also may be a blessing for someone struggling to live. Read the cries of the Psalmist (Psalm 88).
v.1 O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.
An underpinning to this Psalm is who it addresses—it is written to the LORD God, the Maker and Creator. For those who suffer with anxiety and depression, the cry of infirmity day and night is all too real. The beauty of the Psalms is their ability to bring out the truth of human emotion, pain, and suffering. The feeling of a tattered and drenched soul, one poured out before God has the sense of a soul consumed with tears. Someone crushed.
However, this plea is written to the “God of my salvation;” literally to the God who rescues. This is the foundation of the Psalm—a person who already knows God and believes in His miraculous grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and soon-to-be restoration. A relationship exists.
v. 3-4 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to [the grave]. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength.
How many times have you felt like this? I believe every person goes through seasons of change. Sometimes those seasons are meant to stretch us for growth, but the season(s) of depression never sprout plumage—the “soul is full of troubles.” For the depressed, the only conclusion is that the end should be the grave.
This breaks my heart! We lose too many souls to depression. Far too many. One is too many. I’ve seen the devastation of suicide—it’s never done in a vacuum—it affects everyone. The Psalmist describes a person that feels so overwhelmed and “full of troubles” that they choose to give up, for lack of “strength.” Oh, how my heart aches for those suffering with this feeling.
But, let must remember, the Psalms are written as a balm for the soul. They demonstrate the cries to a God who does hear, who does understand. These words allow us to recognize that we are not alone, that the thoughts of death are real.
v. 6-7 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
The Psalmist ponders the thought that God may be the cause of the trouble. Blaming God for present calamity, as if God is the producer of the “wrath” you’re enduring; this thinking is not foreign to humanity. As the person sinks deeper into depression, down into the “depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep” within the soul, helplessness is revealed. Where does the soul turn at this point—help seems incredibly far away, as ration and logic flee the human presence.
The person that is overcome with despair feels the “waves” of trouble as an ocean ebb and flow, caught in the rip tides of life. Is the God of salvation listening?
But then, the Psalmist employs the use of “Selah,” a term which implies a thought of time. It’s as if the writer lays down the pen and the paper and goes to sleep. He arises in the morning and comes back to the pen, Selah, a pause of time. Here, the reflection of Selah tells us that the Psalmist is deeply contemplating his next move.
v. 8b-9 I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.
The feeling that there is no way out is evident. A great sorrow that is ever present and never fading, but the Psalmist knows that in the pains of grief, God is to be called upon, especially in times of desperation.
Why call to God if He’s not listening? Clearly, the Psalmist knows that he did not create himself. He’s a created being. If he is a creation, there must be a Creator. And, only the Creator can heal the deeply cut scars and sorrows.
The Selah does wonders for our Psalmist, while it may not seem that way at first glance, it is true. In his previous thought, he was blaming God for the clenches of death, but now seems to understand that God can be trusted; He is still LORD, and worthy to be petitioned, especially in the midst of suffering. As it’s been said, “If you had a broken watch, you wouldn’t take it to a shoemaker, but a watchmaker.” Too many people living with depression seek the shoemaker, instead of the “Watchmaker.”
v. 10-12 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah.
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
The Psalmist once more uses the Selah thought, an in-depth pause, perhaps night fades and the morning arises with no relief, but the thoughts are the same; is God there? Can He hear from the place of the dead? Will He work wonders?
As the Psalmist relays, he feels as if he is in the “land of forgetfulness” and “darkness,” a place where no one cares. However, the silver lining of these verses displays the trust to a trustworthy God. While the writer may suffer with the thoughts of being alone, God is still the God of “wonders.” Battling depression is real, but never cease the “battle” — press inward, onward, and upward. Why?
Don’t ever give up on the God of love because the love of God has never given up on you. Continue reading.
v. 13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
The tears of humanity are the ever-present dew of praise. These are not tears of the night, but of the morning; a cry that has bewildered the soul; a prayer in the morning for the release from affliction. If you have never been at this place, it’s a continual emptiness that can overwhelm the soul.
Take note of the personal appeal of “I” and “You,” showing the intimate relationship the Psalmist has with the LORD — a time of prayer, a time of allowing the Potter to mold the clay. The prayers of the saints are beautiful to God and a sweet-smelling aroma ever before Him. Don’t ever feel so overwhelmed to believe the lie that God doesn’t hear—this Psalm demonstrates the faith that prayers are not in vain, or vanish into thin air, but are always present before God—they “come before” Him.
v. 14-15 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death…I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
I cannot count the times that I prayed this aspect of the Psalms—God why do you not see that my soul is broken? The feeling that God is not present is very real and it seems that there are times when God hides Himself. Maybe it’s to allow a purging of the soul to occur? Who can know the mind of God?
The thoughts of separation lay siege around the Psalmist’s heart—separation of soul and Soul-maker. Oh, how terribly grieving it is to feel as if your soul is separated from the carcass of your flesh, as if you’re merely walking bones, “afflicted…suffering terrors…and helpless.” The feeling, again, that God is not listening comes to mind.
But, the Creator is not some distant god that doesn’t understand suffering. The Lord Jesus knows our suffering because he endured suffering, for our salvation. Jesus defeated sin AND death. Sometimes, we need a “Selah” moment, to remind ourselves in the midst of suffering that we have a Savior that knows our anguish, has felt pain and suffering, sacrificed His life for ours, and has overcome death.
The Psalmist continues…
v. 16-17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.
When our “companions have become darkness” then the depths and darkness of depression have set in—but it doesn’t need to be this way. The feeling of a distant God and being alone occurs far too often. This Psalm is the only one which ends in such a somber and depressive thought. All of the other Psalms show a turn of events—that God is to be praised.
But, I believe the Psalm ends this way because it relates to our humanity—our own suffering. Many people go through this thought pattern, that God is far off, that they are separated from their soul, that troubles overwhelm them, that the cries of the heart and affliction of life feel out of control and helpless. Sometimes, life does not present us with roses, rainbows, or refreshing streams of water. Yet, one thing is certain: God knows your suffering, and there are people around you, created in the image of God, that will walk with you.
If you are fighting depression, please seek help from a pastor, counselor, or friend. The beauty of the Psalm isn’t the darkness but that the Psalmist shared his feelings and brokenness. You cannot and should not feel like a burden—people love you—you are NOT alone. Remember to have “Selah” moments in between your bouts of anguish.
The one thing I believe and know, is that God is good. He is an ever-present help in time of need. He is not far off, but is near. He is the great Immanuel (God with us). He has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us in love. There is freedom in Christ, the freedom that says, “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). A peace that brings joy.
As created beings, we were designed for relationship, not isolation. Sharing our thoughts and burdens with someone is essential. However, one of the keys to depression is that it causes selective isolation. The depressed person seeks solitude to find some sort kind of solace, reasoning, or understanding; perhaps, even to live with their “demons.”
Depression causes the individual to lock the proverbial door to their soul and to hide the key. They become their own prisoner. Think about this, we punish people by placing them in isolation. Since sharing helps relieve the burdens and pains caused by depression, nothing replaces human relationship. And so, while the Psalmist ends his writing in a somber note, your life should never end that way. There are so many people that love you and I know of a God who loved you so much that He gave His only Son to die for your sins and to reconcile you back to Him (John 3:16).
If you need someone to talk to, please reach out to those around you or call the suicide prevention hotline.
As an experienced church planter, trainer, and teacher, one of the biggest misnomers that I have witnessed is the pressure placed upon the planter or planting team to produce numbers. While proponents for “numbers” (or butts in seats) recite passages recorded by Luke in Acts (2:41; 4:4) or argue that one of the books of the Bible is labeled Numbers, the Missio Dei (mission of God) is about people, not numbers. Assuredly, Luke was writing a descriptive narrative, as was the compiler of Numbers, not a prescriptive regulation.
Any Bible student can utilize proof-texting to clarify or validate a point. For instance, if God was “all about numbers” then why was a plague sent upon Israel when David established a census to count the people (2 Sam. 24)? Clearly, God loves numbers, right? What about Jesus making purposeful statements to see how many disciples would stop following Him (i.e. “eat of my flesh and drink of my blood” (John 6:60–71)?
Don’t get me wrong, I think numbers are important, but they should never be a church’s focus. Church Planters endure serious depression and loneliness for two reasons: (1) financial burdens, and (2) numbers/growth. As for the former, the majority of church planters are bi-vocational, contributing to the burden of the new church start’s finances. As well, the bi-vocational planter cannot devote as much time, energy, and attention to the start-up, as hoped—again, causing anxiety.
Not to be undone by finances, one week may bring ample gospel conversations, leading to twenty new guests. The church planter is elated and excited! However, the elation quickly subsides as the next week’s attendance is a gruesome six people (mainly the core group). The church planter becomes depressed. Why? Because his numbers are off. If someone asks him how many are “attending” his new church plant, he feels that he’s a failure.
While the two evidences of church planter anxiety are separated, one of the two can be fixed by mindset, reality, and biblical adherence. If the planter lays a firm foundation in the Great Commission mandate, the pressures of growth go away. My contention: focus on people—not numbers.
If church planters would focus their attention on making disciple-makers from new converts, the result would be churches that naturally multiply. Instead of worrying about a sound-system, social media posts, livestreaming, kids church, order of service, set up and breakdown, worry about the mandate—are you making disciple-makers? Because, “There is no discipleship without living life together.”
One of the dilemmas with starting new churches is that church planters focus so much on growth, that they really don’t care if it’s transfer growth or conversion growth—as long as it’s growth. And in doing so, they’re missing the aspect of living life with others. They’re neglecting the command of developing and establishing disciple-makers of Christ. And, that will never happen without being intentional!
Making disciple-makers takes intentionality, focus, and grit. And, yes—time and patience. Making disciples is not completed in a week or three months. In actuality, there’s really never a “completion point,” only maturity.
Making disciple-makers is not solely about a curriculum but walking through the rhythms of life with one another—we’re to feel the hurts, pains, and victories of “withness.” If a church planter is only focused on numbers to feel relevant or “successful” they have neglected the mandate of Christ. Inevitably, they will create a revolving door of shallow believers.
My prayer and plea: press harder inward, onward, and upward. Create lasting relationships. Live life with the few that God has entrusted to you, instead of worrying about a platform. Obey the Great Commission.
I have long been intrigued and captivated by the early church. What I mean by early church is the New Testament era and the first two centuries succeeding. I love the narrative of Acts and its apostolic association with “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). I crave for their sacrifice, and for their disciple-making devotion. While I understand that the early was far from perfect and had vast dysfunction—they also possessed dedication, piety, and desire.
Because of my captivation, I find myself diving deeper into the depths of ecclesiastical disciple-making (See Church Planting by Making Disciple-Makers). My journey has currently positioned me within an early document known as the Didache. If you’re not familiar with the Didache (pronounced, Did-ah-key or Did-ah-kay), it is not without its controversies, as it seems to have been lost for fifteen hundred years.
As history notes, in 1873 a Greek Orthodox bishop named Philotheos Bryennios was in the library archives of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem sifting through the early manuscripts. Bryennios wasn’t exactly sure what he had discovered, as the Didache was “sandwiched between other early church documents;” namely TheEpistle of Barnabas, 1 and 2 Clement, 12 letters of Ignatius, and several others. While Bryennios’ contemporaries had common knowledge that Origin and Athanasius had referenced the Didache, many scholars believed that no extant manuscript existed—until Bryennios.
A Little More Background
By the early nineteenth century, the universal church was not monolithic regarding the dating of the Didache. While a small debate ensued regarding the text, some even considered it to be fraudulent. However, with ongoing German and French research, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1945, and the critical work of Willy Rordorf, the dating of the Didache was credibly proposed as preceding the Gospel of Matthew.
Nancy Pardee believed that the Didache’s early dating demonstrated an “important witness to the composition and development of the New Testament.” She stated, “Such an early date and stature by themselves would make the Didache an important witness alongside the New Testament of the development of the early Church, but the additional fact that the text is of more utilitarian nature means that it does not merely supplement the biblical texts, but compliments them.” Indeed, the Didache does compliment the synoptic Gospels.
Breaking It Down
The Didache itself is only sixteen short and concise chapters (a quick 20 minute read), instructing in the ordinances of the church, prophets, apostles, bishops, and deacons within the church, and some brief eschatological views. I found the section on the Eucharist, “breaking the loaf,” to be incredibly illuminating and missional. With the disciple reciting back the words during the Lord’s Supper (I paraphrase):
“As the seed that produce the loaf is scattered over the mountains,
And then gathered in and became one,
So may your church be gathered together into your kingdom,
The Didache is truly an amazing document, but it was never intended to be equated with Scripture, as it was a practical learning tool (orally taught) for new converts. Perhaps this is the reason for its disappearance? Yet, as someone that thrives to reach the world’s lostness, the Didache’s practical guidance regarding reproducible disciple-making is what I find the most intriguing.
If the dating of scholars is true, as one reads the Didache, the Gospels are immediately apparent. As well, the writer of the Didache notably assumes the reader understands the Sabbath days, rejecting the Roman days of the week with “second” and “fifth days of the Sabbath” being set aside as fast days. Most noteworthy is how the two ways of life are taught to a new convert; once learned, the “disciple-maker” baptizes the new convert, after a day or two of fasting. The reason I find this so noteworthy is its implication for rapid multiplication.
The Way of Life
The first several sections of the Didache are the two main aspects of the “teaching.” In perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised with the Way of Life and the Way of Death as central tenets, as a latter title for the Didache was “The Lord’s Teaching to the Nations through the Twelve Apostles.” The Didache is missional, devotional, and multiplicative. Yet, within the two ways they provide a glimpse into an early devoted and dedicated community—devoted to holiness and dedicated to Christ and one another.
The Didache begins with the introduction consisting of the two ways (1:1) but immediately proceeds with the first four succinct chapters describing the Way of Life. As a believer, I instantly see the value of guiding of a new convert through these first thirty-seven “verses.” The Way of Life begins with the greatest commandment, “You shall love God who created you; second, your neighbor as yourself; all those things which you do not want done to you, you should not do to others” (1:2).
The abstention from “carnal desires” and how to practically treat others is resounding (1:4). Giving is not a motto for the Way of Life but emphasizes God’s generosity to the adherent (1:5). It is easy to see the Ten Commandments interwoven throughout the Way of Life (2:2–7), as well as humility, patience, justice, hard work, and respect for the image of God. The new convert is reminded not to neglect the “Lord’s commands, but to hold fast to what has been handed down to you” (4:13); the very nature of disciple-making!
The Way of Death
Contrasting with the Way of Life, the Didache does not possess any gray area for the believer. You either walk in the Way of Life, or you’re cursed by wickedness—most notably, the Didache does not sugarcoat lasciviousness. Those who follow the Way of Death “do not know their Maker” (5:2). The warnings for the new converts, not to be led astray from the Way of Life, are foundational.
One might assume that the Didache is merely a set of rules and regulations, a means of legalism, but to the contrary:
“If you are able to bear the whole of the Lord’s yoke,
you will be complete.
However, if you are not able to bear that yoke,
then do what you can” (6:2).
In reflection, the Way of Death denotes the “old self” and the ways of the world, but as a student of the Bible, the Didache reads as a mixture between Jesus’ words and Pauls’ epistles. The Way of Death ends in chapter six and is much shorter than its counterpart, the Way of Life. The Way of Death is utilized as a practical guide of admonition, encouragement, and sanctity.
Spending the last several months researching the Didache has been more than rewarding; it’s been enlightening and informative to view an early community of steadfast believers. Without Scriptures, Paul’s epistles, the Gospels, and Revelation, it is eye-opening that such a document could have existed and point to biblical values (i.e. Great Commission teaching). The Didache demonstrates that the early church was not merely concerned with “Jesus loves me this I know” and that’s enough, but with multiplication, perseverance, righteousness, and humility.
The remaining chapters of the Didache are no slouch, either. Understanding its views of baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, church administrative structures, and end times may not be prescriptive or inspired, but they are revealing as to how the early ekklesia communities lived out the rhythms of life. Any time the modern church can utilize documents like the Didache, I believe it to be edifying. Again, while the Way of Life and Way of Death are not inerrant and inspired, they are definitely biblical—there’s no doubting their veritas.
 O’Loughlin, Thomas. The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2010), 4–5.
 Milovec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (Newman Press: NY, 2003), 4.
 Even though there is ample evidence that Paul’s letters were circulated among the early churches, early dating of the Didache would predate the over a third of the New Testament, including the Gospels.
Revitalization is synonymous with church growth, church planting, and disciple-making—and rightfully so—with 80–85% of Western churches in decline or plateauing, the need is imminent.
But revitalization is not revival. Revitalization requires intentional change— not programs.
Revitalization is a systemic DNA change—a spiritual transformation. If revitalization is required, something is broken, failing, or worse—hemorrhaging.
DNA relates to molecules that transport genetic instructions used in the growth, development, and function in living organisms. Dying churches are lacking healthy DNA. Here are five crucial steps in cultivating church DNA change.
I’m not a fan of prayer—I’m dependent upon it. As A. W. Pink avowed, “Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude—an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God.”
The church can do nothing without prayer. Sadly, prayer is neglected, yet God’s power is expected. Yet, the kind of prayer that I’m speaking of is Holy Spirit empowered, guided, and lead. Holy Spirit directed prayer brings humility, conivction, and unity.
The leaders of a dying church must be unified—prayerfully seeking the power of God to change their hearts, minds, and souls. Billy Sunday declared, “If you are strangers to prayer you are strangers to power.”
There is not a move of God that has occurred without prayer and repentance. For a DNA change to occur, a church must bend its knee in repentant soulful prayer—willing and able to listen to the voice of God.
That means cultivating-DNA-changing-prayer is a dialogue with the One Triune God, anticipating and expecting to hear from the Spirit of God—yielding everything to His will.
Gads of books and articles have been written about vision. I’m not for jumping on bandwagons. Yet, vision is imperative for DNA change.
Vision informs the people where they are going. Like Moses leading Israel toward the Promised Land—the people had a vision.
DNA changing vision is God-lead instruction for growth, development, and function. Vision should also be collective among Spirit-filled leaders—agreeing that God is clearly articlulating His new plan, new purpose, and new design to glorify Himself within a community.
DNA changing vision begins with prayer and results in hearing from God. Sometimes this can be accomplished by leaders closing themselves off for time together, brainstorming, whiteboarding, fasting, or going through a process of vision “framing.”
DNA changing vision should not be over-complicated—on the contrary—it should be simple and understood. God wants His vision revealed to His church.
Church leaders should be visionaries. Visionaries by definition are innovator-creator type people. Visionaries relay and expound the vision to other people that we will label, “early adopters.”
Not everyone will understand vision—even at its simplest form. Based upon the innovation adoption curve, less than 20% of the church will initially understand the vision—but early adopters will.
The leaders seeking DNA-change shouldn’t expect everyone to “get it,” but they should seek respectable and godly people who will—the early adopters.
Systemically changing a church’s DNA takes time. I would confess anywhere from 18–20 months (some say that’s fast—so it’s better to think of revitalization of a church as turning an aircraft carrier).
The adopters’ role is essential—they will help skeptics and fear-based “traditionalists” (those clinging to the past or afraid of change) to be at ease and see God’s power at work.
Basically, early adopters “sell” the vision. Biblically speaking, Nehemiah is a great example of how he received God’s vision and implemented it through other leaders (early adopters)—to propel God’s mission.
Proclamation is where I differ from most revitalizers.
I’m not a seeker sensitive guy. I’m sold out for the gospel. While many revitalizers will push the concept of the essential need of vision repetition (and I agree), the focal point is not the vision, but the implementation of the vision, via proclamation of the gospel.
If the gospel is not central to the vision—you have the wrong vision. The church is here to proclaim the good news of Christ and make disciples (Matt 29:18–20; Jn. 20:19–21).
The church doesn’t share the gospel—the gospel is a proclamation about the King—it’s about God’s story.
Before a body of Christ can engage the mission, it must intrinsically understand the gospel.
The succinct DNA breath of the church must be the gospel—a transformative and comprehensive reconciliation of rebellious people turning back and submitting to God—for His glory.
This means that if conversion growth (reaching new converts to make disciples) then there will not be DNA-changing revitalization, only people in seats to sustain a social movement—it’s not a revitalization of Christ’s church.
Jesus asserted, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
DNA change will be evident when the fruit of Christ is demonstrated in community, corporate worship, and the home. The DNA-changing church must seek a goal to be about making disciple-making disciples to engage the culture.
The church was never designed for isolation, but public exhortation and exhibition. The mission of God fulfills God’s will.
All earthly treasures are mere tools to glorify God. Tools would include the building, transportation, and income. This means that church savings accounts are to be spent on God’s mission—not idolized.
The church is here to engage culture, to proclaim the love of God, through Christ.
Lastly, revitalization is about people—not buildings. Community engagement manifests an inner heart transformation of an intentional outward passion. Basically, if you’re sold out for Christ—everyone will know it and that passion will be infectious.
Systemic DNA change can transform an isolated dying church into a missional-attractional church, devoted, dedicated, and determined to obey Christ.