Every summer Aldersgate welcomes a theologian to speak on theme for the weekend. This past weekend Aldersgate hosted Mr. Tony Jones as our scholar in residence. This year’s theme was Getting Back to Our Roots (the last recording on the page is Tony’s sermon). Over the four weeks prior to Tony’s arrival Jason and DP had preached from Acts and illustrated how the actions of the first Christians could benefit our congregation (and denomination as a whole) if certain practices were instituted. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the sermon(s) Tony presented.
1:1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two ways.
1:2 The way of life is this: First you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbors as yourself, and do not do to another what you want not want done to you.
1:3 The meaning of these sayings is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the heathens do the same? But you should love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies.
Tony began his sermon with a reading from the Didache (a modern translation that can be found in his book) which happened to mirror the scripture reading from the day (Matthew 5). The Didache is an origin story of the early church that had been lost for centuries before it was discovered in 1873 by an archbishop in Istanbul, Turkey. He than described how the origin stories of our nation have been told through the eyes of the majority opinions throughout history. The tribes that were wiped out because of polio laced blankets are not around to tell their side of the story. The same is true in our examination of the history of Christianity. Tony said, “We have a tendency to lionize the big names, like Paul, and Augustine. But there are minority opinions to which we must attend, and which, thankfully, have not been lost.”
Tony believes that the Didache presents a challenge to all Christians. The texts, “In plain and unadorned language, it calls us to self-sacrifice, altruism, and faithfulness. We’re called to love God and to love one another; to pray and fast for those who stand against us; and to give away everything we can.”
The funny thing about the Didache is that it illustrates how the early church did not get worry itself with the little things that we (modern-day Christians) seem to get hung up on. Baptism for example, the Didache states that running water should be used; but if you do not have running water then you can go ahead and pour water. If you do not have cool water than warm can be used. Do you see where they were going with this? It was more important for this early group of Christians to be together and sharing their faith with one another than to be tripping over the small this that many denominations and congregations stumble over today.
The church that is described in the Didache, according to Tony, was doing the best that they could with what they had at the time. This idea translates over to us today. With mainline denominations on the decline we can no longer stumble over the little things in our congregations and denomintations which in the larger picture do not matter. The message of the gospel should be our goal and not committee after committee, or worrying about how the church organized their coffee-hour 20 years ago.
Do the best we can with what have. Do not worry about the little things that do not matter. Place the gospel before anything else that we do, and if our activities do not match up with the gospel maybe it is time to head back to the drawing board.
As churches (mainline denominations) are on the decline and people are seeking a more “spiritual” experience rather than a “religious” experience, the Didache offers us a simpler way to experience the gospel and to live in community with one another.