15 Appoint Bishops for Yourselves
15:1 Appoint bishops for yourselves, as well as deacons, worthy of the Lord, of meek disposition, unattached to money, truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers.
15:2 Do not despise them, after all, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers.
15:3 And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the gospel. But to anyone who acts amiss against another, let no one speak to him, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the gospel of our Lord.
I find this passage interesting in that the qualifications for bishops and deacons are the same. The Didache suggests that the group should choose people to serve the community who have demonstrated that their character is gentle, they’re not greedy, and they’re trustworthy. All of this must also be verified by the community. These traits can’t be a one-time thing—anything can be said in a job interview!—they must be consistent.
Things sure have changed! While all of those things listed here are looked for to some degree (and some more than others), nowadays, one must have a master’s degree or a doctorate! Very rarely does a community of faith have an “honored one” with only the above qualifications. Most of the time, people won’t even consider someone if he doesn’t have some sort of higher level of education. And yes, most of the time the “honored one” has to be male. So, if you’re a woman, don’t even bother applying.
But, again, notice none of those restrictions are in the Didache. It doesn’t say what sex the “honored one” has to be. To me, this shows that women could be bishops and deacons. What a novel idea! And while the community would probably want someone who knows a thing or two about doctrine or theology, the emphasis is on service and character. By emphasizing those things, one can see what type of doctrine or theology the “honored ones” would teach. Someone who’s gentle will emphasise the gentleness of Christ. Someone who’s more aggressive will lean toward the more violent passages of the Bible. Someone who isn’t concerned about money or power or position will emphasise giving to the poor and needy and sharing equally with the community. Someone who’s more concerned about accumulating more wealth will teach a “prosperity gospel.” Once more the wisdom from this little community comes through. What would our communities of faith look like today if we focused on those traits listed in verse 1 instead of what letters are after a person’s name?
And what would our communities of faith look like if we implemented the disciple described in the last verse? Remember, this would be an inclusive community. That is, the Teaching is not just about “church life.” It’s about everyday life. This group of people lived, played, worked, rested, ate, and, yes, worshipped together. The instruction, then, to “reprove someone” by not speaking to him would not be limited to Sunday morning. It would encompass that person’s whole life.
This instruction isn’t that different from what we find in the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 1 Corinthians 5). The two may even go hand in hand. The discipline of a community member may start with what Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, and then, if that doesn’t work, go on to what the community instructed here. However it was supposed to be implemented, the idea is that one shouldn’t be spoken to until he changes his heart and mind.
This would be a sticky situation today. And, frankly, I don’t think it can be done. It seems to me that it can only work if there’s a community like the one that wrote the Didache. Even in our best communities today, we don’t know the whole story. In a community like that, we just might. And having everyone know us intimately would be something else would have to consider before joining.
And that’s something we don’t talk about a lot today—the cost of following The Way. The Didache (as well as the New Testament) shows a dedication to Christ and each other (or, a love of G_d and of neighbor) that far surpasses what most of us are accustomed to. I wonder how many of us would be comfortable with that type of community? How many of us would be willing to be part of it?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC