How Churches of Christ Have Historically Read the Bible

April 11, 2023

Churches of Christ are, gratefully, a people who love the Bible, and I grew up in an era when the church knew the Bible so well. At the same time, we read the Bible in a particular way that is perhaps not as faithful to the Bible as we might have hoped. In this interview, I talk about this.

Revival – Historical Comment

February 19, 2023

“Revival” is sometimes used quite specifically, and at other times it is used rather broadly. It can mean anything from one’s own personal spiritual awakening to the impact of a culture-shaping movement of God across churches, regions, and even nations (e.g., the First Great Awakening). It can also refer to a spontaneous local congregational event (e.g., Jonathan Edwards in 1734-35), a planned series of meetings across several congregations (e.g., Cane Ridge was one in a series of communion festivals in 1801 Kentucky), or a spontaneous movement of congregations in a region (e.g., Welsh Revival in 1904-5).

The word can refer to many different things depending on who is using it, and it means something a bit different in different traditions and contexts. This is one reason we see some back-and-forth in social media about the significance of the Asbury “revival.”

In the present moment, I think we can discern three sorts of revivalistic practices or experiences that are linked to historic traditions within Christianity. I do not intend for the list below to restrict overlapping or expansive practices, and neither is it exhaustive. The distinctions are often fluid, but there are discernible traditions. These generalizations may be somewhat unfair as a typology, though it does offer a way of seeing a bigger picture.

1. One stream focuses on conversions, and this is strong in Presbyterian and Baptist traditions (especially in the 1700-1800s). Generally, these revivals focused on preaching, teaching, and convicting sinners and/or nominal Christians for the sake of their authentic conversion. This was often the function of protracted meetings or Gospel Meetings among Stone-Campbell congregations, and often they were intended to plant a congregation. Conversion (often including rededication) was the focus, and the preaching of the Word was the primary means.

2. Another stream focuses on igniting the fire of holy living, and this is primarily the concern of the Holiness Movement (1850s and beyond). Generally, these revivals focused on deep contrition, repentance, mourning, fasting until awakened by the Spirit through intimacy and encounter. The primary manifestation of this intimacy was expressed in worship and holding on to that presence. This is similar to what we are seeing at Asbury, whose roots are in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. Sanctification was the focus, and worship was the primary means.

3. Another stream is represented by Classic Pentecostalism (1900s-1920s). Because Pentecostalism, at least in its origins, is closely linked to the Holiness Movement, much of what is present in Holiness revivals is also there in Pentecostalism. However, it is more expectant that the outcome will be speaking in tongues, miracles, and extraordinary expressions of the Spirit. These will result not only in personal and communal awakening but also serve the mission of God as a witness to their neighbors. Sanctification was the focus, and the tangible presence of God through extraordinary gifts was the evidence.

I am grateful for the Asbury revival. It is a rather classic example of Holiness Revivalism. That does not mean everything is simply psychological as if manufactured by the human spirit. God is no mere spectator when God’s people assemble. Quite the contrary, it appears (I can only speak from a distance) God has come to Asbury in the mode in which Asbury’s tradition is both seeking and expecting, and God is gracious.

Revivals are traditioned. They exist within traditions (as the three types outlined above indicate). There are historical precedents and models. They do not easily transcend the traditions in which they are nurtured and practiced. That does not make them bad or inauthentic, just different. One is no more “revivalistic” than the other as all of them experience spiritual awakening through their traditions, habits, and practices. God uses all these traditions, and the Spirit is the active agent in all the good fruit they produce.

These different traditions, however, are helpful to the body of Christ due to the different circumstances, personalities, cultures, etc. present in the world. We need all kinds for all kinds of people. Ultimately, what we need, however, is the work of the Spirit in our hearts and communities.

In addition, the historic church–the liturgical tradition, in particular–has not generally been regarded as revivalistic in the modern sense of that term (especially in light of the evangelical revivals of the 17th-20th centuries). Nevertheless, it seems to me, that the goal of revivals is present in liturgical contexts as well.

If the assembly is a moment where we encounter God, and the Spirit is active there to form people into the image of Christ, liturgy is also a means that the Spirit uses. This is most particularly true of the sacraments, which are not typically the focus of evangelical revivalism (with some notable exceptions, like Wesley himself). Yet, God is able to revive the soul and community through its assemblies for worship, sacraments, and service to God.

“Revival” comes in many ways but always by the Spirit of God. Authentic revival transforms. This can happen in a recovery group, a small group Bible study, a coordinated Gospel Meeting (e.g., Hardeman Tabernacle Sermons in the 1920s Nashville), chapel services, or churches.

Though initiated and led by the Spirit (since only the Spirit can sanctify us), revivals have traditions and traditioned practices. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, we must be careful that we don’t make a particular tradition of “revival” a one size fits all, or assume a particular tradition of “revival” is more authentic than another. Instead, let us celebrate every way in which the Spirit encounters us and give thanks for the fruit the Spirit bears in our lives and in the lives of others, even if it comes through different practices, traditions, and settings.

Sola Dei Gloria

What Does God Do When We Assemble?

February 18, 2023

Thoughts in Light of the Asbury “Revival”

On February 8, a rather routine chapel service at Asbury University developed into a continuous worship and nonstop prayer meeting where God has responded to the prayers for inner healing, deliverance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. According to what I’ve been told and the reports I have read, this continuous assembly of worship is student-led and is primarily worship in song with occasional testimonies and brief lessons from Scripture. An ordinary student chapel service grew into a “revival.” (I don’t use “revival” in a technical sense but in the sense of an awakening, a transformative encounter with God.)

I understand the skeptical voices; I can sense that in myself as well. Should not revival mean the poor have good news preached to them, the oppressed are liberated, and people are treated fairly and with dignity? Some might suggest that is true revival (or true fasting, to use Isaiah’s language in chapter 58). Others might insist that revival only comes through the preaching of the Word so that hearts are convicted by the gospel. Nevertheless, I think people assembled to love on God and receive God’s love is the most basic form (perhaps the starting point) of revival.

It is a both/and. Revival gatherings like the one at Asbury are means of grace through which God works for transformation. And they are invitations to embrace the whole mission of Jesus, including sharing Jesus with others, caring for the sick, sharing resources with the poor, and advocating for justice.

In my understanding, God is doing something every time believers assemble, whether in chapel, campground, home, or a church building—no matter where they assemble.  Every assembly has the seed of revival because of God’s own initiative. When the people of God gather to seek God’s face, God is present. God has promised an active loving presence, though sometimes that loving presence becomes a word of confrontation with those who use the assembly as a “den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11).

When we approach assembly as a “den of robbers” (“we are God’s people,” so it doesn’t matter whether our lives are transformed), or as a pep rally (we are here to pump you up and create a spiritual high for you as if this were a concert), or as mere duty (part of checklist to avoid Hell), then we miss the fundamental meaning of assembling. What is that? When we assemble as a community in the Spirit, God is present for us, with us, and in us to encounter (meet) us for the sake of communion with God and each other as well as the transformation of our lives into the image of Christ.

The assembly gathers as a community of believers to love on God, and God loves on us. More accurately, God takes the initiative by calling us and gathering us into assembly to love on us, and we respond to God by loving on God and each other. This circle of love, a mutually indwelling love from the Father through Son by the Spirit, is the most significant and fundamental dynamic within the assembly, though it is often scarred by pettiness, hatred, exclusion, and discrimination. The circle of love, however, is the dynamic that drives revival or awakening when we experience it.

God transforms us through encounter, which may come with a tangible sense of God’s presence, a quiet spirit, or many other descriptors. The Spirit of God is always active when we are assembled, creating space in our hearts to know God. We may experience this inwardly through mourning, repenting, lamenting, rejoicing, or praising. We experience this communally as believers share prayers, longings, songs, testimonies, Scriptures, and the Lord’s table. We are transformed by the work of God’s Spirit within us and among us. This inner revival is a gift we receive with gratitude.

An authentic encounter with the loving and holy God also calls us into the life of God. We are invited to participate in the communion of Triune God where there is shalom. Many seek peace and security in other things, including sex, drugs, consumerism, alcohol, nationalism among many other things. The high levels of anxiety in Western culture create a deep need for encounter with transcendence. A worshipping assembly can be an occasion for such an encounter. I know have experienced it many, many times. This is, in part, what many see in the work of God at Asbury—an anxious generation seeking peace in God’s love.

Moreover, an encounter with the loving and holy God calls into God’s mission. When we experience God’s transforming grace and holiness, our response is not only gratitude but participation in the mission of God. With Isaiah, we say, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). This mission is wholistic, including not only leading others to that encounter but also sharing shalom with others through hospitality, generosity, and advocacy. If revival stops with inner renewal (as wonderful a moment as that is), it fizzles out without the embrace of God’s mission. The embers of revival will die out without participation in God’s mission. This calls for endurance and persistence.

I am not a skeptic of revivals because I believe assembly is one place where God has promised to revive us. At the same time, I do apply discernment and wisdom (as best I can) to give thanks for the good fruit and to identify the bad fruit. Though God is present in every assembly, we are still human beings, and human beings bring with them not only their genuine search for God but also their self-interested baggage, including their consumeristic expectations.

What we yearn for, I hope, is a moment to genuinely bring our hearts before God and for God to transform our self-interested, consumeristic baggage into the image of the Son, both in communion with God and on mission with God.

That is my prayer every time I gather with the people of God, and when God does something more surprising than I imagine, I hope to receive it without deconstructing it.

Asbury “Revival” – Compared to Cane Ridge

February 17, 2023

The Cane Ridge Revival of August 1801 was led by Barton W. Stone at his church in Cane Ridge, KY, near Lexington, KY. This is close to Wilmore, Kentucky, where Asbury is located. 222 years apart, there are some historical similarities and differences.

Note: my perception of the Asbury Revival is based on reports by people who have been there or are still there. I have not visited Asbury myself. It is possible, perhaps likely, that my perceptions are inaccurate or imprecise.


1. Cane Ridge (CR) was part of a long series of revival events in Kentucky, and CR was not wholly unique among them; Asbury has a long history of revivals, the most recent in 1970.

2. CR was a planned communion festival (which was common as well) designed to call people to repentance, recommit/convert, and experience communion (the Lord’s Supper on Sunday of the revival) while Asbury appears to stir the hearts of the converted to renewal (though I presume conversions are also happening).

3. CR has hours and hours of preaching, though only Presbyterians could preach inside the church building itself (preaching is not a primary dimension of Asbury’s revival, though testimonies are present at times).

4. CR had overt expressions of the Spirit in barking, laughing, falling down, shaking, etc. while Asbury has not exhibited this kind of response (rather they are more quiet, solemn, weeping, praying, as the worship in song continues with the chapel; some are speaking in tongues and there are some deliverances, but this is not the focus or common).

5. CR was led primarily by ministers (though not exclusively) while Asbury is primarily led by students.

Stone recounts his own experience of seeing “bodily agitations or exercises” in chapter 6 of his Autobiography. These came in the context of their “sense of the danger of their unconverted children, brothers, or sisters–from a sense of the danger of their neighbors, and of the sinful world. I have heard them agonizing in tears and strong crying for mercy to be shown to sinners, and speaking like angels to all around.” Stone identifies several categories of “bodily agitations.”

1. Jerking: whether the head is jerking back and forth, or the whole body is suddenly jerked back and forth, and he had even “seen some wicked persons thus affected, and all the time cursing the jerks, while they were thrown to the earth with violence.”

2. Barking (as critics called it): these were the sounds emitted by those who were experiencing the jerks.

3. Dancing: this typically followed the jerks, and “such dancing was indeed heavenly to the spectators” with the “smile of heaven on the countenance of the subject, and assimilated to angels appeared the whole person.”

4. Laughing: “It was a loud, hearty laughter, but one sui generis; it excited laughter in none else. The subject appeared rapturously solemn, and his laughter excited solemnity in saints and sinners. It is truly indescribable.”

5. Running: “nothing more than, that persons feeling something of these bodily agitations, through fear, attempted to run away, anad thus escape form them; butit commonly happened that they ran not far, before they feel, or become so greatly agitated that they could proceed no father.”

6. Singing: “the subject in a very happy state of mind would sing most melodiously, not from the mouth or nose, but entirely in the breast, the sounds issuing thence. Such music silenced every thing, and attracted the attention of all. It was most heavenly.”


1. Fervent Devotion expressed in many ways such as weeping, prayer, and seeking God.

2. Extended Time (CR went longer than planned but only for a few days)

3. Renewed Hearts in repentance and mourning.

4. Communal sense of the tangible presence of God.

5. Non-sectarian character of the revival (at CR Presbyterian, Baptists, Methodists, among others preached on the grounds of the church).

Here is Stone’s brief summary of the Cane Ridge Revival:

The roads were literally crowded with wagons, carriages, horsemen, and footmen, moving to the solemn camp. The sight was affecting. It was judged, by military men on the ground, that there were between twenty and thirty thousand collected. Four or five preachers were frequently speaking at the same time, in different parts of the encampment, without confusion. The Methodist and Baptist preachers aided in the work, and all /68/ appeared cordially united in it–of one mind and one soul, and the salvation of sinners seemed to be the great object of all. We all engaged in singing the same songs of praise–all united in prayer–all preached the same things–free salvation urged upon all by faith and repentance. A particular description of this meeting would fill a large volume, and then the half would not be told. The numbers converted will be known only in eternity. Many things transpired there, which were so much like miracles, that if they were not, they had the same effects as miracles on infidels and unbelievers; for many of them by these were convinced that Jesus was the Christ, and bowed in submission to him. This meeting continued six or seven days and nights, and would have continued longer, but provisions for such a multitude failed in the neighborhood. To this meeting many had come from Ohio and other distant parts, who returned home and diffused the same spirit in their neighborhoods, and the same works followed. So low had religion sunk, and such carelessness universally had prevailed, that I have thought that nothing common could have arrested the attention of the world; therefore these uncommon agitations were sent for this purpose. However, this was their effect upon the community. As I have seen no history of these bodily agitations of that day, but from the pens of enemies, or scorners; and as I have been an eye and ear witness of them from the beginning, and am now over three score and ten years of age, on the brink of eternity, into which almost all of the old witnesses have entered, therefore I will endeavor to give a description of them in a distant chapter, for your information.

Stone’s Autobiography is available here.

“Places of Honor Among You” (Didache): Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Bishops, and Deacons

February 6, 2023

The Didache (“The Teaching”) addresses Christian communities scattered across, most probably, the region of Syria sometime in the late first or early second century, which is probably the same provenance of the Gospel of Matthew, which was written earlier. The Didache assumes the realities of local communities shaped by shared experiences. They were baptized into a specific community. They ate together at Eucharistic meals. They lived in community as people who walked in the way of Jesus. They received travelling apostles, prophets, and teachers, discerned between frauds and authentic leaders, and were led by a group of bishops and deacons. At the same time, each local community recognized that it was part of a larger network of communities with itinerant ministers. As Thomas O’Loughlin suggests, the slogan “think global, act local” applies but with a twist. “They had to think and act local while thinking and acting global.”[1] The Dicache addresses communities who live in both local and global environments, with settled leaders and itinerant ones.

Both the settled, local leaders and the itinerant ones were honored by the local community. Didache 15:2 says, the “bishops and deacons . . . are the persons who hold a place of honor among you, together with the prophets and teachers.” Honor is given to both groups, whether local or itinerant.  The honor given to extra-local leaders paralleled the honor given to local leaders, the bishops and deacons. The Didache emphasizes the honor due to itinerant leaders because there is a natural suspicion regarding outsiders, and this is why Didache 11:2 insists that faithful communities “receive [them] as the Lord” (see also Didache 11:4 concerning apostles).

Both groups are also tested, that is, before they serve, they are “approved” in some way. Didache 15:1 refers to the bishops and deacons as people “who are honest and have proved (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves.” In the same way, the itinerant leaders, specifically prophets, are people “examined (δεδοκιμασμένος) and found true” (Didache 11:11). In other words, local communities raised up leaders among them who had been tested by the community, and they also examined all newcomers who came to them “in the name of the Lord” (Didache 12:1).

These leaders, both local and itinerant, received honor within local communities, and they were both examined and approved.

Itinerant Leaders

In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul begins by enumerating three gifts, though he continues in the text to name others. “God has appointed in the church,” Paul wrote, “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” We also hear something similar in Ephesians 4:11: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Acts 13:1 names several “prophets and teachers,” two of whom (Barnabas and Paul) became “apostles” (Acts 14:14) as they were sent by the church in Antioch to the Gentiles. Consistent with these biblical texts, the Didache seemingly names three kinds of itinerant servants: teachers, apostles, and prophets (chapters 11-13). While the Didache, Acts of the Apostles, and 1 Corinthians name the same leaders, Ephesians elaborates by adding evangelists and perhaps pastors as a separate category from “teachers” (though I am inclined to think of “pastors and teachers” as a single category in Ephesians 4:11, that is, a teaching pastor).


Whatever we might say, the aural nature of these ministries is significant for the earliest Christian communities who lived without written guidelines, a need the Didache supplies. Though what we call the New Testament is circulating in some partial forms early in the second century (the “Four Gospels,” for example, or perhaps a collection of Paul’s epistles) there was no normative collection of these documents into a single book (or codex) for some time to come. Consequently, the church depended upon local and itinerant leaders for teaching, communication, and its sense of unity with other communities of faith. It is no surprise, then, that the teaching function is highlighted in the Didache. Not only do “teachers” teach, but apostles and prophets teach as well (Didache 11:10).

According to Didache 11:3, every itinerant leader (specifically, prophets and apostles) is expected to conform to the “ordinance of the gospel” (τὰ δόγμα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου). The dogma of the gospel might possibly refer to the written Gospels themselves, or, more probably, it refers to the canon of truth that functions as a rule by which Christians walk (cf. Galatians 6:14-16). The “ordinance of the gospel,” as I understand it, is the teaching of the Faith that constitutes the Christian confession, and examples of this are embedded in the New Testament documents themselves. These range from “Jesus is Lord” in 1 Corinthians 12:3 to the summary of the story of Jesus in Peter’s homily at the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:36-43. This is the gospel, and this is what teachers must teach if they are to be welcomed into the community. Teachers must not teach any other gospel but the one that belongs to the dogma, the constitution, or the decrees of the Lord himself.

In the Didache, teachers appear as a general category, inclusive of apostles and prophets, but they may also be distinct but gifted instructors who are able to unpack the “ordinance of the gospel” that leads to “an increase of justice and knowledge of the Lord” for communities (11:2), perhaps leaders who know how to expound the Torah in the light of the exalted Messiah.  Apostles and prophets also teach, but their function is broader, especially for prophets who may lead the liturgy of the assembled community. The Didache does not give us much to work with concerning teachers (only 11:1-2).


The Didache is concerned about the relationship of the apostles and prophets from the global community to the local community. This is indicated by how Didache 11:3 begins with, like many sections in 1 Corinthians (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12), “now concerning” (περὶ δὲ). This introduces a specific topic that needs attention. The comings and goings of apostles and prophets is something the community must navigate for its own health.

While Didache 11:3 may suggest that “apostles and prophets” (τὼν ἀποστόλων καὶ προπητῶν) are a single group, or perhaps, if we understand “and” (καὶ) as epexegetical, even “apostolic prophets” because nowhere does the Didache list a triology of itinerants (“teachers, apostles, and prophets”), most distinguish between the two groups even though “apostles” are not present in the Didache other than here. Seemingly, this group often appears before local communities, perhaps as missionaries or representatives of other communities. Didache 11:4 calls for their reception just as they would receive the Lord, and there is the expectation that they would only stay a day or two. They bear an honorable title, “Apostles,” and a spiritual authority attaches to that title. They are not part of the Twelve, who constitute a unique group. Rather, they are “people sent,” and we might presume they are sent by other communities. They teach, but they are more than traveling teachers. They probably served as connectors between communities who were sent with some authority to share news, mission, or teaching with other communities. They manifested the unity of the church. The fact that “staying” for any length of time is not an option means their mission is a brief one and their journey as servants to the global church must continue rather than become static. They come, and they go. But they serve with some spiritual authority which communities should receive as the Lord, which means they are not only apostles of a particular community but messengers of the Lord himself.

They are supported in a minimal fashion—daily bread. If they ask for money, they reveal their inauthenticity as “false prophets.” Curiously, they are called “false prophets” rather than as, for example, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 “false apostles.” Perhaps this indicates they are also regarded as prophetic figures themselves, perhaps they are “apostolic prophets.” Their function included teaching, prophesying, and uniting the global church. Whatever the case, we are given little information about them other than: (1) receive them as the Lord, (2) provide for their immediate needs, and (3) reject them if they ask for money. This seems to parallel Jesus’s instruction for the disciples in Luke 9-10 or Matthew 10, and it indicates a radical commitment to poverty in the context of their mission.


The prophet is one who “speaks in the Spirit” (Didache 11:7, 8, 9, 12). There is significant disagreement about what that means. Some think it refers to some sort of ecstasy in their act of prophesying, while others think it refers to speaking in tongues, and others think it refers to dreams or visions shared with the community. We find similar phrases in Revelation 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10 and the Shepherd of Hermas, Mandates, 11:8-9, both published in the late first or early second centuries. There is something charismatic or visionary about it, that is, it is a gift exercised within the community by the direct action of the Spirit. The community was able to discern an act of “speaking in the Spirit” in some way. While there is also a general sense of speaking “in the Spirit” that is true for all believers who confess “Jesus is Lord” according to 1 Corinthians 12:3, in the Didache “speaking in the Spirit” is a characteristic of prophets alone. It is unclear exactly what that “speaking” entailed in terms of words, language, embodied presence, and/or rhythm. Perhaps their ability to “speak in the Spirit” is what empowers them to give thanks at the Eucharist in their own words (Didache 10:7), and this indicates that prophets sometimes led local communities in their Eucharistic assemblies.

When a prophet comes “speaking in the Spirit,” the prophet’s credibility is presumed. The community does not test or judge the prophet out of respect for the work of God through the Spirit. They do not want to deny the work of the Spirit among them. At the same time, while there is an initial welcome, the prophets will reveal their authenticity by their behavior. Their own actions will approve them or disqualify them. The community will discern who is a false prophet and who is a true one by their behavior. As Jesus said, “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). In other words, the Didache seeks to put an end to abuses of hospitality on the part of itinerant leaders. In addition, there is an eschatological concern about the appearance of “false prophets” who will turn “sheep” into “wolves” and “love” into “hate” before the “world deceiver” appears (Didache 16:3-4). Consequently, though welcomed, prophets must prove themselves.

The Didache identifies a few specific behaviors that demonstrate the distinction between true and false, and these specifics provide a means of communal discernment.

  1. Prophets who order a meal “in the Spirit” and eat it are false prophets.
  2. Prophets who do not live according to what is taught are false prophets.
  3. Prophets who ask for resources for themselves are false prophets.

If the prophets do (1) and (3) for the sake of others rather than themselves, then this confirms their authenticity. In other words, the prophet is for others rather than for self. The prophet is kenotic; the prophet is conformed to the mystery of the gospel in the self-giving nature of Jesus himself. When prophets act out of self-interest, then the community discerns their inauthenticity. Their behavior and teaching must match up and reflect the realities of gospel cruciformity. Interestingly, these criteria indicate that not only was prayer and teaching part of the function of the prophet but also charity. In contrast, any prophet who uses their gift to demand money for themselves is a false prophet. The Shepherd of Hermas also noted this problem in Mandates, 11:12, and Jesus rebuked the church in Thyatira for harboring the prophetess he called Jezebel despite her behavior and teaching identified her as a false prophet. In the Didache, as in the Shepherd and Revelation, discernment is necessary.

When Others Want to Settle Locally

Didache 12:1 says, “Let everyone who comes in the name of the Lord be received.” The question is whether this a group distinct from the teachers, prophets, and apostles, or is this a general comment on other visitors, perhaps non-charismatic ones, who arrive in the community as unknown persons. Most interpreters prefer the latter option because, in part, Didache 13:1 resumes the discussion of prophets and what to do when they want to settle. There is a distinction between the group in chapter 12 who wants to settle and the prophets in chapter 13 who want to settle.

When someone comes to the community and wants to settle and participate in it, the Didache provides some guidelines. The community must exercise discernment and “be on guard against” those who would abuse their generosity.

  1. Prove (δοκιμάσαντες) them in order to discern their intent.
  2. If they are transient, help them for two or three days but no more.
  3. If they want to settle with the community,
  4. let them work a craft,
  5. but if they have no craft, discern how to help without burdening the community.
  6. If they do not cooperate, they are unacceptably “using Christ to make a living.”

The Didache expects people to work for their living rather than interminably living off the generosity of others in the community.

But what if a prophet or itinerant teacher wants to settle? Didache 13 states that prophets and “true teachers” deserve food, “just as a worker does.” When the community discerns that these prophets and teachers are authentic by their conformity to the gospel and the truth of their teaching, the community must support them with the firstfruits of their produce, herds, and flocks. Didache 13:7 instructs the community to “take the firstfruits of money and clothing and whatever [else] you own, as you think best and give them according to the commandment,” which is probably an allusion to Matthew 10:10 (cf. Luke 10:7). These are sacred offerings as if offered to high priests and the obligation to share is analogous to tithing in the Mosaic covenant by which priests were supported. In essence, they are sacred sacrifices for the good of the community because the community is enriched by the presence of authentic prophets and true teachers.

The Didache envisions a situation where prophets and teachers may visit, stay for a few days to teach and lead the community, and then leave for other places. But it also envisions a situation where these prophets and teachers may settle in a community, serve that community, and work alongside its bishops and deacons. In other words, prophets and teachers are not always itinerant, but—we may suppose—they are nevertheless remain global leaders as gifted prophets and teachers.

Lessons for the Contemporary Church

First, the community of faith must practice discernment. While always remaining open to the work of the Spirit, including listening to those who “speak in the Spirit,” there is a sense of approvedness that is applied by the community. The central tests are (1) a life consistent with their teaching, (2) the content of teaching conforms “the ordinance (or dogma) of the church,” which is cruciformity, and (3) the for-otherness of their teaching, practices, and lifestyle.

Second, though discernment is necessary, the community must submit to the authentic prophets and teachers that come to them. They are to be welcomed “as the Lord.” This is not said of everyone. For example, those who come “in the name of the Lord” in chapter 12 are welcomed but the phrase “as the Lord” is only applied to teachers, prophets, and apostles (Didache 11:2-4). The community is called to receive, support, and submit to these itinerant ministers of the cross. In part, this means the local community should listen to and learn from the global community as their authority from the Lord is recognized in the context of the universal church.

Third, the Didache expects a mutually enriching relationship between local and itinerant leaders. Chapter 15 seamlessly connects both sets. They have each “proved” (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves, shown themselves honest, and eschewed greed. Local and global leaders are formed by the same character, though their gifts are distinct and different. The bishops and deacons, at a local level, “perform (λειτουργοῦσι) the functions of prophets and teachers” and they are elected by the local community through a show of hands (a vote; Χειροτονήσατε). The bishops and deacons, therefore, do not abdicate their local function to the prophets and teachers but serve alongside of them in the community. They perform or participate, in some sense, in the same ministry and deserve the same honor. Bishops are overseers of the flock and preside over its communal functions while the deacons are servants within and for the community; their focus is local. But they also receive global, itinerant leaders who enrich the life of the local community. At the same time, the itinerant leaders honor the local leaders, even though they are not themselves charismatics or people who have the ability to “speak in the Spirit.”

All the leaders, both local and global, hold a place of honor within the church, both local and universal.

Didache (Cody’s Translation)

11. 1Accordingly, receive anyone who comes and teaches (διδάξῃ) you all that has been said above. 2If the teacher (ὁ διδάσκων) himself turns to teaching (διδάσκῃ) another doctrine (διδαχὴν) [which will lead] to destruction, do not listen to him, but [if it will lead] to an increase of justice and knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.

3In the matter of apostles and prophets (τὼν ἀποστόλων καὶ προπητῶν), act this way, according to the ordinance of the gospel (τὰ δόγμα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου). 4Let every apostle (ἀπόστολος) who comes to you be received as the Lord. 5He shall stay [only] one day, or if need be, another day, too. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 6When the apostle (ὁ ἀπόστολος) leaves, let him receive nothing but [enough] bread [to see him through] until he finds lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 7Do not test any prophet (προφήτηv) who speaks in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι), and do not judge him, for every [other] sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8Not everyone who speaks in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι) is a prophet (προφήτης) but only the one whose behavior is the Lord’s. So the false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης) and the prophet (προφήτης) will be recognized by their behavior. 9Any prophet (προφήτης) who gives orders for a table [i.e., a meal] in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι) shall not eat of it; if he does, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 10If any prophet (προφήτης) teaching (διδάσκων) the truth does not do what he teaches (διδάσκει), he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 11No prophet (προφήτης), examined (δεδοκιμασμένος) and found true, who acts for the earthly mystery of the church (ποιῶν εἰς μυστήριον κοσμικὸν ἐκκλησίας) but does not teach (διδάσκων) [others] to do everything that he himself does, shall be judged by you, for his judgment is with God. The ancient prophets (οἱ ἀρχαῖοι προφῆται) acted in the same way. 12You shall not listen to anyone who says in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι), “Give me money, or something,” but if he is asking that something be given for others who are in need, let no one judge him.

12. 1Let everyone who comes in the name of Lord be received, and then, when you have taken stock of him, you will know [what he is like], for you will have right and left perception [i.e, perception of what is good and bad about him]. 2If the person who comes is just passing through on the way to some other place, help him as much as you can, but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days—if that is necessary. 3If he wants to settle in with you, though, and he is a craftsman, let him work and [thus] eat. 4If he has no craft, you shall use your insight to provide a good way for him to avoid living with you as a Christian with nothing to do. 5If he is unwilling to do what that way calls for, he is using Christ to make a living. Be on your guard against people like this.

13. 1Every true prophet (προφήτης) who wants to settle in with you deserves his food. 2In the same way, a true teacher (διδάσκαλος ἀληθινός), too, deserves his food, just as a worker does. 3So when you [sing.] take any firstfruits of what is produced by the wine press and the threshing floor, by cows and by sheep, you [sing.] shall give the firstfruits to the prophets (προφήταις), for they are your [pl.] high priests. 4If, however, you [pl. through verse 4] have no prophet (προφήτην), give [them] to the poor. 5If you [sing. through verses 5-7] make bread, take the firstfruits, and give them according to the commandment. 6Likewise, when you open a jar of wine or oil, take the firstfruits and give them to the prophets (προφήταις). 7Take the firstfruits of money and clothing and whatever [else] you own, as you think best and give them according to the commandment.

15. 1Select, then, for yourselves bishops and deacons (ἐπισκόπους καὶ διακόνους) worthy of the Lord, mild tempered men who are not greedy, who are honest and have proved (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves, for they too perform (λειτουργοῦσι) the functions of prophets and teachers for you. 2So do not disregard them, for they are the persons who hold a place of honor among you, together with the prophets and teachers.


Cody, Aelred. “The Didache: An English Translation,” 3-14. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995. 

Draper, Jonathan R., “Apostles, Teachers, and Evangelists: Stability and Movement of Functionaries in Matthew, James, and the Didache,” 137-174. In Matthew, James and the Didache. Edited by H. van de Sandt and Jürgen Zangenberg. Missoula, MT: Scholars, 2008.

Draper, Jonathan R., “Social Ambiguity and the Production of Text: Prophets, Teachers, Bishops, and Deacons and the Development of the Jesus Tradition in the Community of the Didache,” 284-311. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Draper, Jonathan R., “The Didache in Modern Research: An Overview,” 1-42. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Draper, Jonathan R., “Torah and Troublesome Apostles in the Didache Community,” 341-366. In in The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Draper, Jonathan R. “Weber, Theissen, and ‘Wandering Charismatice’ in the Didache.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 6, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 541-576.

Halleux, André de, “Ministers in the Didache,” 300-320. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Jefford, Clayton N., “Prophecy and Prophetism in the Apostolic Fathers,” 295-316. In Prophets and Prophecy in Jewish and Early Christian Literature. Edited by Joseph Verheyden, Korinna Zamfir and Tobias Nicklas. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

Milavec, Aaron. “Distinguishing True and False Prophets: The Protective Wisdom of the Didache.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2, no. 2 (Summary 1994): 117-136.

Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.

Niederwimmer, Kurt, “An Examination of the Development of Itinerant Radicalism in the Environment and Tradition of the Didache,” 321-339. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Niederwimmer, Kurt. The Didache: A Commentarty. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

O’Loughlin, Thomas. The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

Patterson, Stephen J., “Didache 11-13: The Legacy of Radical Itinerancy in Early Christianity,” 313-329. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Schöllgen, Georg, “The Didache as a Church Order: An Examination of the Purpose for the  Composition of the Didache and Its Consequences for Interpretation, 43-71. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Common Ground: Anabaptists, Baptists, and Restorationists (Stone-Campbell)

December 16, 2022

This rudimentary online presentation for a course at Lipscomb University identifies the common ground between Anabaptists, Baptists, and Restorationists (Stone-Campbell). It also identifies some significant differences as well.

The Powerpoints are available here.

Rule of Faith and Creeds: Our Common Faith

December 12, 2022

This video both defines the Rule of Faith and describes its relation to reading the Bible theologically as part of a common faith among disciples of Jesus.

I refer to Paul Blower’s article several times in this video. You may access that article here.

The article was originally published as “The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith,” Pro Ecclesia 6, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 199-238.

The Powerpoints are available here.

Reformation Theology: The Five Solas (Lutheran and Reformed) and Late Medieval Theology

December 10, 2022

This rudimentary presentation for one of my online classes (an introduction to theology course) provides a basic understanding of the Five Solas of the Reformation.

What is the meaning of the five solas–sola fidei, sola Deo gloria, sola Scriptura, sola gratia, and sola Christus–in relation to late medieval theology? The video also offers a brief comparison between Lutheran (Luther) and Reformed (Zwingli) theology.

The power points are available here.

Broad Differences between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) Christian Traditions

December 6, 2022

I prepared this rudimentary video for one of my online classes at Lipscomb University. It introduces listeners to the broad differences between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholic Christianity.

As an introduction, generalizations abound to which there are exceptions and often a continuum of sorts. Consequently, listen to this as a typology for the two positions rather than a box that confines them. The traditions are broader and deeper than I can possibly represent in a brief video for introductory students.

Powerpoints are available here.

Suffrage, Tennessee, and Churches of Christ.

August 18, 2022

Today is its 102nd anniversary.

In 1919, Congress passed the nineteenth amendment. Tennessee ratified the amendment on August 18, 1920 by two votes. That vote made it constitutional law. Harry Burn was a 24-year old representative up for re-election that Fall. He wore a red rose into the chamber which symbolized his “No” vote. His vote would’ve ensured defeat for the amendment. But he had a letter from his mother in his pocket next to his heart. That note changed his vote. “Hurrah, vote for suffrage!” Phoebe Burn wrote, “be a good boy and help Mrs. [Carrie Chapman] Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” The amendment became constitutional law.

In contrast to Phoebe and Harry Burn, several ministers of the churches of Christ signed a petition, published in the Nashville Banner on August 20, 1920. It opposed suffrage because it would “revolutionize our entire mode of life and will in our opinion have an evil effect not only in our homes, our churches and our families, but will affect the whole social fabric of our present generation and of generations yet unborn.” Some teachers at David Lipscomb College (J. W. Grant, S. P. Pittman, and H. S. Lipscomb) and several ministers (F. B. Srygley, J. C. McQuiddy, and James E. Scobey) signed it.

J. C. McQuiddy, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, opposed suffrage and wrote several articles in opposition to the vote to ratify the amendment. Only July 22, 1920, after quoting Genesis 3:16-19, he wrote: “Thus, just after the fall, we find that God placed woman in the home and made it her duty to bring forth children, with the understanding that ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ If any are disposed to find fault with this position, they are disposed to complain of the will of God Almighty, and not of the will of man. . . As the modern woman is demanding not only suffrage, but also political equality, it is clear that she cannot hold office and perform the duties of politics and remain at home at the same time.” “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate, July 22, 1920, pp. 715-716.

The opposition to suffrage ran deep, and it is was based on (1) Genesis 3:16 places a woman (wife) under the rule of men (husband); (2) 1 Timothy 2:12 means no woman can have authority over a man, whether in church, home, or society, (3) women must exercise their influence through a man, and (4) if women subvert the divinely created order in society, then it should not apply to the home or church either since creation is the basis for both.

1) “From the time that sin entered into the world, and entered through woman, she has been placed in a retiring, dependent, and quiet position, and never has been put forward as a leader among men in any public capacity from the garden of Eden till now…This seems to have been a general decree for all time, for God has never varied from it an any age or dispensation….’Thy desire shall be to thy husband,’ is indicative of dependence—not in any slavish sense, but in the sense that she is to look to man as a leader and protector, and, in certain measure, supporter and provider….God himself never changed this decree, and does not allow man to change it.” (E. G. Sewell, Gospel Advocate [1897] 432.)

2) “[I]t is wrong for her so to usurp authority anywhere…the same principles that prevent her from teaching in the church, prevail in the schoolroom or anywhere else; it is a question of women usurping authority over men and becoming leaders of them.” (James A. Harding from The Way [March 5, 1903]).

3) The negative impact of suffrage, James A. Allen wrote in the Gospel Advocate, December 19, 1907 (p. 812), would subvert “the law of nature, and the law of God, that the influence of woman must be exercised through man.”

4) D. G. Porter concluded that women do not have the right to vote “unless, indeed, it is proposed to proceed upon what seems the absurdest of all principles; namely, subordination at home and in the Church, but independence and equality abroad. We call this proposition absurd, because it would seem that if woman can be equal to man in authority anywhere, it must be at home and in the Church; and that her equality here, if indeed that ought to be her position, must be the foundation of her equality in external affairs.” (Christian Quarterly [October 1874] 489-90)

Interestingly, few, if any, apply these texts in this way today. Perhaps we have learned something over the past 100 years, and we have more to learn yet.

May God have mercy.