Been teaching a class on Missionary Member Care. I have enjoyed it— I make no promise that my 12 students share that opinion. After the student group presentation of Missionary Member Care in the light of the Carey Mission (especially as it relates to William Carey, John Thomas, Dorothy Carey, and Felix Carey), we had a bit of time left, so I handed out a reading from the Didache that relates to Missionary Member Care. Here it is:
CHAPTER 11 Travelling teachers — Apostles — Prophets
3 And concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel. 4 Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, 5 but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.
7 Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit, “for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.” 8 But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behaviour of the Lord. From his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known.
9 And no prophet who orders a meal in a spirit shall eat of it: otherwise he is a false prophet. 10 And every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet.
11 But no prophet who has been tried and is genuine, though he enact a worldly mystery of the Church, if he teach not others to do what he does himself, shall be judged by you: for he has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old. 12 But whosoever shall say in a spirit `Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others in want, let none judge him.
CHAPTER 12 Travelling Christians
1 Let everyone who “comes in the Name of the Lord” be received; but when you have tested him you shall know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false. 2 If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three.
3 And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread. 4 But if he has no craft provide for him according to your understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because he is a Christian. 5 But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.
CHAPTER 13 Prophets who desire to remain — Their payment by firstfruits
1 But every true prophet who wishes to settle among you is “worthy of his food.” 2 Likewise a true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food. 3 Therefore thou shalt take the firstfruit of the produce of the winepress and of the threshing-floor and of oxen and sheep, and shalt give them as the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.
4 But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor.
5 If thou makest bread, take the firstfruits, and give it according to the commandment. 6 Likewise when thou openest a jar of wine or oil, give the firstfruits to the prophets. 7 Of money also and clothes, and of all your possessions, take the firstfruits, as it seem best to you, and give according to the commandment.
As I have said numerous times before, the term “apostle” appears to match up best with the modern term “missionary,” both in role and etymology. And that appears to be how it is used here– especially as a missionary who plants churches. The prophets appear to be traveling preachers who go from church to church, encouraging the brethren. I might still call them missionaries…. at least to the extent that they seek to empower the pre-existent local church to know and do what it did not know and do before. Regardless, however, of how you want to define them… they were Christians who traveled as part of their ministry.
Consider how an “apostle” is to be cared for:
- Receive him (or her since we know there were female apostles)
- Let him stay one day only… or maybe two
- Feed him during his stay
- Give him food for his journey, but no money
For the “prophet”:
- Don’t test the message of a prophet if it is “in the spirit”
- But verify if he is a REAL prophet
- Do not give him money for himself
- But give money if it is for his ministry
For those traveling “in the Name of the Lord”
- They are to be welcomed and can stay two days… or maybe thre
- If they want to stay longer, they need to work. Help him do so if need be.
The Didache is a very old book. Some parts of it appear to predate parts of the New Testament. Some of my students were wondering if I was saying that the member care of apostles and prophets in the 1st (or maybe 2nd) century describes what we should be doing today. No… for at least two reasons. First, this was probably one church’s way of dealing with this particular challenge… or maybe a regional group of churches. There is no reason to think that it expresses any sort of universal guidance. Second, although many restorationist and revivalist denominations think of themselves as seeking to restore the 1st century church; actually, we are supposed to create the 21st century church. The 1st century (as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, century churches) provides us with insight as a flashlight may give guidance, not constraint like shackles might give constraint.
But in the Didache we see a church that is struggling with problems that we still see today. They want to help, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of. They want to be trained and informed by people of Godly wisdom, but not fooled by charlatans.
So there is a time of PRE-EVALUATION.
It is a bit humorous here. If the person speaks in the Spirit, the message is not supposed to be questioned, but then the rest of the section appears to be, in fact, questioning and doubting. Perhaps it is a bit like today. If a preacher preaches the word of God, we in the congregation are not to question the word of God, but we can question the preacher, and his interpretation.
There is CONTINUED MONITORING: The individual is cared for for awhile, but there is caution that they are not demonstrating the greed of a charlatan. As such, they are fed and lodged, but not too long. If they ask for money, it should be to help another, not themselves.
There is CARE GIVEN: They are received as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They are fed and housed… but only for awhile. 1 day for an apostle… or maybe 2 perhaps. 2 days for a traveling Christian, or maybe 3. When they leave, give them food to travel with, but not money.
There is the issue of SETTLING DOWN: If a traveler wants to remain. that is okay as long as he has a craft that he can use to earn money. If he doesn’t have a craft, the church appears to be willing to help him be able to get a job… but not be a long-term burden on the church.
If a prophet wants to settle down, there is a time to verify that he is a “true” prophet. If so evaluated, he can be supported long-term by the church.
Perhaps the rules about a prophet apply to an apostle as well. (I like to think that John the Elder in Ephesus was John the Apostle after he settled down in later years.) Or perhaps the assumption is that an apostle would settle down in a church that he himself founds.
What we see is a church struggling to help without being hurt. To avoid the two failures (described by Kelly O’Donnell) of Coddling/Placating at one extreme, and Condemning/Punishing at the other. The wording of the Didache bounces back and forth between sounding a big rigid, and being a bit… wishy-washy. Perhaps, that is a good bit of guidance for us today– struggling in the tension between two unhealthy extremes.
2 thoughts on “Missionary Member Care, and the Didache”
This was timely for me. I’m researching first century church organization and this provided a couple of valuable insights.
Great. Could also read “Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today.” by Joseph H. Hellerman. It is based on his interpretation of the Epistle to the Philippians. While I would agree with some other reviewers that his interpretation is not a “slam dunk”… there is reason for uncertainty. I still think he makes a good case for shared ministry (shared power).