The document known as the Didache is believed to be one of the earliest Christian writings. The word Didache means teaching, which captures the intent of this short catechism. The work is surprisingly short consisting of only 12 pages. Nevertheless, there is a lot here for us to learn about the views of the early church. Here is a link to the entire work: Didache.
The document starts out by explaining two paths: life and death. It states that the way of life consists in obeying the first and second greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. The Didache’s description of neighborly love is helpful. “Now all the things that you do not want to have happen to you, you too do not do these to one another.” This is a nice explanation of a text from the book of Romans: “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10).
The Didache moves on from the “two ways” to address the ordinances and leaders in the church. I find the instruction on baptism instructive. Take a look at the text.
Now about baptism, baptize this way: after first uttering all of these things, baptize “into the name of the Father and of the son and of the holy Spirit” in running water. But if you do not have running water, baptize in other water. Now if you are not able to do so in cold water, do it in warm water. Now if you don’t have either, pour water three times on the head, “into the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the holy Spirit.” Now before the ritual cleansing, the baptizer and the one being baptized should fast, and any others who are able. Now you will give word for the one who is being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.
But do not let your fasts be with the hypocrites. For they fast on the second day of the week and on the fifth. But you fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation. Neither should you pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord gave word in his good message, pray like this: “Our Father, the one who is in Heaven, your name has been made holy. Let your kingdom come. Let what you want also be done on earth, as in Heaven. Give us the bread we need today and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. And don’t carry us into trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For yours is the power and the glory for the age.” Pray this way three times daily.
There are a couple things that stand out to me. First, there is specific instruction to follow the exact language of Matthew 28:18-20 in the baptismal act. Baptism unites individuals to the Triune community. Second, the primary mode of baptism in the Didache is immersion. However, the Didache does make an exception for sprinkling on certain occasions.
The third observation is that the document encourages fasting for the baptismal candidates. This instruction may be influenced by the example of Paul (Acts 9:9,18; 22:16). It seems that this is a practice, good or bad, that is non-existent in the church today. Fourth, preparation for baptism includes prayer—specifically the Lord’s Prayer. The Didache encourages believers to use the Lord’s prayer three times a day as they engage with God. Clearly the early church viewed this prayer as central to its spirituality.
In the next post we will explore the Didache’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper.