The Didache, Lesson 8: Tradition and Confession

Following Tradition

4:12  Hate hypocrisy and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord.

The Didache’s warning, in its context, is that we should guard against every sin and not be inconsistent (hypocritical).  Specifically, this ties in with protecting and not losing what our Lord has commanded, which the next verse states explicitly.

Deuteronomy 4:2: “Do not add to what I command you or take anything away from it.  Instead, keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Matthew 28:19-20: “Disciple the nations [Gentiles] by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you…”


4:13  Do not abandon the Lord’s commands, but guard what has been handed [“traditioned”] to you, neither adding nor subtracting.

–          When the Didache was written, what were most of the teachings that had been “traditioned” to the first Christians, written or oral?


–          Why do you think the Didache was written?


In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul praised the recipients of his letters for keeping the traditions that he had delivered to them:

    • 1 Corinthians 11:2: “Now I praise you for remembering me in everything and keeping the traditions just as I delivered [traditioned] them to you.
    • Similarly, 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

Scripture tells us to avoid those who do not hold to the Apostolic Tradition:

    • 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly and not according to the tradition received from us.”
    • Ephesians 2:20: “So then you are … members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.”


The question for us is: What are the traditions that the Apostle Paul is so insistent that we hold firm and not lose?


    • Paul identifies it in 1 Cor. 11:23, speaking of the Words of Institution as something received from the Lord which He traditions/hands over to the Corinthians.
    • Then, in 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul gives an early creedal statement, saying that this is what has been “handed over” to the Church–the preaching of Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen.
    • In 2 Peter 2, the Apostle warns of those who speak “bombastic, empty words,” (2:18) who allure and entice the desires of our sinful human nature.  They promise freedom, but are slaves of corruption.  Peter then again uses “tradition,” saying it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, then to have known it and forsaken the commandment “traditioned” (handed over) to them.
    • Jude writes in his epistle that he is compelled to contend for the faith that has been traditioned, once-for-all handed over to the saints.

From all this it is clear that the Christian faith to be Christian is to be “traditional,” and that central to our worship is the holy tradition which comes to us from Christ through the Apostles.  Worship must be “traditional,” something handed down to us if it is to be Christian.

–          How do we neither add nor subtract that which was handed from Christ to the Apostles 2,000 years later?



Excursus: Having what the Apostles Handed Down, “Traditioned,” to Us in an Age of Change

Our commitment as Church is to receive and keep what the Apostles have handed down.  Since our culture today–and even religious culture–is one that belittles tradition, contrary to Scripture–we take a segment of this lesson to focus on “God’s tradition.”  “God’s tradition” is keeping that which the Apostles have handed down to us as Christ’s Church.  After all, we confess each week that we believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

To be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” means:

    • One: To be one means that we are one in Christ and “all” that He gave us to believe and do. (Matthew 28:19-20)
    • Holy: “set apart.”  We are in the world but not of it.  Our culture does not control how we worship, yet we worship in a way that is understandable within a cultural context. (John 8:23, John 15:19, and Romans 12:2)
    • Catholic: That which the Church has always believed.  It is the wholeness or fullness of the faith. (Colossians 1:25, 28)
    • Apostolic: That what we believe and teach is that which Christ gave to His Apostles. (Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14)

That which the Apostles handed down is:

    • the reading of Scripture,
    • the preaching of Christ (and its accompanying confession of faith–the Creed),
    • and the Lord’s Supper.

These are the core around which theNew TestamentChurch’s liturgy was built.  The early Church adapted and developed the liturgy from Old Covenant worship, recognizing Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Over time, in such a context, “the Ordinaries” developed within the Church.  They are:

  1. Kyrie: “Lord, Have Mercy”
  2. Gloria: “Glory be to God on High”
  3. Creed
  4. Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy”
  5. Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God”

The ordinaries became ordinary in worship, not only because they were only biblical, but because they brought to each Divine Service the central teaching of the Gospel.

  • In the Kyrie, we come before God confessing that He is merciful.  In Scripture, we see that this is the cry of faith repeated over and again by broken sinners.  If the same sin condition afflicts us, and it does, then such a cry for mercy seems only natural to the Christian.
  • In the Gloria, the incarnation and its meaning becomes the cause of our praise.  In the Gloria, we don’t praise God because of His abstract sovereignty or overall awesomeness.  We praise Him because He became flesh for us and was born of a virgin–all to redeem us.  When we sing, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” we are making the angelic hymn our own.  In the Gloria, the heavenly worship becomes ours, as we confess that the God who became flesh for us is about to feed us with that flesh once placed in the manger.
  • In the Creed, we confess the faith in the same words that Christians have throughout the centuries.  Remember the creeds predate the New Testament canon (and the idea of “sola scriptura”) and was universally used in the Church as a concise statement of the faith.
  • In the Sanctus, we sing the song of angels, from Isaiah’s vision and St. John’s vision of heaven, with Psalm 118:26, which the people sang as Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die for us.  We sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  As in the Gloria, we confess Christ’s incarnation–but now in a fuller way, where we connect His incarnation to the presence of angels, heaven being opened to us, and His atoning death for our salvation.
  • The Agnus Dei all brings this to a head, when John the Baptizer points out to us that Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the world’s sin.  The liturgy leads us to see that that Christ is not some distant, abstract God.  Instead, we see within the context of the Divine Service, that Christ comes to us in His Supper, where He gives us Himself in His body and blood.

In Christ’s Church, we keep the liturgy–not because of a loyalty to the past, or a love of ceremony–because it leads us to the heart and soul of our faith.  If you take the ordinaries away, the content of who Jesus is and what He has done often begins to be obscured.

The ordinaries are called ordinary because they are meant to be part of our language of faith.  They need to be so “ordinary” to us, so automatic to our ways of speaking and forming doctrine, that we can see, through repetition, the true extra-ordinary nature of who Christ is and what He has done.

Again, keeping Christ central, our other traditional ceremonies, such as Introits and Graduals, guide the people to the heart of the Word (the lessons and preaching) and the Word-made-flesh (the Sacrament) through the Word.

Now within that framework, there is room for variety.  At the same time, for the sake of love, a pastor and congregation should act in concert with the whole church (the Church catholic), and not seek to allow their own tastes and leanings, or those of his parishioners, to rule.


Liturgical Change

Being “traditional” doesn’t mean that nothing changes.  A once-for-all-time liturgy does not exist.  The Divine Service has and will change, reflecting such things as language changes, available musicians, instrumentation, etc.  But changes always need to come in a catholic way, without offense.  Change must be deliberate, ensuring that it is faithful to the non-negotiable Apostolic Tradition.  Change must be for proclaiming that Apostolic Tradition to a culture that needs to be conformed to it, but not in such a way that it allows that culture to change the Apostolic Tradition.


Confession and Prayer

4:14  In the assembly, confess your sins, and then you won’t come to your prayer with a guilty conscience.  This is the Way of Life!

John 20:23: “[Jesus said to His Apostles,] ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.’”

Matthew 16:19: “[Jesus spoke to the Apostle Peter,] ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

–          What did Jesus give the Church’s first pastors, His Apostles, the authority to do (remember last week’s excursus on “Image of God”)?


–          How is it lived out in the Church, in our worship practices?


–          What are the Didache’s implications of the order for “confess” and “prayer”?  How is that applied when we assemble for church?


–          Discuss why confession, and what follows, is considered so important that it is the “Way of Life”?


 To go to Lesson 9, click here.