December 7, 2009

the teaching of the 12 - epilogue reflection

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We Protestant Christians have a funny relationship with ancient texts. Our entire living and understanding of God hinges upon one ancient text, the Bible. Yet at the same time, many of us enjoy taking jabs at those who site ???extra-biblical??? ancient books. (Don???t pretend you don???t know what I???m talking about. I heard what you said about the Apocrypha.)

Tony Jones addresses one of those unfamiliar, ancient volumes, the Didache (pronounced, di-dah-kay), in his book, The Teaching of the Twelve. The Didache is one of the earliest writings we have of Christians after Pentecost. And as Jones explains, this little book was to be, ???a handbook for those new to Christianity.??? But what might a book written by and for Christians in the first couple of centuries be of value to Christians today?

Christianity in the West is within the throes of major shifts???amidst the Church and surrounding culture. Within the upheaval, many Christians find themselves agitated by all the hoopla that is church. Why must we do this? Why do we need that?

Simultaneously, there are those that have stripped away all that seems unnecessary, yet find themselves asking, ???What now defines us and binds us? And how do we go about our life together????

For all those unsettled and searching, Jones??? new book brings a fresh, yet age-old perspective to the conversation. As he says, we aren???t the first to find ourselves faced with such challenges:

???Of course, we???re not the first generation to quest after a raw, primitive version of the faith. At various stages over the past two millennia, Christians have questioned the traditions of ???church??? and ???religion??? in an effort to follow Jesus more authentically. ... And all along, a manual of primitive Christianity sat hidden, right in front of us.???

In The Teaching of the Twelve, Jones provides intelligent and accessible background, commentary, interpretation and reflection on the Didache. While his book is thoughtful, it is equally practical???just as the text he writes about is.

But the reader is not left with just the opinions of another Christian academic. As Jones writes, he walks alongside a Christian community in Minnesota (Cymbrogi) that has reflected on the Didache for some time. His commentary is paired with that of this rural house church and it???s truck-driving leader, Frank. The inclusion of a contemporary community attempting to interpret and apply this ancient book only makes Jones??? take even more approachable.

I found the Didache to be a refreshingly uncluttered yet challenging reflection. And I'm a bit dissapointed that I haven't been thoroughly exposed to the Didache until now. As Jones says in the first chapter, ???The Didache is the most important book you???ve never heard of. ??? This may be true for many of us. Today we live with countless options and opportunities, we are never short of information. In the midst of that, following Jesus can become quite complicated. The Teaching of the Twelve encourages us to get ???back to the basics.??? As Jones says in his Epilogue:

???Our brothers and sisters in the faith who lived in the Didache community call us away from the marginalia that consumes us today. They call us to simple community in which righteous living is taught and expected, sharing life is a way of life, visiting preachers are welcomed but not given any power in the community, baptism and Eucharist are practiced regularly, and Jesus??? return is expected and hoped for. Just a few activities, done well, shaped the Didache community.???

I like that: just a few activities, done well. Is it that simple? It never is. But maybe this little book can help you and your community focus on the essentials in order that a life may grow out of that which can better manage the complications that come along. Pick up Tony???s book and give it a shot. And check what others are saying on the book's blog tour.

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