Evangelicals Know Better


In 1873 a Greek manuscript of the Didache was found by Philotheos Bryennios, a Greek Orthodox Bishop of Nicomedia. Before this discovery, the Didache was only known from fragments and brief citations. It was written in Syria or Palestine during the late first or early second century. The Greek word Didache means teaching or training and the full title of the ancient text is “The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles.”

The Didache is a manual for Christian faith and practice. It gives instructions on how to act (chapters 1–6), how to worship (chapters 7–15), and concludes with a statement on the return of Christ (chapter 16). It was used as a handbook of instruction for Gentile converts to Christianity and was widely known by the early church. Eusebius, for example, lists it with the orthodox writings that are not part of the New Testament canon.[1]

This ancient document is a window into the early church: how they organized themselves, what they prioritized, how they regulated the Christian life, and how they saw themselves. Much of the content comes straight out of the Gospels but is presented in a different form than the New Testament.[2] It also contains several startling differences when compared to modern evangelical practices.

The charter of evangelicalism is that they know better. They know better than the Magisterial Reformers, the Medieval Church, and the early church. It’s rather arresting to read the Didache and see how starkly it contrasts with conventional evangelical thinking. Consider a few points of contrast.

The Didache

Didache Chapter 8

Pray the Lord’s prayer “three times a day.”

Evangelicals know better. We aren’t supposed to literally pray the Lord’s prayer. It is just a model prayer to inspire our heartfelt prayers. And heartfelt prayers can’t be planned.

Didache Chapter 8

“Fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday)”

Evangelicals know better. The world already thinks we are dour. Rather than encouraging an ascetic program of self-discipline, let’s reserve fasting for when the phase four building fundraising campaign is below target and other big stuff like that.

Didache Chapter 9 and 10

These chapters contain specific things that should be said during the Lord’s Supper and specific prayers that should be prayed afterward. For example, this prayer should be prayed after the Lord’s Supper, “We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name’s sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory forever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory forever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.”

Evangelicals know better. The Holy Spirit works spontaneously. Not through written prayers regularly repeated.

Didache Chapter 12

“But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such.”

Evangelicals know better. All are welcome. If we exclude the idle, they might get the impression that we aren’t gospel-centered.   

Didache Chapter 14

“But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

Evangelicals know better. Things come up on Sunday, like traveling, sports, and late Saturday nights. We are free in Christ. Maybe we can catch the recording of the service because the sermon is the main thing anyway.


The evangelical guild is trusted with the authority to determine the forms of Christianity without giving any account of their stewardship. The result has been a glut of irresponsible stewards with large audiences. At one evangelical conference, the popular and platformed speakers discuss why the Wind of God cannot sail the evangelical ship. At another evangelical conference (mainly with the same coalition of speakers), they are deciding how much the American church can tolerate and compromise with the devilish features of the culture. The entire racquet assumes that the popular pastors of evangelicalism shall be allowed, without trial or discussion, to sit on the throne rather than the dock. The mere presence of church history is strangely forgotten and falsified when it doesn’t support the recent author’s message.

The Medieval and early church is punished because they weren’t washed in post-Enlightenment thinking. Of course, Scripture is the final authority, all credible evangelicals agree, which means ancient church documents can be as mistaken as the current guild of evangelical influencers. But why does a pastor with 10,000 social media followers have more rights and liberties to interpret the Bible to fit their societal context than the saints in church history? What if we insisted on a new evangelical charter, one that tells the truth about the mess of things within the evangelical leadership? What if we held up the old charter and let the Wind blow it from the opposite direction? Rather than asserting that evangelicals know better, the Wind might blow with a housebreaking thought: Do evangelicals actually know better?

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible Dictionary (p. 382). Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] O’Loughlin, T. (2010). The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (p. ix, 7). Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Baker Academic.

Published by Jason Cherry

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call and The Making of Evangelical Spirituality (Wipf and Stock).