By Jeff Miller, Interim Pastor at Jesus Risen Lord Fellowship
Greetings! Please let me introduce myself. My name is Jeff Miller and I am the interim pastor at Jesus Risen Lord Fellowship in American Canyon.
Seminary (Fuller) was perhaps a little easier for me than others because I am a voracious reader, probably one of the reasons why I was an English major in college.
But at the end of my seminary experience I noticed something about our reading material that has been a bit of an issue for me over the years. Except for a class on the history of spirituality, where we read some Calvin, Luther, etc…virtually every book for every class had been written within the last 10 years. I recently looked at my seminary’s curriculum again and saw that many of the books that I had read as recently as 10-15 years ago have now again been replaced by newer material. No doubt many of them are good and full of wisdom, but are we focusing only on what we consider to be newest and on the cutting edge?
Have we lost touch with the wisdom from our past?
One of the greatest sermons ever given, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards is more often read and studied today for its historical and literary significance rather than its devotional value. When in college I had taken a class in Early American Literature and reading that sermon was one of our assignments. My first introduction to that wonderful sermon was of an analytical nature rather than a spiritual one.
Can I be honest for a minute?
I am no longer interested in reading the latest and greatest. One of my favorite writers is N.T. Wright and I ran out a couple of months ago to get his latest book. Yes, it was a good book…no doubt about that. But I want to be fed by those who have stood the test of time. Not simply for a decade or two, but a century or two…or eight.
So what I would like to do is give you a quick introduction to one of the earliest pieces of Christian literature ever written - the Didache. In fact, it was written so long ago that it was actually considered (if only vaguely and momentarily) to be included in the New Testament.
Also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Didache means ‘teaching’ in Greek and was probably written around the year 100. We do not really know who wrote it and it serves as a bit of a first century pastoral manual. It has 16 ‘chapters’ and is traditionally divided into verses, much like a New Testament epistle. That being said, I believe that it still has instruction for us today. And I want to highlight one way in which it is currently serving as an encouragement to me.
Chapter 7 of The Didache is related to baptism. It says,
“But concerning baptism, thus ye shall baptize. Having recited all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit” in living (meaning running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water, and if thou are not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. But before the baptism, let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able, and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before.”
Pretty specific instructions, right?
Although I don’t know of any pastor or baptism candidate who has fasted before the ceremony, I think the takeaway for us is the seriousness that is attached to baptism and that it is not something that is to be taken lightly by either a pastor or the one who will be baptized.
I remember the first time I baptized someone. This was a long time before I was a pastor, but I led a home church with another friend of mine named George. We baptized a woman named Angela in the ocean in Santa Cruz in November (it was a FAST baptism). I was so overwhelmed in the hours leading up to it…a nervousness that one might feel before a big job interview or a marriage proposal. What I was going to participate in was so significant, not only in Angela’s life but in mine also. This was not simply a quick dip in the ocean but something of high importance, not only to Angela, and George and myself, but also to The Lord.
So I feel in step with whoever wrote The Didache and I am learning to have the same respect for baptism that they did in the early church. In the company of the great saints of the last 2000 years, and not only what is new, innovative and cutting edge.