The author(s) begins this section about basic church structure by addressing the congregation’s treatment of teachers, missionaries, and pastors. Notice, this section is instruction for the congregation—new Christians and young local churches. This chapter helps us to see how the Apostles instructed believers concerning how to identify those who should not be listened to and those who should be embraced as teachers and missionaries. Scripture says much about this. We remember that this document was written for new believers and young churches who were not necessarily familiar with the intricacies of Biblical instruction. This is a brief overview for Christians who have not yet studied the whole New Testament and gleaned from it. It is a summary for the benefit of Christians who love God but haven’t yet gained much knowledge. So, we benefit greatly in an age which many new Christians and young churches don’t have much Biblical knowledge and in which people go to church without having been raised with much exposure to God’s Bible.
The first instruction concerns sound doctrine. If a teacher teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and that the fruits of salvation are the good works of the Law and appropriate church practice (as described in the previous two sections of the Didache), the teacher is to be accepted.
Second, a teacher is to be accepted as the Lord if his teaching bears fruit—if it fosters righteousness and knowledge of the Lord. Teaching, according to the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers is meant to build believers up in their maturity. Teaching causes people to know more about Christ and be conformed more to Christ’s image. Accepting a teacher as the Lord does not mean the teacher is worshipped. It does mean he is God’s direct representative to the congregation and community.
Third, apostles (missionaries) are to be accepted as the Lord like teachers are to be accepted as the Lord. Missionaries who stay more than a couple days are to be rejected. If any missionary asks for more than basic provisions as he departs, he is a false prophet and is to be rejected according to the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers. A true missionary who visits does not wish to take advantage of the church body but to serve for her benefit and that of the community.
Fourth, prophets (those who profess Christ’s word) are to be accepted. Prophets, preachers and pastors included, are not to be judged according to their prophecy, but according to their fruit. If they do not practice what they preach, if they are hypocrites, they are to be rejected as false teachers. So, pastors and preachers who preach works-righteousness and are unable to themselves live perfect lives are to be rejected. Pastors and preachers who preach some form of the health and wealth Gospel and don’t themselves do what they call others to do are to be rejected. Any pastor or preacher who teaches people to cling only to Christ but places himself in the place of Christ by causing his congregation to cling to him is to be rejected as a false prophet.
Fifth, preachers and pastors who are more interested in gaining for themselves, either meals or money, than supporting those in need are false prophets and should be rejected.
Sixth, preachers and teachers who teach, serve, visit, provide, and do miracles by themselves while not teaching the congregation to do the same things are false prophets. But, the church isn’t to reject him. God will judge him for taking the whole work of ministry upon himself and not training the saints for the work of ministry.
This section applies several principles present throughout the New Testament. Missionaries are temporary assets and are not interested in self gain. Teachers are concerned primarily about correct doctrine, salvation by grace through faith, and not pragmatism or merely giving good life-advice. Preachers and pastors are concerned about training the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12) rather than doing the whole work of ministry. It is the case that, even if someone says the correct stuff, he may be a false prophet. Our lives are measured by our fruit. Is it self-centered or Christ-centered fruit?
We learn something about the early church’s perception of the pastoral office and the role of other teachers and missionaries. First, if the pastor or preacher did the whole work of ministry, it was a sinful thing. In our day, people choose churches based on how much a pastor does for them or how good a pastor is at attracting them. The Biblical principles applied, here, reveal that this tendency is opposite of Christ’s desire and design for His church. If we choose to sit under teaching because someone has done something for us, has attracted us using worldly methods, by visiting, gifting, providing, or doing some kind of miracle, the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers bid us recognize the self-centeredness of our choosing this type of pastor’s ministry. He is attracting people to himself, not to Christ. He is causing the congregation to depend on him instead of Christ. This is the worst thing any pastor or elder can do, but is, perhaps, his greatest positional temptation.
On the other hand, a good pastor or elder will teach his congregation not to depend on him, train the people for ministry, not visit every member or provide every single need, and not do the whole work of ministry. Why? He is not God. He does not want people to worship him. He recognizes that God is building a kingdom of priests, not consumers. He desires people cling to Christ, not him. The result is that those people who only want to consume will find a pastor they can cling to. Those people who love Christ and want to serve Him will gravitate to the healthy church, be trained, and serve as a priest in God’s kingdom of priests.