Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Milavec sees the Didache’s teaching about sharing of resources as a protective measure against the larger cultural realities. Members of the community agreed to help one another (Milavec 2003, 217). For this reason, it is possible that Romans who became aware of Christians saw the groups more as a mutual aid society than as a religious order (Milavec 2003, 217).
As an example of an aid society, Milavec considers a funeral society in honor of the goddess Diana. He looks at this organization because its bylaws were inscribed on a public monument, so they can still be analyzed (Milavec 2003, 218). Members paid an entry fee, monthly dues, and participated in a monthly gathering. They attended the funerals of members, which were paid for from the dues. The meetings provided community and attendance at funerals guaranteed there would be mourners (Milavec 2003, 219).
Romans may have considered Christian congregations in similar terms. They had a defined membership and engaged in mutual support activities together (Milavec 2003, 219). Both Pliny and Justin Martyr describe elements of Christianity which resemble the funeral society described above (Milavec 2003, 220). Tertullian also described financial aid as one of the functions of a Christian community (Milavec 2003, 221). While in Tertullian and Justin the collections are administered by the bishops and deacons, the Didache makes no mention of administration. The emphasis is on the giving and sharing (Milavec 2003, 221). The patronage system had the potential to provide a steady and even a large market for products created by artisans (Milavec 2003, 222). However, design and product standards could be altered by the desire of a patron. Milavec also notes that a patron could require religious or moral acts which might violate a person’s standards (Milavec 2003, 223). Didache 3.9 speaks against making alliances with “the lofty.” Milavec sees this as a ban on commercial advancement. He questions the consistency of this and the comment that a novice will find rest in the community (4.2). However, 3.10 asserts that divine providence will guard the members of the community. milavec concludes that the community would see their opportunities coming from God rather than from their own business acumen (Milavec 2003, 224). With God as the patron, the members of the community could do business in an ethical way without the exploitation Milavec finds in the greater society (Milavec 2003, 225).