Christianity was originally called ‘the Way’ by the people of first century Palestine. Acts 19:23 tells us, ‘About that time, there arose a great commotion about the Way’; and in Acts 9:2, Paul had gone to Damascus to find ‘any who were of the Way.’
Testifying both to the crowd in Jerusalem, and later to the governor Felix at his trial, Paul referred to Christ’s followers as ‘the Way’ both in public and official proceedings (Acts 22:4; 24:14,22). It was many years later that the term ‘Christian’ replaced ‘the Way’ as the common term for followers of Christ.
That the Early Church was called ‘the Way’ is more than incidental. People witnessed something about their way – the way they walked, served, built community, and shared things in common.
It was their lifestyle, i.e. their way of life, the values espoused, by which they were known. It’s the natural product of what Jesus had told His disciples at the conclusion of the Last Supper, “By this all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
When people ‘accept Jesus’ or ‘get saved’, the first thing churches often do today is invite them to study the Bible. Of course, studying the Bible is important, critical even. But, if we’re not careful, we’re communicating a message that says – the most important thing about being a Christian is to become a good student.
To be a good Christian, you’ve to know the right things. The priority is flipped on its head: if we’re not careful, it’s what we know, not how we act, that’s emphasised. The effect of this approach is subtle, yet conveys a shift from our roots.
The dynamic Church that arose in humble circumstances but soon leavened and ultimately won over the Roman Empire proliferated not only because it convinced non-believers that its beliefs were true but because their lives – the way they treated each other, or cared for the poor and downtrodden, or honoured their bosses and neighbours in speech and action – brought people under conviction.
An example is Paul’s instruction to slaves in Titus 2:9,10. By their obedient and diligent service, and ‘not talking back’, they were to ‘show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good (making) the teaching about God our Saviour attractive in every way.’
The NKJV says ‘adorn the doctrine of God’, from the Greek word ‘kosmeo’, e.g, cosmetic, meaning it’s our behaviour that beautifies what we believe.
Jesus was not so subtle when He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. When a man is mugged and beaten by thieves on the roadside, the priest and the Levite – those who knew and taught the Bible – couldn’t be bothered to help this dying man.
They passed by, unperturbed, taking particular care not to become soiled or disheveled. Perhaps they had an evening sacrifice to attend, or were leading a Bible study about the prophetic signs of the coming Messiah?
Jesus then magnified the way of the Samaritan. Only he responded with compassion, pouring oil and wine onto this stranger’s wounds, hefting the grown man’s bloodied body onto his donkey to bring to the nearest town where he booked a room in an inn and ‘took care of him.” (v 34)
Jesus looked for fruit, not perfect scores, in His disciples. This means behaviour, not ascent to doctrine, was his paramount concern. He emphasised character, not catechisms. He gave them a model, pointing to Himself as the Way, not an instruction manual.
This does not mean Jesus did not affirm the jots and tittles of the Law; but people are not meant to live in the foundation of their homes! True faith is manifested in the light of where and how we live.
Call me nostalgic, but something deep inside me would be thrilled if the people of our generation could be brought under the conviction of the Holy Spirit because they’re enamoured with the quality of our lives.
May our lifestyles, compassion, vibrant communities of faith, draw those who are confused, lonely, and lost to join us who are joyfully walking … in the Way.