Maybe it’s our compulsive need to be right. Maybe it’s fear over a loss of prominence in society. Maybe it’s just a general misunderstanding from taking an academic approach to basically every other subject. Unfortunately, whatever the cause, our failure to grasp the church’s first historical identity has vastly influenced the way that we perceive ourselves, our faith, and our function as followers of Christ.
Before we were ever called Christians (Acts 11) we were known as followers or “those belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). A case can be made that this first identity stemmed from the fact that the Jewish-background first Christians didn’t see their faith in Christ as something distinctive of their own Jewishness, hence they didn’t see the need for a distinctive name.
However, I think it is telling that our first identity as “the Way” gives us a peak at the emphasis of the teaching of the early church that we would do well to recover. The apostles clearly proclaimed Jesus as the way to receive forgiveness for sins (Acts 2:38) and be saved (Acts 4:12) and that having faith in Jesus led the values of the early church to be radically different from their culture (Acts 2:42-46; Acts 4:32-37).
The teaching of the early church had tremendous theological weight on its hearers, but its emphasis on what those propositions meant and how its hearers should respond is what distinguished the church’s message. Today we spout theological principles devoid of real-life “so what?” application. The result is in-fighting and nit-picking over doctrinal minutia and a loss of our identity as “the Way.”
Perhaps the greatest single shift we can make in the church today is shifting from knowing all the right details about God, Jesus, and our faith to actually demonstrating how our faith connects with life. Could it be that we have developed a poor reputation in our culture because we like emphasizing “the truth” more than actually living “the way” because “the way” is more difficult and costly?
Living as people of “the Way” means not necessarily gaining the intellectual or political high ground. In fact, it most likely means being counted as foolish.
Would that God would grant us the blessing of being known as fools and that we should be known as “the Way” with all that entails.