Labelling people has always been a short-hand way of describing and understanding our world. Christians have always been fond of using tags to self-identify, to mark our camps. Charismatic, progressive, fundamentalist, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, “red-letter,” contemplative, sacramental …and the list goes on and on. Frankly, and maybe at the risk of offending, I have very little use for such labels. They tend to elevate differences, build up fences, create unfriendly boundaries, chase away strangers, and often militate against unity in the Christian family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there is little value in Christian traditions. My Mennonite heritage has bequeathed me a rich legacy of Christian thought and practice.
But there is one over-arching label that we should all embrace as Christian leaders. It’s the label that stuck to the first community of Christians. In the Book of Acts, we learn disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians” at Antioch. This label is not surprising. It was an easy handle with which to identify people who believed Jesus was “the Christ,” the Messiah. And no doubt for some it was also a term of derision. (Wasn’t Caesar “Lord” and not this crucified, itinerant, peasant preacher?)
However, it’s not the label “Christian” that gets my attention. Before Christ-followers were tagged as “Christians,” they were called something else. And it’s that something else which is profoundly attractive.
We read about this striking label for the first time in Acts 9. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…and asked him (the High priest) for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
Six times we find this phrase “the Way” in the book of Acts. In Ephesus, we read that people, “maligned the Way” (19:9). After becoming a believer Paul said he had “persecuted the followers of the Way to their death.” (22:4).
Whether they lived in Damascus, in Ephesus, in Jerusalem, or in Rome…whether they were rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female…there was something remarkably distinguishing and radical about these people who self-identified as “followers of the Way.” What was it about this “Way of Living” that marked them as different? What was their defining reality?
You can’t miss it when you read the Book of Acts. If we could have observed these followers-of-the-Way meeting in their house-churches and living their day-to-day lives in their homes and at work, here’s what we would have noticed:
- Joyful worship replaced stifling religious rules as they declared Jesus was Lord (not Caesar.)
- Forgiveness and non-retaliation replaced animosity, grudges and revenge.
- Humility and respect outshone pride; generosity overtook greed and avarice.
- Compassion replaced judgementalism and gossip; self-sacrifice replaced fear.
- Sexual purity won out over immorality; truth-telling shattered deception.
- The open doors of hospitality replaced the closed doors of ethnic, racial, religious, gender and economic discrimination.
- Jesus is alive!” became their daily mantra.“
A new ethic of love had been birthed! It was a stunning new way to live…and what a fragrant life it was. No wonder it says in the Book of Acts, “…they enjoyed the favor of all the people.” (2:47)
With those early Christians, could you…would you say, “I am a follower of the Way.” Is that your prime mode of self-identification?
Here at Corpath we’re all about pursuing excellence in spirit, in life, and in business. I think another way to say that might be that Corpath members are striving to be “followers of the Way.”
Gordon Dirks, President (Interim)
Corpath Business Forums – www.corpath.ca