“I am the way ” John 14:6
In the early days of the church, what was the faith of church members called? What was the church called? In times when people are not as familiar with the Bible as they may once have been, it would be a good quiz question. The faith of the church was not called “Christianity”, for it is not until Acts Chapter 11 Verse 26, in the city of Antioch, that the believers were first called Christians. In the early days of the church, the faith we now call Christianity was called “the Way”. The movement we now call the church was also called “the Way”.
In Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 6, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life” and his description of himself as “the way” became a name for what they believed. When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we see that “the way”, with a lower case “w” became “the Way” with a capital “W”.
In Acts Chapter 9 Verse 2, Saul went to the high priest in Jerusalem “and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem”. Saul would hardly have been complimentary about the faith, he wished to destroy it; if he asked to arrest , “Any that belonged to ‘the Way'”, then we can only assume that “the Way” was originally a pejorative term used by its opponents.
A pejorative term it may have been, but it became the name for what church members believed and the name for the movement to which they belonged. In Acts Chapter 19 Verses 8-9, Paul is in Ephesus and Luke tells us, “He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God”. Paul’s preaching has mixed results:”When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. “The Way” seems to be used as a description of both the believers and what they believed.
In Acts Chapter 19 Verse 23 it seems to describe what people believed, Luke writes, “About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way”. Silversmiths who made statues of the goddess Artemis were definitely challenged; people turning to the Way no longer wished to spend money on pagan idols, and the silversmiths stirred up trouble against Paul and his companions.
In Acts Chapter 22 Verse 4, it seems to describe the movement to which people belonged. Paul say, “I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison”.
When we read Acts Chapter 24, we see “the Way” being used for both the believers and for what they believed. Paul is brought before Felix, the Roman governor at Caesarea. In Verse 14, he talks about the Way as the movement to which he belongs, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets”. Paul talks about what he believes and it seems Felix is familiar with such beliefs for we are told in Verse 22, “But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.'”
“I am the way,” says Jesus and the Way becomes both the faith and the faithful. In the centuries that followed the faith took on many names, simply following in the way of Jesus was not enough for those who ruled the church. In the centuries that followed the movement became something very different from being a simple group of people who followed in the way of Jesus; it became an organization that dominated the world and that brutally suppressed anyone who disagreed.
Remembering the faith and the church as the Way calls us back to what we should believe and how we should be a church. Remembering Jesus speaking of himself as “the way” reminds us of a Jesus who asks that we believe in him and reminds us that we must be a church that lives for him.