Belonging to the Way: Exploring an Ancient Name for the Church
*Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Paul’s new book, The Way Back: Repentance, the Presence of God, and the Revival the Church So Desperately Needs (Westbrow Press, 2022). Huyghebaert reminds us of an ancient designation used to describe the church—and what reclaiming this identity could mean for the church today.
One day as I was reading through the book of Acts, I came across a somewhat buried nugget in chapter 9, which once uncovered, has become a true treasure. Chapters 6–8 of Acts detail the beginning of the persecution against the Church. By chapter 9 that persecution had erupted into a door-to-door hunt for those living as disciples of Jesus.
A young man named Saul found himself at the center of the move to persecute the first Christians. Saul was a Pharisee and an opponent of the early Church. He was in league with the Jewish priests and the ruling council as well. Together this group of men conspired to arrest all those who accepted the message the disciples had been preaching. When the persecution in Jerusalem became so fierce that many of the converts to Christianity scattered into the countryside, Saul continued his pursuit of them, all the way to Damascus, a town more than 130 miles from Jerusalem.
In Acts 9:1–2 we read these words:
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
“…if he found any there who belonged to the Way…”
As I have already mentioned, there’s a nugget in here. Luke does not say that Saul sought permission and authorization to arrest those who called themselves Christians. He does not tell us that Saul was chasing after those who were a part of the Church. He doesn’t say, either, that Saul was hunting down Jesus’ followers. What he tells us is that Saul was pursuing those who belonged to the Way.
Throughout the remainder of the book of Acts, we see the Church referred to as the Way (Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The early Church was built upon the lives of those who followed the Way of Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus called himself the Way. As Saul, who after becoming a follower of Jesus was named Paul, stood on trial before a Roman governor named Felix, he identified himself as a member of the Way.
Think about this for a moment. What kind of an impact might it have if we plainly called Christianity “the Way”? To follow Jesus is to follow the Way. To be a part of the Church is to give up an old way for a new one. It is the choice to leave behind the old life, because of the promise of a new and better life. The best life possible. A life in which we walk with God, live in the presence of God, and share in the blessings of daily renewal that can only be found in the presence of God.
“It is the choice to leave behind the old life, because of the promise of a new and better life.”
Remember that these promises were not exclusively meant for the first people who chose to follow Jesus. Again, as the apostle Peter declared at the end of his Acts 2 sermon, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). A life lived in God’s presence, and all of what goes along with that life, is available to all those the Lord, God, will call. Yes, even today. Today, you and I are invited into the Way of Jesus.
No matter what your life has looked like to this point in time, whatever your past, God wants to give you a new future. Just as throughout history God has called people to repent, He’s calling us now.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
“I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
It is my prayer that you will come to see the reality and majesty of God. I pray as well that you will be captivated by the knowledge that the holy and righteous, perfect God of creation desires a relationship with you. It is my deep hope that as these truths sink in, the depth of humanity’s (and your own) trespass against God will become clear as well. Only when we see God clearly do we understand just how deep the offense of our sin against Him truly is. Allow this knowledge to move you to humility. Come before Him broken. After all, He is the only one who can heal the kind of brokenness you and I both share.
Then, allow Him to give you a new future and a new reason for living. This is His heart for you! More than anything, God wants to see you restored, to see His image renewed in you. This means saying yes to His Way above all else. You will continue to be pushed and pulled by voices within and voices without, but ultimately, you will learn that His voice is one you can trust. As you do, you will be blessed with His presence. He will refresh you, as He upholds you and sustains you. This is His promise, and He has never failed to keep it. May God truly bless you, as you live life His Way.