Throughout the New Testament, there are various names and descriptions given for the church. It is referred to as the church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5), the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16) and the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23). In Luke’s record of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, he uses a name and description for the church that is unique to the book of Acts. In Acts 9:1-2, Luke writes:
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Most Jews viewed the Christians as a heretical sect and such was Saul’s view as well. Saul did not view the church as The Way, so this name is more likely to be Luke’s wording. Following his conversion however, Saul of Tarsus, or the Apostle Paul, would also view the church as The Way and refer to it as such. Later in life, when Paul retold the story of his conversion to Felix, he also referred to the church as The Way (Acts 24:14). In addition to the conversion account of Saul, the church is referred to as The Way three more times in the book of Acts (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:22).
The fact that Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, refers to the church as The Way is no accident. It is purposeful and meaningful. First of all, it was an important distinction and acknowledgement in the first century. There was a false notion in the first century that Christianity was simply a sect or a party of Judaism, much like the sect of the Pharisees or that of the Sadducees. The church was not simply an off-shoot of Judaism however—it was the fulfillment of the prophets and the kingdom of God (and it still is!) In referring to the church as The Way, Luke and Paul showed this truth clearly. They did not view the church as a part of Judaism; they viewed the church as the only way of truth. Just as the name The Way was important to the first century church, the name is still important to the church today, and offers us many valuable lessons about the nature of the church.
The Church is Singular
By referring to the church as The Way the Holy Spirit indicated the singular nature of the church. This simple truth is often misunderstood or twisted in the world today where people want to believe there are many paths to God. Additionally, people do not want the church to be singular, because something that is singular is by nature exclusive. People do not want there to only be one church, or one plan of redemption, or one way of salvation. The world wants options, choices and diversity. God’s Word makes it quite clear though, there are not many ways to please Him, there is one way and only one way to Him—His son Jesus.
The Apostle Peter made the singular nature of salvation very clear during one of his early trials before the Jewish leaders. As Peter responded to the questioning of the high priest and his council after the healing of a lame man in Acts 3, Peter stated, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). At that point, it was important for the Jews to learn that salvation was not found in the name of Moses—it was found in Jesus. Today the same truth needs to be recognized by the world: salvation is not found in Buddha, Muhammad, or some New Age guru. The only way to salvation is still through Jesus.
It is also important to understand that even within Jesus, there is only one way. Some people will agree that salvation is only found in Jesus, but they believe all “Christian” doctrines are acceptable in the sight of God. When we turn to the inspired Word of God, however, we do not find this to be the case. The Way is obviously one way, not many ways. The Way is not made up of multiple bodies of Christ or a plethora of faiths. The singularity and oneness of the church is abundantly clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:4-6).
As the New Testament makes clear, the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24). Since there is only one body, that means there is only one church. Also there is only one faith, not many faiths. Even when you look at the many denominations in the world, you find multiple faiths. Some believe in faith alone, while others believe faith must be accompanied with works. Some believe that baptism is essential for salvation, while others do not. Some believe that worship can be done at any time and in any way man sees fit, while others believe it must be done the way the New Testament teaches. There are even groups that claim to be a part of the Christian faith, yet they believe Jesus is a created being and not part of the Godhead. Obviously, in denominationalism there are many faiths, not just one. Thus, we cannot say that the church does not matter as long as it is Christian. A church is not The Way if it is not the church built by Christ (Mt. 16:18), the church one reads about in the New Testament.
The Church is Absolute
In that the church is singular, it is also absolute. This message does not set well with much of the world today, because the world hates absolutes. The world claims there is no absolute truth; there is no black and white; no right and wrong. People much prefer a squishy and fluid set of guidelines, grey areas, or a subjective and relative truth to live by. This essentially allows people to live however they want and find a way to justify themselves and their lifestyles. After all, if there is no such thing as absolute truth, then one can’t fully know the truth, and thus one can’t be judged for not living according to the truth. Yet, for this philosophy to work, one must reject that there is absolute truth, which is exactly what so many have done. Many today have ascribed to the sophistry of a website motto I once saw which read, “All religions contain some truth, no religion contains all the truth.” Sadly, two millennia later, people are still cynically asking the same question as Pilate—“What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38).
To appease the masses, many so-called churches have given in to the pressure of moral relativism in order to tickle the ears and sooth the consciences of people living in sin. The church of the New Testament however, The Way, does not give in to relativism. Instead it holds fast to the absolute truth of the New Testament. The church teaches there is truth and thus there is falsehood. There is right and thus there is wrong. There is righteousness and there is sin. As the church, we do not teach these things because we are arrogant or egotistical—we teach these things because God teaches them in the Bible.
It is important to understand that Jesus taught absolutes. Jesus definitely felt truth was absolute and knowable. As He prayed to His Father in John 18, He prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” Jesus did not say that God’s word was part truth, or His personal version of truth, or even mostly truth. Jesus said God’s Word is truth. God’s word is all truth; it is the definition of truth. It is difficult to be more absolute. Jesus also didn’t teach that there were many ways to the Father, or even a few ways to the Father. When Thomas admitted he did not know the way Jesus was going or the way Jesus was speaking of, Jesus responded by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). Again, Jesus’ words are absolute in this instance.
Additionally, when Jesus taught about salvation, He did not teach there were many plans. With reference to salvation, Jesus taught absolutes. Jesus taught that without belief, one would die in their sins (Jn. 8:24). Belief is absolutely necessary to avoid spiritual death. Jesus also taught that without repentance, one would perish (Lk. 13:3). Jesus taught quite absolutely that if man is not willing to confess Him, but instead denies Him, then Jesus will deny that man (Mt. 10:32-33). And as Jesus gave His final commands to the disciples, He did not offer a suggestion or an idea; He issued an absolute command to, “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). This command is incredibly absolute, and seems very strange if baptism is not absolutely essential for salvation. Also, as Mark records, in this final commission to His disciples Jesus taught in unmistakable language that, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’ (Mk. 16:16). The world shutters at the notion of an absolute plan of redemption that must be followed. But to deny such a plan is to deny the absolute teaching of Jesus.
Article by: Nate Bibens