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 of the Jews viewed the Christians as a sect of falsehood, and it is likely that Saul viewed them as such as well. That being the case, it is unlikely Saul viewed 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, chose to refer 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, or Judaism, much like the sect of the Pharisees or 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 have 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, Gandhi, or any other man or woman. The sole 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 though 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 made 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. 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 of the New Testament.
The Church is Absolute
In that the Church is singular, it is also absolute. This message does not settle 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, a grey area, or a 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. But for this philosophy to work, one must reject that there is 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 asking the same question as Pilate, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38).
It is important to understand that Jesus taught in 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. In terms of salvation, Jesus taught in 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.
The Church is a Journey
The Greek word that is translated as The Way in Acts 9:2 is Hodos, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means, “progress, a mode or a means, a journey or a highway.” Many times people talk about living life to the fullest, capitalizing on the moment, or living in the now. What is meant by these slogans is basically, “Have as much fun as possible right now, because life is short.” It is true that our lives are quite short in the grand scheme of things (Jas. 4:14), but living life to the fullest should mean something different to the Christian than it does to the world. While the world wants to party and have as much fun as possible in the here and now, the Christian must remember that our brief time on this earth is not the end all be all. Instead, our time on this earth is merely a highway to another place – our eternal destiny.
In truth, all life is a highway to eternity. Jesus taught that there were two roads an individual could travel on; the broad way leading to destruction or the narrow way leading to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14). It is always important for Christians to remember this fact, and keep their eyes focused upon eternity, not the moment or the here and now. Christians must realize that even as a part of the Church, this life is not all there is. It is possible to get caught up on temporal things even within the Church.
When one accepts this life is just the journey, and learns to focus upon the reward of eternity, great things can be accomplished. Some of the most faithful and fruitful children of God had this great characteristic in common. Abraham was greatly blessed by God with wealth and honor, and an entire land that was promised to his descendants. But the wealth and honor and territory were fleeting in the eyes of Abraham, whose eyes looked far beyond flocks, herds, and possession. Even with all of the physical blessings and an entire land to call his own, Abraham viewed himself as a stranger simply travelling through a foreign land. As the Hebrew writer records, Abraham’s great obedience and faithfulness were not a result of his physical well-being, but because he waited for the city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:9-10).
Many other men and women have accomplished great things for God, made great sacrifices, and given their life completely following the Creator because they looked towards the reward instead of the here and now. Today, Christians can have the same faith and fervor as the faithful giants of old, if they will simply remember this life is a journey and keep their eyes on the goal. If that is how we live our life, then even we today can have the attitude of Paul that for us to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Php. 1:21).
It must be noted, that to make it to the destination, we must be on the right path. Many people today have their eyes on Heaven, but they are not travelling the way that leads to Heaven, because they are not in The Way. This is a tragedy because the way is not hidden from man. Some of the most beautiful and comforting words in all the Bible are found very shortly before the most troubling and difficult days of Jesus’ life. As Jesus prepared His disciples for the pain they would soon encounter by His death, and the potential sorrow of His departure, He comforted them by saying,
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. (Jn. 14:1-4)
God and Christ’s desire is for man to be saved and to dwell with them eternally (2 Pet. 3:9) and thus They have revealed the way to Heaven. Our Creator has shared with us the one, true path that leads to eternal life with Him. It is through His Son, by obeying His word, and being a part of His body the Church. God has provided the path and has promised to provide the eternal home – the question is are you in and on The Way?
Article by: Nate Bibens