Doing Church As “THE WAY”
by Don Watson
Some weeks back we began studying Acts 19 in our Newsletter. Paul has arrived in Ephesus and begins to speak to the Jews there concerning the promised Messiah. In doing this, he discovers some of the Jews are already believers, but they had never heard of, or received the Holy Spirit. Paul prays for them to receive the Holy Spirit and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Evidently, this caused some contention among those listening to the gospel and some of the Jews caused so much trouble that Paul decided to move out of the Jewish synagogue and into the town lecture hall.
Ephesus was a city that was highly impressed by the super-natural. A large portion of the population was involved in magic. They either performed it or wanted to, and the city possessed a huge collection of books from the black arts. To root out this evil connection with Satan, God led Paul to work many miracles, and especially root out demon-possession. That was a very powerful twist to the magic Ephesians were working. Usually, in order to work magic, the demons controlled their followers, but here Paul controlled the demons – this was magic of a higher order, so some of the people (The Seven Sons of Sceva) went around trying to cast out demons by the name of Jesus like Paul did. The demons perhaps thought that this might discredit Paul at first but finally turned on these people saying, “Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you? Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all and gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” – vv. 15-16.
The result of this incident caused people in Ephesus to hold Paul and the New Church in great reverence and awe. “Many came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas (several million dollars). In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” – vv. 18-19.
But it was “About that time that serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way.” – v. 23.
Before we discuss the actual trouble that took place, I wanted us to notice that the early church at this time referred to themselves as “The Way.” This actually wasn’t the first time. In Acts 9:2 Luke, the writer of Acts, says Saul – who later became Paul the great Apostle – requested letters from the High Priest giving him authority to arrest “followers of the Way” and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. However, Paul at the end of his life is brought before the Governor, Felix and declares “I am a follower of the Way.” – Acts 24:14. While we are not told exactly why Paul refers to the early church as the Way, it certainly makes sense. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. The Jewish religion, as corrupted by their leaders, declared that the “Way” to God and His approval required obedience to over 600 laws, attendance to 7 feasts, washings, cleansings, and a multitude of offerings and blood sacrifices. Jesus, in contrast, said, “No; come to me exactly as you are. I am the Way to God. Do you not know what truth is? – the truth about God or the truth about yourself? In this relationship with me – this Way that you live every day – you will learn the truth about God and His amazing unconditional love, and you will know that you are totally accepted exactly as you are, so there is never any reason to hide anything about yourself – I know all about you already, yet I still love you with a love so strong and everlasting that nothing can separate us. It is this Way that gives you peace and therefore the LIFE you have always longed for. So I AM the LIFE – not just life eternal, but life right now – My life.”
The early Christian Church was not a religion. In fact, Jesus had actually come to do away with religion. Religion controls my access to God. Think about it. It tells me what I have to DO to be accepted by God – be baptized, repent, believe, take communion, burn candles, pay tithe, do penance, confess, embrace certain doctrines, belong to a particular church, etc. But Jesus – God Himself – came to let us know we can access the Father (In fact, the whole Divine Trinity) directly at any time. HE IS THE WAY.
Now, I don’t think Jesus was trying to tell us not to have churches, or certain unique beliefs about God. But now that Jesus has returned to heaven and His actual flesh and blood body is not with us, it is OUR job to let people know that they can have direct access to God Himself. It is OUR job to embrace everyone exactly as they are like Jesus did and invite them into intimate, nothing hidden, authentic relationship with us and Jesus.
Here is what I’m suggesting: That every church fully receive the Holy Spirit like the church at Ephesus, so that Jesus is truly inside us all and we become the WAY to the Father like Jesus was. We are now the WAY! I believe that if accept this marvelous concept it will mean some radical changes in us, God’s children, and the WAY we do church. Jesus declared that people will know we are His disciples by the way we love each other, not by the way we agree with each other. Unity is based on an unconditional love we have for each other regardless of our differences. In fact, instead of debating our differences, I believe God calls us to celebrate them by seeking to really know each other (Yada – the Hebrew word for "to know", as in marriage intimacy), and understand why certain unique beliefs are important to our brother or sister. Uniformity requires that all who fellowship, agree with one another – that we have a common creed. But if we are to be The Way, I believe Jesus alone must be our creed. We are bonded together by Jesus alone. A real, nothing-hidden relationship with Jesus is the WAY we all must daily walk. That relationship (abiding in the vine) will be our TRUTH and our LIFE, and it will be IN that relationship that Jesus will alter our direction, how we perceive truth, or how we do life. Our eventual goal, as churches, would be that there be no membership to be given or taken away – we are baptized into HIM. We as churches – the WAY – would embrace whoever God has accepted and sent our way and we would continue to embrace them forever. While they might disconnect with us, we would never disconnect with them. I believe it would mean that while we can be confident in what we believe about God, God calls us to accept anyone who wishes to be part of our Grace Family – regardless of how their beliefs or practices differ from ours.
I understand that this is a radical departure from the way most of us were raised or presently practice. But if we are to again become The Way, we need to sink our roots deeper into Christ and Christ alone. He wanted all of us, as God’s children and as His bride, to know that we have direct access with the Father. And anytime “The Church” of His day got in the way of that access, Jesus got very passionate. Remember the Temple scene? The leaders were deciding whose offering was acceptable and not, in fact, WHO was acceptable and not. If we are to be The Way, we must allow Jesus to cast such “money changers” out of His temple. We must be the advocate for sinners.
Which sinners are not allowed in your lives and churches? We are the Way for them; we must face the truth about ourselves as sinners, and freely give everyone around us the life in Jesus.