Friday, August 7, 2015

Jesus Isn't The Only Way


So...it's time to dive in to the ancient teachings of The Didache on #AncientFutureFriday.  These teachings were formed in community, for community, by community.   

As the earliest apostles, elders, and disciples of Jesus began to form communities of faith, "the teaching" was passed along first orally, and eventually gathered together in writing in The Didache.  This is the teaching that bound their communities together and through which they grew in Christlikeness together as disciples of Jesus.  This is how disciples of Jesus were apprenticed, in community, in the very earliest churches.  The power of Holy Spirit and the authority of Jesus flowed mightily through these churches as Jesus' message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God spread exponentially throughout the world.  That sounds like the kind of community to which I'd like to belong.  So let's begin to look at how such communities were formed and structured:

The first two 'verses' of the Didache read as follows (Milavec's translation):

1:1 -

"There are two ways: one of life and one of death!
(And) [there is] a great difference between the two ways.

1:2 -

[A] On the one hand, then, the way of life is this:

[1] first: you will love the God who made you;

[2] second: [you will love] your neighbor as yourself.

[B] On the other hand [the way of life is this]:
as many [things] as you might wish not to happen to you,
likewise, do not do to another.

You might recognize some of this.  You should - in verse 2 we have variants on two primary teachings of both Jesus and the Jewish community:  The Shema/"Great Commandment", and "The Golden Rule."

The Didache begins by declaring that there is more than one way we can live.  The Way of Jesus isn't the only way.  There is another.  But the Way of Jesus leads to life, and the other way leads to death.  Not only do they lead to these things, though - these ways actually, substantively are these things.  There is a way of life.  There is a way of death. 

You may or may not have noticed that the Western-American-Evangelical church became obsessed with the afterlife, with rewards-and-punishments, as they saw it.  The goal of salvation was to assure oneself a place in Heaven when one dies, and to avoid a place in Hell.  Everything in that mindset of church revolved one way or another around making sure individual souls made a decision that would keep them out of Hell, and put them in Heaven, when they died - and this decision always involved some variant of a particular prayer - "the sinner's prayer" (because, sinner's can only pray one thing?), essentially, "asking Jesus into your heart" by admitting sin and asking for forgiveness. 

I am not going to mock or dismiss such prayers.  The fact is, when I first came to believe in Jesus, it was through exactly that kind of prayer, and I very much believe that Christ forgave me, saved me, and became alive in me.  I am not going to discuss the validity of various views on Heaven and Hell and the afterlife (at least not today, and not in this post!). 

What I am going to do is suggest that this very narrow, limited, rigid view of the Way of salvation - the Way of Jesus - is not at all what Jesus taught his disciples, or what the apostles taught the ancient, early Church.  Not only is the Way of Jesus not the only way (because there is also a way of death!), but this bastardized Way of Jesus is not the only way, either!  There is supposed to be "a great difference between the two ways" according The Didache.  Do we really see "a great difference" today between those who claim to live in the way of life and those who live in the way of death?  What does this tell us about what the Western-American church has become?

The Way of Jesus is the Way of life declared in the first verse of the Didache.  The second verse then spells out the foundations of this way:  The Way of Jesus, the Way of Life, is the Way of Love.

The question, then, for Jesus disciples is not:  Have you said the sinner's prayer?

Rather, the question for Jesus disciples is:  Are you growing in love for God, self, and others?  

Do you see how the first question is passive, but the second question is active?  This matters, and the Didache teaches new disciples of Jesus that it matters, right at the outset.  This is not about a change in position, but a change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of life that is growing in love for God, self and others.  This isn't just about an individual decision, but about training in community in the Way.

In this community, there are things we must do, and things we must avoid.  What we must do is to love God, self, and others, in all things.  What we must avoid is hurting others by doing things to them that we would not want done to us. 

Sometimes, I think we trade in relationship with God for rules and legal transactions with God.  But we also sometimes trade in relationship with others for rules about how we view and treat others.  Love is not a rule, but a law.  We live by "the royal law of love found in Scripture" (see James 2).  But that law does not express itself in a thousand-and-one ways to make oneself holier-than-thou.  Instead, it expresses itself as love for God, self, and others.  Can we really go wrong in any situation, and as a way - the Way of life (the Way that is life, and that leads to life), by asking "what is the most loving action toward God, self, and others that I can take?"

This is how we live in community together.  This is how we learn to live as disciples of Jesus.  This is how we are trained in the Way of Jesus, the Way of Life, the Way of Love.  So, Jesus isn't the only Way.  But Jesus is the best Way, and the Way of Life.  And for Jesus disciples, that means living in the Way of Love, in community,

2 comments:

  1. "Can we really go wrong in any situation, and as a way - the Way of life (the Way that is life, and that leads to life), by asking "what is the most loving action toward God, self, and others that I can take?" This is how we live in community together."

    This is very good. And true. But let's face it, much harder than simply trading relationships for a list of rules. I think we have instituted specific guidelines, and even prayers, because we want this to be a cut and dried sure shot, precisely because of what you mentioned early on in this post about reducing "The Jesus Way" to an eschatological safety net. What a mess!

    Returning to the simplicity of these teachings is a good place to start over.

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    1. Things get complicated when we try to layer things on top of the Law of Love. Now, it is not as though love is only easy - it is also hard (much harder than any rules, or "cut and dried sure shots")! I think it is easy-and-hard in the same way that Jesus declares his yoke to be easy and his burden to be light while also saying whoever wants to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Working out love in practice, in community, is not a complicated command, yet it can be complicated to do.

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