Christ-followers in the Jesus Way

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This is a vision for what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in the 21st-century. There are other kinds of Christian life but this is a description which seeks to recover that spiritual vitality which flowed from the early pioneers of Christianity in Wales such as Illtud, David and Afan who were in turn inspired by the Desert Fathers of Egypt.

In some ways this title is saying the same thing twice, but with purpose!

Christ-followers are those who consciously commit their lives to Jesus Christ, they might variously described themselves as ‘born-again Christians’ or ‘communicant members in good-standing with the Catholic Church’ or 'devout Anglicans'. Christianity is more to them than ticking a box in a census form, they objectively identify themselves with the Church and the Christian tradition

Those who follow the Way of Jesus on the other hand are more subjectively seeking to follow the way of life initiated by Jesus. Gandhi is perhaps the great example of someone who is regarded as following the Way of Jesus without being a Christ-follower. This Way of Jesus is seen as being open-minded and nondogmatic, attractive but challenging: a radical option for all people, even agnostics and, perhaps, certain kinds of atheists. The Church is uncomfortable with this interpretation of Jesus but it seems to me to be a genuine option which people do follow, albeit to different degrees and with varying amounts of authenticity.

So I believe these two paths can be clearly, if not neatly, identified. There are Christ-followers who don't seek to follow a radical Way of Jesus, enjoying the church and the promise of salvation but not deeply engaging with the teaching of Jesus. And there are people who either consciously or unconsciously live lives which reflect the teaching of Jesus in many ways, but who for intellectual or emotional reasons (or sometimes simple ignorance) have little time for the Church or Christianity.

Nonetheless I believe that these two paths are at their best when they are brought together, they inform and critique each other and together provide a vision and way of life which I believe is deep, profound and richly meaningful in the contemporary world. I have found it to be a Way of Life.

Core paths

I suggest seven essential characteristics of Christ-followers in the Jesus Way

Hospitality

Welcoming friend and stranger with an open heart and generosity of spirit. Simply put this is about love but not that kind of love which degenerates into the desire to possess or control. Hospitality is openhanded but has a wise understanding of boundaries, limits and human freedom.

Prayer

A regular pattern of spiritual practice. This may take many different forms from traditional Bible reading through meditation to walking or swimming with a spiritual purpose. But there must always be a spirituality which is consciously practiced. It is this practice where the follower is most explicitly open to and in relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Worship

A regular practice of corporate worship. This would normally include the sacraments although there are certain unusual traditions such as the Salvation Army where this isn't normal practice. There are also individuals, even within sacramental traditions, for whom receiving the sacrament is not as important as the theology of the church says it should be! The same might be said about preaching in Protestant churches. (This vision sees the need to take much more seriously the everyday Christianity of faithful Christians.) Nonetheless, gathering together for worship is a central part of spiritual practice. This is where we explicitly acknowledge God and orientate ourselves towards the Christian narrative. It also promotes community in an age when individual freedom has become a fetish.

Following Christ through the year

Living the Christian year in deed and thought. This is normally accomplished by living through the great Christian festivals (see below) of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost which provide the opportunity for reflection on the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and coming of the Holy Spirit. This keeps the reflection rooted and embodied and guards against an abstract approach, but it is being immersed in the great Christian themes that is ultimately what is important.

Living the Jesus way

Regular reflection and commitment to the teaching and example of Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah and our Saviour but he is also the wise Teacher and it is essential for our lives to be constantly turned towards the Way (see below) and teaching of Jesus as found in the Gospels and interpreted in the New Testament.

Spiritual Resistance

Resistance to all the forces which demean and diminish humanity and exploit and damage the earth and living creatures. Prayer and worship certainly underpin spiritual resistance but it is really about how we live our lives in the world. True resistance is not having a prayer meeting when riots break out, but, for instance, putting in the hard work of getting alongside disaffected youth before the riots have happened!

Community

This is simply living the Way with other Christ-followers. This may involve intentional community but it isn't necessary, rather it is about rediscovering Church after Christendom. Christendom turned the church into a social institution which, for all its problems, brought immense social, cultural and political benefits but the Church of Christendom is now in terminal decline. We seek by living together as Christ followers in the Jesus Way to build on this rich tradition and discover the church for the future. It may well look very different.

Secondary paths

Secondary paths are not necessarily less important but they are more optional, for some people they will be crucial and central to their life, for others marginal. It is probably possible to identify other lesser paths. Perhaps these lesser paths are best understood as particular vocations.

Articulation

Giving voice to the inward faith. This expresses itself in many ways, in evangelism, apologetics and theology as well as a more informal reflection and sharing. To articulate the faith strengthens and deepens the faith apart from enabling it to be communicated to others. But it is always the living of the Way of Jesus that is more important than putting it into words. Nonetheless for some people articulating the Way of Jesus is central to their vocation.

Church membership

Supporting and renewing the historic Christian church. Church has much to recommend it, not least the way it holds, maintains and renews the tradition but now, living in a time when Christendom is in terminal decline, it is going through a period of challenging and unsettling change. Church membership is normal for Christ followers in the Jesus Way but some people are called to be in a more liminal relationship to church -- discovering the new church beyond its formal boundaries. Others are called to be in the very heart of the institution. What the future church will be like is a matter of intense debate but it will certainly be something very different from what we have known.

Campaigning

Working for justice, peace and the environment. This moves faith into the realm of the political. While the Way of Jesus does require resistance to destructive forces in our world others are called more explicitly to engage politically in a variety of ways which others will probably not agree with! We need to respect each other in this, but not seek to identify the Way of Jesus with particular narrow political positions.

Caring

Coming alongside people in their brokenness and suffering. This extends the fundamental hospitality of the Way of Jesus into a vocation: in this case to care and bring healing. There can be a close connection with campaigning, this is healthy and to be encouraged, but simply caring is a more than worthwhile vocation in its own right. Both carers and campaigners often follow the Way of Jesus even when they are not Christ-followers.

Making

The use of our God-given gifts and resources in the world. Often to celebrate, express and challenge Christian faith. Always to make the world a richer, more beautiful, more sustainable place. This may be through using our creative gifts: singing songs which speak of Jesus, making works of art which hint at the divine but also in more prosaic ways such as running organizations well, constructing buildings that are good for people to live in and enabling healthy communities to flourish.

Mission

Living the Way in the particular context in which we find ourselves as individuals and communities. Of course, this is something every Christ-follower in the Jesus Way does without necessarily realizing it, but it is important for some people to be doing it more consciously and for some this is part of their vocation. They are the missionaries.

Study

Studying the key resources for Christian faith. Particularly the Bible but also what Christians have thought and done in the past and what they are doing now throughout the world. This broadens and expands the Christian imagination and enriches Christian community. For some Christ followers in the Jesus Way study is less focused on these key Christian resources but in the arts and sciences they explore the universe in which we live with the Christian sensibility.

The Meaning of the Church Year

-- in theology and in the world

Festival

Theology

In the world

Christmas

In Jesus God enters into the world

There is mystery in the world. Things beyond our ken open to children and the child-like heart. We ponder these things in midwinter

Epiphany and Baptism of Christ.

The true nature of Jesus is revealed. Hope begins to dawn.

We recognize water as the source of life and long for the coming of the light and for warmth

Lent

Jesus enters the wilderness, we follow him

In our materialist age we need a time for self reflection and reorientation as we anticipate the spring

Holy week and Good Friday

In Jesus God suffers with and for the world

We cannot avoid pain and suffering. We must to do business with it

Easter

Jesus is raised to life. History is changed

Nonetheless there is hope and new life, we celebrate it as we welcome spring!

Pentecost and Ascension

Jesus as a man on earth is gone but he leaves his Spirit. The church is born.

If we are to live hopefully we need a filling of strength and vitality as summer arrives

Harvest Thanksgiving and All Saints

Scattered throughout the world we recognize Jesus everywhere

Thanksgiving for the life and the warmth that summer has brought us, as we enjoy the fruits of autumn

All Souls, Remembrance Day and Advent

We prepare for the coming of Jesus by reflecting on death and judgment

We remember the dead and our own mortality as winter approaches

The Way of Jesus

-- the fundamental values of the way of Jesus and their theological significance

Value

Meaning

Theology

Care and love

Life begins with caring. The newborn is vulnerable and needs love to survive. Everyone who is weak and suffering first of all needs to be listened to and cared for

In his healings Jesus demonstrates his care and love for people. He takes people where they are, respecting their wishes and asking them what they need.

Nurture

Love goes beyond caring into the more difficult task of nurturing the new life. It must be strong and bounded but not seek to manipulate

In the parables Jesus demonstrated that wisdom which nurtures growth and health. He goes beyond simple caring to call people into a new life.

Learning

When life has been nurtured then learning can begin, as we share knowledge and together come to new understanding

Jesus's teaching probes deeply into the human condition and leads us out of ourselves towards God

Active love

As we mature in understanding we are more and more able to act in the world

Jesus calls us to active love but also calls us to stillness and silence. Activity and silence is the dance we call life

Failure

As we act in the world so we fail and make mistakes. These hurt people and damage the world

Jesus calls us to mutual forgiveness. Only in this way can we dare to risk failure, and so dare to love

Success

But we learn how to act effectively in the world. We become competent and able, with the power to change the world and make a difference

Jesus calls us to humility. Only in this way can we protect ourselves from the dangers that power brings

Thankfulness

We can rejoice in what we achieve. We can learn from what we have done and plan for the future. We reach out once more in love and care, to nurture and bring life.

The way of Jesus teaches that all is from God and returns to God. It is not I but Christ who lives in me. Thanks be to God.