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.
I suggest seven essential characteristics of Christ-followers in the Jesus Way
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Way of Jesus
-- the fundamental values of the way of Jesus and their theological significance