Raising Followers of The Way

The first followers of Jesus were often called “Followers of the Way”, or more simply, “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9.23; 24:14,22; 22:4). This was the title adopted by believers in Jesus to describe themselves, and may have referred to those who followed the One who described Himself as “The Way” (John 14:6). But the term also described a particular manner of life which followers of Jesus Christ came to adopt, setting them apart both from the particular Jewish manner of life from which they had emerged, and from the pluralistic Greco-Roman “Gentile” ways of life in which they were immersed. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) we see Him articulating for disciples the beginning of this “Way” of life, distinct from the rabbinic Judaism of His Day. Throughout the rest of His earthly ministry, we see Him demonstrating His Way of Life to the disciples. Following His death and resurrection the Holy Spirit shaped this Way of Life in the rapidly growing community of those who were being saved, as described in Acts 2:37-3:1.   In the practical teachings of New Testament Letters we see this Way further refined. We also note that disciples of Jesus followed the command of the Old Covenant to raise their children in the faith through the home, fulfilling Peter’s statement that “the promise (of salvation in Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit) is for you, (and) for your children. Parents, and particularly fathers, are urged to “bring up [their] children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, implying that practical disciplines of faith precede and accompany dogmatic instruction in the faith.

In the post-biblical period, documents such as “The Didache” (“The Teaching” of the Apostles) begin their description of life in Christ with “Two Ways: The Way of Life and the Way of Death”, and then clarify in great detail what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus seemed to understand their life in Christ as being not only what they believed, but how they lived. This common core of faith in action was passed on to children, first in the family, and then in the various settings of the early church.

With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the resultant enculturation of Christianity into “the ways” of the Roman Empire, terms associated with “The Way” soon fell into disuse. The “catechumenate”, the rigorous instruction of would-be disciples and their children out of the home and life, atrophied and disappeared, as did the commitment to a Way of Life in Christ distinct from Greco-Roman culture. With the accession of pagan temples by the Christian state, houses of worship became the center of the Christian life, replacing the family as the locus for raising up the baptized in the Way of Jesus. In subsequent church history, communities that sought to live more clearly in and for Christ, resisting the sub-Christian pressures of their culture, would separate from the church and craft a Rule or Way for their life together. This was true of the desert fathers and mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries, as well as the Benedictine, Franciscan, and Ignatian communities of their day. However, most of these were communities of adults, having little to do with the raising of children in Christ. With a few notable exceptions, there seemed to be few descriptions of local communities raising children in the Way of Jesus, seen in both faith content and faith lifestyle. It seemed as if such Ways of Life were relegated to “the religious”, or, more recently, to Christian micro-communities in cities with a particular call to serve the poor. It seems as if the local church has an unclear vision of what it actually means to live the life of Christ daily, and further confusion about how to raise children in Christ.

Hallie and I believe we have been led by God to put together an online conversation discussing ways to raise faithful followers of Christ, children to adult, using to the “trellis” of Way of Life pursued at the Abbey of the Way in Worcester, Mass.   We will focus on twelve values in this Way, with some practices which may be useful for value development that is appropriate for one of four stages of faith: experiential, ranging from birth to approximate age 10; affiliative, ranging from approximate age 10 through age 16; questioning, ranging from approximate 16 through young adulthood; and owned, developing, as in the previous three, under the timing of the Holy Spirit. As with any Rule of Life that is of any help in Christian development, it is only a structure that can give shape and room for growth in one’s soul, growth that is only made possible by God.  May He bless our efforts, and those of children, parents, and other adults who seek to grow in the Way of Jesus.  Participants in the conversation will react to what is posted, both from the Cowans, and from participants in this closed-group discussion.

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