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Not a sect! The Way!

I fear that there are a great number of theologians - evangelicals - who want to turn Christianity into a Jewish sect.  Let me explain...

Before Felix, Paul says:

I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets  (Acts 24:14).

Paul's opponents want to understand him as part of a Jewish sect.  Paul rejects that understanding.  He follows the Way.  The Ancient Way - the Way of the Law and the Prophets.

In front of Agrippa, Paul unpacks a couple of things from that quote.  First he shows what a sect is.

...according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.  (Acts 26:5)

This is what Paul means by sect: a small part of a greater whole (in modern usage it has the added meaning of a part that claims to be the whole.)

Pharisaism is a good example of a sect within Judaism.

But Paul insists, Christianity is not a sect within some broader category of messianically-ambivalent-Jewish-religion.  Christianity is not a smaller, more specific kind of Judaism that just happens to follow the Messiah.  It is the Way.  The Way of the fathers, the Way of the law and the prophets. The Way it's always been.

How can Paul say this?  Well, Paul simply explains what the law and the prophets have always testified:

I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen--  that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."  (Acts 26:22-23)

This is Christianity - the Ancient Way.  The Way of Moses and the prophets.  Paul does not follow a sect within a larger entity called Judaism.   He follows the suffering, rising and reigning Christ - just as the fathers did.  You cannot and must not understand Christianity as a smaller part of a broader Scriptural story, for then you misunderstand the law and the prophets themselves.

Paul says explicitly that he has not put a Christian gloss on a pre-existing sub-messianic revelation.  He is simply following the Way of Moses.

If someone does not follow the suffering, rising, reigning Christ they are not following the Way of Moses.  And, note well, this is NOT a new state of affairs according to Paul.   This is not Paul reading messianic meaning into Moses.  Paul is saying nothing beyond the original meaning and intention of the prophets and Moses.

Anyone, in any age, who is not trusting in the promised Messiah is not part of the Way.  They are the sect.

That's Paul's understanding.

And yet how often do we hear - from evangelicals - that Paul retrospectively awards messianic meaning to Moses!?  In direct contradiction to his plain words here!

How common to hear that the law and the prophets were originally non-messianic!?

How common to hear that Moses would not have understood the Way in his own day?  That, practically speaking, his beliefs would have matched up far more with a non-messianic Jew than with Paul!

That, essentially, the OT in its own context does belong in the synagogue, but the NT has audaciously re-interpreted it.

And what does this imply?  It implies that Christianity is a sect within Judaism.  A true sect.  A divinely authorized sect.  But a sect.

I tell you, we are not a sect.  We are the Way.  The Ancient Way.  And there has never been any other.

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0 thoughts on “Not a sect! The Way!

  1. Simulator

    Sadly, perhaps it's only common, and increasingly so, to hear that the OT was originally non-messianic because it's actually actively and sometimes aggressively taught even from 'reputable' evangelical colleges that trains up Anglican ordinands!

  2. Rich Owen

    Really interesting post, Glen. I like it. As you know, I agree.

    I wonder, for the benefit of your readers, if you would do another post on the consequences of taking this view? Why this matters - what it does to spirituality, what it does to churches, what it does to evangelism.

    May the favour of Him who dwelt in the burning bush be upon you this Christmas (Deut 33:16)

    Rich

  3. Glen

    Thanks guys - in answer to Rich's question, would any of you three like to write something on why this stuff matters to you? I'm sure I'll write something myself, but it'd be great to get your perspectives too?

  4. The Simple Guy

    Jesus said that if they were Abraham's sons, they would know who He was, because Abraham saw His day and was glad.

    So we aren't the "sect" ( I agree with both Paul and Christ)

    That's why it matters to me. Faith has been Faith since the Fall. Adam and Eve, Abraham, David, and Paul were all saved the same way.

    Salvation, and faith are not changed. Man doesn't come up with any new ways of denying faith either.

    Craig

  5. Paul Blackham

    Glen.

    A genius article. This is a line of thought that [I'm afriad] I will have to nick and use.

    Glory to Jesus,

    Paul.

  6. Si

    Three things with treating it as a "Judeo-Christian" progression, or with Christianity (even just at the start) being a Jewish sect, rather than the other way round that I've observed people doing:

    1) Non-messianic Jewish thought and practise, even post-Christ, counts as tradition, and "closer to our roots" to boot.
    2) We must purge non-Jewish stuff, especially 'Greek' and 'Roman' from our theology and practise.
    3) Jewish culture from the time of Jesus is the ideal culture - sure don't become Pharisees, and accept modern science, and not keep the Law, but we must act with similar thought patterns in our minds. eg "We can't have not dancing about when worshipping as it's not Jewish." and "We must hug people and such, rather than shake hands, as it is." OK, it's not said as explicitly as this.

    Another thing that comes out of the evolution of thought idea (which there is some truth, but it's not the case that we're smarter, or know the gospel better, it's that we have what's gone before to help us and we either improve on it or backslide) is reverse chronological snobbery. We've evolved away from the truth - must get back to the "early church" (some people go back to before Acts 10 - see above! though others feel that the whole first century is OK, and many more allow until 315AD when nasty Constantine romanised the church) as it was all perfect then. Or "we must get back to pure Reformation doctrine, that of Luther/Calvin, before it got watered down", or, "The Puritans - they are the ones who got it". Sure, old theology is useful, and we need to look at it, but there wasn't a golden age where everything was done right. There's also the "we've got better at the truth", lets ditch the old - and we have the Marcions landing again as well as a rejection of church history.

    And then you have the common trend to pin the rot to someone - normally Constantine, and have an exile to 315, plus the last 30 years approach - all other time periods are not worth bothering with - they either hadn't known yet or apostated..

  7. Tim C

    Here at WTS the aftermath of the Peter Enns controversy is still reverberating. I wasn't here to comment on the specific harsh treatment of him or not... but in terms of the positions he was advancing, you've pretty much summed it up here. I do think he and Longman are brilliant scholars and very helpful on a range of subjects - but I have to say the more I look at this issue the more I think his leaving was a good thing for the seminary...

  8. John Richardson

    "And yet how often do we hear – from evangelicals – that Paul retrospectively awards messianic meaning to Moses!? In direct contradiction to his plain words here!

    "How common to hear that the law and the prophets were originally non-messianic!?

    "How common to hear that Moses would not have understood the Way in his own day? That, practically speaking, his beliefs would have matched up far more with a non-messianic Jew than with Paul!

    I have to say, personally, the answers to the above are "Never" and "Not at all".

    But perhaps I am moving in the wrong (or right) circles.

  9. Josh VB

    John,

    these are the type of things people are objecting to:

    "There are numerous problems that Christians meet when reading the OT, but I shall mention only a few. First we recognise that the OT is pre-Christian and never mentions any of the distinctives of the Christian faith. The people of Israel are not Christians and cannot be said to live 'Christian' lives...

    "...the prophetic view of the final saving work of God makes no specific reference to Jesus Christ and is directed instead towards the national destiny of Israel. The Kingdom of God centres on the restored temple in a rebuilt Jerusalem to which are gathered all the previously scattered Israelites..."

    This isn't an obscure quote, but a quote from probably the most influential Old Testament scholar amongst conservative evangelical anglicans (I don't know about free-Church people) in a book that comes near the top of the recommended reading list for OT studies.

    The author than proposes an approach to the OT which reuires the NT to give meaning to the OT - the assumption being that most of what we want to get out of the OT wouldn't be there if we just looked in the OT as a starting point. (Which is much stronger statement than saying that the NT is a help to understanding the OT).

    This is the approach which rebukes preachers from preaching Christ too quickly from the OT - as if what we really need is lots of non-Christ first!

    Will give the name and author if you want (via an email to you - he's a brother in Christ and I wouldn't want to put his name on a blog in this context without speaking to him first) if so, I'd be interested to know what you think of the quotes when you see them in the context of the book

  10. Glen

    Hi John,
    I'd describe my circles as Sydney / UK conservative evangelical Anglican. Very similar to yours, though no doubt I've inherited these traditions a generation downstream from the sources. But in pop biblical theology paperbacks, in much of ministry training, in the preaching of young enthusiasts and in countless web discussions I've heard these kinds of things. And much, much worse.

  11. Si

    The 'J'-word was mentioned at our carol service last night, in relation to praying standing up. Now there's nothing wrong with praying standing up - in fact it is good to do so (as well as praying in other postures), but what does it matter that's its a "very Jewish" thing to do?

  12. Si

    Just thought, as this came up in my small group tonight, looking at the end of Luke 5: The parable of the new patch on old cloth and new wine in new wine skins - the explanation is normally always given that the new is Jesus - so what's that about those who've tasted the old wine say that it's better - is it a dig at the Traditionalist Pharisees or is the old wine actually better?

    Preparing for it, it struck me that it's not clear as to whether old or new is Christianity, and whether new or old is Phariseeism. You look at the context and it's about additional fasting and stuff, on top of the law, and how the disciples don't do it as the bridegroom is come. Is that the bridegroom has come 'new' and the time for fasting 'old', or is the legalistic fasting and religiousity 'new' and celebrating God with fasting 'old'?

    It's quite clear that both new and old get destroyed when you mix them together (like "Jesus plus something equals nothing"), so the meaning doesn't rely on which is which, but everyone I read has "Jesus is the new stuff, Pharisees are the old stuff".

    I think culture has a big part in this - we chase youth, we love the new - but I'm sure this "breakaway sect" idea comes into play with a lot of people. I wonder what Justin, whose Apology pushes the "Christianity is old, not some new upstart" a ton as the culture though older is better, thought...

  13. Tim V-B

    I preached that passage recently, and I also was confused by the 'old wine is better' bit. I cheated and ducked the issue, taking it to be some dig at the Pharisees who prefer the old wine.

    I wasn't happy, though. Aged wine IS better, isn't it?! On the other hand, there are lots of Hebrew prophecies about a new era in which there is plenty of new wine flowing. And the parallels in other gospels don't have the extra line, and the natural reading of those is that new wine is better than old.

    Anyone out there got some good insights? We definitely want to avoid the whole 'Old Testament is outdated old wine' mentality!

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