What is the Way of Christ and His Apostles?

“The Way” of salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone (read more here).

“The Way” of life and ministry for a disciple of Jesus is what we mean by “The Way of Christ and His Apostles”. It was introduced by Christ Himself, then commissioned to the Apostles — the first followers of Jesus. They then proclaimed the gospel, planted churches and established them in a certain way. That “way” of proclaiming the gospel, planting churches and establishing them is what we mean by “The Way of Christ and His Apostles”.  

Many denominations and church planting movements have understood and promoted this “way” very well and others not so well. But, it’s helpful to think in terms of percentages (though exact percentages are impossible to determine). Even heretical cults can get a few things right. Maybe they have a high view of marriage. Maybe they love one another well. Maybe they teach a pretty accurate understanding of one doctrine even if they get everything else wrong. So, maybe they’re only getting about 5% correct of what Jesus intended for the life of a disciple. Perhaps other groups are more faithful to “the way of Christ and His Apostles” — getting 40 or even 50% correct. Others come even closer — maybe 80 or 85%. Which ministry would you rather be part of? Which church would you rather devote your life to? Isn’t it obvious?

This naturally leads to the question, What would it look like to fully and completely walk in the Way of Christ and His Apostles? The answer, of course, is found in the New Testament. To know for sure how you are doing will require two basic steps:

  1. Re-reading the New Testament with fresh eyes. This is difficult work. Two thousand years of church traditions and cultural influences can make it hard to see what is really there. This re-reading of the New Testament will require us to ask some probing questions: How did the first-century Christians live their lives? What traditions did they cherish? How did they use their time? What teachings did the writers of the New Testament emphasize? Where did they devote their resources? How did they train their leaders? What were their meetings like? How did they do evangelism? How did they interact with their neighbors?
  2. Doing some serious assessment. We have to take a serious look at ourselves, at our traditions, at the things we take for granted about life, church and ministry. Imagine sitting down with the first-century Church Apostles and other leaders — maybe Peter or Paul or John (maybe all three). Would they understand or approve of our traditions? Would they agree with how we use our time, the teachings we emphasize, where we devote our resources, how we train leaders, how we meet, how we do evangelism, how we interact with neighbors, etc.?  

The following is a brief overview of my understanding of the way of Christ and His Apostles, but I recommend that you gather together with other believers and read the Bible together and do exactly that: Re-read with fresh eyes and do some serious assessment. If you’re a church or ministry leader, get your staff, board and co-workers together for this process. Every generation of Christians should. It is truly life-changing. 

The Way of Christ and His Apostles

The story of the New Testament can be divided up into three major chapters or stages: Jesus’ First and Second Comings with the building of the Church in the middle.

This first and third stages feature the visible Jesus coming and then returning.

The first coming of Jesus is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the first few verses of Acts. The second coming of Jesus is found primarily in the final book of the New Testament: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Christ came the first time as a Jewish child, fulfilling God’s promises from the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi) of the coming Messiah, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit then growing up in an ordinary Jewish home and community until about 30 years of age when He began His public ministry. Then, He went about Israel, proclaiming the good news of His coming, teaching the people, training a handful of disciples, challenging the religious hypocrites, performing miracles, dying on the cross, rising from the dead and then returning to the right hand of the Father in heaven. It’s very important to understand that before His death, resurrection and ascension, He made two really big promises: 1) He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), and 2) He promised to come again (e.g., Matthew 16:27). Our intent is not to over-simplify the teaching of Jesus, but to highlight that Jesus didn’t leave us in the dark about what was next when He ascended into Heaven. He had a plan and He taught that plan to His disciples: He would return some day, but between now and then, He is building His Church.  

The second (middle) stage features the “hidden” Jesus building His Church.  

Of course, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, He was no longer visible (Acts 1:9). But, invisible doesn’t mean gone or disconnected or disinterested. He continued to work (Acts 1:1). He was behind all that happened in the rest of the New Testament, starting in Acts and continuing on into the writings of the Apostles (Romans through Revelation). This was His continuing work through the power of the Holy Spirit. But after Jesus’ ascension, He did His work and teaching through His Apostles. The way of Christ was modeled by the Apostles of Christ. The Apostles of Christ were commissioned by Christ to teach the way of Christ. This is why the first-century church “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching” (Acts 2:42). This is why Paul could instruct the churches to “imitate [him] as [he] imitated Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This is why the only book of the New Testament to describe the birth and expansion of the Church in the first century has historically been known as: The Acts of the Apostles. This is why one of the earliest creeds was called The Apostles’ Creed. This is why the Nicene Creed includes the phrase, “We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church”.  

The way of Christ for this Post-Messiah-in-the-Flesh Age is this “apostolic” faith. The way of Christ for all disciples of Christ was paved by these Christ-chosen Apostles. We are to believe what they believed, teach what they taught and pattern our lives and ministries after their example. So, what was this example? Just what did Jesus’ Apostles do after He ascended into Heaven? They did Church! They proclaimed the gospel and planted churches when people believed it. They taught and established disciples in order to strengthen the churches. They raised up leaders for churches. They expanded a network of local churches throughout the Roman empire. They participated in what Jesus had promised He would do in this age before His return: The building of His Church.

The following five observations give a brief overview of this building process — at least from a human perspective. This is not at all meant to de-emphasize the divine work of the Holy Spirit, but simply to get at what our part is. We assume Jesus is still building His Church through the power of the Holy Spirit and it is our privilege to participate in that work. So, we want to honor Christ by following His plan — the plan taught and modeled by His Apostles.

#1—The Pauline Cycle: The Pattern for Church and Mission

The Pauline Cycle

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The Apostle Paul became the primary example in the heart of the Book of Acts — from about Chapter 13 until the end of the book. He was Christ’s “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15) to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (cf., Ephesians 3:8-10), so his message and methods eventually became normative for Christians of this age (2 Timothy 2:2).

Look at three important things found in Acts 14:21-23: Paul “preached the gospel” then was “strengthening the souls of the disciples” and then “appointed elders…” Another way of saying this is: He evangelized strategic cities, established local churches and entrusted the leadership of those churches to faithful men. This is widely known as The Pauline Cycle because several other places in the New Testament indicate these tasks served as the pattern of Paul’s ministry.

And, as we dig into the New Testament we see this pattern built off of Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the Apostles in Jerusalem — the first several chapters of Acts. In other words, The Pauline Cycle is how the early church understood and accomplished the Great Commission. It is foundational to understanding what the early church considered most important.

#2—New Testament Evangelism: Planting Churches that Expand

Evangelizing - Ephesus

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A careful reading of the New Testament reveals three basic ideas about New Testament evangelism — two of which we don’t always associate with evangelism:

1) Initial preaching of the gospel. Paul often used the Jewish synagogue and other places like the Hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9) and the Areopagus (Acts 17:22) to boldly declare the good news about Jesus.

2) Evangelism as a community. The second stage of evangelism was the work of the church community — being the church, winning the favor of neighbors. There is very little emphasis on individual evangelism in the New Testament (though certainly, individual evangelism is good and necessary). The emphasis is on our love and devotion for one another and inviting people into the church community.

3) Multiplication of simple churches. The first-century churches met in homes around a meal, celebrating their new life in Christ and there was something very attractive about that. But it was also incredibly practical. Homes were already built, without fund-raisers and massive debt. A church could be planted in a home immediately — even spontaneously wherever the Holy Spirit provided an opportunity.

The chart provided shows the example of Ephesus. Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus — a strategic city in the Roman Empire (see Acts 19). He then spent 2-3 years there (Acts 19:10) establishing the church and raising up leadership. Within a relatively short period of time, several other churches sprung up in and around Ephesus (Miletus, Smyrna, Colossae, etc.; see also Revelation 2-3). Many, if not most, would have been planted after Paul left. These were almost certainly churches that met in homes (e.g., Colossians 4:15). Rather than trying to get people to go all the way to First Church of Ephesus, they apparently planted churches in the various neighborhoods and surrounding villages. Rather than mega-churches, the first-century model for evangelism is many churches.

A follower of Jesus Christ cannot ignore the centrality of the local church. The “establishing” process (a.k.a., discipleship) of the Apostles was mainly focused on churches, not individuals. Christianity is not an individualistic faith. Most of the New Testament is focused on the message of the church, the mission and purpose and teaching of the church, the loving, familial relationships and intentional leadership of the church. In fact, so much of the New Testament focuses on the ministry of the local church that it is impossible to follow Christ apart from loving and embracing the local church.

Establishing - Pauls Letters

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#3—Establishing Churches: The Importance of Paul’s Letters

If people are not firmly rooted in the faith, they will struggle and fall away, and churches will crumble. Paul and his team spent considerable time — not just on evangelism, but also on establishing believers so churches would last multiple generations. He also wrote letters when he couldn’t be present himself and — thank God — these have been preserved for us:

1) Paul’s early letters (Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans; AD 49-57) were mainly focused on establishing churches in the gospel.

2) Paul’s middle letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians; AD 60-62) were focused on establishing churches in the mission and purpose of the church.

3) Paul’s later letters (1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy; AD 62-67) were focused on establishing churches as mature households of God.

If you have not spent considerable time in each of Paul’s letters — as well as the rest of the New Testament letters — you cannot be well-established in the faith of Jesus Christ. These letters were specifically written for this purpose.

#4—Kerygma and Didache: The Two Major Bodies of Teaching

Kerygma and Didache

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There are two main bodies of truth embedded in the New Testament books. It is important for every Christian to understand and be able to explain these teachings to other people.

1) Kerygma (The Greek word for “proclamation” or the gospel). Think “Jesus”: The Old Testament told us He was coming, the New Testament tells us He came: His work, His teaching, His cross, His death, His ascension into Heaven, His resurrection and the promise of His return. Those who believe are forgiven of their sins, welcomed into God’s household — the church — and are given eternal life in Christ.

This is what the Apostles “proclaimed”. Thus, we propose that the best way for a church or a follower of Christ to clarify the gospel message is to understand the gospel preached in Acts rather than the “good news” proclaimed in the Gospels. In other words, the gospel proclaimed during Jesus’ earthly ministry was proclaimed to the Jewish nation as He offered Himself to them as their Messiah. The gospel proclaimed after the cross (Acts and epistles) is the “good news” for the Gentiles and the people of this Church age. Of course, it is ultimately the same message, but some verses in the Gospels are unclear due to the context and the audience. The clear gospel message can be found in the speeches presented by Peter in the first 11 chapters of Acts and then by Paul (mostly) in the rest of Acts and the New Testament letters.

2) Didache (The Greek word for “teaching”). Think “life” — the Christian life: Putting off sinful habits, putting on Christlikeness, growing strong in relationships as families and churches, participating in what God is doing in the world by sharing the good news and doing good works in and through local churches. This way of life is primarily described in the New Testament epistles (Romans to Revelation).

The Apostles were unified around these two main bodies of teaching and expected that the churches could be unified around them as well (e.g., Acts 15; 2 Peter 3:14-18; 1 John 4:1-6). To recognize these two main bodies of teaching in our time is helpful for the same reason: They can unify us. So many of the divisions we see today in the Church worldwide are due to two millennia of debates and distortions of the simple gospel message and the clear teaching of the way of life of a disciple of Jesus. Surely we agree that there is a pure gospel. Surely we agree that the New Testament teaches us how to follow Christ in every generation. A fresh reading of what the Apostles actually taught and emphasized is the key to a unified body of Christ.

#5—The Paul-Timothy Model: Developing Leaders in the Context of Ministry

Paul Timothy Model 1

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The Apostles — like their Mentor, Jesus — raised up leaders for the ministry and for the next generation. There are many examples of this in the New Testament, but none as clear as Timothy and how Paul developed him in a mentoring relationship.

As a young man, Timothy devoted himself to serving in local churches and was “well spoken of by the brethren” (Acts 16:1-2). A man of proven character. So, when Paul came into his life, he was ready for the first major milestone of his ministry. He was commended by his elders (1 Timothy 4:14) to apprentice with Paul’s team (Acts 16:3). This began a long apprenticeship under the Apostle Paul. In other words, he was trained by Paul in the context of ministry. He was given increasing responsibility over a period of 15-20 years.

Eventually, Timothy reached a second major milestone. He was commended by Paul — a recognized leader himself — to plant churches and develop missionary teams just like his mentor (2 Timothy 1:6; see chart). Paul used the term “master craftsman” (or “builder”) to describe himself in 1 Corinthians 3:10, and this is what he was training Timothy to be — the kind of man Paul described as ready to “guard the treasure” of apostolic ministry (2 Timothy 1:13-14): A man who was keeping the faith, not wrangling over words, handling the word accurately, displaying obvious growth and had an undefiled conscience (see 1 and 2 Timothy).

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Timothy — and subsequent generations of leaders — were commissioned to replicate the work of the Apostle Paul: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This verse tells us that what Paul did was supposed to be the normative practice for Christian leaders throughout the Church Age.

Not everyone is a Paul or Timothy type. But, the way Paul mentored Timothy is how we’re supposed to mentor and develop (i.e., disciple) others. To begin with, we need to know whether a person is a team player — ready to serve in whatever way is needed to build up the body. Then, a person can be invited into a mentoring relationship and the question becomes: Is this person a team member, working in accord with the established leadership as long as necessary in order to be fully equipped? Hopefully, in time, after a person has proven himself as a team member, he or she can be entrusted with an even higher level of responsibility as a “Team Developer” — working to help shepherd people and churches. That progression is important — too much damage is done by people who aren’t prepared to be leaders.

Paul Timothy Model

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Again, not everyone is the same. Not everyone is a leader, but everyone is a servant. All leaders are not gifted for all types of leadership, but all leaders can play a vital role in the ministry and mission of the local church. There are various types of roles and ministries. Many of Paul’s team members were simply listed as “co-workers” (e.g., Romans 16:9; Philippians 2:25). Their roles may not have been clearly defined, but they were part of a team with a well-defined mission and purpose:

1) Elders, deacons, leading women who have a local ministry focus, but also participate in national and global ministry (expansion of the gospel).

2) Pauline teams — people with a national and/or global ministry focus, but who also participate in a local ministry.

3) Benefactors — the New Testament lists several people who provided various types of support including, financial support and hosting churches in their homes.

The work of the local church can be described as life development. Every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. Every Christian has talents and experience and contributions they can make to the work of the church. The discovery of this work is an exciting adventure and the leaders of the church should approach it with enthusiasm and hope, modeling their work after Christ and those He trained: The Apostles.

St. Paul’s or Ours?

These five elements are key — though not exhaustive — to understanding the way of Christ and His Apostles. Missionary Roland Allen — who coined the term The Way of Christ and His Apostles—wrote that

“… People have adopted fragments of St. Paul’s method and have tried to incorporate them into alien systems, and the failure which resulted has been used as an argument against the Apostle’s method … The truth is that they have neither understood nor practised the Apostle’s method at all.” (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?)

What about you? What is your assessment of your own ministry? Have you adopted 100% of the way of Christ and His Apostles or do you have a collection of fragments? Are your traditions different than the tradition handed down by Christ’s Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2)? If so, can you say that your traditions are somehow better? Are you walking according to the patterns and examples of the Apostles (Philippians 3:17)? If not, what will it take for you to realign yourself with those patterns? What will it look like for you to be an “imitator” of Paul and the other Apostles in the ways in which they imitated Christ?

Please contact me if you would like to discuss ways of addressing these issues in your ministry situation. God bless you as you seek to walk in the way of Christ and His Apostles.

Posted in Foundations.

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