Three hundred years before Christianity was a religion, Jesus taught his disciples to walk in “the Way.” Alongside the simple term “students,” his earliest followers most common self-description was "the Way.” But what's that?
Categories can help us narrow in on the target. When asked by their Greco-Roman contemporaries to plug themselves into an existing category, early Christians had only one answer.
“Although we gather to worship, we are not a religion – much less a mere superstition.” (Superstition was the derisive term the Romans’ used to designate various religions of foreign extraction.)
“Although we provide, from our own pocket, decent burials for our members and others, we are not a burial society.”
“Though we are called Christians, and this follows the linguistic form for naming a political party (like Caesarians for those of Caesar’s party), we are not a political group.”
“Nor are we a guild – indeed we welcome people from every trade and every stratum of society.”
If you were to press this person, the Jesus follower would eventually offer a category. According to the early Christians, only one category comes near to working. “We are a philosophy. We follow the Way – the philosophy of Jesus.”
This self-categorization is full of significance. “If you want to understand our life and teachings,” the early Christians said, “you must compare us to your schools of philosophy.” Thus, they asked their neighbors and critics to form a judgment with one eye fixed on Christian behavior and the other eye fixed on the life and teachings of the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Cynics and the Academy, new and old.
May I ask you to take this testimony seriously?