There are two Ways

There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between these two Ways is great.

The Didache

I read the words in this ancient Christian text — one that some scholars say is older than some of the books in the New Testament — and I am struck by the lack of gray in this black and white statement. These words remind me of many words printed in our Bible — Old and New Testament — that speak of this kind of radical choice.

I find no indication — perhaps my memory needs jarring — of a middle road between these two. There are two ways. One is narrow and leads to life. The other is broad and leads to death.

And yet, I know not all Christianity and all human life can be easily summed up in a choice of A or B. Even among those who appear to be walking in the Way of Life, I can think of those who appear to be walking an even more demanding and narrow road than the generality of Christians. It is as if some Christian walk on the road and others, finding this too simple, jump up on the guardrail and walk it like a balance beam.

I want to introduce degrees and levels and comparisons to the choice laid out for us by the Didache and Jesus. Even John Wesley did this. But the words of Scripture and the experience of the early church don’t give me much room for that. They hold up a simple choice. Here is life. Here is death. Choose life.

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18 thoughts on “There are two Ways

  1. The problem is when “my” or “our” way becomes the way of life, and everything else is declared to be death. If we had a stronger sense of church authority, and sense of the apostolic deposit (like the Magisterium of the RCC) to which we had to hold, it would be easier for the UMC to be this much-desired black and white. But for a host of reasons we are not there at this point. And maybe that’s not all bad. I think of Jesus who said to go by the narrow road, but his own approach to Jewish law was not “black and white” but a fairly unique approach – neither legalistic nor pagan – for his context.

    1. But in a document such as the Didache — and the New Testament — don’t we have a sense of the apostolic deposit?

      1. Of course. But that deposit has always been mediated through the community. As the authority of the church became less and less important, unity on the shape of that deposit and the form of life which it calls for waned. Otherwise there would be more consensus among the supposedly “sola scriptura” Protestant sects.

        1. No. I’m say the UMC, and Protestants more broadly, have gotten it wrong. The history of Protestantism shows that simply building the church on “the Bible argues thus” is bound to create schism after schism. There needs to be a community to say this is the way of life, not just individual Christians who may or may not consent to each other’s reading of Scripture.

  2. I’m uncomfortable with Drew’s explanations for a few different reasons. Correct me if I’m incorrect. I wonder if the line that is drawn in the sand between the way to life and the way to death is the same as the line between truth and lie. I believe the Didache, “There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between these two Ways is great.”, as truth. And I see no more gray area here than I see between truth and untruth. The last comment that begin with, “No. I’m say the UMC, and Protestants more broadly, have gotten it wrong…..” , is rather bold. The “community” that is stated needed is one that actually understands what truth is. Of course, ………..” simply building the church on “the Bible argues thus” is bound to create schism after schism.” The Bible is truth, and truth by its very nature separates from itself all untruths.

    To better understand exactly what the church community really needs, please take a moment and read this short essay: http://disciplesway.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/the-truth-is-truth-is-2/

    In the end it does come to either “A or B.” The sooner this is understood, the sooner the church community will be able to truthfully say to the world, “This is the way of life.”

  3. Thanks for the response, Drew. I’m a bit confused by what you are saying, though. I hear you saying the following things:

    1) Jesus own example is in tension with his words about a narrow way. You seem to suggest his teaching was something of a middle way between Jewish legalism and paganism.

    2) We can’t describe Christian life in the way the Didache does for a host a reasons including the fact that we try to use Scripture alone in ways that lead to individualized rather than communal standards and the related fact that we have no powerful communal authority.

    What I’m not sure is whether you think it would be a good thing to affirm what the Didache says about there being only two ways. You sound to me like you are saying we can’t affirm that because we all disagree what the way is. It sounds as if you are saying the existence of dissent or disagreement makes the claim that their are only two ways moot.

    1. John
      I know you’ve read hauerwas. I hear his words in Drew’s response Drew can reply whether I’m on target or not. But here’s one of his points: historical criticism and fundamentalist “the bible says” readings are really 2 sides of the same coin. They both claim they know the meaning of the text without the necessary spiritual & moral formation in the community called church What are some of the consequences of this? Let me illustrate this way…take the phrase “I love moving pictures”. Three people read it and one says “it’s about a guy who works for UPS” the next says “no, it’s about a woman whose rearranging photographs on the walls of her apartment ” the last says “no, you’re all wrong it’s about an old man who like movies” we have over 30,000 identified Christian denominations shortly after the invention of the printing press. Countless people who say “well the bible clearly says..or…here’s what it means”. Mind you I’m only responding to what I believe Drew to be communicating. I think that the appeal in your blog post has a couple of over simplifications though. Always enjoy reading you. Peace

      1. Thanks for jumping into the conversation. I understand — to an extent — the whole problem of interpretation. But this seems like a second-order problem. The first question is whether there really are only two ways. The second question is how do we know which way is which. It feels as if people are using the challenges of the second question to avoid answering or to down-play the importance of the first question. (I’m aware that there is a long tradition in philosophy to argue that there is no first-order question here, but only a second-order one. There is nothing but interpretation, we are told. I’m not prepared to embrace that position.)

        I agree the blog post has some simplifications, but I also think we often tend to introduce complications as a way to avoid being put on the spot of decision. And, of course, I based the post on a single sentence from the Didache. The longer work does get into a lot more complexity.

  4. Interesting response flow…
    My take on the subject of “Two Ways” is that there are important decision points where each believer in Christ must make a choice. I do not see a middle way in the decision points of homosexual marriage or homosexual ordination. You either marry a couple, or you don’t. You either ordain a practicing homosexual to ministry, or you don’t. And those are the decision points for the UMC in 2016. We either change the Discipline language, or we don’t. If we do make the changes, I would predict and expect that hundreds of pastors and churches will do what Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston did on July 19 and leave their governing body. The only question is will Christian generosity prevail which allows churches to keep their property, and pastors to keep their pensions. Since millions of dollars are involved, that probably will not happen.

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/texas-megachurch-leaves-pcusa-for-conservative-presbyterian-group-124304/

    1. My take is that we are at the decision point at every moment of the day. For some reason I think of that episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation where Q tells Picard that the trial never ends. We can step off the narrow way at any point of any day.

      1. With apologies to Captain Picard…
        While I love Q as the master villain to Picard’s button down Federation Captain, I was thinking more of I Kings 18:20-21.. Ahab the master villain to Elijah the prophet:
        20 “So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. But the people said nothing. ”

        The striking indictment on Israel was that the people said nothing. They were perfectly willing to give themselves to Baal, or to Jehovah depending on the societal winds blowing around them.

        Drew’s statement “The history of Protestantism shows that simply building the church on “the Bible argues thus” is bound to create schism after schism. There needs to be a community to say this is the way of life, not just individual Christians who may or may not consent to each other’s reading of Scripture” does not appear to lessen the problem of schism. Does church history demonstrate that “community” is a better foundation for building the church? How many Schisms have happened precisely because a “community” lacking or twisting Biblical foundation, gained power, and veered off into heresy.

        I am reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis:
        “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” (Mere Christianity)

  5. Scripture is replete with utter life and death choices; there is not a mingled way. The starkness of this is not “as we like it” today. Postmoderns rebel against the finality of choice; after all, so many of us are ambivalent procrastinators about so many things. We can’t discipline; we can’t remain faithful; we can’t discern the truth. But this doesn’t let us off the hook. I think I am saying this to deaf ears, perhaps…

  6. Perhaps the reason for the potential schisms is the fact that so very many church leaders and church members are attempting to serve God while still holding on to the ways of this world and their own natural rebellion towards God. Our fallen nature will always want it “our way”. Every Christian would immediately claim, “I choose life!”. But this decision requires something great from each of us if we want those words from our lips to be judged as true. Choosing life means allowing that “life” to replace our life and all the comforts and gratifications it offers. Very few will actually truthfully choose life, thus, “narrow is the way…..”.

    I appreciate the C.S. Lewis quote divinediet shared. But here is where I see the problem with so many “mature” Christians. So many people have walked so far down the wrong path that turning around now appears monumental. It would mean confessing having lived and thought and taught in err. Sadly, that is just too high a price to pay for a man or woman who has spent great time and energy creating for others who they wanted to be seen as. Pride is a clever sin, and will always accommodate our denying it is in us.

    My thought is that for each of us to actually live our choice of “life” will require a absolute constant, conscience, submission of, not just saying, but living “Thy will be done oh Lord”. Anything less is death. Jesus didn’t allow for wiggle room when He said, “You are either for me – or you are against me.” That’s the choice. And the answer we give has nothing to do with our vocal chords.

  7. I would like to comment a moment on your statement “And yet, I know not all Christianity and all human life can be easily summed up in a choice of A or B. Even among those who appear to be walking in the Way of Life, I can think of those who appear to be walking an even more demanding and narrow road than the generality of Christians. It is as if some Christian walk on the road and others, finding this too simple, jump up on the guardrail and walk it like a balance beam.”

    Could this actually be just an indication of becoming more and more in the likeness of Christ? Could this be gradually going from milk to meat, so to speak? I mean, there is not a narrow way and a narrower way. I wonder if it really is a “more demanding and narrow road” or if it is actually the only “road”. I think the “generality of Christians” road is not the road at all. I think many proclaim their choice, then consciously choose what and how much of their life they are going to offer to that choice. They lie to the Holy Spirit when they proclaim they have given all of themselves, when in the truth not seen by man, they only gave a portion – withholding for themselves a portion of themselves. And now it seems that many mainline denominations are making that lie an acceptable lie, an acceptable holding back a portion, by the failure to even acknowledge sin as sin and evil as evil. So instead of individuals choosing to live a lie, or the way that leads to death, mainline denominations are actually leading multiples to death.

  8. “Where the rubber meets the road”: We are two years until a General Conference when roads divide. One expects there to be a lot of talk and a lot of scheming in the ramp up. But, ironically, I don’t sense anything more than a shrug and resignation, at least on the part of self-described moderates. Good News scholars (a la Billy Abraham and company) are pressing the bishops for a directive. Do we expect resolution, or mystification? Few of the factotums that fill our pews seem clued in to the pending deadline. The “church crisis” appears to them remote and abstract. They are concerned for the immediate and the local. If our corporate “lassigkeit” is analogous to the personal, we are acting as though we don’t have to choose.

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