The idea of “walking with” continues into the early church age. But there is less emphasis on it as a metaphor. The metaphor of walking referring to a way of life is strong. Particularly, the emphasis of the choice to walk according to God’s will or against God’s will is clear.
St. John used the idea of walking considerably. I John 1:6,7 talks specifically about walking in light versus walking in darkness and the theme continues throughout the epistle. It is clear in I John 1:6,7 that walking in light or darkness is linked to fellowship or togetherness. Further on in John’s epistles there is expansion in the idea to walking in truth, walking in obedience to Christ’s commands, walking as Jesus did, and walking in love. John in Rev. 3:4 speaks of faithful members of the church of Sardis as walking with Christ. The Revelation passage notes that it is because of their faithfulness and obedience to Christ that they are deemed worthy to walk with Him/
A fairly similar metaphor to “walking with” is “walking in the footsteps of.” Romans 4:12 refers to believers who walk in the footsteps of faith as Abraham walked. 1 Peter 2:21 describes how we are to follow Christ, walking in his steps. These two passages demonstrate the relationship (that of following) but not necessarily how close. Following was an important theme. I Timothy 4:1 and 5:15 note that one may choose to follow Satan or deceiving spirits. On the other hand one can follow the example of Christ and the way of love (I Corinthians 11:1 and 14:1). II Peter 2:15 notes apostates of having left the straight way and having followed the path of wickedness. Paul not only suggests that people should follow Christ, but that one should follow his own example (II Thess. 3:7-9)
Up to this point, there is little innovation or expansion on the thoughts previously in the Old Testament and the Gospels. But there is an important difference coming. Up to this point, following after Christ, or waking in the path of righteousness could be an extremely individualistic thing. Arguably if two are both following the righteous path, there is some amount of commonality… but not necessarily a true unity or relationship. Even more, statements by St. Paul to follow himself could be viewed as divisive. But this is where we need to dig further.
Although Paul said to follow Christ in I Corinthians and to follow himself in II Thessalonians, Paul clearly rejects the possible interpretation of disunity, as one can see in I Corinthians 1:12ff. There he rejects the idea that following someone should imply disunity. To make this clear, another metaphor is brought in. The idea is that baptism in the name of Christ demonstrates the unity of the church. (It is rather sad that water baptism due to different interpretations and forms has become a point of disunity in the church.) The point is expanded later in I Corinthians 12 to the idea that everyone in the church as been baptized (immersed as a common unifying experience) in one Spirit… the Spirit of God. (Again it is rather sad that “spirit baptism” has been reinterpreted in recent decades as a dividing experience rather than a unifying relationship.) In I Corinthians 3 clarification is also given with the idea of a building and having different roles in the building is not divisive.
Following Christ, walking in His steps, is tied directly to unity in the Spirit of God. Beyond the concept of the church being baptized in the Holy Spirit, Romans 15:5 speaks of God giving a “spirit of unity” to those who follow Christ. This does suggest that unity is not automatically the result of following Christ. That actually makes sense since mutual obedience to Christ does not automatically imply mutual relationship. Yet such a relationship (walking with) is desired by God. The Spirit of God is seen as a unifier. Jude 1:16-19 speaks of apostates who seek disunity and follow after evil desires as not having the Spirit of God.
Many of the early church writings (for example the Epistle of Barnabas) continued with the theme of two ways… the way or path of light, and the path of darkness. However, for a related metaphor to “walking with,” one can consider “running together.” It carries a similar set of implications but has roots more in the area of athletics. Of course, running a race is used several times in the New Testament… but it is in the writings of St. Ignatius that the idea of “running together” is used as a call for unity in the church. One example of the use of “running together” is:
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates,and servants of God. (Epistle to Polycarp, Chapter VI)
Admittedly, Ignatius tended to link running together to submission to church leadership (a bit of an obsession with him) but still the end goal is unity in the body of Christ.
In the early church age as we see in the Epistles and the early church fathers, walking is seen as living out a choice of going with God or in opposition to God. However, two additions are made. First, walking with God, following after Christ is to involve unity within the church. Unity in this case does not appear to be primarily focused on political or governmental unity (Ignatius may disagree). The focus is on relationship and spirit. Secondly, as we walk together we have a connection or unity in Spirit of God.
The final two posts in this series will seek to take the insights of the previous posts and link them with sound (and hopefully Biblical) principles of missiology for a missions theology built around the theme of “walking with.”
- On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 3 (munsonmissions.org)
- The Necessity of Unity (graceindallas.wordpress.com)