A new way to be together
The “Third Way” is a new approach to being together in a faith community centered around Jesus. It was first articulated in one of Ken’s books, A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embrace People Who are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered into the Company of Jesus. Third Way is drawn from the counsel of Paul to the church in Rome (see Romans 14-15). Third Way says we can enjoy a deep unity in the Spirit even when we have sharp disagreements over important moral questions. The issues that divided the church in Rome had to do with “Ten Commandment” concerns: eating meat sacrificed to idols (violating the first commandment) and lax Sabbath observance (breaking fourth commandment). Paul regarded these questions as “disputable matters” and said people can “agree to disagree” over such matters. He said fully accept everyone even if they are gravely mistaken in their beliefs and practices on disputed matters. He said don’t judge others, but trust God to do that in due time. In the meantime, hold to your own convictions and trust that those who differ do so in good consicence as a way to honor God.
Applications of Third Way
Third Way is essentially what families do when its members sharply disagree about important concerns. It’s what we do when a family member gets divorced and another questions the wisdom or morality of an ensuing remarriage. It’s what we do when those who oppose war embrace family members who fight in them. It’s what we do when family members shock us by their political views. Rather than separate from errant members, families have a healthy inclination to fully accept everyone in the family by learning to “agree to disagree.” Often the church adopts a Third Way approach only after a controversy has run its course. Of course, this is usually an implicit rather than explicit response. We have learned to agree to disagree over the grounds for remarriage after divorce, whether killing in war is the moral equivalent of murder, or what level of consumption constitutes greed. These issues are not unimportant or trivial and we hold to our convictions, sometimes passionately, and they don’t become reasons to separate or to exclude. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul was addressing the church in the throes of controversy over what were threatening to become (or had already become) church splitting matters. The Third Way, in other words is not just for yesterday’s controversies, but for today’s.
A Contemporary Application of Third Way
An equivalent issue today is the LGBT controversy: are same-sex couples to be accepted and received in the church in the same way that opposite gendered couples are accepted and received? A Third Way approach says, yes. This calls for an end to all exclusionary practices aimed at same-sex covenantal couples. No membership or leadership restrictions, for example. No defining this issue as a litmus test for orthodoxy or as a requirement for belonging. Since it is a “disputable matter,” full acceptance of those with differing positions is required. Not agreement but full acceptance. While it is fully inclusive, this approach is not the same as “open and affirming” because it doesn’t require that we give, demand, or receive moral approval from each other. Which, after all, is not the basis of our unity in Christ, anyway. The glory of the gospel is revealed when we accept and bless, even when we maintain sharp disagreements. In a faith community following the Third Way, it is understood that people with same-sex attraction, seeking to be faithful to God, make differing choices: some to remain celibate in order to honor God, some to be married to members of the opposite gender, some to enter same-sex covenantal relationships. Each person is honored and supported in the decisions they have made, “unto the Lord.”
The Advantages of Third Way
- It emphasizes the radical gospel truth that our unity depends on the faithfulness of Jesus alone, and not our moral agreement.
- It challenges us to walk the narrow road that calls me to abandon judgment, leaving it to God.
- It provides witness to a polarized world that Jesus can hold us together despite big differences. The Roman Emperor did this by force and the threat of force. Jesus does it by the power of love. His way is better.
- It provides hope that humans can pursue the truth without violating love. It’s a way out of the recurring division that happens whenever we disagree—and these disagreements show no sign of resolving so long as we “see through a glass darkly.”
Third Way Newsletter
Through Read the Spirit publishing, we produce the Third Way Newsletter which offers articles exploring this approach to sharing faith together. Take a look!