Politicians and economists have been speaking of the “Third Way” for about a hundred years now. Only recently has the term Third Way been used in an ecclesiastical context, with some churches now claiming to be “Third Way” congregations. In a secular context, Third Way refers to a “middle ground” between two perceived extremes. Political liberalism and conservatism, for example, are sometimes cited as both being too “extreme,” necessitating a Third Way between the two. Followers of Third Way thinking often call themselves “Moderates” and attempt to draw from the values of both sides of the issues. In a church context, Third Way commonly refers to those seeking a “middle ground” on the issue of homosexuality or gay marriage.
Third Way churches reject the polarization of society. They seek to “engage the culture” without being judgmental of others and without redefining their own core beliefs. They don’t wish to withdraw from society, and they don’t want to abandon their convictions. Offered the choice of either fighting or surrendering, they choose neither. The Third Way is touted as the way of acceptance, love, equality, and interaction. Theological positions take a secondary place to “love.”
Concerning the issue of homosexuality, Third Way proponents try to promote peace, saying that the issue of sexual orientation should not divide Christians. On one hand, they reject the church’s traditional stance that homosexuality is sinful; on the other hand, they may stop short of performing gay weddings. The “middle ground” the Third Way seeks is the teaching that homosexuals can indeed be true Christians, in need of affirmation and support, and that it is time to stop fighting against homosexuals and start including them in the church. Amazingly, Third Way proponents do not see their position as a “compromise” in the least.
The problem is, on some issues, there really is no “Third Way.” As much as some people love to dwell in the gray areas, there do exist a black and a white in the matter of homosexual behavior. The Bible is abundantly clear that homosexual practice is evil, and it is just as clear that marriage is a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman. Will the church of the living God continue to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), or will the church abandon its mission in a morass of compromise and concession?
The church is God’s ekklesia, His “called-out assembly.” We are to reflect the holiness of God into a sin-darkened world, not reflect society’s gloominess back upon itself. The biblical principle of “come out from them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17) is still valid; the church is called to choose sides on moral issues, not to find a “third way.”
This is a list of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality. The issue of homosexuality and Christianity is a subject of on-going theological debate within and between Christian denominations and this list seeks to summarise the various official positions. Within denominations, many members may hold somewhat differing views on and even differing definitions of homosexuality.
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, points out the impossibility of finding middle ground on the issue of gay marriage. He writes, “There is no third way on this issue. . . . The issue is binary. A church will recognize same-sex relationships, or it will not. A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not” (“There Is No ‘Third Way’—Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you),” AlbertMohler.com, June 2, 2014).
Churches that have opted to identify as “Third Way” congregations are finding that even their middle-of-the-road stance is divisive. In choosing to affirm homosexual behavior, they by necessity turn their backs on the traditionalists within their congregations. In ignoring biblical teaching, Third Way churches are, in fact, choosing a side, and congregations are being split as a result.
There is a broad road, Jesus said, and a narrow road (Matthew 7:13–14). There is the right way and the wrong way, but no Third Way. The idea that a church can choose to not take an official position on homosexuality is wishful thinking. Culture is drawing a line in the sand, and the church must be equipped with the full armor of God and be willing to “stand firm” (Ephesians 6:14).
“What should a Christian do when convictions violate a tolerant society?”
Answer: Many in society today want to view themselves as “tolerant.” By that they usually mean “I accept people for who they are without passing judgment on any action or lifestyle choice.” But the biblically informed Christian cannot, in good conscience, approve of all actions or lifestyle choices; the Bible clearly delineates some lifestyles as sinful and displeasing to God. When a Christian’s convictions clash with the standard of tolerance set by society, the Christian is often labeled as “intolerant,” “bigoted,” or worse. Ironically, those who claim to be the most tolerant are the least tolerant of the Christian worldview.
Sometimes the conflict between Christian convictions and secular standards of tolerance involves a Christian business being forced to photograph gay engagements, bake cakes or provide flowers for gay weddings, or rent rooms to gay couples. Other times, the conflict is not as public, involving personal acquaintances who disagree with a Christian’s conviction against getting drunk at a party, for example, or cohabitation before marriage.
A general principle that covers many issues was expressed by Peter before the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). Whatever pressure society brings to bear, the follower of Christ knows who his Lord is and chooses to obey Him. In a sinful world that hated Christ, this will naturally lead to some conflict. The “tolerance” espoused by the world leaves no room for Christian convictions, but, for the redeemed who walk in the Spirit, Christian convictions are indispensable. The Bible says there is a right and a wrong, and no amount of sensitivity training or encounter group sessions can change that.
If we define tolerate as “to put up with something one does not like,” then we could say that tolerance does not require approval or support. In this sense, Christians ought to be as tolerant as possible, in order for our loving character to be visible to all (Matthew 5:16). We should be able to “put up with” a lot. In most cases, we should be able to control our impulse to resent something we find distasteful. The problem comes when tolerate is defined in a manner that implies an acceptance or even approval of what one finds offensive. A Christian with Bible-based convictions can accept the fact that people sin, but he must still call it “sin.” A Christian’s convictions do not allow approval of sin whatsoever.
No matter how it’s defined, tolerance has its limits: what message would be sent by a church holding “interactive” services with a witch coven? What if a judge decided to “tolerate” perjury—he allowed it in his courtroom, even though he personally disliked it? How much disrespect should a teacher “tolerate” in her classroom? What if a surgeon began to “tolerate” septic conditions in his operating room?
When a believer finds that his Christian convictions are in conflict with someone’s take on tolerance, he should immediately do the following things: 1) Pray for wisdom and for courage. 2) Examine his convictions to make sure they are based on what the Bible actually says, rather than personal preferences. Taking a stand against having a joint Hindu-Christian worship service is biblically supportable; taking a stand against serving ethnically diverse food at the church potluck is not. 3) Commit himself to loving his enemies and doing good to them (Matthew 5:38–48). 4) Purpose in his heart to engage the conflict “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). 5) If legal issues come into play, explore his rights under the law (see Acts 16:37–38; 21:39).
Even in the midst of a conflict between godly convictions and secular tolerance, Christians must demonstrate Christ’s love and righteousness, exemplifying how truth and love can coexist. In every situation, we should exhibit “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). Our conduct should be such “that those who speak maliciously against [our] good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).
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