Question: "What is a Third Way church?"
Answer: 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 does 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.”
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).