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Finding a Third Way

Category Articles
Date January 1, 2001

The phrase “Third Way” is so seductive. It suggests that the tension between the locked in polarities of evangelical and liberal, or Protestant and Roman Catholic can be overcome by a third option. “If only there were more discussion, prayer, trust, give and take, leading of the Spirit, our antagonisms could come to an end.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been debating homosexuality, and the cry has gone up for a “third way” compromise between the proponents of same-sex marriage and gay ordination, and opposition to this from the awkward evangelicals. The evangelicals had no hostility about being involved in today’s issues, meeting with those with whom they disagreed and looking at the Bible’s teaching. The disagreement arose when the possibility was muted of the answer to this disagreement lying in “their” way, or in “our” way, or in a “third” way. No. The answer lies in Christ’s way alone, affirmed the evangelicals.

Five of them and five others were appointed by presbytery to meet for 20 hours of Bible study, worship and meals last September and a second meeting is planned in March. The meeting ended without agreement and the focus of the disagreement was the authority of Scripture. The evangelicals defended the Reformed doctrine that the Bible was inspired by God and authoritative for life and faith. The other five insisted on limited inspiration and said that the Bible’s teaching about homosexual conduct was in error.

The denomination said to the ten committee members that the future for their denomination lay in seeking a third way: “We envision a third way which can come only from an openness to the Spirit. We will rely on God’s grace and refuse to leave the table until a way is discovered. We believe seeking a third way is critical and is already present among us.”

The evangelical Christians did not agree: “We have not, and we will not, engage in any search for an alternative to Scripture’s clear and plain teaching, for we believe that ‘Insofar as Christ’s will for the Church is set forth in Scripture, it is to be obeyed.’ Christ’s way is about seeking his will by studying his Word and agreeing to obey it in his Church.” Terry Schlossberg was one of the five evangelicals who made that uncompromising statement.

When the Korean Presbyterian Church in America heard of this tension they sent an open letter imploring their church not to seek for a third way, saying:

Out of deep concern and heart-aching love for this denomination, thirty-seven thousand Korean-American Presbyterians are pleading with you to support the proposed Amendment of same-sex union ban … Scripture defines the marriage God instituted in terms of heterosexual monogamy. Scripture envisages no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse, for God provided no alternative. Any sexual behaviour outside of this definition, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is displeasing to God. Thus, there is no doubt that modern loving homosexual partnerships are incompatible with God’s created order … It is not pastoral to bless behavior that is contrary to God’s revealed will.

Aside from all these theological disputes, the blessing of same-sex union, whether it is considered to be a marriage or not, will have an exacerbating impact on the declining membership of our denomination. The Korean-American constituency, which has experienced 50 percent increase in membership and 90 percent increase in per capita during the last ten years, will see a devastating blow in its membership growth because Koreans, particularly young people, are conservative and evangelical in their faith and will turn away from our denomination. In a word, the blessing for same sex union would bring our demise as a church of Jesus Christ. While we have been involved in a dispute over sexuality and ordination standards for the past two decades, we have almost lose our identity and mission as a church of Christ…

The blessing of same sex union is not a blessing but a curse on our homosexual brothers and sisters in our church. It is an unjust act to take away the opportunity of being healed and transformed by the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Our merciful God calls us to turn away from our brokenness to his wholeness and holiness through faith in Jesus Christ who came to heal the sick and to forgive our sins. To say this is not to minimize the pastoral responsibility of ministering to those caught in the moral confusion of our time. This responsibility requires great care, love and sensitivity … We will continue to pray with compassion by holding out the hope we have in Jesus Christ for a new life empowered by his Spirit…

This plea from Korean Christians would find some agreement in the heart of Anglican evangelical leader John Stott. In the 13 June 1995 edition of the magazine “Third Way” Roy McCloughry interviewed him at length, and said, “No Christian can give unqualified allegiance to any institution. What for you would be the signals that it was time to leave the Church of England?”

John Stott replied, “If you want me to stick my neck out, I think I would say that if the church were officially to approve of homosexual partnerships as a legitimate alternative to heterosexual marriage that I would find it exceeding difficult to stay. I might want to stay on and fight for a few more years, but if they persisted I would have to leave.” There is no third way.

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