Breaking up is hard to do (the my way or the third way edition)

divorce-articleA lot of fuss has been made about some sort of third way plan. Those who call themselves “centrists” often refer to it as being the model to go forward. Third way plans don’t really work for the church as a whole though. In this piece we will examine why and continue the theme that has been started here and here. The third way plans allow for both traditionalists (here after meaning those who believe that sex between two of the same gender is a sin) and for progressives (hereafter meaning those who believe that it is a Christian expression of sexuality in the confines of marriage) to exist in the same church structure. Generally they allow for localized and/or individual options over who is married and who is not.

The reason why the third way plans do not work is that they require us thinking that the issue, in this case, sexual immorality and what it is or is not, is just a matter of opinion and not a matter of church doctrine. The third way option fails in this respect as the traditionalists don’t think any such thing. To us, it is very much a matter of church doctrine and not just a difference of opinion. Saint Vincent of Lerins once (rather famously) put forward the idea that catholic (read universal) doctrine was that which was believed  ‘at all times, everywhere, and by everyone’. When we look at the history of the church, we see that sex between two people of the same gender (as well as adultery and any other sexual activity outside of marriage) has fallen into that category save for recently. A third way challenges what has been a universal doctrine of the church by allowing for it to occur in the denomination. For those who would call this a matter of opinion, this is not big deal, but for those who understand this this to be a doctrinal issue, as teachings about sex and marriage have always been, it is far more than mere opinion. The numerous third way options do not allow for understanding this as an important, and until recently, universal, doctrine of the church unless we are going to allow for different doctrinal teachings within the same denomination. Given our emphasis on personal holiness (among other others as as well) it makes little sense that we would allow for varying doctrine on sexual morality. It makes no sense that the church call us to personal holiness and then describe two conflicting doctrines as falling into that category. The third way plans allow for there to be two contradictory doctrines to exist at the same time in the same denomination. That honestly only makes official what we have now. That is not a recipe to go forward, but really just a continuation of the divided house that we have now. A house divided will not stand. 

I have heard various passages in Romans used to try and justify a third way approach, and, as any claim about scripture, they deserve examination. The argument generally includes Romans chapters 14 and 15. I have lately been reading them again and following the thoughts of those who have come before on those chapters. In a nutshell, the argument goes something like this is following in the pattern that is shown in Romans for allowing some variance in belief in order to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed us. This argument for a third way has numerous short comings. The most obvious to me is that this is based in dietary laws and the observance of festivals. These were of course required of the Jews, but the death of Christ on the cross made these aspects of the law (things not moral) no longer necessary and as such abolished the division between the Jews and Gentiles. Because of this, these were issues that individual Christians could make decisions about. Even within this understanding however, there were limits that Paul set. There were those for whom observing the feast days, eating kosher food and not eating meat sacrificed to idols was a serious and sincere moral imperative. Paul instructs those who had a more permissive belief in those regards not to act in such a way that that would cause conscientious difficulties for their more traditional brothers and sisters. Even if we stretch these chapters to include sexual morality, we see that the very argument defeats itself as a third way allows for those with a more permissive attitude to certainly engage in activities that would cause difficulties for those who maintain the traditional view. That is a stretch however that should not be made.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we see sexual morality being an area where Christians are permitted to hold differing beliefs. References to such things simply do not exist. If you are reading this and say something like, but wait, you said above that the law was no longer necessary, I will remind you that our articles of religion make clear that we are under no obligation to the ceremonial and civil laws, but are still to follow the moral laws delivered by God in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we see that the moral laws given in the Old Testament regarding sexual morality are still seen as active and valid. (See passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 for a great example of this especially as it relates to sanctification since we are Wesleyan and all as well as passages like Acts 15:29 and others) We see then that this relates back to the first issue as this is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of doctrine. All sin, including sexual sin, is a part of the life of sin that we are delivered from through Christ. (see Romans 6:12-14).

There is so much more that we could say, but I will trust that you who have taken the time to read this will fill those things in in your personal conversations and discussions with each other as time goes by. What we have done here is taken two of many reasons why third way options do not work and examined them a bit more closely. Please examine them, and other reasons and fill me in. Coming next will be the some comments on the Bishops and what has transpired with them.

All of this leads us back to the central question, is the act of sex between two people of the same gender a sin. That is not a matter of differing opinion, it is a matter of church doctrine. It is not a matter of live and let live, it is a matter of the church being able to lead those who come to her in the path of righteousness. A church that allows for sexual sin (or any sin for that matter), and even endorses it through marriage, is a church that has separated itself from belief in the grace of God given us through the ongoing process of sanctification. It is a church that has said that personal holiness is a matter of opinion and not a doctrine of the church. It is a church that has become divided against itself, and a house divided will not stand.

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9 Replies to “Breaking up is hard to do (the my way or the third way edition)”

  1. You state the point of contention very well, but I feel many who would simply ‘allow the choice’ do not see church doctrine as that important any more. Or worse – do not understand what doctrine really is or means.

  2. Scott, you have done some intense work on this and the replies, including mine, have not always stayed on point. It has been demonstrated 1 ) no one can articulate what is middle way between the two positions, 2) any middle way requires numerous other muddled ways be developed for a host of underlying tenets, and 3) how could our boards and agencies work to achieve contradictory goals.
    For those who wish to pursue middle way discussions, I wish them well. My last say on the matter is here
    https://revsweat.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/all-the-knees-that-have-not-bowed-to-baal/#more-211
    I’m looking for a way out.

    1. Really man, I so wish you’d start blogging with us lol. I really appreciate your point of view and to be honest, you put me to shame.

    2. Several people have articulated a “middle way”, in several different forms. The problem, as I see it, is the unwillingness to compromise.
      This was expressed to me about 2 years ago, by a board member and one of the guiding lights of the Confessing Movement. He said that any sort of compromise on the homosexuality provisions of the BoD would be considered a total defeat by traditionalists. It was disappointing to me when he said it, and it’s disappointing to me now to see it acted out.
      But I have come to realize that, among traditionalists, he was right. There is no effort to reach any kind of compromise, to try to find a middle ground, or to find a way to accommodate other beliefs. It’s “my way or the highway”.
      That same person. at the same time, pointed out that the Methodist Church had split before, and it took a civil war to set things right. Except I’m not sure the civil war really fixed anything. It was something like 75 years later before the church reunited, and if I look at the demographics and geography of the most ardent traditionalists and progressives, it seems we’re divided on pretty much the same old lines.

  3. I have pragmatic reasons that keep me from accepting the liberal/progressive sexuality agenda. First and foremost is the realization that the catholic church that survives across time has never even tried to embrace what the liberal/progressives are asking us to embrace. Furthermore, to undo what the church has believed for 2000+ years –and our Jewish roots for longer than that–would require that I believe that somehow humanity has evolved and become more enlightened. My life experiences in general including my experiences with The United Methodist Church does not permit such a leap. The verbiage and techniques employed by the most aggressive liberal/progressives to try and change the church speaks to a form of Christianity I do not recognize; in fact they are destroying freedom of religion. And finally there is the realization that we are on the backside of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s during which the church in America was very silent. Having grown up in the 1960’s it is not too hard of a leap for me to see this crusade as an unholy alliance of the Civil Rights movement and the sexual revolution. The good news is, the church is being forced to find her voice: not only about sex and sexuality but also about the sin and redemption of individuals as opposed to just addressing the ills of society as a whole.

  4. The comments about “overturning 2000 years of Christian teaching” are compelling, but unfortunately they have kind of a hollow ring to them.
    We are Protestants. Which means that we are part of a movement that overthrew 1500 years of Christian teaching with the reformation. Sure, some of the complaints Luther had were non-doctrinal, but he also de-canonized several books of the Bible, and tried to remove a couple others.
    As a Methodist, we’re part of a church that overthrew 1900 years of Christian teaching in the mid-20th century. That is the clear, Biblical teaching on serial marriages.
    The salient feature of Methodism, as opposed to the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox denominations, is that we DO revolt against what we consider to be bad practice. We WILL overturn doctrinal teachings when we find them to be in error. We DO read and interpret the Bible ourselves, instead of requiring the church to do all the interpretation and hand it down to us. We don’t have a catechism, because Wesley wanted us to THINK.

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