A 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.