Recently, a group of CRC pastors has called for a Third Way in the CRC under the banner of “Better Together.” This is a serious call that is worthy of serious reflection. I hope to engage in a series of reflections on that call.
It can often be helpful to begin interactions with someone else’s thoughts or propositions by noticing areas of agreement. In this first post, my goal is to think about areas of commonality.
The broad theme of the Third Way proposal—as evidenced by the “Better Together” slogan—is one of unity. And here I find great reason for agreement. The church is to be a body, and a body functions together. The calls for unity in Scripture are clear and numerous. As noted on their webpage, Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 is the classic and most compelling of these numerous calls to unity. In a very real way, we are always living with the reality of being united (even when we don’t recognize or act like it). As John 15 reveals, we who are in Christ are grafted into the True Vine. We are in unity with Christ and each other as we abide in Christ.
The homepage of the Third Way opens with a familiar conundrum: polarization. There is little doubt that modern North American society is plagued with polarization and forced choices (even if false choices at times). The Third Way proponents call us out of this pattern and appeal to our desire not to have to “pick sides.” This appeal is strong, and has significant merit. There is a very appropriate cultural critique that is also needed in the church, a critique that exposes the extreme polarization and tribalism that is often present in destructive and all-consuming ways. We rightly join the Third Way proponents as prophetic critics of a natural tendency to retreat to corners, listen poorly, and distance ourselves from “the other.”
Throughout the Third Way website, we find a focus on mission. Here again I find agreement. When the church finds itself in times of significant upheaval or disagreement, the work of the mission of the church can suffer. Who wants to spend a bunch of time writing overtures, endlessly debating, or having meetings that focus mainly on areas of disagreement?
I think pretty much all of us long to be at work in our local contexts, pouring our energies into loving God and neighbor as he has called us and as he lays before us opportunities to serve. It is indeed not healthy for us to continually take precious time from this important work to wrangle endlessly over denominational matters. To be sure, denominational matters matter, but real joy comes in preaching the Word and applying that preaching and teaching in our local churches and communities and wherever God grants us reach. We can all long for a time when a greater percentage of our time and energy is spent on local ministry.
Those three areas represent important areas of significant agreement: a desire for unity, a call to reject worldly patterns of polarization, and a burning desire to remain focused on the core mission of the church. There are more areas of agreement to be found, but I think these three are the most significant and provide a starting point for further exploration of the call for a third way.
In a second installment, I hope to think about the idea of variability in our churches on “non-salvific” matters.