Rediscovering the ‘Third Way’
In MecKidz, the children’s ministry of Mecklenburg Community Church, a popular game is “Would You Rather.”
During the large-group session, the children all sit in the middle of the room. Then, a series of questions are posed such as, “Would you rather have a birthday party at a pool or a birthday party at a park?” Then the children get up and go to one side of the room or the other depending on which answer they prefer. In this case, those who would rather have a party at a pool go to one side, and those who would rather have a party at the park go to the other.
Recently, in a summer-themed version of the game, the questions were things like:
“Would you rather have ice cream or potato chips?”
“Would you rather spend your summer vacation at the beach or go to the mountains?”
“Would you rather watch fireworks or eat watermelon?”
“Would you rather build a sandcastle at a beach or swim in the waves?”
Then came the final question:
“Would you rather have bad sunburn or 18 mosquito bites?”
Children instantly jumped up and went to one side of the room or the other.
All but one five-year-old girl named Maddie.
She just sat there alone in the middle. The large-group leader said, “Maddie, aren’t you going to pick a side?”
To which she said, “I don’t want to have to pick either one.”
“Well,” the leader wisely said, “I can understand that.”
What Maddie did took both courage and determination. She showed courage. Rather than follow the lead of her peers and accept that both bad options were the only choices available, she stood firm and questioned the possibility of something different.
And not just courage, but determination. She refused to accept that she had to choose between the lesser of two evils. She was going to remain firmly away from both. She didn’t like the choices presented to her, so instead of choosing one she refused to play the game.
We need more Maddies in the world, and more of us in the world need to be like her.
We need courage to stand up for our beliefs, even when the world is quickly dividing into one camp or another, and neither of the camps reflects Jesus. We need courage to swim upstream, stand alone, hold our ground and, if need be, to stay seated—alone—in the middle of the room.
We need determination to refuse to let the world set our moral choices, standards and values. When pressured to conform, backed into a corner to make a “would you rather” decision that only presents compromise or sin, we need determination that says, “I don’t want to pick either one.” Or more to the point, “I am not going to pick either one.”
In other words, you find a third way.
Christians should be “third way” people. After all, that’s how we started out. The early Christian church had an interesting nickname that many 21st century Christians are largely unaware even existed. It was sometimes called the “Third Way,” and the name appeared as early as the second century.
It was a reference to how some religious expressions catered to culture by coopting and reflecting it, while others isolated themselves from it. In other words, most religions either wholeheartedly embraced culture and attempted to find their relevance in mirroring its vision and values, or they created a place by removing themselves from it altogether. As Gerald Sittser has written in regard to the early Christian movement, the first option would have “undermined the uniqueness of their belief system and way of life,” and the second “would have kept them safe on the margins—safe … but irrelevant.”
Instead, Christians did neither. They chose a very visible “third way” that simultaneously engaged the world while not compromising their beliefs—hence their nickname. As commonly put, they were in the world, but not of it.
Maddie would have fit right in.
This article originally appeared on ChurchAndCulture.org and is reposted here by permission.
• The earliest reference that I am aware of the designation “third way” was in a second-century letter to a Roman official named Diognetus.
• Gerald L. Sittser, “The Early Church Thrived Amid Secularism and Shows How We Can, Too,” Christianity Today, October 16, 2019, read online.