A Better Way Than the Middle Way
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
I’m leaving the “middle way.” Let me explain first.
What is the “middle way”? The “middle way” or “via media” is an idea that is supposed to usher in unity and reasonableness in the face of extremely polar ideas. That certainly seems appealing considering the polarizing of our society and world in the midst of politics, pandemics, and more. How does the church move forward when there are so many different opinions about so many different topics? The middle way concept is supposed to help us navigate that.
Implied is that when two people have differing, opposite opinions about something, the truth can be found in the middle (via media) rather than in the extremes. Taking the two opinions and “averaging” them together tends to reveal an option acceptable to both sides. Often the middle way will resolve issues by simply claiming both are correct, or at least that they both have credibility. It’s not about “either/or” but “both/and” thus holding both positions in tension. The goal is maintaining fellowship with other believers (or even non-Christians) regardless of differing opinions.
The principle is often attributed to Rev. John Wesley, an Anglican priest who ministered during the mid and late 1700s (Rev. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism.). It works well, even effectively, with unessential issues in the context of the church which might include worship style, mode of baptism, details about Jesus second return, or details of God’s work in creation. The “middle way” simply allows for a variance of opinions about a subject or topic where details are not clearly defined in Scripture and are unessential to the faith. We can each have an opinion, but let’s not stake everything on demanding uniformity of thought on it. The variety of preferences and styles in worship around the world are a beautiful thing. In some of these ways, this idea of the via media is not only valid, but also extremely helpful.
Finance committees need to use this principle to navigate the different departments who want more funding for ministry. Decorating committees need to apply this concept when they come to a place of disagreement about paint color or carpet design. Worship leaders need to utilize this idea when they navigate the different tastes and desires of the local church body. These things are unessential to salvation and we could all benefit from more people seeking the via media in these kinds of ways.
As of late, there have become an increasing number of problems associated with the via media principle when applied to things to which it was never intended to be applicable.
The first problem arises when the principle is applied to things necessary to Christian belief and life.
For example, while there are various opinions and perspectives about what God said about the end of time in Scripture, every Christian must believe that Jesus will return one day to judge the living and the dead. There is no middle way on that. If someone begins to teach that Jesus is not going to return to the earth one day, orthodoxy necessitates that we reject the opinion as false because it is outside the bounds of biblical truth and thus Christianity.
While there can be various cultural expressions of worship, if someone wishes to incorporate witchcraft into the gathering of the Church for worship, we [the Church] must reject this unbiblical idea. Scripture is clear that witchcraft and holiness are not compatible. There is no middle way. In fact, when applied to essentials, the via media, becomes a form of syncretism (Google defines syncretism as “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.”).
A second problem with the concept some people use called the middle way is that it is always defined by extremes.
In striving for the middle ground, without an unchanging standard, an individual will always be influenced by the most extreme ideas (as false as they may be) or the loud voices of those promoting their ideology. If we insist on the via media in every situation, we will be defined by the most extreme thoughts regardless of their validity. Finding the mean, or average, of two opinions does not necessarily conclude that you have arrived at the truth.
The third problem arises from the inevitable compromise inherent in refusing to deal with clear biblical teachings as objectively true, regardless of other opinions.
The middle way can relegate biblical truth to the same level as any other opinion or preference. They are all averaged into the sea of ideas in a search for something acceptable, whether it is correct or not. In this way, the via media, can begin to sound more like “straddling the fence.” This is especially true when it settles for “both/and” on issues relating to the literal resurrection of Jesus or His virgin birth.
False teachers and clearly false teachings are given a platform to “discover the middle way” rather than outright rejected. Paul and Peter had some significant and heavily impactful issues to navigate in the early church surrounding circumcision as a prerequisite for faith in Christ (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul refused to let Peter take the “middle way” of accommodating the Judaizers’ insistence upon every Gentile becoming a Jew before becoming a follow of Jesus. In this essential issue, the middle way was flatly rejected because the truth in Jesus had been revealed.
Another problem with the via media, as used by so many today, is that it assumes every opinion that is presented is equally worthy of our consideration.
The middle way is the average of the two most polar perspectives. The false assumption is that the truth, or at least what is palatable to the most people, can be found in between contrasting opinions regardless of the truth of their claims.
With this erroneous assumption, truth is ever evolving and changing especially at the influence of the most abhorrent factual errors. Then truth becomes something we feel the necessity to keep contingent upon other opinions. Many individuals erroneously find this via media as a means to reject any ideas that seem to be polarizing. In their minds, often disregarding or even attacking the extreme perspectives somehow makes them “neutral” or “objective.” Our “middle way” opinions become preeminent because we have not taken a clear position. An unclear position, in turn, leads to confusion among those attempting to embrace Biblical truth.
When applied to Biblical truth and orthodoxy, the “middle way” can actually be a harmful concept that absolves an individual of the responsibility to actually think through their opinions and perspectives in light of the Truth of the Gospel. Instead, they take every idea and seek to find the middle ground. When accepting ideas, opinions, and perspectives that are contrary to the Bible into our calculations for the middle way we quickly find ourselves arriving at a “middle way” that is outside of the parameters of the Bible.
So while the via media is helpful as we navigate unessential differences of opinion like modes of baptism or view of the end times (premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial), it is not helpful in dealing with serious matters of faith. In fact, the via media would be rejected by the early church, the historic church, and the holiness church today on matters of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. Our path then is not the “via media” that so many today choose to take which seems safer and less controversial. This middle way is simply not inherently more accurate or true and wholly unhelpful in discipleship and maintaining integrity in our embrace of the Bible’s truth.
The farther the world moves away from biblical truth, the more extreme and radical holiness will seem. The via media is ever changing, but as Christians we are called to hold to the never changing truth of God’s Word! Christianity is not a philosophy that we can manipulate to suit our own sins but a relationship of holy love with a holy God who defines Himself and our way of life in the Spirit.
So, what’s the alternative to the “middle way”? The biblical way. To embrace the Word of God as that which was given by divine inspiration is our responsibility. We recognize that it was inspired in its entirety! We recognize that the Bible inerrantly reveals the will of God in all things necessary to our salvation! It is unerring truth to guide us as we seek to walk in the Spirit of Christ.
Holiness people (including Nazarenes) have always understood that the Bible is the bedrock of all of our beliefs and lifestyle. The Church of the Nazarene explicitly rejects adding anything to the Articles of Faith that do not fall within the scope of Scripture. If something in culture, in politics, in ideology, or in practice is contrary to God’s Word... we reject it! The Bible is the final authority for our faith and practice.
The Bible informs all of our life. It is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Biblical principles and truth inform our politics, our lifestyle, our stewardship of finances, our relationships, our mission, our purpose, our vocabulary, and more! It is not only “the Divine Rule of faith and practice,” but also “the only authoritative source of theology" (H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol I. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1940), 33. Wiley goes on to say: “The Scriptures, therefore, become the perfect disclosure and finished revelation of the will of God in Christ Jesus.”). “Biblical theology has a rightful claim to primacy in Christian circles. Virtually all Protestant communions affirm that the Bible is their only Rule of faith and practice" (W.T. Purkiser, Richard S. Taylor, and Willard H. Taylor, God, Man, & Salvation (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1977), 20).
Our spiritual forefathers didn’t speak and write about some generic holiness (which might include the Dalai lama). Rather they chose the Biblical way by using the adjective ‘scriptural’ holiness. The highway of holiness is paved with biblical truth.
So, I’m leaving behind the middle way (unless it happens to align with Scripture along the journey) on essentials and choosing instead the way less traveled: the way of Scriptural holiness.