The Middle Way
In 1517, the world changed. Martin Luther, a monk and preacher at a small chapel in Germany, nailed 95 proposals to a door. Those proposals for change to the church of the time were printed and reprinted and sold around Europe. To read them now is to understand the leap from the medieval world of faith and culture to the modern world, at least in part.
Reform took longer in England because it was easier to moderate the influences of radicals as an island, but being an island also created a national identity that made it easier to separate from the Latin church of Europe.
That singular identity, not an ethnic reality but a geographic one, meant a pressure to maintain a church that could hold people together from the whole range of Christian faith, Catholic to Reformed and Evangelical. Over time. that pressure to hold together while having a singular identity created one of our central tenants as Episcopalians and daughters of the English church.
The Via Media
Latin for the Middle Way, the Via Media becomes a byword for this attempt to have a Book of Common Prayer and faith practices that could appeal to the whole range of Christians. If worship, formation, and service are the practices of church, along with the mission of evangelization, then the Middle Way is the distinctive feature that defines our tradition.
This is why our life together is marked by both keeping Catholic elements (like communion) and reforming them (real presence, not transformation).
For our moment today, this might offer us a way through current political and social morass. Let’s look at immigration as an example.
For our church, we hold to the central teaching of faith that every human being has unique worth, is made by God, is redeemed by Christ, and is potentially the temple of the Holy Spirit. Every human being, including illegal immigrants.
Now individually we may hold a variety of views, ranging from protectionist (extremely limited immigration with high bars for those let in) to those opposed to border controls (radical internationalism, let’s call it). But at every point, we can hold each other accountable in conversation to the central teaching of valuing each human being and asking for others to meet that bar in their speech and conduct as Christians.
We cannot place that demand on those outside the faith, because they may not hold that basic stance, but for us it is essential.
This teaching is one of the reasons why the Church has been involved for centuries in prison visitation, the care of those in prison, and calls for prison reform. It created great tension in England over time when the crown and parliament saw themselves as enforcing Christian standards through the court system, yet were pushed by those same Christian standards to better standards of justice and treatment of even the guilty.
As Christians we follow Jesus first. We listen to his teachings and have vowed to hold up some key values in our lives before all others. We do not get out of love of neighbor when it is politically expedient. But we are not always told what that means in particular situations.
So we must be willing to allow a broad response to the teachings of Jesus in particular political and personal situations.
There are people in our pews at Christ Church every week who hold radically different political positions, and yet we all seek to serve Christ in all people, love Christ, and know Christ together. This is deeply Anglican and deeply Episcopalian.
It is tempting to offer political opinions from the pulpit every week. I want to tell you how to think and vote and act. It is the currency of our age to tell people loudly our own points of view. It would make some people more comfortable if I would, or if we would all just hold the same political points of view, but it would make children of those called to adulthood.
We are the children of God, but we are called to be mature repeatedly in the New Testament. That means we are going to have to work out some hard things in light of what we know and believe. And it means we will not always agree, but we will work together to deal with the deep issues of our day and love each other even in the disagreement.
That is exciting. The middle way can be an excuse to be lazy and lukewarm, but it is not here. Here we walk the middle way together, staying together and respecting each other, holding each other to the one who makes us one in himself, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona