Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Middle Way

Shannon and I have been vacationing with her parents on the Gulf coast of Florida. Longboat Key to be exact. Thus the paucity of recent blog activity. Vacationing at the sea inevitably brings to mind the much quoted lines from C.S Lewis: "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (The Weight of Glory). I was also reminded that one can be literally at the sea and still miss the glory of God all around us and his manifold gifts. By a happy coincidence the Bible reading plan I use had me in Psalm 104 which made a nice counterpoint to walks on the beach, especially vv. 24-30.

While I was away I read Presbyterianism's Unique Gift: Ordained Lay Elders by Harry Hassall. By God's grace I'll soon be ordained an elder at our church and one of our former elders, who's also something of a mentor, gave me the book to read in preparation. Written as a textbook, it's a good introduction to the Reformed faith and the middle way "via media" of Presbyterianism. While all Protestants are heirs of the Reformation, Hassall lays out the view of three distinct reformations. The first reformation of Luther, was a conservative reformation that birthed Lutheranism and Anglicanism. The second reformation of Calvin and Zwingli was more extensive than Luther's and resulted in Presbyterianism/Calvinism. And then there was a radical third reformation led by the Anabaptists which rejected anything remotely resembling Catholicism, especially infant baptism, covenant theology and "Churchianity". All Protestant churches can trace their lineage back to one of these three streams of the Reformation. Although some, like my Methodist friends, mix prominent elements of all three.

Hassall shares an effective, if quaint, analogy to illustrate the three reformations. I offer it more in the way of education than advocacy. Whatever your persuasion, Christians should be familiar with the heritage that makes us what we are: Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Here are "three ways of cleaning out one's sock drawer."

The Anglican/Episcopal/Lutheran way is to open the sock drawer, perhaps half way, peek in, pull out those few obvious misfits and wornouts and quickly place them in the rubbish bin; one may then review the reformation, pronounce it "done," close the drawer, and go about other tasks. This is reformation modestly done!

The Presbyterian/Reformed/Calvinist, on the other hand, moves to the task with dispatch and determination, completely removing the sock drawer, turning it totally upside down on the bed; this reformer places a new paper liner in the drawer and then meticulously selects only the best and most useable socks in pairs to return to this "thoroughgoingly reformed" drawer, leaving all "questionables" out for immediate discard; the job has been done; only those items of which there is no doubt have been allowed to remain. This job has been well-reformed!

Finally, the Anabaptist/Baptist/Church of Christ approaches the same task with little enthusiasm; the reformer opens the sock drawer and with disgust on his face he calls a neighbor and together they haul the entire chest of drawers out of the house to the alley for city trash to pick up, for in that sock drawer there was little to reform and a great deal to discard!

I spent most of my life a product of the third way, flirted with the first, and am now happily part of the "middle way". Perhaps it's only a coincidence that the second approach is also the one I'd use to clean out my sock drawer, and my t-shirt drawer, and my sweater drawer...

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