Traditionally, the Anglican Church has viewed itself as the “Via Media” or “Middle Way” between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. But I want to suggest that a helpful way of viewing Reformed churches is seeing them, in some sense, as a “Via Media.”
The recent controversy in conservative Reformed circles has generally run along the fault line between High Church Calvinists and those more influenced by a Revivalist tradition coming out of the Great Awakenings. The charge is often leveled against High Church Calvinists that their openness to historic liturgy and a higher regard for and practice of the sacraments leads to people heading to Roman Catholicism and, to a lesser degree, Eastern Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is true but for the sake of clear and honest dialogue, we will assume this is true. But on the other hand, it seems that there is a constant hemorrhage of persons leaving more Revivalist Reformed churches for Baptist churches (this has been my experience) and this should be equally disturbing to us. After all, these folks will be viewed with endless suspicion until they recant their covenant baptisms and submit to re-baptism, something our Puritan forefathers would find outrageous.
But what if we applied a multi-perspectival lens to this situation (a tension which has existed in Reformedom since the beginning) and pulled our vantage point back a little? There is much to unite us as Reformed people. We all love our Reformed tradition and each have our place in its continuum. We need each other if the Reformed tradition is to survive and thrive in the future. So what if we viewed ourselves, as a whole, as a “Via Media” between the older Catholic churches and the dominant Protestant Baptist churches?
I mentioned that on the negative side, parishioners are lost on both ends of the continuum either to Catholicism or Baptists. But on the other hand, growth in our circles seems to hold the same pattern of promise. It has been my experience that converts from Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy have an easier time entering Protestantism through a High Church Calvinist context. The liturgy feels familiar. The regard for historic forms and rites eases the transition. And yet, at the end of the day, they have entered an environment that lives and breathes a Calvinist worldview.
On the other end of the spectrum, a Baptist convert will typically have an easier time making the transition to a Revivalistically-oriented Reformed church and, as a whole, the situation is a win-win. In my experience, generally, more folks are coming into our “Via Media”, on both ends of our continuum, than are going out. This should cause us all to rejoice that Christians are being fed from the uniqueness that Reformedom offers to Christendom. It seems this might be a more helpful way of viewing ourselves at this current impasse.