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March 18, 2013


Learning the Right Lessons: No One Should be Surprised by Shannon Johnston

No one was victimized. There was no betrayal. Trust was not broken. The only surprise should be that anyone at all is surprised that Shannon Johnston allowed one of his parishes to invite John Dominic Crossan into his diocese. 

The argument all along has been that +Johnston is creedally orthodox and Christologically faithful despite promoting same sex blessings. That is a farcical argument built on the supposition that one can deny and reject the words of Christ written through his apostles and still possess true faith in Christ.

Within some religions such an argument might be made, There is a disconnect, for example, within Islam between Allah and his commands. Muslim law is somewhat arbitrary in character and does not necessary reflect Allah’s character and nature. But within the Judeo/Christian theological framework, the words of God, the law of God, is an expression of his unchangeable character. He commands, for example, that husbands remain faithful to their wives because Faithfulness is an essential, unchanging aspect of his character and marriage itself is an expression of the love of God in Christ for his people, his Bride.

Christians believe that when human creatures are conformed to the law of God they are also conformed to God himself.

This idea that God’s law is a reflection of God’s character carries important ramifications for the scope of orthodoxy. To return to the example above, if someone were to teach that adultery can be good rather than evil, he would not only present a doctrine that does violence to the scriptures, he would also do violence to the revealed character of God and the purposes of Christ. His heresy would not be merely “anthropological” but theological and Christological. 

Perhaps now you can see how hollow the arguments presented in defense of Shannon Johnston’s creedal orthodoxy and Christological faithfulness turn out to be. To promote the notion that two people of the same sex can be married and/or engage in sexual acts within the context of a union God has blessed is not simply to reject God’s revealed purposes for human sexuality, it is also to construct a false image of god, a distorted portrait of Christ. Such a teaching not only strikes at the heart of orthodox practice, it presents another Jesus, a false Christ.

And such a Christ cannot save.

Justifying faith has three elements:
1. Right knowledge of Christ’s person and work
2. Assent to that knowledge
3. Surrender to and trust in the Christ who is known in #1 above.

If the first element is distorted then the second and third are ineffectual. Faith in a false Christ is faith in a powerless idol.  This is why the Mormon Jesus or the Jehovah Witness Jesus cannot save. This is what makes heresy so cruel. This is why adherence to God’s self disclosure in the scriptures is so crucial. Not to do so is, necessarily, to proclaim another gospel.

This is also why no one should have been surprised when Shannon Johnston permitted John Dominic Crossan to speak in his diocese. Johnston had already wedded himself to a Christological lie when he promoted same sex blessings and the ordination of clergy involved in same sex relationships.

I do not, therefore, think Johnston betrayed the trust that some orthodox leaders had placed in him. Wolves will be wolves. The fault rather lies within our own camp. Christ, through his apostles, has given us clear guidelines and instructions for dealing with heretics. I’ve pointed this out numerous times so I won’t rehearse it here but those guidelines do not include participating in any kind of Christian mission with a false teacher, promoting a false teacher’s ministry, or legitimizing the authority or office of a false teacher in any way. Had the Lord’s revealed instructions and guidelines been followed and applied from the start Shannon Johnston would not have been in the position to cause so much turmoil and pain because he would have been recognized as a wolf from the beginning.

The best thing that I can say about this controversy - and it is truly a good thing - is that through it God has upheld the sufficiency and truthfulness of his word and its applicability to contemporary circumstances. “Let God’s word be true and every man a liar.”(Romans 3:4). The church in every age must embrace this truth or learn it through heartache.


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10 comments

It is time to declare the quest for the historical Jesus as a fool’s errand. The idea comes from some of the precursors of the Nazi Germany. It leads to deconstruction of the gospels and a way around Lewis’s idea that we must choose between liar, lunatic or Lord. Much of the acclaim for Crossan comes from the academic community who are atheists. And yet the good bishop is thankful for all of this.

[1] Posted by Pb on 3-18-2013 at 08:37 AM · [top]

Lacking a magisterium, TEc relies on its bishops and priests to pass on true teachings of the Church. I doubt that many members of the HoB would object to having Crossan speak in their dioceses. Not hearing any objections from the HoB about the Johnston matter, I conclude that +Johnston conforms to the doctrine and discipline of TEc. I agree that he promotes teachings that are opposed to the Word and the Apostolic faith. Thus, we can also conclude that the doctrine and discipline of TEc are also opposed to that very Word.

[2] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-18-2013 at 09:31 AM · [top]

It is black and white, and grey all at the same time.

Someone who is honest and follows God can “lack understanding” of a particular point of Holy Scripture.  Of course, that’s where faith comes in - “God, I don’t understand, but I know you love me and I TRUST YOUR WORD”.

But that is very different than teaching THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what Holy Scripture says, especially when you have taken a Holy Oath to follow Christ and Holy Scripture, not to mention being PAID to be a shepherd over others.  That is HERESY, plain and simple.

Hmmm…not as much grey as I thought…oh well.  wink

[3] Posted by B. Hunter on 3-18-2013 at 10:25 AM · [top]

I once recommended (as chair of the parish ministry committee) that a seminarian be removed from the ordination process in our diocese after he began to profess shades of grey (I’m not sure how many) instead of black and white.  It was extremely clear in what direction he was headed.  I believe he was ultimately ordained in Canada, far from my watch.

[4] Posted by Ann Castro on 3-18-2013 at 12:18 PM · [top]

Ann,
In my experience the seminary / ordination process in ACoC (and presumably in TEC) is all about debunking all those supernatural myths about God really existing and Jesus rising from the dead.  Shades of grey are all that they accept - can’t adjust their eyes to pure white or pure black.

[5] Posted by Michael D on 3-18-2013 at 12:47 PM · [top]

The argument all along has been that +Johnston is creedally orthodox and Christologically faithful despite promoting same sex blessings.

and

I do not, therefore, think Johnston betrayed the trust that some orthodox leaders had placed in him. Wolves will be wolves. The fault rather lies within our own camp.

Matt is correct here.  I think that many of us know TEC leaders who “appear” to be basically “orthodox” in their teaching, and who often say things that orthodox Christians would say about various things.  But we shouldn’t let the occasional appearance of orthodoxy amongst leaders fool us into believing that these leaders are reliably orthodox.  I have never found a church leader who promotes SSBs, who is also reliably creedally orthodox.  I have found some who appear to be so, but none who are reliably so.  Their supposed orthodoxy will melt away once sufficient peer pressure is brought to bear on whatever the point of contention is.

The image that comes to my mind is that of an unconscious person in a packed underground train car.  All the other people pressing against the unconscious person will keep them upright, and the casual observer will say “of course that person is conscious, they are standing up.  If they were unconscious they would fall over.”  And if everyone else left the car, that person would indeed fall over.

Church leaders who appear orthodox but who promote SSBs probably began as orthodox Christians.  But over time, they have become convinced that in certain areas the Bible just isn’t reliable, and that we are the proper arbiters of right and wrong instead of God.  What happens then is that they proclaim the “orthodox” position on issues, provided that the orthodox position is never actually challenged.  But when it is challenged, they have no confidence to defend it.

They will typically become very indignant and angry when challenged, but will never actually seriously address the specific issue where they are wavering from orthodoxy.

[6] Posted by jamesw on 3-18-2013 at 02:11 PM · [top]

Scripture is very clear that the reality of Jesus is made clear to us by the Holy Spirit.  Converting this into having to find the “historical Jesus” shows that the person is without the Spirit and is unregenerate and not a follower of Jesus.  If they pretend to be such they are of Satan, not Christ.  Such persons are to be avoided.

[7] Posted by Jim the Puritan on 3-18-2013 at 03:36 PM · [top]

I do think there are topics in the Bible that are “shades of grey”.  But whether homosexuality is a sin or not is made “crystal clear” in Holy Scripture. 

So for those who profess to be “Orthodox” and protote SSB, they have clearly CHOSEN not to believe what Holy Scripture clearly states.  Their own man-based belief in social justice apparently trump what God says.  And that’s a whole ‘nuther ball of wax. 

They don’t BELIEVE what Holy Scripture says - they therefore cannot be trusted to follow its teachings or act in a way that honors our Lord and Savior.

[8] Posted by B. Hunter on 3-18-2013 at 05:21 PM · [top]

It is simply laughable for someone to say that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing. If the new thing does not agree with Scripture then it is a different spirit. The Spirit of God and the Word of God do not disagree.

[9] Posted by Fr. Dale on 3-18-2013 at 06:00 PM · [top]

Hear, hear Mr. Pewster!  HEAR, HEAR!!

[10] Posted by Nikolaus on 3-18-2013 at 08:35 PM · [top]

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