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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