Melvin Tinker underscores the Pelagian and Socianian errors of progressive commentator Jayne Ozanne
If one is to claim that a certain teaching is heretical, we need to be clear what we mean by the term.
Alister McGrath writes, ‘Heresy arises through accepting a basic cluster of Christian beliefs- yet interpreting them in such a way that inconsistency results. A heresy is thus an inadequate or deficient form of Christianity. By its very deficiency, it poses a threat to the Gospel.’ [Alister McGrath, Understanding Doctrine (Hodder and Stoughton, 1990), p 115.]
The reason why heresy gains traction in the church is because it contains at least an element of truth; as such it is parasitic on orthodoxy. ‘In the Catholic faith, we recognise that a heresy is not so much a false doctrine as an incomplete doctrine. It has rejected part of the truth and is representing what is left over as the whole truth. But what a heretic usually ends up doing is attacking the greater truth.’ [Dale Ahlquist, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense (Ignatius Press, 2003), p 35.]
Jayne Ozanne illustrates this well.
In July 2017, Ozanne placed a private member’s motion to the General Synod meeting in York (GS 2070A) calling upon the Synod to effectively repudiate the practice of conversion therapy for those who experience same sex attraction. The heresy can be found in the summary statement: ‘The Bible teaches us that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps.139.14), and that we should praise God’s gift of our creation. Thus, our diversity as human beings is a reflection of God’s creativity and something to celebrate. The biblical concern is not with what we are but how we choose to live our lives, meaning that differing sexual orientations and gender identities are not inherently sinful, nor mental health disorders to be “cured”.’
The partial truth, which is being taken and exaggerated as the whole truth, appears in the first sentence: ‘The Bible teaches us that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps.139.14), and that we should praise God’s gift of our creation.’ This has been taken by Christians in the past as a basis for the sanctity of human life which is undermined by the practice of abortion. [For example, Nigel M. de S. Cameron and Pamela F. Sims, Abortion: the crisis in Morals and Medicine (Inter Varsity Press, 1986), p 22.]
But it is a non sequitur for Ozanne to then conclude ‘Thus, our diversity as human beings is a reflection of God’s creativity and something to celebrate.’ If anything, as we have noted, it is the belief in human sanctity which is to be protected which logically arises out of this passage, not human diversity. This is followed up by falsehood for it is certainly not the case that the Bible isn’t concerned with ‘what we are’ but simply ‘how we choose to live our lives.’ How we choose and what we choose at least in part arises from ‘what we are’ in terms of our dispositions. Some of those dispositions are towards things which God forbids (such as idolatry, greed and same- sex genital relations) and not only flow from ‘what we are’ (idolaters, gluttons, homosexual etc.) but reinforces what we are becoming.
The missing doctrine which is necessary to check the heresy Ozanne is promoting is the doctrine of original sin. To be sure, according to the psalmist we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. But according to the same psalmist, ‘I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’ (Psalm 51:5). At both one and the same time, David is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in the womb and ‘sinful’ from the moment he was conceived in the womb. We are ‘warped wood’ (Immanuel Kant), ‘incurvartus in se’ (Luther) or, to use traditional terminology, contaminated by original sin which according to Article 9 of the 39 articles of the Church of England is ‘the fault and corruption of Nature of everyman… and is of his own nature inclined to evil.’
Jayne Ozanne is effectively promoting two heresies at once.
The first is Pelagianism.
In the fifth century, the monk Pelagius argued that ‘Evil is not born with us, and we are procreated without fault; and the only thing in men at their birth is what God has formed.’ This was effectively dealt with by St Augustine and condemned decisively at the Council of Carthage (418) with the condemnation being ratified at the Council of Ephesus in 431. [See Mathew Roberts, Why Pelagianism Matters (including for the Church of England): https://matthewpwroberts.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/why-pelagianism-matters-including-to-the-church-of-england/]
The second heresy called Socinianism, is a variation of the first and is named after its exponent, Faustus Socinus (which is the Latinised name for Fausto Sozzini). This teaching has been well summarised by Andrew Fuller, ‘They consider all evil propensities in men (except those which are accidently contracted by education or example) as being, in every sense, natural to them; supposing that they were originally created with them; they cannot, therefore be offensive to God, unless he could be offended with the work of his own hands for being what he made it.’ [A. G. Fuller, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (1856) p 54.]
In both cases the entailments in terms of the distorting effect on other Christian doctrines, not least our understanding of salvation are immense. [‘The problem with this [Pelagianism] is, as Augustine laboured to point out, is that this is not the gospel found in the Bible at all. The Biblical gospel from beginning to end is not about self-improvement of what we do but redemption of what we are. The law kills, says Paul, precisely because moral self-improvement is entirely beyond us. We are corrupt creatures in need of rescue. God’s grace does not consist in calling for us to run faster from the side of the track, for we are prone on the ground with crippled legs, entirely incapable of leaving the blocks. God’s grace consists of lifting us to our feet, remaking our useless muscles and sinews, and causing us to run a race we never could have run left to ourselves. Matthew Roberts, op cit.]
We are not only ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, but, due to sin, fearfully and dreadfully corrupted, having bodies which are subject to death and internal struggle which the Gospel delivers us from (Rom. 7:24-25). It is the Gospel which leads to a liberation from self-gratification, being led by our fallen impulses which twist everything including our sexual affection (Eph. 2:3), which result in us coming under God’s righteous anger (Eph.2:3). In our unregenerate state we are darkened in our thinking, which leads to our indulging in impurity (Eph. 3:18-19), from which the Gospel frees us as we put on a new self in Christ (Eph3:20-24). The heresy of Ozanne ends up affirming what God denies and denying what God affirms.
We must understand that by its very nature heresy is cruel.
If orthodoxy is health giving truth, heresy is the exact reverse; it is disease spreading error and toxic: ‘Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.’ (2 Tim. 2:16); ‘There were false prophets amongst the people as there will be false prophets among you. They will introduce destructive heresies’; ‘…they will be paid back for the harm they have done’ (2 Peter 2:1; 13); ‘They must be silenced for they are disrupting whole households’ (Titus 1:11); ‘They are ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God for a licence and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.’ (Jude 4). It is difficult to imagine fewer things more cruel than doing something to someone which results in them developing gangrene resulting in amputation or death. That is the biblical assessment of what heresy does to the Body of Christ. That is also why Bishops are charged ‘with all faithful diligence…[to] banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same.’
Sadly, this is one aspect of their charge their Lordships seem most reluctant to carry out.