One of the arguments being propounded by those who seek to defend Tory Baucum’s “peacemaking/reconciliation” movement towards Shannon Johnston is that there is a clear distinction between false teaching about Jesus and false teaching about sexual morality. The former, they argue, is heretical and brands someone as an enemy of the gospel, the latter is an error but does not in and of itself count as rejection of the Lordship of Jesus.
The problem with this position is that the clear distinction simply does not exist in the New Testament. Rather, teaching the wrong thing on sexual ethics is tantamount to rejection of Jesus Himself and is met by Jesus’ own wrath and eternal punishment – hardly a fate for a Christian.
I have argued previously, in line with the wider Biblical Theology of sexual ethics, that to get this subject wrong is to distort how the Scriptures present the gospel since they distort the Biblical view of the relationship between Christ and His Church. What I want to do here is look at the specific way in which the New Testament equates false teaching about sexual ethics with false teaching about Jesus and outright denial of his Lordship.
Two examples will suffice. First, 2Peter.
2Pet. 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
It is clear immediately that the false teachers Peter has in view are of the most dangerous sort. Their heresies are “destructive” (v1) and are tantamount to denying Jesus. The result for them will be “swift destruction”. This false teaching is no basic error – it is heretical and results in the most extreme of responses from Jesus Himself.
The nature of the false teaching is alluded to by Peter in this opening paragraph. It is “sensuality” (v2), (ασελγεια) which is variously translated as “licentiousness”, “lasciviousness” or “wantonness”. The obvious allusion to sexual immorality is confirmed by what follows. Peter goes on to refer to angels than sinned (v4 – which I take to refer to the fallen “Sons of God” in Genesis 6) and Sodom and Gomorrah – both examples of sexual immorality. As he closes this brief example of other comparable false teachers he summarises their position as “defiling passion” and “despising authority” – again there is a clear link being made between the ethical nature of the teaching (immorality) and an accompanying rejection of the Lordship of Christ.
Examining Jude shows a similar tight connection between sexual immorality and the rejection of Jesus’ truth.
Jude 3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Again, notice how the two themes are tightly intertwined. The false teaching is a perversion of grace into “sensuality” (the same term as above) and is also to be viewed as a denial of Jesus. But note carefully how Jude has framed this issue. This is no mere battle over morality or ethics. For Jude getting things right over sexual ethics is to “contend for the faith that was once delivered” – to fight for godly sexual morality is to fight for the gospel. Those who teach sexual immorality are therefore denying that faith, that gospel.
That Jude has sexual immorality in mind is made clear as we progress through the letter:
Jude 5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Again, note a very similar line of argument to that presented by Peter. First, these false teachers of immorality face destruction at the hands of Jesus. This is no “mistake” or “error” by believers – this is a categorical mark that the false teacher is a false disciple, an agent of Jesus’ wrath headed straight to hell. The immorality that they are teaching is again compared to the fallen angels (with the same possible ambiguity that exists in the 2Peter2 passage over the intended referent) and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah whose sin is patently clear – they “indulged in sexual immorality” (v7). They serve as an example in that they undergo punishment.
From even this brief survey a few things should be very clear. For these New Testament Apostolic authors to teach falsehood about sexual ethics is tantamount to rejecting Jesus Himself. The end result for the false teacher is not to discover one day in the New Creation that they were badly mistaken about the topic but, rather, to suffer the due consequence for their disobedience for eternity at the hands of an angry Jesus in Hell.
Thus (and aside from other clear problems of consistency we have already raised) those who would argue that Truro/Baucum’s embrace of Shannon Johnston was acceptable since his false teaching was a secondary issue and Johnston was still a Christian believer and brother are simply incorrect. It is not true now and it was never true during any of Baucum’s lengthy and growing relationship with Johnston. Instead, from the start Baucum was publicly affirming as a legitimate Christian leader a man who, according to the Scriptures, was a heretic and outright rejector of Jesus Christ simply because of his views on sexual ethics. Whether Johnston was “creedally orthodox” or not was not even, in some respects, the issue. His false teaching on sexual ethics was a gospel issue and nothing less (it was, after all, the catalysing reason the ACNA was formed in the first place) and public endorsement of such false teachers approaching a betrayal of all those faithful Anglicans in ACNA and elsewhere who have suffered so much at the hands of those false teachers and yet stood firm.