One of the most influential books in the 20th Century Church was J Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Machen was prophetic in his analysis of the crisis facing the Church in the US in the first half of the century – some would argue that it was because of his (and others’) stance that the US Church did not go down the path of decline that Churches in most other Western countries did.
In his prophetic book he warned: “A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith.”
These words came to mind as I listened to the latest debate on conversion therapy on Premier’s Unbelievable, between Jayne Ozanne, the chair of Ban Conversion Therapy, and Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance. Ozanne is, like Steve Chalke, a former evangelical who has a significant voice in the Anglican church and beyond.
As I listened to the somewhat (one-sided) heated discussion, I realised that this was not just a disagreement between two different versions of Christianity, but a disagreement between two different Christianities – which is why there was no possibility of agreement.
Francis Schaeffer, another prophetic writer who saw what was coming down the road, argued in The God Who Is There, that a new theology conditioned by modernistic and post modernistic would infiltrate the Church and create chaos.
He said that this new theology would have certain advantages because “the undefined connotation words that the new theology uses are deeply rooted in our Western culture. This is much easier and more powerful than using new and untraditional words.”
Ozanne used Christian words, but within progressive ideology they have radically different meanings:
Ozanne told us, “God is love, anything that harms a child or adult goes against that.” But she never defines what love is. It’s so easy to say ‘love is love’, but without definition, that statement is completely vacuous.
The Bible on the other hand makes it explicitly clear. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Furthermore, our love is also clearly defined: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3).
When people reject the commands of God, they are being the opposite of loving.
Ozanne kept accusing Peter and the EA of causing harm. Helen Joyce in her book Trans lays out how accusations of harm are used by trans activists to emotionally bully people into accepting their agenda. It always ends up with accusing those who disagree with them of causing suicide. Yet there is no evidence that the teaching of Jesus is the cause of suicide.
But Ozanne went further: “There is no evidence of Jesus teaching something that is going to cause people harm.”
I would have thought that most modern people would regard telling people to pluck out their eye if it is going to cause them to sin; to let the dead bury their dead; to hate their own father and mother; and to cast people into Hell as somewhat harmful! Perhaps Ozanne should heed his warning in Matthew 18:6 about those who cause people to stumble?
Because the harm mantra works both ways. Ozanne cited surveys her organisation has carried out seeking to show that biblical teaching has caused harm. But I can equally cite many examples of Ozanne’s type of teaching which has caused incredible harm. I think of the vulnerable young man who was told he was unhappy because he was gay and went on to a disastrous and harmful lifestyle. Or the young girl who was told the same because she was supposedly trapped in the wrong body.
I think of the countless millions whose eternal souls have been harmed by a perverted and distorted teaching of the Gospel – which brings us on to the Gospel.
3. The Gospel
What is the good news? According to Ozanne there must be no attempt to change, suppress or cure. This is a long way from the teaching of Jesus that unless we change to the extent that we are born again we will not even see the Kingdom of God (John 3).
And it’s a long way from the teaching of Paul that radical change – washing, sanctification, justification in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11) – is needed.The list he gives of things that need changed includes homosexual practice, adultery and sexual immorality as well as many others.But Ozanne says that “anything that is done that seeks to change, cure or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity” is harmful and should be made illegal.
In wanting to ban conversion therapy, Ozanne is not just talking about unbiblical and sinful coercion and manipulation, which Peter also rightly condemned. She is talking about banning conversion. Yet the Gospel is not that God ‘accepts people as they are’. The Gospel involves radical repentance and change. The ‘progressive’ Gospel involves no change, no curing of our sinful hearts, and no suppression of evil within us. Instead, we become as God.
The new ‘progressive Christianity’, which is in reality a regression to a pagan Gnosticism which uses the words of Christianity, also has other characteristics apart from the misuse of language.
4. The misuse of history
Ozanne announced that, “The teaching on marriage is only a couple of hundred years old and you need to do your homework on that.” What is breathtaking in this is the rewriting of history to suit the narrative of the present. Anyone who reads the New Testament, the early Church Fathers, the medieval Catholic theologians, the Reformers etc would not find any substantive difference in the teaching about marriage as being between a man and a woman.
5. The irrationality
There was one point where Lynas was absolutely flummoxed, not because he didn’t understand, but because he did. Ozanne had spent much of the discussion talking about “teaching which causes a huge amount of harm” and advocating that what is harmful should be banned. But she then denied that the teaching should be banned – only prayer!
It was almost amusing to hear Ozanne argue that Lynas was in a “coercive bubble” while at the same time threatening the law against those who don’t fit in with her particular bubble! It’s hard to get more coercive than ‘do what we say or you are going to jail’! Which brings us on to the final trait.
6. The intolerance
Ozanne told us that we can’t consent to abuse. But then the power lies with those who get to define what abuse is. Besides which of course we can consent to abuse – unless Ozanne is suggesting that prostitution, sadomasochism and pornography are not abuse? If they are does she want them banned as well? What about banning the abuse of abortion? If you automatically define that which you disagree with as ‘abuse’, then you get to be both intolerant and virtuous in your own eyes!
This intolerance is first of all fed by emotive and misleading language, and applies to those gay Christians who do not accept Ozanne’s particular interpretation – people like Jackie Hill Perry, David Bennett, Rosario Butterfield, Ed Shaw, Sam Alberry etc, who are dismissed with contempt.
Then come the threats. If you do not accept our doctrine we will ‘continue to hold you before the law’. The charge of spiritual abuse was repeated again and again. I wrote about the danger of this being misused to attack those who reject the new Progressive religion.
Ozanne is quite clear that she is prepared to use state political power to enforce the Church to accept her doctrines. Repentance must be enforced through the civil law – or else we face the prospect of jail. The irony of this taking place in a week when a Finnish politician is facing the possibility of two years in jail for citing Romans 1 to her own Church is unbelievable.
Canada and the Australian State of Victoria have both passed law so draconian that not only pastors, but parents and teachers could find themselves jailed for upholding the standards of Christ – even to their own children!
While Lynas pointed out that this would be against the European Convention on Human Rights, Ozanne defended it and stated that there could be no ground for informed consent when the cost of not consenting is so high – while at the same time insisting that all of us must consent to her doctrines or face state prosecution!
Perhaps we should conclude with some agreement. We are all agreed that coercive ‘conversion therapy’ is wrong. I also agree with Ozanne when she warns that “God will have something very hard to say to us if we refuse to hear the voices of those calling out to us”.
Indeed he will. But he will have even more to say to us if we refuse to hear his voice.
“Nevertheless I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling” (Revelation 2:20-21).
When someone wants to ‘celebrate’ what God has condemned we have turned against Christ.
I also agree with Ozanne that the Christianity she is teaching, and the Christianity represented by Lynas and the Evangelical Alliance (and I should also add many Catholic, Reformed and Orthodox churches i.e. historical confessional Christianity) are two different religions.
Machen would also have concurred:
“It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men” (Machen, Christianity and Liberalism).
The crossroads that the Western Church faces today is the question of: which God will we serve? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).