We throw the word heresy around too much I think – at least in certain circles. So I’m reluctant to put that label out there, yet I think it’s important to do so. As many of you know there has been an ongoing controversy in the Episcopal/Anglican Church over the topic of homosexuality, specifically the recognition and blessing of gay marriage and the appointment of several gay bishops. These actions have lead to many churches pulling out of the denominational structure or realigning themselves under the jurisdiction of more conservative (biblical) bishops(usually in South America, sometimes Africa). JI Packer, esteemed author and theologian was actually suspended and threatened with defrocking because he stood against the church in it affirmation of the gay lifestyle. I am a long way removed from the Episcopal/Anglican communities, but more recently, a group of ’emergent’ folk started a network they’re calling ‘Queermergent’, designed to be “An Emergent Safehouse for the LGBTQ Community and All Interested People Seeking Understanding.”
These actions deserve, I believe, the label heresy. Let me explain why.
First, look again at 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (ESV).
Paul puts all these sinful activities under the umbrella of things that are “contrary to sound doctrine” (the gospel). In other words, heresy. The link between right living and right believing is incredibly tight in this paragraph. Look also at Titus 2:11-14:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (ESV).
Notice that the grace with brings salvation is also designed to bring holiness. It is appropriate to say then that endorsing homosexuality, or any other sinful activity for that matter, is not just a denial of some ethical norm but a denial of the gospel and the grace of God.
JI Packer explains further. In an interview given some time ago Packer explains why he uses the label heretical to refer to those in the church that affirm homosexuality as an appropriate lifestyle. The interviewer summarizes, “[Packer] perceives the approval of homosexuality to be “heretical” because it denies a fundamental aspect of the gospel—namely repentance.” Packer continues, “‘Heresy’ ought to be used when an aspect of the gospel is being denied.” Futhermore, he added, that because God that those who practice homosexuality unrepentantly will be damned to hell (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), “Souls are put at risk every time homosexuality is tolerated.”
While I think is incredibly important to show love and compassion to the gay community outside the church, I think it equally important not to tolerate heresy and sexual immorality within the church. Our high church friends and queermergent friends need to be called to repentance. I am thankful for the voices like Packer’s that come from within the high church tradition and courageously speak truth in love. I pray that God will raise up within the emergent church (whatever that really is) equally strong and loving voices.