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The Prophet of Kazan - Dave Doveton

The Prophet of Kazan
Judgment is most often used in the Bible in connection with the judgment that God visits on his own people

By Dave Doveton
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
January 5, 2104

During a Sunday service some months ago in Kazan Cathedral on Red Square, Metropolitan Kirill the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church issued a grave warning regarding the growing phenomena in the west of legalizing same sex unions and same sex 'marriages' .

He warned against the formalization of sin by codifying it in the laws of a country; "This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction," Kirill stated.

The Russian Patriarch's comments came as the coalition government in the United Kingdom was in the process of approving legislation which would formally recognize same sex 'marriage'. Britain would be following other western countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, France, South Africa and several others who had already passed the legislation at a national level. Echoing his sentiments at a special prayer service more recently a Roman Catholic Bishop described the signing into law the redefinition of civil marriage by the governor of Illinois as "institutionalizing an objectively sinful reality".

Nor have these cultural processes remained confined to the developed nations of the West. Eastern European and African nations continue to experience concerted and sustained attempts by powerful cultural elites to subvert their legal codes. Nigerian Catholic bishops at the 2009 African Synod in Rome expressed anger that "lethal ideologies" were being pushed onto many African countries by the West . This concern has also been voiced by Anglican Archbishops in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. They emphasized that God loves people who experience same-sex attractions; however this fact should not cloud the issue that to enshrine same-sex behavior in law would undermine marriage and family life.

Universally, the Christian church does not approve of or bless same sex relationships, except for a radical fringe within liberal Protestantism, but marginal groups having increasing influence within western Christendom insist that same sex erotic relationships are merely a secondary ethical issue, a matter of personal conscience and thus not something which should divide the church. For example, the bishops of the Church of England in their recent statement on the Pilling report admitted they held divergent views on same-sex relationships, but they aimed at achieving 'good disagreement' within the church on the subject. Are they right? Can the Church continue to drift along, confused but happy? Or, is this a matter which is of such significance it indicates the destiny of a whole nation and the alarming spiritual state of the church in that nation?

A symptom is an indicator or sign - apocalyptic symptoms are important indicators in scripture, first used by the prophets of the Old Testament. Apocalyptic signs were indicators of approaching judgement which could take many forms - they could indicate a present ongoing process of judgement, as in Amos; "I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning: yet you did not return to me", declares the Lord." (Amos 4:11); or they could be a sign that a final destructive end may be approaching a nation; or even refer to the final judgment of God at the end of human history.

Apocalypse, from the Greek word Apocalypsis, usually translated as 'revelation', means "an unveiling, a disclosure of what previously had been concealed. In the New Testament it is most frequently employed to describe God's self disclosure of truth to man. It implies that from the fullness of a knowledge man does not possess, God imparts some aspects of the divine mysteries in the form of plain truths."

Signs or portents are pointers, signals; they may be like the 'sign of Jonah' pointing to the deeper truth behind Jesus' death and resurrection. They encapsulate truth in a paradigmatic way that is somehow more powerful and poetic than verbal proposition. So the story of God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a paradigmatic symbol of both human wickedness and the retributive punishment of God. In scripture it is used as a metaphor for judgment more than 28 times and although spoken in connection with other nations (Moab, Babylon etc), it is most often used in the Bible in connection with the judgment that God visits on his own people. When the covenant is renewed in Moab (Deut 29 : 16ff) the people are warned against apostasy, against idolatry, against their hearts turning away - especially a deceived heart which does not believe God will judge them. The scripture speaks in terms of God's wrath using highly descriptive language - "an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah which the Lord overthrew in his anger and his wrath".

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah use Sodom as a sign that warns of God's judgment on his own people . In contemporary Christian terms, that means if the church strays from the path our Lord would have us follow, judgments come in order to turn us back to him, and to spare us from the wrath of God which will surely follow if we refuse. This principle is referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 in connection with parochial church discipline; ... "but when we are judged by the Lord we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world"

In 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 Paul speaks of the need for personal and corporate self examination. Allowing ourselves to be judged and disciplined by the Lord separates us from the world of unbelievers, and thus from the judgments that come on the world - weakness, illness and death - by the wrath of God. Here we see the truth of Paul's observation that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Jesus himself indicated that open homosexuality will be an apocalyptic sign (Luke 17:28,29) "Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot.....on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the son of man is revealed." He also associates this particular sign with those of God's chosen who refuse to repent (Matt 11:20-24)

Jesus' words would imply that if we study the Sodom story in Genesis 19 we will glean some defining and typical characteristics which we should expect to see in such a culture;

a) The text indicates that Sodom had a society in which human desire overruled human reason. In particular, resistance to homosexual demands was not tolerated. In the past two decades we have seen a complete reversal in Western cultural attitudes to homosexual behavior - from prohibition and legal sanctions against it, to acceptance and even the celebration of it as entirely normal and now more recently to suppression of those who express the opinion that it is morally wrong.

b) People who take a reasoned moral stand for the truth, like Lot are then accused of being judgmental, implying that they have no right to even express an opinion counter to the new prevailing cultural orthodoxy.

c) Another characteristic of such a culture which also accords with Isaiah 3:9, is that sexual behavior no longer remains in the private sphere, but is openly flaunted - it becomes a public spectacle. The recent Grammy awards ceremony showed how adept the American entertainment industry are at spectacular in-your-face displays which in this case sensationalized and glorified the ideological campaign for same-sex relationships.

In Romans Chapter 1:18-32, Paul outlines the process in which a culture turns away from the worship of the true creator God who exists apart from his creation, to idolatry which is the pagan worship of creation (in many forms) as divine. Paul says the wrath of God is revealed against these cultures and it is evident in a particular historical process. He alludes several times in this passage to the Sodom cycle - for example, verse 18: 'God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness of men' (see Genesis 19:24); he alludes to clear indictments (see Deuteronomy 29:23 referring to God overthrowing Sodom in his wrath and anger); and to Levitical prohibitions. Paul is drawing on ancient Israelite and early Judaism's use of Sodom as a byword for pagan rebellion against God characterized by homosexual relationships - Philo, Josephus together with The Testament of Naphtali all label these relationships as 'against nature'. As Paul never limits his indictment of homosexual practice to rape it is clear he understands the symbolism of Sodom as having an indictment against all homosexual practice per se . Nor does Paul disapprove of it by reason of some of it being associated with idol worship, but he sees the occurrence of homosexual behavior as evidence of human beings turning away from God and his ordained order in creation. He is echoing Isaiah who associates the rebellion of Judah and consequent idolatry (Ch 1:2,4) with sexual disorder - 1:10 Hear the word of the law you rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the word of the Lord ye people of Gomorrah. Here no enlightenment sleight of hand which tries to pretend that spiritual effects can be separated from the physical dimension of human behavior is possible.

The Old Testament Sodom and Gomorrah are a symbol of total and permanent destruction - leaving a desolate wasteland which would never be inhabited - so Isaiah wails, Except that the Lord of hosts had left us a remnant, we would have been like Sodom and like Gomorrah, (Ch 1:9) and Jer. 49:18 and 50:40; "As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it." Or Zephaniah, predicting that the lands of Moab and Amon would be perpetually desolate (Zeph 2:9) - a symbol of lifelessness and hopelessness, of a people who having heard the final verdict of God, have no further chance of redemption.

No-one uses the metaphor as powerfully as Jesus however in using the image of Sodom as a picture of final and everlasting judgment; In Matthew 10:15, he extends the metaphor beyond the symbolization of physical annihilation to a picture of eternal spiritual death from which there is no hope of escape.

New Testament writers follow the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus in seeing Sodom as an example of rebellion against God and of total destruction, of eternal judgment. Thus Peter teaches that the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is an example specifically to those who having known the truth, then turn away from God: "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6) In the letter of Peter, this statement about God's judgment is particularly associated with false teachers, the equivalent of the Old Testament false prophets. This is also an association which Jeremiah made and for whom he reserved some of his harshest words, "I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah." (Jer. 23:14) Revelation affirms that this is indeed an apocalyptic sign of an apostate church as it brings together the names of 3 cities - Jerusalem to symbolize the people of God, or the church; Egypt which symbolizes idolatry; and Sodom (Rev 11:8).

Jude uses the symbolism, but adds a further revelation - he makes it clear that these cities are presently undergoing the punishment of eternal fire: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." This is no vague future possibility, it has already happened. The sentence has been carried out - it is a terrible apocalyptic reality that is true today and will be true forever. Peter echoes his warning which is a clear intertextual reference to Sodom "and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority." Both Jude and Peter follow early Jewish writings in using the example of Sodom as a warning that God will punish unrighteous behavior. However their warning is not directed at pagan nonbelievers, but at the false teachers who arise in the church and lead Christians into immoral behavior.

Scoffers have taunted orthodox believers, saying that laws have been changed without any negative consequences following. A case in point is US Episcopal priest Susan Russell's remark that when the bishops of the Episcopal Church (of North America) consented to the consecration of Gene Robinson, an actively homosexual man, "...the world did not end, the sky did not fall and life as we knew it did not cease to exist" .

The implication being that the absence of divine intervention must of necessity point to the fact that God was not particularly worried by the development. However, as Biblical theologians point out, the apparent silence of God points either to the fact that he is patiently waiting and giving people time to repent, or a more terrifying reality. This is the truth that the first stage of God's wrath is manifest in the absence of intervention on his part. He withdraws and allows people to engage in perverted sexual behaviors, but in the end there will be a cataclysmic judgment. The thrust of Paul's teaching in Romans 1 is that the acceptance within a culture of such behavior certainly is a portent of the latter.

Sodom, then is an apocalyptic sign of a culture that has turned from God. In the New Testament the sign is repeatedly used in relation to the state of the Christian Church. It is a most severe and serious warning to a church captive to false teaching and drifting into apostasy. Ultimately it is an extension by God of his grace to us. The question remains - will the church in the west heed the warning and turn back to biblical faithfulness and find grace and mercy, or will it's leaders continue to tolerate and even entertain the false teachers that are spreading their toxic ideologies ?

The Rev. Dave Doveton is the Rector of two parishes in the Anglican Diocese of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is also Anglican Dean of Studies at Stellenbosch Theological Seminary.

FOOTNOTES

http://theorthodoxchurch.info/blog/news/2013/07/recognizing-same-sex-unions-brings-us-closer-to-apocalypse-head-of-russian-orthodox-church/

http://www.catholicvote.org/12-must-read-quotes-from-bishop-paprockis-same-sex-marriage-exorcism/
http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=18559#.UvIiHRtWHIU

Merrill C Tenney, Interpreting Revelation, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1988, p 28.

Isaiah 1:10; 3:8,9; Jeremiah 23:14.

For a thorough and exhaustive study of scriptural teaching, see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-susan-russell/what-a-difference-a-decad_1_b_3710960.html

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