Justice Kennedy excused his setting aside all of human tradition on grounds that most Americans now accept same-sex marriage.
Ten years ago most Americans rejected it. Why the change?
Because the church failed to be the church. It followed the sorry pattern of Old Testament prophets and priests.
Judgment is coming. It will not be pleasant. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17
Someone on social media sarcastically noted that God did not send anyone to hell because of slavery, so why would he send anyone to hell because of same-sex marriage? It’s a good question that portrays a common misunderstanding of judgment.
Nowhere does Scripture equate judgment with going to hell. And where it does say that hell exists and people will inhabit it, it does not refer to anyone with a heartbeat. Judgment is coming to America for its descent into immorality, and it will be visible and evident to any of the living with eyes to see.
What is judgment?
Slavery as practiced in this country was indeed a great sin. God always sides with the oppressed.
Thomas Jefferson mocked his stirring phrase “all men are created equal” by owning and mistreating slaves.
Those opposed to slavery made multiple compromises with slaveholders until the election of Abraham Lincoln as President.
And where was the church?
Half of it sided with the slaveholders, citing the “curse of Ham.” Get a concordance and search the whole Bible. There is no curse of Ham.
So how did God judge America and the church in America for slavery?
- We had a Civil War.
- Congress rejected Lincoln’s conciliatory strategy for reintegrating the South into the Union.
- Stung by Northern vengeance, Southerners began to oppress the former slaves as soon as they had opportunity.
- Race riots broke out in cities across the country.
- The Civil Rights movement prevailed, but only partly, and only by overcoming more violence and strife.
- A hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, we still have racial divisions and mutual suspicion. Judgment for slavery continues.
All the arguments that equate gay rights with slavery and the Civil Rights movement are phony, by the way, but even church leaders try to link the two issues. There is no scriptural basis for slavery or racial inequality. Scripture explicitly proclaims that homosexuality is sinful.
Lest anyone believe that the Civil War and its aftermath do not signify God’s judgment, consider the whole sweep of Old Testament history.
Moses presented the law to the people, and the law contained a curse. (See Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.)
- The law forbade idolatry.
- God commanded that the Israelites completely destroy the Canaanites in order not to be corrupted by them.
- The Israelites failed to destroy the Canaanites and adopted Canaanite idolatry, child sacrifice, and sexual immorality.
- Israel started losing wars with its neighbors and suffered oppression at their hands.
- The prophet Samuel began a revival and called the people away from idolatry.
- God established a strong kingdom under the rule of the imperfect but very godly David.
- David’s son Solomon erected pagan temples to please his overabundance of wives.
- Therefore God divided the kingdom and gave most of it to Jeroboam, who promptly established a new idolatrous religion.
- For a while, the southern kingdom remained faithful in worship, until one of the kings arranged for his son to marry the daughter of the most ungodly man ever to rule the northern kingdom.
- God sent prophet after prophet to call the people back to repentance and to warn that otherwise they would suffer the curse of the law.
- Instead, the people became more and more idolatrous, which included sexual debauchery. They called down the curse upon themselves. First the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom fell to tyrannical empires.
(Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He has not redeemed us from judgment.)
Israel had three major positions of leadership: prophet, priest, and king. By the end of the southern kingdom, all had become irretrievably corrupted and enemies of God. Unfortunately, they never recognized that they had become enemies of God.
The American church has no equivalent of the king, but we can understand prophets as those who proclaim and teach God’s word. We can understand priests as those who lead God’s people in worship. The pastor of a church takes on both roles. Other church leaders from seminary professors to Sunday school teachers and choir directors take one or the other.
How did the ancient prophets and priests fail?
And more to the point, what is the danger for their American counterparts?
The kings of the southern kingdom all came from the tribe of Judah and could trace their lineage back to David. The priests all came from the tribe of Levi and could trace their lineage back to Aaron.
Prophets could come from any tribe. God raised up numerous individuals to speak for him. But being a prophet also seems to have been a career choice. 2 Kings 2:3-7 refers to the “company of prophets.”
When King Ahab of the northern kingdom asked King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom to join him in war, he had no trouble producing 400 prophets. Jehoshaphat had to make a special request for a prophet of the Lord, but all of the false prophets presumed to speak in the name of the Lord. This story is told in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18.
To keep this post to a reasonable length, I will not enumerate other scriptures that refer to the multitude of prophets or how they ministered. I will also limit myself to one of many passages that describe false prophets:
Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”
But I said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”
Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. – Jeremiah 14:11-15
The teaching leadership of the church ought to teach everything Scripture says about any topic. It doesn’t.
About 30 years ago I was involved in a church’s singles ministry. The husband of one of that church’s pastors pastored another church, and we had occasion once to visit him there. In order to answer someone’s question, he had to present the church’s teaching on sexual morality.
The people in the group were all in their 30s, but most of them had never heard it! They might have been vaguely aware that the church disapproved of certain kinds of sexual behavior, but they had never learned why.
Today the children of preachers shack up, never having learned why it’s immoral—or even that it’s immoral. Adulterers join churches, take up leadership positions, and never hear from the pulpit that adultery is sin.
Too many of today’s preachers are too afraid of offending someone to lay a foundation for the congregation to understand biblical sexual standards—and why they are a benefit and not an imposition.
Worse, the Rev. Joseph Fletcher published Situation Ethics in 1968 to teach against biblical sexual standards.
After nearly 50 years of silence and deliberate rebellion regarding sexual morality in general, is it any wonder that the church was unprepared and often unwilling to deal biblically with the gay rights movement?
(Some preachers became notorious for gay bashing and proclaiming gays and lesbians will all go to hell. Not exactly “speaking the truth in love,” is it? Issuing judgment without grace does not count as dealing with any issue biblically.)
King Ahaz inherited a strong kingdom from his father and through cowardice became a vassal of the Assyrian empire. That meant accepting and worshiping Assyrian gods. It would have been a good time for the priests to stand firm against the king. Instead, here’s what happened:
When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. . . King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: “On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.” And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered. – 2 Kings 16:10-11, 15-16.
The only prior complaint in the Bible against priests in general came under Joash, four kings before Ahaz, when they took an offering to repair the temple and didn’t do the work.
After Uriah chose to follow the king’s orders instead of God’s law, the priesthood began its long descent into apostasy. It was thoroughly corrupt by the time of Jeremiah.
I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols. Jeremiah 2:7-8
And yet the priests offered all the prescribed sacrifices. They thought they were doing their jobs, just as the prophets thought they were proclaiming God’s word.
But God does not want perfunctory, formal worship that looks and feels impressive to people. He wants worship in spirit and in truth.
The teaching and worship leading functions of prophet and priest are united in our pastors. No one who has turned his back on the standards God has proclaimed is capable of leading anyone in true worship.
This is not a new problem in the church. C. S. Lewis, mourning the false teaching rampant in his day, noted that the sheep could only gather together and bleat until the shepherds returned.
The church’s only hope is for another “great awakening.” The only choice is revival or ruin.
Judgment will fall upon the United States for its slide into immorality just as it did for slavery. Will the church seize the opportunity to repent? If not, how how many church people will, like Jeremiah, have both the spiritual sensitivity and courage to continue to proclaim God’s word even after most of the church, along with society as a whole, no longer wants to hear it?
Dark clouds. Some rights reserved by Jo Naylor.
Sin. Some rights reserved by Corey Balazowich.
Child sacrifice. Source unknown.
Gay rights parade. Some rights reserved by Guillaume Paumier.
Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel ceiling / Michelangelo. Pubic domain from Wikimedia Commons.