“Repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of his place.”
The Amazonian synod has polarized Catholics and brought the Church one step closer to schism. The division should be familiar. On the one side are progressive Catholics who would like to undertake new works of social justice and environmental conservation, on the other side are conservative Catholics who, the Pope tells us, “think they are so righteous they wind up worshiping themselves.”
Two things have particularly exercised these smug Pharisees, the Synod’s proposal to open priestly ordination to married men and the Synod’s practice of placing fertility symbols on the altars of churches. With all due respect to Pope Francis, one does not have to be righteous to think these innovations are wrong, and an antinomian enthusiast is at least as self-righteous as a smug Pharisee.
My epigraph is taken from the passage in which Jesus explains how the Seven Churches of Asia may die, and I believe he revealed this to John because it is the way the Church may die. As you can see in the epigraph, if the Church abandons its “first works,” Jesus tells John he will come swiftly and “remove thy candlestick out of his place.” The “candlestick” here represents the light of the Holy Spirit, and the removal of this candlestick will obviously plunge the Church into spiritual darkness, heresy and schism.
Thus, we can infer that there must be some dangerous forms of progress that will lead the Church away from its “first works.” We have been warned against these disastrous innovations, and we are therefore quite literally well advised to be on guard against them. And being on one’s guard against disastrous innovations is what the word conservative means.
Conservatives are therefore fortunate in possessing the revelation to John, for in the second and third chapters of that book the disastrous innovations are specified, albeit in somewhat cryptic terms. These are “the deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” infiltration by “the synagogue of Satan,” “the doctrine of Balaam,” and “that woman Jezebel.”
The Nicolaitanes were an antinomian sect who believed that Christian liberty had released them from the moral as well as the ceremonial law. The name properly belongs to a circle of Christian libertines gathered around Nicholas, a deacon in the church at Jerusalem, but was used to denote any antinomian libertines in the early Church. The Nicolaitanes were accused of holding love feasts that progressed to group sex in a pile, and the name was extended to all Christians who identified the new faith with sexual liberation.
Thus, the Church was warned to be on guard against enthusiastic antinomians, and most especially against disastrous innovations in sexual morality.
“Synagogue” is the Greek word for an assembly, congregation, or gathering together of people. The phrase “synagogue of Satan” therefore denotes those men and women who are bound together by a devotion to Satan and his works. It is not identical to the synagogues of the Jews, and could perhaps be more clearly rendered as “the Satanic conspiracy to destroy the Church.” Although the “synagogue of Satan” is not identical to the synagogues of the Jews, it is obvious that Satan’s minions have infiltrated those synagogues, and are from those synagogues able to penetrate the Christian churches. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they bring with them “the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not.”
Thus, the Church was warned to be on guard against the disastrous innovations of false prophets, and to be most especially suspicious of men who make a pretense of great holiness.
Balaam was a Canaanite priest who refused to lay a curse on the Israelites, but then craftily taught the Canaanites to corrupt the new arrivals by assimilating them to the Canaanite religion. The “doctrine of Balaam” is therefore to avoid open battle with the Church, but then bring it down by “casting a stumblingblock” before its “children.” The “doctrine” has two faces. To those who would destroy the Church, Balaam says, bide your time, take your revenge slowly, and corrupt them by degrees. To the children of the Church, Balaam says, don’t be such prudes, overcome your prejudices, and savor some diversity. Under this “doctrine of Balaam,” the people of the Church learn “to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
Thus, the Church was warned to be on guard against the disastrous innovations of nonbelievers who croon about tolerance, mutual respect and learning from one another.
Jezebel was the Phoenician bride of king Ahab. She was also a witch who used luxury and greed to convert the king to the worship of Baal, god of her homeland, and to slaughter the prophets of the God of Israel. Like Balaam, Jezebel is in Revelations a symbol of a corrupting influence, for it says a “Jezebel” had disturbed the church at Thyatira with her adulteries. This Thyatiran “Jezebel” called herself a “prophetess,” which means she added innovations to the faith, and she seems to have bewitched the Thyatirans with either wealth or sex appeal. Bewitchment is the essence of a “Jezebel.” She uses sex and luxury to cloud men’s minds and drive men mad, like Ahab the mad captain who was led to disaster in his hunt for Moby Dick.
Thus, the Church was warned to be on guard against the disastrous innovations of sexy sirens who call from their perches on the foaming rocks of apostasy.
The Nicolaitanes are the symbol of Christians who have slipped into a gnostic second reality where they believe the laws of nature no longer apply. The actual Nicolaitanes may not have been guilty of the orgies with which they were charged, but the symbol stand for the gross imprudence that can overtake Christians who believe they have transcended things like jealousy, disease, gravity, and the need to pay one’s bills at the end of the month. After all, morality is codified prudence, and the enthusiastic antinomian who rejects the moral law is therefore embarking on a course of recklessness imprudence. He will, of course, call his reckless imprudence an “act of faith,” and therefore lose his “faith” when nature pays the wages of his folly.
The Synagogue of Satan is an enemy of the Church, as are Balaam and Jezebel. All three share the aim of corrupting the Church to a point where Jesus will withdraw its “candlestick” in disgust, but they differ in method and style. Member of the Synagogue of Satan “say they are Jews, and are not.” They are, in other words, infidels in disguise, and this disguise allows them to infiltrate the Church and propagate their blasphemies from the inside. Balaam is, in contrast, the friendly infidel who talks about the evils of religious bigotry, and very soon has you setting up phallic symbols on your altars and burning incense to his gods. Jezebel is the temptress who baits her trap with sensual delights.
Do you detect any of these at the Amazonian synod? Do you detect all four?