A Tale of Two Churches
Ephesus and Pergamum
In a Tale of Two Churches we’ll talk about two churches in the book of Revelation. The Church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) and the Church a Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17). These two churches operated in completely different methods but had two things in common. They both had to deal with the Nicolaitans yet in their respective response were both displeasing to the Lord thus resting under the same sentence; “Repent or I’m coming to remove your lampstand”.
Let’s begin with the scriptures from Revelation.
The Church at Ephesus
Revelation 2:1-6 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.’Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.’”
The Church at Pergamum
Revelation 2:12-15 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.’”
What are Nicolaitans? Not much is said or recorded about the Nicolaitans and specifically the things they did that were displeasing to the Lord. Nicolaitans may mean disciples of Nicolas. Some writings in the late 2nd century purport that these were followers of Nicolas of Antioch, one of the original seven deacons, who had strayed from the truth and had become a heretic. There are conflicting thoughts on this in that some believe that Nicolas was an antinomian[b] while others that he was ascetic[a]. However, the accusations that Nicolas was a heretic and the leader of the Nicolaitans were written in the second century so it is possible that they were not of Nicolas at all. In verse Revelation 2:14 Balaam is fingered for causing the sons of Israel to “to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” This would suggest that the sin of the Nicolaitans was syncretistic[c] in nature because the practices and beliefs of the Greek culture were inculcated into the practices of the Christian church in Pergamum. The apostolic council of Jerusalem had forbidden these things as noted in Acts15:29 ”that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well”. That being the case it would seem that the Nicolaitans aggressively opposed the teaching of the apostles in favor of teachings that aligned more with the culture of the day.
Etymology of the word Nicolaitans. The name is derived from 3 Greek words, nikos meaning “victorious” and comes from the root word nike which means “victory”, laos meaning “the people” (specifically denoting ones own populous so for the church this is the laity) and ton which creates a gender neutral plural that in English would be “NIKOS-LAOS-TON” or Nicolaitan meaning “those who are victorious over the laity (i.e. the people of the church).”
In the context spoken of in Revelation 2:14, Balaam led the people of Israel astray causing them to worship false gods, join themselves to foreign women and engage in practices that God had forbidden. The account is recorded in Numbers chapter 25:1-3 “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel.” According to the text, 24,000 died by plague until Phinehas took action that stopped the plague in verse 7. Later in Numbers 31:16 Balaam is given responsibility for causing the Israelites to sin according to “Baal of Peor” and according to Numbers 31:8, this action cost him Balaam his life. Therefore it seems that the teaching of Balaam brought the culture of the surrounding areas into the midst of God’s people creating a kind of syncretism[c] that was unacceptable to and forbidden by God.
Revelation 2:12-15 says “So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” The implication here is that the Nicolaitans brought the ways of the world into the church causing them to stray from the truth. The Greek word for “hold” in verse 15 is krateo, which means to to use strength (i.e. seize or retain). One key takeaway that supports the word krateo here is the phrase in verse 14 “who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel”. If the Nicolaitans really practiced “victory over the laity” they would have been very persistent in teaching false doctrine using cultural precepts, philosophy and other religious teachings to create a bastion of control for their false doctrine. Since the Greek culture embraced pantheism (worship of many gods), philosophy (philos=fond + sophos=wise) and knowledge (gnosis), it is likely there were many who had a hard time separating from Greek culture and tradition in order to embrace the new reality of the gospel which was based on simple faith in Christ alone.
What did the Nicolaitans do that God hated? We know that the Nicolaitans were in Ephesus as well as in Pergamum. We also know that the apostle Paul dealt with error in Ephesus that seemed to be related to the spirit of the Nicolaitans. In Ephesians 4 we see a clear indication that there were those who were using persistent methods in an attempt to instantiate false doctrine in the church, Ephesians 4:14 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;”. While there is no direct evidence that the Nicolaitans were in Colosse, the books of Ephesians and Colossians were written around the same time period and these churches were in the same geographical area (120 miles apart). Paul spoke to similar issues in Colosse as recorded in Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” The primary point in both Ephesians 4:14 and Colossians 2:8 is that there were those who exerted influence over the people of the church in order to include the philosophies of the world and the precepts of men rather than the simple gospel of faith in Christ Jesus alone.
The Cultures Around the Early Church
The early church existed in a society that had been established by the Greeks and was now ruled by the Romans. The Romans preferred a syncretistic society because it facilitated a more peaceful rule and since the Romans themselves were pantheists it was not troublesome for them as long as people were willing to acknowledge the emperor as a god. The interesting thing about this is that Christians and Jews were viewed as “atheists”, or those who did not have a visible god, by the Romans and those in the predominantly Greek cultures. What an ironic twist of terminology because in today’s world those who believe there is no God at all are called atheists but then it was Christians because they had no visible god. Nonetheless, the culture around the early Christians was rooted in pantheistic worship that included eating food sacrificed to idols and various sorts of immoral behavior in which Christians must not to participate. The Christians were held to a moral standard that was much higher than the law required and did not participate in the pagan rituals that were practiced in the cultures around them which contributed to their persecution.
There were two clear movements with which the early church dealt. First was that of Syncretism or inclusion of the pagan cultures in the practice of Christianity and then there was Gnosticism which purported that matter was evil and the spiritual was the only thing that was eternal. These two cultures competed with the truth of God’s Word in the new church of Jesus Christ. While some wanted to include the religious practices of pantheistic worship others held that everything human was evil and that only spirit mattered. Early church fathers fought against the tide of deception associated with both by beginning to adopt the Hebrew texts as well as the gospels and epistles of Paul as a scriptural basis for truth. During the first centuries of Christianity the Bishops informally agreed on the gospels and epistles that were valid and viable doctrinal essence. It was during this time that the “Apostle’s Creed” was developed to clearly identify heretical beliefs. This coupled with the scriptures was used to build a foundation of truth and rebuff heretical influence on the church.
In Revelation 2-3 each of the letters to the seven churches begins with a different salutation. It seems that these salutations are significant in understanding the message to each church. The message to the church at Ephesus begins with verse 1 ”The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands..” This opening clearly establishes that God wants the focus of the Ephesians to be on Him calling the church into account in verse 4 ”But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The message to the church at Pergamum begins with “The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:”. The two-edged sword is representative of judgment as clearly spoken in Hebrews 4:12-13 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” That opening implies to the church at Pergamum that God was ready to judge that church for it’s sinfulness.
Whether walking in their own strength as the Ephesians or falling prey to the sinfulness of the world God will call His church into account.
The Same Thing Only Different
The problems faced by both Ephesus and Pergamum were similar in nature but they were handled in a completely different manner by each of the churches. The sad fact is that neither church handled the problems in a manner that was pleasing or glorifying to the Lord. In a sense this reflects the state of the church in today’s world.
The Church At Ephesus
The church at Ephesus completely rejected the teaching of the Nicolaitans. They rallied around the Word of God and focused on how the teaching of various sects, including the Nicolaitans, did no align with God’s Word. However, they focused on God’s Word to the degree that it became an idol that drew their heart away from their first love, God Himself. The church at Ephesus seems to have become so focused on doctrine that they forgot that Christ died for sinners.
What was the problem at Ephesus? The doctrine was not in question. The lack of tolerance for evil was not in question. The actions were not in question. The deeds were not in question. The perseverance was not in question. However, the motivation that comes from the heart was in question. It seems that while toiling and persevering in the name of the Lord the Love of God was not projected, remembered or revered. In stead an attitude of legalism had set in and the love that God displayed toward the believers in Ephesus was not being reflected by those believers.
This legalism became an idol and a grave sin before the Lord and God called the church at Ephesus into account for their sin. God challenged them to recall from where they had fallen and return to their first love, God himself! God wanted the actions and deeds of the believers at Ephesus to be a result of God’s love and to reflect the love of God. God provided His Word as a means of helping them to walk before Him in a way that is pleasing to Him. God clearly wanted a people on whose hearts His law was written. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Jeremiah 31:33. But the laws written in the heart must be written on the backdrop of God’s love. God’s love is displayed in the fact that He sent Jesus as a propitiation for the sins of mankind and that love must be the thing that first fills the heart of any believer.
It is easy to see how this happened to the Ephesus church. So God wants to write His laws on the hearts of believers but the tendency of the carnal nature is to identify with the things by which it feels it can use to justify itself. What does this mean? Well, as with the Pharisees, believers begin to gravitate toward those who embrace the same views of Biblical doctrine. That being the case, over time, a wall of rules and regulations based on God’s Word is erected as a means of self-justification and protection of persona. In other words, if one does certain things and does not do others they must be pleasing God. The rules and regulations, often grafted from Biblical reference, become the center of belief and the love of God that calls one out of darkness is forgotten in the web of rules and regulations. Judgment becomes the norm and self-justification based on the rules and regulations become the motif.
Minute by minute, second by second, every believer is susceptible to the carnal nature and in the case of the church at Ephesus, and so many fundamental churches today, the “first love” has given way to the dogma of religious rules and regulations and the inconceivable, unfathomable, incomparable Love of God and His gracious gift is diminished and mostly forgotten in the legalistic environments that have become a series of programs with an attitude of “my way or the highway”!
God called the church at Ephesus to repentance and reminded them that His standard is not based on rules and regulations but His infinite love, mercy and grace.
The Church at Pergamum
The church at Pergamum fully embraced the teaching of the Nicolaitans and the syncretism that led them to embrace sinful behavior that displeased God. The sin of Balaam caused the people of Israel to fall into idol worship and immoral behavior which resulted in a plague that cost 24,000 Israelites their lives. These are the very things that were practiced in the church at Pergamum. Inculcating the idol worship and the immoral practices of the culture were embraced as being acceptable in the church.
James and the elders in Jerusalem had clearly instructed the gentile churches to stay away from certain things. It tells us in Acts 15:28-29 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.” But the church at Pergamum had apparently ignored that instruction and fell into grievous sin at the behest of the Nicolaitans.
The key here is Revelation 2:14 “eating things sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality”. The Greek culture of the day practiced sacrifice to their gods as well sexual rituals as part of their worship. The implication is that the Nicolaitans persistently taught these cultural practices in the church at Pergamum which ultimately included some of those practices in church worship. The culture induced not only tolerance of other religions but inclusion of the pagan practices in the Pergamum church. God was extremely displeased and called the church at Pergamum to repentance for their insidious sinfulness.
From the time God called His people to take the land of Canaan His primary directive was that the people of Israel not participate nor allow any Israelite to participate in the worship of other gods or any practices related to the worship of other gods. In the Ten Commandments God first commanded in Exodus 20:3-5 “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them;”. God tells us in Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” That being the case the inclusion of things that God has forbidden in His Word were not acceptable in the church at Pergamum and they are not acceptable in the church today.
Deception Is Deception?
On the one hand there is the fundamental movement that becomes distracted from the “first love” by centering on God’s Word rather than God Himself. On the other hand is the practice of inculcating cultural preferences at the expense of God’s Word thus relegating God to the position of philosophical proxy. Both are sinful and displeasing to God who is the sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, never changing, totally steadfast, gracious, ever loving and completely holy creator of the universe.
The apostle Paul dealt with the deceptive practices of deceitful workers in Corinth pointing out that Satan will present his case as one of goodness and righteousness and his minions will disguise themselves and servants of righteousness.
II Corinthians 11:13-15 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
Are we surprised then that the adversary will use various techniques to divert the church from spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Satan certainly used scripture to deceive the Pharisees and the Jewish religious leadership. Satan used scripture to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-7) and the adversary obviously had a hand in steering the church at Ephesus in the wrong direction. So what are the dangers and how can a church know they have not fallen into deception?
You Pharisees, You Hypocrites!
Let’s first look at the “fundamentalist” churches of today. While there are some cases where God’s Word is followed in the proper context the vast majority of the churches comprising the fundamental movement have become legalistic, cold and exclusive. “Church” has become a meeting of people who believe that same things, in the same way, at the same time, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. In these churches there must be a Bible study where God’s Word is taught and there must be a message where God’s Word is preached. However, the attitudes have become parallel to that of the Ephesus church. Everything is so centered on God’s Word that no one remembers from where they have fallen nor do they remember their calling according to the “Great Commission”.
My father once told me of a denominational meeting where one of the leaders announced that he had not sinned in 29 days. That has always stuck in my mind because my dad, in his indomitable fashion, stated that the phenomenal streak of sinless behavior had ended at 29 days with the sin of “pride” quoting Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
The modern day “fundamental” Nicolaitans teach doctrine to the degree becoming pharisaical. The notion of sharing the gospel takes a back seat to the knowledge of God’s Word. These modern day gnostics begin to focus on all of the evil in the world to the degree that the love of God no longer emanates from their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. While God’s Word is taught each Sunday it has little or no impact on those being taught and certainly does not spur them on to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. The focus becomes head-centric knowledge as opposed to heart-changing truth. There is no accountability for the things that are taught and agreeing with God’s Word is the only requirement. The prevailing attitude is that of “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t chew and I don’t run around with the boys that do!” Yet at the same time gossip and backbiting are rampant to the degree of divisiveness in many of these churches. Jesus summed it up clearly speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” These churches many times draft “By-Laws” which allow the congregation to control the activities of the church thus compromising the authority of God’s Word, squelching the power of God, any spiritual gifting’s present in the body and dictate decorum of church leadership. This method of church management is anything but Biblical. The apostle Paul warned Timothy to guard against this kind of behavior in the church.
II Timothy 2:1-4 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
II Timothy 3:5 “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”
Not that long ago, I was part of a church where the pastor wanted to move the church toward a more outward, evangelical expression. The folks who started the church decades ago revolted and used the by-laws, among other things, to harass the pastor to the degree that he resigned. The Nicolaitans, “those who are victorious over the laity (i.e. the people of the church)”, prevailed. Following the traditional programs of the church were equated to following God’s Word rather than a love for God that results in changed hearts. The deeds of the flesh; gossip, back-biting, outbursts of anger and divisiveness were pandemic while the place was totally devoid of Spiritual fruits; love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness and most importantly self-control. Sure there was Bible study every Sunday morning and God’s Word was preached. However, there were no results, no changed hearts and no compassion for the lost. Each week people immediately forgot what was taught and went on about their daily lives unaffected by God’s Word returning the following week without any sense of accountability or even any recollection of what had been studied the prior week. James framed this condition most appropriately in James 1:22-24.
James 1:22-24 “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”
When the traditions of man trump the power of God’s Word then the church becomes a place where rules and regulations, programs and policies, self-righteousness and arrogance become the norm. It becomes a place where sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is relegated to “I’ll invite them to church and the rest is up to them.” Such was the case of the Jewish Pharisees whose doctrinal statements were spot on but their hearts were far from God. Listen to what Jesus said about them in Matthew 23:1-4.
Matthew 23:1-4 “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.’”
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
When the programs of the church are believed to constitute following God’s Word that church is on the road to Ephesus. Even if God’s Word is followed to the “T”, it is not a sign that God is in any way involved. When God’s Word becomes the focus without allowing His Word to penetrate the hearts of the believers by the power of His Holy Spirit there can be no true love of God, no true love of the brethren and most importantly there will never be true love for the lost that compels believers to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are perishing.
Ultimately, when God’s Word becomes the focus believers begin to gravitate to a pharisaical pattern which results in an exclusive, cold form of religion that looks at sinners the same way in which the Jewish Pharisees viewed sinners. Sinners followed Jesus because He loved them and offered them compassion and forgiveness. Jesus never condoned sin and always called sinners out of their sin but He did so with compassion and forgiveness. In that respect, the story of Jesus and the tax collectors is very telling.
Matthew 9:10-13 “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Here the keepers of the Law (the Pharisees) criticized Jesus for eating with sinners but Jesus had other ideas. He offered them something the Pharisees and the Jewish religion did not, compassion and forgiveness! Jesus exposed the self-righteous criticism of the Pharisees and turned the tables on them using a scripture from Hosea 6:6.
So what are the indications that a church has become or is becoming Ephesus;
Programs become paramount
God’s Word is studied and knowledge increases but hearts are not changed
God’s Word is preached but lives are not changed or inspired to share the gospel
Nuances of doctrine become sticking points
Fellowship becomes based on agreement rather than relationship
The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is relegated to the invitation on Sunday morning
The tell-tale signs of a legalistic church is the cold, lifeless, loveless adherence to rituals and programs, fellowship becomes introverted and self-centered, a cold non-life-changing doctrinal focus becomes important and a lack of converts resulting from personal evangelism by the believers in the church becomes nonexistent. When a church is at the point where programs are paramount and sharing the gospel is not, that church is at the precipice of Ephesus!
Baal of Peor
Many churches today have begun to inculcate cultural philosophy that is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. Cultural acceptance has become a common pattern in many churches today. Universal love and tolerance are adopted at the expense of following God’s Word. Things that God’s Word calls out as clearly displeasing to God are either skirted, discredited or ignored completely. Much like Marcion, an early gnostic who completely rejected the Old Testament and only included New Testament texts that could be used to support the gnostic beliefs, these churches adapt scripture to their point of view in order to satisfy their own religious dogma.
Universal salvation, inclusivism, pluralism and a host of other heresy thrives where there are those who cannot accept that we are sinners and that God sent the only one with the same nature as the Father to die on our behalf and that those who do not accept the “free gift” of salvation are destined not only to eternal separation from God but also to eternal punishment. The notion that a loving God would not send anyone to hell is simply a failure to recognize that God is not only a loving, merciful and forgiving Father but also a sovereign, holy and completely righteous Judge.
When one takes the view that everyone is going to heaven it opens the door to accept all sorts of sinful behavior that God’s Word calls out as displeasing to God. In these cases the one who believes in this manner syncretistically embraces the cultural norms of the world around them as perfectly normal, natural and just plain ok. They must ignore, reinterpret or discredit the places in God’s Word that express God’s displeasure with the cultural norms of the world. When this occurs many things that God’s Word calls out as sin become readily accepted in the practices of the church. I recall a situation where a conservative church split because the pastor took the perspective that in the “Red Letter” edition of the Bible Jesus never condemned or even mentioned homosexuality so the church was told that they would now embrace homosexuals as part of their church community. The pastor himself became the Nicolaitan force that led the church astray. This pastor completely ignored the fact that Jesus himself clearly stated that He came to fulfill the Law which called out homosexuality as an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). Here is what Jesus said:
Matthew 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “that won’t change one iota”? Well that term came from this scripture. Jesus used the Greek heis (one) iota (letter) or “one letter” here. So, Jesus stated clearly that the Law, not just the ten commandments as many would have us believe, but the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. What Jesus said here is that everything God inspired Moses to write will not change by “one letter” until “all things are accomplished.”
Even many conservative evangelical churches host members who subscribe to the ways of the world and justify behavior based on what is legal versus the things God despises and they do these things believing they are forgiven no matter what. The apostle Paul said in Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Do we continue in sin that grace may increase? May it never be. How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” The apostle Paul laid out the fact that Christ died for our sins and is clearly pointing out that those who have transferred their trust to Jesus must not continue in the old sinful nature.
Now to the matter of education. Education has become an idol worshiped by the masses today and particularly in the church world. These modern day Nicolaitans use their educational pedigrees to lord it over the laity, who may have a genuine love for God, by imposing their own views as more relevant and current than God’s Word. They are convinced in their own hearts that they know better than God and are drawn into the darkness of the world by their own lusts through the arrogance of education.
James 1:14-18 “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”
Romans 3:21-26 “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Here Paul clearly says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that the only way to cover that sin is to place one’s faith and trust in Jesus. There is clearly no hint of universal salvation or any other path to the Father except through faith in Jesus Christ alone. So how can there be those who simply can’t comprehend what is plainly written. Easy; they are blinded to the truth having adopted a moral paradigm that aligns with the things of the culture rather than the things that God has clearly stated in His Word.
When things like “whatever makes you happy”, “there are many ways to heaven” or “a loving God would not send anyone to hell” begin to emerge in the church while God’s Word takes a back seat to sociological panacea, that church is on the freeway to Pergamum. The warning signs are clear:
Things that God’s Word calls out as sinful and displeasing to God are embraced as acceptable
The study of God’s Word gives way to cultural, psychological and philosophical studies
The preaching of God’s Word is supplanted by motivational speaking
God’s Word is watered down, reinterpreted, discredited, allegorized or just ignored
The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ disappears in the conundrum of self help
When any of these things begin to emerge in a church, deception has crept in and Satan has begun to distract that church from the “Great Commission”. That church is becoming or has become dominated by the spirit of the Nicolaitans and is infected by the contagion effect of Pergamum.
God, The First Love!
The question becomes; How does God’s church avoid swinging between the pendulum of legalism to the that of total compromise?
The answer is surprisingly simple and uncomplicated. The apostle John tells us in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” What an amazingly simple thing. Just believe, but in what? Jesus was sent by God to live a perfect life, to then die for our sins (iniquities, transgressions and shortcomings) and that He rose from the grave and sits at the right hand of the Father.
The Apostles Creed is such a simple declaration of the simple truths that entail the whole gospel in a nutshell.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.
What a simple message of faith and belief. All of the salient doctrines that form the foundation of faith are found in this simple declaration. The truth be know, the Apostles Creed was developed in the early church as a means of combatting heresy. Really, back then? Yes, back then. Gnosticism, asceticism, antinomianism, syncretism and various other teachings pervaded the early church just as they do the church today. Satan is ever present to raise the question that resulted in the first sin; “Has God Said”? Many people succumb to that age-old question just as Eve and Adam did in the garden of Eden. They fall into the trap of believing that their personal preference is God’s will in their life.
When the adversary can’t deceive those who would believe with out-and-out lies he will use scripture as a means of deception. What? Satan using scripture? No way! Yes way! Let’s look at Matthew 4:6 Satan tempts Jesus with scripture “…If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Yes Satan will use scripture to try and twist our hearts into the Gordian knot of doctrinal gyration, the centrifugal force of which will draw our hearts away from the central yet simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether the deception of personal preference or the Gordian knot of doctrinal gyration the results are the same. The deeds of the flesh begin to become more evident than the fruit of the Spirit. Biblical reference must always be used to evaluate the root of personal preference or personal view of doctrine. When Satan temped Jesus with scripture in Matthew 4:6, Jesus response was from scripture in Matthew 4:7 “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” That scripture was from Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” This is a very interesting response because Massah is the place where the children of Israel quarreled with the Lord over water. Exodus 17:7 “He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” Jesus clearly declared to Satan that the Lord was there. Every believer who studies God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit can do the same.
So, while Satan can use scripture to deceive, the believer must study scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to know God’s heart. As the things of God begin to work their way into the spirit of a believer then, much like Jesus, that believer will recognize scriptural deception and respond with scripture the proper context of God’s Truth.
The bottom line is that following the simple message of faith in Jesus Christ alone and sharing that gospel as directed in Matthew 28:18-20, believers can rest in the assurance of salvation, the wonderful, eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and fellowship with one another in the assurance the of truth of God’s Word. His infinite love is the backdrop for all of this and our assurance and hope rest in Jesus Christ the One and Only Son of God.
[a]Asceticism – they believed that one could achieve a high spiritual and moral status by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and other methods of self-deprecation. Clement of Alexandria (182-202 A.D.): Stromata 2.20 “Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buffed in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man.”
[b]Antinomianism – maintains that, because of grace, Christians are freed from the moral law.
Irenaeus of Lyon (115~125-202 A.D.): Haereses 1.26.3 “The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”
Hippolytus of Rome (180-230 A.D.): Haereses 7.24 “But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the Apostles. (But Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols.”
[c]Syncretism – reconciling different or opposing principles, beliefs or practices in philosophy or religion.
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