In part two of The Church series, some time was spent describing the “doctrine of Balaam.” We also touched on the great need for a preaching of “substance” in this critical hour of history. When we read back over church history, it is noteworthy that it was not some great ecclesiastical, theological finesse that brought about the great revivals of yesteryear. Rather, it was plain and simple preaching about the need for honest repentance, something that is oftentimes lacking in our time.There is such a lack of understanding of the requirements God has clearly set out in His Word, particularly in the Western Church, that “church” has become more of a weekly meeting where very little is learned from God’s Word; but, the fellowship is great and everyone goes home with a sense of self-worth. In light of eternity, this is a dangerous place for the church! The axe is truly beginning to be laid to the root of the tree! What is real and what is not will be exposed by the Judge of the whole earth. All of our agendas, motives, attitudes, shortcomings and excuses will be exposed by the One who sees all. Because of this, all of the exhortations found in the letters Jesus sent to the Churches need to be heeded–especially now.
We discussed the “Doctrine of Balaam” in Part 2. We will now look at the second major criticism of the Church of Pergamos, that is, the “Doctrine of the Nicolaitans”.
The Nicolaitans were first mentioned in the letter to the church at Ephesus. In that letter the Ephesian Church was commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans. The church fathers were quick to condemn any doctrines that were designed to sabotage the pure doctrines left by Jesus for the Church. This is why the Apostle Jude wrote:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4, NKJV)
The passage in Jude gives us a good indication of at least a portion of what the Nicolaitans were attempting to bring into the Church. The leadership of the Church at Ephesus stopped the doctrine at the door but the Church at Pergamos allowed it to infiltrate and defile the Church. Unlike the Church at Ephesus who rejected the Nicolaitans, the Church of Pergamos embraced the corrupt doctrine. Clement of Alexandria says, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted what God’s grace was intended for and replaced it with a license to freedoms of liberty Christ never intended.
The Apostle Peter addressed both issues of the Pergamos Church:
They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity; a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (2 Peter 2:15-19, NKJV)
It is one thing for people to fall into sin. There is an abundance of grace available that will set anyone free, even of the grossest of sins. It is, however, another thing to create a doctrine out of error and then not only corrupt ourselves, but also those around us. Hebrews 6: 4-8 speaks to this in a rather startling way:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)
The Nicolaitans not only took truth and twisted it, but created their own doctrines to back up their corrupted beliefs; in effect destroying the faith of many within the Church. The liberty they were promising only enslaved those allowing themselves to be led astray. They became so convinced in their error that they could not see the truth to save their very souls.
This very thing has been a continuing story throughout the entire church age, to one extent or another. Many sheep within the Church are being ravaged by Nicolaitan wolves today. The prosperity gospel, for example, has become a tool used by so many leaders to detour God’s people from the pure and simple Christian faith Jesus taught to the disciples, instructing them to pass it on to the coming generations. Blessings are from the Lord and we should be thankful for them, but nowhere does the Bible teach that the more we give, the holier or more spiritual we become. It also does not teach that the more we give, the more wealth God will bestow upon us. This is not the subject of this writing today, but I find it interesting how so many of those who teach such a gospel, are some of the wealthiest of all. Most of their followers are not aware of the opulence their “spiritual” heroes are immersed in! God’s Word does not teach that having wealth is sin, yet the temptation of “the hundredfold return” has brought many to the love of money, which is a grievous sin. While teaching the poor about the hundredfold return, many of the teachers of this misguided Scriptural usage, are benefitting with a ten thousand-fold return–not in heaven, but as they build their personal kingdoms on this earth! It is all going to burn!
What is most disturbing about the teachings of the Nicolaitans is what the Apostle Peter aptly described. In the passage above he said that they abused the doctrine of grace and tried to introduce licentiousness in its place. This hits home in our culture which has been so led astray in the past fifty years by major societal movements including the sexual revolution, especially in western society. Out of the 1960s came the slogans, “Make love, not war!”, “If you’re not with the one you love, then love the one you’re with”, or “Turn on, tune in, and drop out”. These slogans might not register in third world cultures, but everyone in western society recognizes them quite well. Of course, most church people today hardly claim these slogans as a definition of their own personal spiritual journey, but should we maybe take another good look?
As we approach the end of the age, there should be a seriousness about our walk with God that is not in evidence in most churches. The real problem is our heart condition. John the Baptist came across harshly because he was preparing for the appearance of the Messiah. He was the forerunner for His Master’s appearance and he had an intense urgency about him that angered the religious establishment. Yet, as furious as the Pharisees were with John and his message of repentance, the common people flocked to him in great number. They understood the message even though the religious establishment rejected it in their arrogance and pride.
Could it be that people around us would respond more to a straight forward message of power and true repentance instead of the diet of sweet-sounding easy answers that most congregations are being fed today? In our modern examples of Pergamos-like churches, people are not having the powerful Gospel of Jesus preached to them because many church leaders today have forgotten what it means to be led or inspired by the true Holy Spirit of God! Most anyone can spoon-feed infants a milky mixture that leaves adults starving, but it takes a man of God who has bowed his head and fallen to his knees in real prayer through a life dedicated to the deep search of the Scriptures that is going to meet the need of our fallen world today!
How many of those who claim to be Christ-followers but are more closely identified as slick “pulpit salesmen” will find themselves as part of a scenario that Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount? Let’s look at what the Master said:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! (Matt. 7:21-23, NKJV)
There will be many that face just such a situation, and there will be no recourse. I think also of those who will be left behind because that they did not take seriously the call of God before time ran out. Can you imagine the helpless feeling when it becomes apparent that God has pulled His faithful remnant off the earth and the rest have to face the full onslaught of the wrath of God on a wicked, rebellious planet?
For those that say that God cannot possibly do such a thing, they need to remember what happened in Noah’s day. Jesus said that days just like the days of Noah would return, and they are now here! Much of the Church is guilty of cloning many of the godless ways of the world around us! The divorce rates of the Church are just as high as in the secular world. The majority of couples now live together long before they get married–if they even do get married officially! The Church has taken on the ways of the world as if we serve a God that has no requirements! He has been turned into a god who is only there to serve our needs, providing every whim of want we can dream up and yet allow us to live however we please. I recently heard someone describe this new god as the “modernized” god, the god of the masses, the god of zero sacrifice. This is not the God of the Bible, the Creator of the entire universe, and the soon coming KING of Kings and LORD of Lords!
It amazes me to watch how the church world continues to change, and not in a good way. Compromise is now commonplace–as it was in Pergamos. Two critical areas where the world has sold out and where now the church is compromising are abortion and homosexuality. Today, abortion is considered a means of birth control, yet in God’s eyes it is murder. What our society is doing with the most innocent and helpless of us all is no better than what pagan religions have done for centuries when they sacrificed their children to their pagan gods. We are sacrificing our children to the god of convenience and irresponsibility and it is helping to lead society to total moral depravity.
Homosexuality was the sin most responsible for bringing about the judgement of God, both in Noah’s time and also for Abraham’s nephew Lot, when cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Mainline denominations are not only accepting homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle today, but also ordaining pastors, priests, and bishops who are open homosexuals. God cannot be mocked and if we intend to belong to the faithful remnant that the Bible speaks of, we must draw a clear line in the sand as to where we stand as followers of Christ. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount spoke some words relating to the real Christian walk that many do not like or agree with. Here are His timeless words out of Matthew 7:
Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14, NKJV)
As our world becomes more and more corrupt, the church finds itself being pressured to integrate the world’s views and practices into its own dogma and practice in order to feel like it’s staying relative to today’s culture. The metamorphosis that is coming about however is causing the Church to lose the ethical and moral high ground it was intended to maintain. God does not change, no matter how much the world does. The Church dare not compromise with the world because it not only loses its effectiveness, it brings God’s condemnation and judgment upon itself. It is only through the power of the Spirit of God working through the true remnant Church, that evil has not completely ravaged the planet by now. When this remnant is removed and the restraining force of the Holy Spirit is lifted, there will be nothing to hold evil back from running its ugly course until it is totally destroyed by the sovereign act of God.
In the letter Jesus dictated to the compromising Church at Pergamos, He promised the “hidden manna” to those who overcome. God sustained the Israelites entirely by supernatural means while they were wandering around the Arabian desert for nearly 40 years. God’s promise here of the “hidden manna” refers back to this historical event but may also refer to a small pot of manna that had been put into the ark of the covenant as a perpetual reminder to the Israelites of God’s love and provision. All God required in return was for the people to walk in obedience to His laws, and then continue having faith in God’s protection and provision.
The hidden manna in our day has to do with the revelation of God’s Word that is available to the remnant of the true Church as we approach the end of the age. God will open His Word as much as we ask and trust Him for. Without being the “overcomers” spoken of so often in the letters to the churches, there is no hidden manna available. The Church is in the middle of a great wilderness today on this earth. God has promised us sufficient sustenance, all He asks of us is to apply our humble, submissive faith in Him.
Another interesting promise is made to the overcomers in verse 17. A white stone is promised on which a new name would be written for the receiver. One wonders what this “white stone” is all about. In ancient courts, small white and black stones were used to announce whether a defendant was guilty or innocent. After a jury had deliberated, the spokesperson would toss out a white stone if the jury had decided upon the defendant’s innocence, or a black stone if they had decided on a guilty verdict. In our case as the “forgiven” overcomers, we have been given the white stone, confirming our blamelessness before God and promising a new name to be given and etched on the white stone.
In the final chapters of Revelation, there are many new things being described. New heavens, new earth, paradise as we cannot even imagine, and a life of bliss in bodies that have been transformed from mortal to immortal; from corruptible to incorruptible. What a future for those determined to follow the path set out for the overcomer! Are you one? Do you know Jesus as Saviour? Is He truly your LORD? Today is the day of salvation.
To be continued in Part 4.