The Compromising Church
In this critical hour of history, one thing that is sadly missing in many churches today is a message of real spiritual substance. 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. Rather, it was plain and simple preaching about the need for honest repentance, something that is often 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 to be in.
The ax 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.
This is how our text in Revelation 2:12-17 reads:
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13 ‘I know your works, and where you swell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. 17He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”’
The city of Pergamos was known as the greatest city in Asia Minor. It was there that the first temple dedicated to Caesar was built, and the city was a fanatical promoter of the imperial cult. This is probably why the city was called the seat of Satan in verse 13. The city also had a temple built in honor of Aesculapius, the god of healing, whose insignia was the entwined serpent on the staff. This is still a symbol used by many medical associations today. And, we know also that Satan is symbolized as the serpent.
The believers in Pergamos, like so many in other parts of the Roman Empire, faced great persecution. The Hieromartyr Antipas, a disciple of the Apostle John, was bishop of the Church of Pergamum during the reign of the emperor Nero. Antipas had infuriated the pagan priests by preaching against the offering of sacrifices to idols. As the clashes between the priests and Antipas continued to worsen, his life was soon threatened. At one point, he had been dragged in front of a haphazard “court” where he was told that the world stood against him and his convictions. He then calmly answered, “Then Antipas stands against the world.”
It did not take long before the enraged priests dragged Antipas to a temple where he was thrown into a red-hot copper bull, where they put sacrifices to the idols. While in the furnace, the martyr prayed loudly to God, imploring Him to receive his soul and to strengthen the faith of the Christians. The testimony of witnesses was that he went to the Lord peacefully, as if he were going to sleep! When the Christians went that night to retrieve his body, they said that he had died untouched by the fire. They then buried him in Pergamos.
In His letter to Pergamos, Jesus made comment about their faithfulness in spite of the persecutions they endured. The Lord even mentioned Antipas by name in his commendation of the church. Jesus was well aware of what they were going through. But then He had some specific criticisms. These had to do with two major errors into which they were falling: the doctrine of Balaam and 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:
3 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. 4 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
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 this 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:
15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity; a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. 18 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. 19 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
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:
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, 5 and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. 7 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; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
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.
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 that 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 benefiting 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 Western culture which has been so led astray in the past fifty years by major societal movements including the sexual revolution. 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?
Understanding the Nicolaitans also helps us with our understanding of the “doctrine of Balaam.”
For a full understanding of what happened between Balaam and the Israelites, one should read the Old Testament story found in Numbers 22-25. Balaam was a man who was a true prophet but prostituted his gifts in order to make money from King Balak who hired him to curse Israel. God prevented him from fulfilling his task of cursing the nation by turning it into blessings.
Balak had made friends with Israel and then, at the suggestion of Balaam, invited the Israeli men to their idolatrous festivals. There, the men ate meat from idol altars and committed fornication with the Moabite women, which was part of the heathen religious rites. The sin was so egregious that God judged the Israelites for what they did and 24,000 died because of this disobedient act of compromise! (Numbers 15:1-9)
God’s people have always been tempted to compromise their walk with God. The temptations have never been stronger than they are today. The enemy of our souls has perverted sex from the very beginning, and he still does today. God’s creation of the union between a man and a woman was perfect in the beginning, but from the very temptation in the Garden of Eden, the perversion began. It was so pervasive that Adam and Eve found the need to cover themselves with fig leaves so that God could not see them naked. They hid in shame from God…their Creator?!? And, preoccupation with sensual exposure has gone downhill from that point on!
As we approach the end of the age, there must 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, in their arrogance and pride, rejected it.
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 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 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!
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:
21 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. 22 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?” 23 And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! Matt. 7:21-23
There will be many who face just such a situation, and there will be no recourse. I think also of those who will be left behind because 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 from 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 a time would come just like the days of Noah, and we are in that time now! Much of the Church is guilty of cloning 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 ever get married–if they even do officially marry. The Church has taken on the ways of the world as if we serve a God that has made no requirements of us. He has been turned into a god who is only there to serve our needs. 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, or 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 the church is now 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 gods. We are sacrificing our children to the god of convenience and irresponsibility and it is helping to lead society to total moral depravity. As I write this, at least two states in the US are changing laws so that a full-term baby can be killed within the last moments before birth. If God’s judgment were not already at the door for America, this may be the tipping point!
Homosexuality was the sin most responsible for bringing about the judgement of God, both in Noah’s time and in Abraham’s nephew Lot’s situation when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Mainline denominations are not only accepting homosexuality as an alternative 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 strong words relating to the real Christian walk…words that many do not like nor agree with. Here are His timeless words from a passage in Matthew 7:
13 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. 14 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
As our world becomes more and more corrupt, the church finds itself 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. 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 a 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 through 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 continue having faith in His 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 made to the overcomers is found 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 completed their deliberation, 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 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.
Continued in Part Seven: The Corrupt Church of Thyatira…