Spiritual Self Evaluation – part 3
The Christians in Pergamos were being pushed to conform to the norms of the culture around them. It was a big struggle – something you might also feel.
Pergamos was ‘sin-city.’ The Greek religions were widely practiced. The rituals of these cults were usually associated with immorality – prostitution, sodomy, orgies & lewd entertainment.
Jesus said to this congregation, “I know your works and that you live in the midst of great spiritual darkness. And I know that you have held fast to My Name & have not denied the faith, even when you witnessed the martyrdom of Antipas. But I do have a few things against you.”
Wow! This group of believers was bold in holding onto Christ, even when they saw one of their number martyred. But is it easier to die for Christ than to live for Him?
Though they were strong in the face of religious opposition, they had allowed some bad influences to enter into their fellowship: those who held to the doctrine of Balaam & those who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
You remember Balaam. He’s the guy who had a conversation with his donkey. You can read his story in Numbers 22-24.
Jesus, tells it straight about Balaam: Balaam, caused the children of Israel to break God’s law regarding eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. He also caused them to “commit fornication” – sexual sin. Yes, Jesus calls sex outside of marriage something a bad thing.
Balaam knew that if some cute, shapely & morally loose Moabite girls would go into the Israelite camp, they could seduce the Israelite men & then introduce idol worship, thereby bringing God’s judgment down on the Israelites. It worked.
In Pergamos, someone had seductively introduced idolatry to the congregation, & the Church was allowing it. Sin is subtle. Often you don’t realize that you are in sin until you’ve been there for a while.
Because historical records from the 1st century are scarce, the Nicolaitans are more difficult to nail down. Some say they were a sect of Gnostics. But this is debatable.
Irenaeus, an early Church Father, said this of the Nicolaitans: “John, the disciple of the Lord…seeks by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans…” who alleged that the triune God-head isn’t one, but completely different beings; that creation was not the work of God, but of a lesser being; that created beings were “shut off” from communion with God and spiritual things.”
Irenaeus, also wrote that John wanted to put an end to this and all heresies; that he wanted to establish the truth in the Church – that there is one Almighty God Who created all things by His Word; that He bestowed salvation on men, and that God began His teaching with the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made” [John 1:1].
Whoever they were, the reference to the Nicolaitans is important or Jesus wouldn’t include it twice. It is important for this reason: it is the first thing in the NT that Jesus says He hates. This hate is from the One Who tells us to love our enemies. But notice it is the doctrine that Jesus hates, not the doers. What was this doctrine?
The Nicolaitans believed that only those with a deeper understanding of God knew spiritual things. Their attitude of religious superiority effectively created a gap between clergy – who allegedly knew these deeper spiritual things- & the laity who did not.
Typically a religious group has more than one doctrine in which it believes. Yet here we are told that Jesus hates their doctrine, singular. There may be a clue in the name itself.
Nicolaitan is made from 2 Greek words: nikao = meaning to conquer; overcome (‘Nike’) & laos = people; the laity.
Ruling over the laity – one of the very things Jesus’ death removed.
When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom opening the way for sinners everywhere to approach God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. There is no more need for a priest to stand between sinful man & a holy God. We now have a High Priest in Heaven interceding for us in the very presence of God. That High Priest is Jesus.
What had begun as “deeds” in Ephesus [v.6] had become doctrine. As a result of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, a church hierarchy came into existence telling the people what they could & could not do. They did not charge the people to be accountable directly to God, but charged the people to be accountable to themselves.
They ignored the priesthood of all believers, teaching instead that the people could not go directly to God, but must go through them, the new priesthood. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans – something Jesus hates.
But as in all communications with His Bride, the Church, our loving Jesus, gives m the cure for this problem: “Repent.”
They simply “had” in their fellowship those who believed & shared these false doctrines. So in this case “repent” would mean to put them out of fellowship. Excommunication.
It would look like church discipline to those being put out. Yet it would actually be church leadership acting like shepherds & purging the local flock of impurities (false doctrines) that would lead the sheep to sin.
If the leadership wouldn’t do this then the Lord Himself would fight against “them” – those who held & taught the false doctrines. Notice that He would do so with the “sword of His mouth” – His words.
Do you know how Balaam, died? By the sword! – Joshua 13:22
John 12:48 “He that rejects me, and does not receive my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
If we had traveled to Pergamos & attended a church service we would have seen a church that was unashamed of their Christianity. We would have joined in their songs of praise & worship. We would have heard genuine prayer that sprung from the heart. They worshiped Jesus, but were in need of repentance because they had compromised with the world.
Their sin was tolerating the Balaamites & Nicolaitans – fellowshiping with those who stumbled spiritual Israel, just as Balaam had stumbled physical Israel.
The believers at Pergamos, were guilty of broad churchism” or trying to accommodate all allegedly Christian beliefs. Our modern word for this is ecumenism. The problem is not so much the sin practiced in these pagan religions. Although it was grossly immoral, sin can be forgiven. The problem is the false doctrines that excuse or seek to justify sin.
It’s interesting that our present world screams for tolerance, but Jesus says it’s wrong to tolerate false doctrine within the Church.
Time for our self-evaluation
God’s people – Christian’s – are to be separate from the world-system. Friendship with the world-system is not an option.
We are not to worship at its altars.
We are not to learn its ways.
We must not be pressed into its mold.
Yet, that is what was happening in the church at Pergamos, and sadly continues to happen in churches today. Compromise – the doctrine of Balaam – is still finding its way into modern congregations opening the way for idolatry to destroy the people of God.
The doctrine of Balaam attempts to wed the people of God to the ways of the world. God calls it whoredom, and He calls fornication an unholy alliance. Just as Moab tried to corrupt Israel, the people of God, so the world is trying to corrupt Christians.
Worldliness is what any particular culture does to make sin look normal, & righteousness look strange. Beware. The smiles of the world are more dangerous than its frowns.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran