Agonizomai: Rev 2:15-16 - Pergamum the Morally Compromised Church<br>False Teachers Wrongly Tolerated

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rev 2:15-16 - Pergamum the Morally Compromised Church
False Teachers Wrongly Tolerated

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Rev 2:15-16 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

The Nicolaitans have been mentioned elsewhere. The word means "power over the people" from the two Greek components "nicao" (=victor over, destroyer of) and "laos" (=people, like our word "laity." Also, note the similarity between the meaning of Nicolaitan and Balaam, the latter meaning "a ruler of the people".) The idea would then be that certain leaders put themselves forward not as servants, but with the idea of lording it over people and exercising control over them. Nothing clearer comes to mind than the rise of the priesthood of the Catholic Church, though this is well before that time. Or the much more recent rise of New Apostolic Reformationism under C. Peter Wagner and others. Or the neo-Gnostic Strategic level Spiritual Warfare movement with its elitism, its special knowledge and its disdain for the historic Christian faith.

Nevertheless, the Roman church is merely representative of the way that man corrupts true spirituality with humanistic religion. Form controls substance. Authority becomes despotic. So-called servanthood perpetrates greater and greater atrocities on the "name of love". We, the true children of God, are sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. We are the children of light. The children of this world are wiser in their generation than we. Fallen human nature is constantly manifested in the church, either through the sins of the faithful or through the infiltration of false professors.

Neither are Protestant churches immune from hierarchical abuse. There are despotic Baptist ministers and monolithic organizations benevolently dictating right and wrong doctrine to flocks everywhere. Such things are at the root of the question as to how the church is to be governed. And the answer is that it is not to be governed at all. The church is to be overseen by servant leaders who are brought forward by the people of God under the prayerful guidance of the Holy Spirit. The real problems arise when the people themselves are ignorant or unlearned in God’s ways and His Word. Many churches are full of the worldly and the unsaved, along with Christians who have never graduated from the milk. And so they make worldly decisions and appoint worldly or unqualified leaders who govern them in worldly ways, perpetuating and exacerbating the cycle.

This is not universal. God always saves for Himself a remnant. Consider the full frontal attack on the early church - both from without and from within. Did the church fold? No! Christ said that He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. His church is not always the visible bits. It is not the prominent, obvious, popular, noisy, clamorous bits. It survives and marches on despite the rot and the tribulation. Nicolaitans are ever with us up to the modern day. They are subtle, as ever - but because Christianity is largely so dumbed-down in this age, that subtlety is needed less and less. People today will swallow just about anything.

Another aspect of the Nicolaitan heresy was its seduction of people into the error of Balaam who taught Balak the Moabite how to corrupt Israel through immorality and intermarriage. Similarly, the early Christians were forbidden to partake of things offered to idols - a sometimes difficult thing that prevented them from partaking in local festivals. But it was an edict of the Lord’s Apostles. The Nicolaitan heresy encouraged this and other forms of license as compromise with the society in which the Christians lived. Instead of, "Come ye out from among them," the cry of the heretics was, "What harm can it do to participate?"

But what does the Lord say? Remember that the pastor and the church were being upbraided for tolerating these things. How does that stack up with today’s cries for tolerance in the church?! The opposite is actually what is required. The church is to hate what Christ hates and to deal with it accordingly. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is the same Jesus who made a whip of cords and drove the money-changers out of the temple. And if you think He wasn’t angry when He did it you have a skewed understanding of scripture. The Lord is saying that worldly compromisers and worldly leaders are to be disciplined and/or tossed out of the church.

This is all concerned with what goes on "within the church". Towards the outside world we are to be loving, merciful and gracious. They are as we once were, before God’s grace enlightened us. We are to be in the world while not being of it. The only way for the church to be "not of the world" is to be itself separated from its values and practices. That means that within the church the most exacting standards of holiness, purity and conformity to the word of God are to be insisted upon. We are to be different. How this is to be achieved is laid out for us in scripture. Preaching and teaching the unadulterated truth. Loving the brethren. Encouraging, reproving, rebuking and disciplining as required.

We are to be different from the world both as to appearance and as to conduct. Our mission is not to change the world, but to change the church - to disciple. Now, we are, of ourselves, unable to change anything, of course - but unless the church is markedly different from the world what is there to recommend life in Christ? If we import the ways of the world into the church in an effort to attract the worldly we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are counter-Christian - which is another way to say that we are anti-Christ. So what does Jesus think of all this?

He abhors the toleration of human self-authority, false teaching and the use of grace as a cover for licentiousness. Again - it is held to the account of the saints if they tolerate such things among them. But what does the Lord say? If the saints don’t repent of tolerating this stuff, then He will come and execute judgment on - not the faithful saints, not the truly reborn children - but those in error amongst them. Far from being a threat of punishment, it is a plea for loving witness. Christ is calling the church to love enough to correct, reprove, rebuke and discipline so that He will not have to come and judge the wayward in person. Church discipline, the preaching of separation and purity - these are for the good of all. Who knows but that, by it, some might not be turned from their evil way and saved?

It is the pastor and the true church that are to repent. They are to repent of tolerating error. Yet when they do repent and vigilantly guard the purity of the faith, they actually display true love to those whose errors need correction. They do this by “delaying” the judgment of Christ. When the church acts as the church then the church and the world are preserved. God is somehow in it to restrain His Own ultimate judgment. But the less faithful the church is in keeping itself pure then the closer it and the world come to that Day when He Who has been restraining all will be removed altogether - and the beginning of the end will be at hand.


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