This article was written at my request by my friend Kenneth Reamy and is a timely, relevant and a powerful warning that illustrates that many church leaders have been self-serving for the last 2,000 years, and these types are alive and well in our churches today. jk
Modern Day Nicolaitans
One of the key challenges for any Bible preacher or teacher is to present the word of God in its proper context, rightly divided. This is inclusive of highlighting the historical context of a passage, as well as demonstrating the Bible’s relevance in today’s world for contemporary believers.
One of the criticisms many in our generation have of Bible teaching is that it’s boring, antiquated, and lacks relevance for our modern times. The same goes for those who preach and teach it.
I share some of this criticism. It seems that some commentators and Bible scholars are vying for the mantle of “Sleep-Inducer Extraordinaire.” I have cured many a bout of insomnia while reading dull, dry, parched, drought-plagued Bible commentaries laden with irrelevant minutia, written by humorless scholars whose predictable lifelessness permeates their cumbersome writings. And religious broadcasts often achieve the same outcome when brainy, monotone teachers engage in excruciating textual hair-splitting and historical nit-picking while Christians slumber and the world goes to hell.
Systematic theology, biblical lectures, and scholarly Bible presentations notwithstanding, it’s vital for preachers and teachers to be historically accurate while still being capable of demonstrating that the word of God for today is lively, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword! When this is achieved, listeners’ interest in the word can be resuscitated, and new life breathed into believers’ appetite for the bread of life.
Such is the case with the topic of the “Nicolaitans.” While only mentioned twice in scripture, (Revelation 2:6 and vs. 15), I will demonstrate that this sect and its deeds not only existed during the first Century when John wrote the revelation, but in our day as well, chiefly in an operational sense.
Here is what Jesus had to say about these Nicolaitans: To the church at Ephesus He says, “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Jesus hates their deeds. And to the church at Pergamos, He linked the “doctrine” of the Nicolaitans with Balaam’s prophecy-for-hire, (ministry for money), idolatry, and fornication. He says, “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” The word “doctrine” implies a teaching process.
The word “Nicolaitans” is a Greet compound word noted variously in Bible dictionaries as Nikao, Nike, and Nikos. Depending upon context, it means “conquer, overcome, prevail, victorious, victory.” The other Greek word is “laos,” which means “people.” We get the English word “laity” from this word. The full word, “Nicolaitans” literally means “conquer the people,” or as Strong’s Concordance notes, “Victory over the people.”
Some of the Bible dictionaries limit the application of this word to Nicolas, supposedly a deacon of the church of Jerusalem. Webster’s 1828 dictionary also attributes the origin of this word to this same deacon. Nicolas’ followers were sexually permissive, and apparently believed that all married women in the church should be available sexually to the male members of the church to prevent jealousy. Religions that allow people to remain in their sin, then and now, are very popular and experience growth!
But this explanation doesn’t fully recognize the dynamic of the compound word, which means, “victorious over the people,” specifically in deeds and doctrines. This sect and mindset, which had infiltrated the early church, divided the church into two groups: The clergy, and the laity. These Nicolaitans believed that the clergy should be distinct and elevated above the common people (laity) in the church, and as such, were entitled to privileges commensurate with their unique and elite calling and office. Unfortunately, (then and now) the operational manifestation of this philosophy results in two sets of rules: Those for the laity, and those for the clergy (the elite ones who have conquered the laity).
Jesus makes no secret of His hate for the deeds and the doctrines of these Nicolaitans!
So are there modern manifestations of this Nicolaitan mindset? Is there a contemporary representation of the Nicolaitan perspective in our churches today? Are there problems noted in the First Century churches that plague us today?
The answer to all the above is “yes.”
You don’t hear the word Nicolaitan much these days, but you can sure identify them by their actions and means of operation, and the obvious sense of entitlement among the modern “professional clergy.”
The Apostle Peter wrote, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…” (II Peter 2:1). Here, Peter equates false teachers with false prophets. In addition to the false doctrines and teachings, Peter reveals their motives in vs. 3: “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you…” The words “covetousness” and “merchandise” speak specifically of money. The Nicolaitans are after your money, and they utilize false doctrines and teachings to get it. One of these false teachings is that they are entitled to it from the flock which they have taught to support them with tithes and offerings.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy (an apostle to a preacher), he noted that covetousness could be cloaked as “godliness.” It’s a clever trick when it can be done, and it works best when the audience believes the same way. Paul wrote, “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” Rather than link all of God’s blessings strictly in monetary terms, Paul instructed Timothy, “From such withdraw thyself.” (I Tim. 6:5) He said that the threshold for contentment is godliness (vs. 6), and food and clothing, (vs 8).
Paul further warned Preacher Timothy, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (vs. 9-10). Only a foolish preacher is self-deceived into thinking these admonitions apply only to the pew and not to the pulpit. God does not have two sets of rules: One for the laity, and another for the clergy. The same rule book (Bible) applies to all of us! Since Paul’s letters to Timothy are ministerial in context, the first and primary application of all the material is to the preachers!
In Second Thessalonians, Paul reminded his readers of his own behavior while with them. “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought (worked) with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.” (II Thess. 3:7-8). A few verses later Paul, having already reminded them he worked both the night and day shifts and didn’t eat anyone else’s bread, instructed them that “with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” (vs. 12).
Since this context is also ministerial (Paul reminding them of how he, as a minister, behaved), these instructions can also be applied to the preacher!
Yet there is a presumption among many modern preachers that these instructions don’t apply to them, and that they are somehow exempt from following these rules. And this presumption has given rise to the monolithic monstrosity we see today (some call it a church) wherein all God’s blessings are reduced to their lowest common denominator, i.e. cash, offerings, budget, etc., while some in the pews are hurting financially. Add to this the pressure from the pulpit to give more, tithe more, “meet the need…stand with us…be part of the team…sow generously…don’t be God-robbers,” and you have a highly charged atmosphere of pressure imposed on God’s people to fork over their simoleons in order to be blessed of God.
It’s ironic that modern fundraising is conducted by preachers who translate all God’s blessings into dollars and cents when it’s in their possession, but who teach that in order for God’s people to receive the same blessings, they must hand the money over to the preachers!
Without a doubt, it takes money to be in this world. And our world is much obsessed with money. But the church of the living God ought to be different and should not be defined by this obsession. When a church can respond to the things needful for the body in its local community, it more closely reflects the Lord of the church. When huge resources are eaten up with salaries, benefits, vacations, mortgages, debts, and “outgo” designated for the professional clergy, the elitism of the clergy is most glaringly obvious because once they’re needs are met there’s nothing left for anyone else!
God’s heritage is not an enemy to be conquered by the ruling elite—it is a flock of believers who are to be taught and led by love. And giving by the flock should always be done through love and sincerity; not because some preacher browbeat them with guilt and urgency to meet a need or satisfy a debt, or inoculate the preacher from the harsh economic realities everyone else faces. Kenneth Reamy