Nicolaitanism in the Church Today

October 28, 2014
by Steven Lambert

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[Note: With the matter of authoritarian abuse by ministers surfacing in the news more than ever before, it is vital that the church and church leaders begin to look seriously (though such is not a popular or prevalent thing among the vast majority of ministers today) at the root causes underlying the above-the-surface produce of such sinful activities by those who assume the place of authority in churches today. It is also vital for the Body of Christ to know that God has been issuing prophetic warnings about this prevalent problem of hyper-authoritarianism, particularly in the Neo-Pentecostal movement, for decades, but mostly, as is typical of prophetic warnings, to little avail. Instead of heeding those warnings by the prophets God sends to each generation, the church by-and-large still ignores them, the message, and the Source of the message…until, that is, it affects them personally, and then they want to know why God didn’t warn them or keep the destructive consequences from happening to them. Unfortunately, the church still kills the prophets God sends to them, though today they “kill” them by ignoring, refusing to recognize and support, or in various ways marginalizing them and their ministries; this is particularly true of the ecclesio-politically-powerful elite, the de facto ecclesiastical aristocracies, and the Charismatic “La Cosa Nostra,” meaning those who by various means have seized the human thrones of power of the various streams of the earthly institutional church. The following is an excerpt from my book, Charismatic Captivation—Authoritarian Abuse & Psychological Enslavement in the Neo-Pentecostal Church, originally published in 1996. The sub-premise of the book is that the heretical hyper-authoritarian doctrines, dogmas, and practices proliferated during the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement were surreptitiously infused into the fabric, foundation and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church, in particular, producing a plethora of problems that inhibits it from fully apprehending the purposes and plans that Jesus, the exclusive functional Head of the Church He is building, intended for it to apprehend.]

One of the common denominators of false cults, false religions, and the occult is that their doctrines and practices are predicated upon the “isms” of vain, humanly invented philosophies. The same is true of the heretical hyper-authoritarian Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines, dogmas, and practices that were infused into the fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church, which fact is further corroboration that they are all of the aforementioned characterization: cultic, false, and occult. One of the most significant “isms” of the Discipleship heresy is one that is specifically mentioned and condemned in the Bible—Nicolaitanism.

In short, Nicolaitanism was a heretical hierarchical system of church‑government devised, propagated, and instituted by a corrupt sect of usurpers that surfaced toward the end of the First Century A.D. The malevolent and ignoble objectives of these interlopers are succinctly reflected in the etymology of their name—Nicolaitans—a compound Greek word, comprised of two components. The first component is derived from the word “nikao,” which means, to conquer. The derivation of the second compound is the word “laos,” which refers to the laity, a term used in the days of the Early Apostolic Church to allude to congregational believers who are not Fivefold Ministers or a part of the governmental presbytery of a church. Combined, these two components precisely convey the overall primary goal of the Nicolaitans, which was to conquer the laity.

It is not clear whether this appellation was an overtly defiant choice by these tyrannical ecclesiastical usurpers themselves, or whether they were so named by their opponents. What is abundantly clear from history, however, is that the demonic doctrines and practices devised and propagated by this corrupt corps of clerics were deadly weeds of false teaching virtually identical to that being touted by the Discipleship proponents of today. It is also evident that, because those deadly weeds were not vigorously opposed and extirpated, but were instead permitted to spread through the Church, eventually the hyper-authoritarian Nicolaitan doctrines and deeds led to the hierarchical system of the Roman Catholic Church that took the Church into 1,200 long years of spiritual deterioration and devastation.

The teaching of the Nicolaitans was the genesis of the concept that remains yet today in much of Christendom in which an elite class of professional clergy is set in as a hierarchical ecclesiastical government to in effect lord over the laity. The Nicolaitans taught and instituted a form of ecclesiastical hegemony (domination by force by one entity over another) based on a pyramiding, multilevel ascendancy structure comprised of priests, bishops, and cardinals, and so on, all of whom were under complete subjection to a singular religious potentate, who was venerated as the human substantiation of Christ Himself—the Pope. The residual of this system today—still alive and well and revered by millions of adherents—is the Papal System of the Catholic Church.

The Nicolaitan heresy was virtually identical in essence, as I said, to the Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines and practices propagated by proponents and yet prevalent in the Post-Pentecostal church today. How much more significant that becomes when it is understood that it was primarily these perverse precepts and their propagators that were responsible for plunging the Church into the spiritual “black hole” of the Dark Ages, from which the collective Church is still today in the process of recovery and restoration.

The Dark Ages (313—1517 A.D.) was the period of the Great Apostasy for the collective Church, an occurrence prophesied by the Apostle Paul when he wrote:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron (1 Tim. 4:1-2).

During this age of spiritual darkness, the Truth was subverted by humanistic ideologies and vain philosophies (Col. 2:8)—the “doctrines of demons” of which Paul forewarned. Eventually, nearly every remnant of Divine Truth, the foundational teachings upon which the Church had been originally established, was distorted, debauched, diluted, degraded, abrogated, and abandoned.

The prominent and preeminent role of the Nicolaitans in this cataclysmic and precipitous descent into comprehensive spiritual apostasy dramatically depicts the catastrophic consequences that ensue when false teachers are not exposed and their false teaching extirpated with finality. It is for this very reason that the Word of God warns, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:9). It’s also the reason the Lord mandates: “Clean out the old leaven (false teaching), that you may be a new lump,” and “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves,” in order that we might “celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and TRUTH” (1 Cor. 5:7,13,8).

Jesus’ Disdain for the Nicolaitan Deeds and Doctrines

Considering the eventual denouement and consequences of the Nicolaitan heresy, it is little wonder why Jesus issued such a terse but severe warning to the Early Apostolic churches through the Apostle John regarding the Nicolaitans in the apocalyptic vision comprising the book of Revelation. It is in His commendation to the church of Ephesus in which Jesus expresses His utter disdain for the premise of such ecclesiastical predomination as that proposed and propagated by the Nicolaitans: “Yet this you do have, that you hate the DEEDS of the Nicolaitans, WHICH I ALSO HATE” (Rev. 2:6).

Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians for recognizing the hereticalness of the ungodly teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans, and their consequential resistance and rejection of the false doctrine, is a tribute to the Apostle Paul who founded the church, to Timothy, who Paul personally tutored and sent to be their chief elder, and to all the other Fivefold ministers who contributed toward the spiritual development of the Ephesians. They had been so well taught that they were not deceived by men who came to them claiming falsely to be apostles (Rev. 2:2), nor did they succumb to the demonic doctrines and deeds of the Nicolaitans.

In His commendation of the Ephesians, Jesus indicates His hatred for the Nicolaitans’ deeds, which was an allusion to the practices of unauthorized, oppressive domination that were engendered by the heretical doctrines espoused and propagated by them. However, in His condemnation of another of the Asia Minor churches He addressed in the apocalyptic vision conveyed to the Apostle John while on Patmos, Jesus’ expressed His utter disdain of the doctrine, or teaching, of the Nicolaitans, “Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching (doctrine) of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15).

Jesus’ Condemnation of the Pergamum Church For Accepting the Nicolaitan Heresy

Though the Ephesian church was not taken in by the hypothesizing and attempted hijacking by the Nicolaitans, unfortunately, this was not the case with another of the seven Asia Minor churches explicitly addressed by Jesus in the Revelation communicated through John—the Pergamum church. Jesus sharply condemned the Pergamum church because “some” among them (some of which apparently were among the leadership of the church, else it could not have existed in the church long) had indeed been deceived into accepting and espousing the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans: “Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching (doctrine) of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15).

The Nicolaitan heresy was not the only deception by which the Pergamum believers had been bewitched, however. For, Jesus also rebuked them because some of their membership also espoused some other form of false teaching leading to some form of idolatry and immorality that the Lord said was akin to the teaching of the prophet Balaam:

But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality. (Rev. 2:14)

The Pergamum Principle: Proclivity To Deception

Apparently, the Pergamum church had become especially vulnerable to false teaching. Like many groups today, they seem to have even developed a proclivity to deception, a tendency toward being duped by false teaching. As it is also today, it seems that once a group has begun to receive false teaching, an invisible door in the spirit realm is opened, making them susceptible to additional false teaching and delusion of many different kinds. I have found this to be true in my experience in dealing with different groups and churches. Usually, where there is one erroneous doctrine being espoused, there are many different deceptions. Indeed, the culture of some Charismatic churches is a virtual cornucopia of false teaching and what can only be characterized as a fair of folklore and mysticism. I call this proclivity to deception, “The Pergamum Principle.”

Why is this so, and why do some individuals and groups seem to be especially vulnerable to deception, while others are able to resist it and stay on track doctrinally and directionally?

I believe the Lord has shown me the answer to that question. It is revealed in a portion of Scripture where perhaps we would not expect to find the answer, a passage dealing with five main elements—the Second Coming of Christ, the Rapture, the Day of the Lord, the Last‑day Apostasy, and the revelation of the Anti-christ:

…with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him (the Rapture), that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…. And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed…. that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, [displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders {NIV}], and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, GOD WILL SEND UPON THEM A DELUDING INFLUENCE (PROCLIVITY TO DECEPTION) SO THAT THEY MIGHT BELIEVE WHAT IS FALSE [THE LIE {margin}], in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (lawlessness). (1 Thes. 2:2-12, parenthetical explanations added by the author)

What the Spirit is revealing in this passage is that there will be a period right before the return of Christ, the Rapture of the Church, and the revelation of the Antichrist, in which many ostensible believers will fall away in their relationship with Christ due to a “deluding influence” or “proclivity to deception” that the text explicitly states God Himself (as hard as it may be for some who insist on maintaining a humanistic view of God to believe) “will send upon them.” This deluding influence will have the effect of causing certain believers to believe lies, false teaching, deception, and to be duped by counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders perpetrated by Satan himself during that time through counterfeit messengers (ministers) who will arise in the Church falsely claiming to be apostles:

…false apostles, deceitful workers, who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan disguises himself as an angel (Greek words for “angel” and “apostle” are synonymous) of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants (“ministers,” Greek) also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

This grave consequence will, according to the text, be directly linked to the workings of the “mystery of lawlessness” that is “already at work” to some degree, though presently restrained from full manifestation by the presence of the Church on the Earth until such time as the Church is taken out of the way (raptured) at the return of Christ. That is to say, those who will become susceptible to deception during this time of apostasy will become so because they have continued to maintain some degree of enamorment and involvement with some forms of “lawlessness.” Instead of fully receiving and believing the whole Truth, and allowing their lives and attitudes to be fully exposed by the Light of Divine Truth, such marginal believers will continue to revel in the dark shadows of deception.

Love of the Truth Produces True Salvation

Moreover, this text indicates that the true essence of the problem lied in the fact that “they did not receive the LOVE of the Truth so as to be SAVED.” Unless and until a person acquires a genuine LOVE for the Word of God, which is the expression of Divine Truth, he will never be able to fully receive and believe its content in his heart, and thereby make a complete repentance leading unto salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Indeed, verse ten of our text indicates that these people never did become fully “saved” in their hearts, though they no doubt would vehemently contend otherwise.

Having made such a statement, I need to digress for a moment in order to explain. This word “saved” that appears in this verse, is based on the Greek word “sozo,” which means to make whole, to restore, to effect recovery, in addition to also carrying the connotation, to make holy. Based on this, it becomes clear that through the years since the waning days of the Early Apostolic Church many have espoused a far different connotation of this familiar term “saved,” which is so basic to fundamental orthodoxy, than the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit in the no less than 108 occurrences in its various forms in the New Testament.

The fact is, being “saved,” in the true Biblical sense, has little if anything to do with “having a home in Heaven” as so many modern expositors have so vociferously, adamantly, and repeatedly purported it does. Being saved, in the sense intended by the Holy Spirit, is a matter of being “sanctified,” that is, being made holy; it is being restored to the place of holiness and righteousness possessed by Adam before the fall; it is being made whole—spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:19)—in accordance with the Image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), the Image according to which Man was originally created (Gen. 1:26-27). Being “sozo‑ed” is to be made “wholly holy” as well as “wholly whole.”

In reality then, the matter of “having a home in Heaven,” or more appropriately and importantly, having rightstanding and fellowship with God, according to true Biblical orthodoxy, is dependent upon our submission to the process of being made holy, that is sanctification, which is precisely what the Spirit has said—“without holiness, no man will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, KJV). Conversely, being saved is not so much predicated on “walking the aisle,” “shaking the preachers hand,” or parroting some verbatim profession of faith, as purported by so many, though it may indeed all begin that way. So many people focus on the start of salvation, that is, being “Born Again” (though, certainly that is essential), instead of the really crucial matter—the finish. The winners of a race are determined at the finish, not the start. Aside from the obvious fact that to finish a race, one must start the race, the beginning is not the determining factor in regard to the final outcome of a race. The outcome of a race is not determined by who started, but who finishes. It is not the starting of the race that is most consequential once the determination to enter the race is made, but rather finishing the race without having been disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Similarly, the essential matter of salvation is not the matter of being born but the matter of dying. The matter of being born, whether in the natural or the spiritual, we had absolutely nothing to do with. In both the natural and the spiritual, our birth was a matter of the workings of God, which transpired totally without any contribution from ourselves. Contrary to the so‑called “testimonies” of some who would take credit for their salvation, the Bible says we were “Born Again through…the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23), and that it was by grace through faith we were saved, and even that was not of ourselves or of our own works, but was the gift of God, so that no one can rightfully boast regarding his own salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).

Moreover, as I indicated, true salvation is not based on our birth, but on our dying. We must “die daily” to self and sin, crucifying the evil passions and desires of the sin nature that lurks within us (Gal. 5:24). The paradox of the gospel is that if we die, we live, eternally. For the believer, dying is living. This process of dying is sanctification, the process of being made holy, and “without holiness, no man will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, KJV).

CLICK HERE to read Part 2 of this article.


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Dr. Steven Lambert was ordained in 1977 and holds several earned graduate/post-graduate degrees. Over more than four decades in ministry, he has served as a pastor, radio/TV host, adjunct-professor, Board Certified Doctoral Diplomate Christian Therapist/Counselor, and a speaker/commentator on a range of social, political, and theological issues, particularly as a recognized authority on the matter of ecclesiastical authoritarian abuse. He is the founder/Overseer of Ephesians Four Network (ephesiansfour.net) and its subsidiary, Ephesians Four Network of Deliverance Counselors (efndc.ephesiansfour.net). Dr. Lambert authored several books (catalog at realtruthpublications.com), many published articles, and is the founder/editor of Spirit Life Magazine (spiritlifemag.com). His bio, extensive blog, and scheduling information are available on his ministry website at: http://www.slm.org. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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