Warning: this contains disturbing ideas from Scripture
Excerpt from this article: In November 2009 Hindus celebrated their once-in-five-years Festival where 250,000 animals are sacrificed to the goddess Gadhimai, many by having their heads chopped off. “The goddess needs blood,” explained a Hindu priest. “Then that person can make his wishes come true.” Is this very different from the teaching which prevails in much of the Church today? Regrettably, it is not. The primary difference is that for Christians, it is Christ’s precious shed blood that “makes our wishes and dreams come true.” Please read the following article.
When Elijah appeared in the Old Testament, he told God’s people the Israelites to repent from idolatry and to return to the Lord. Hundreds of years later John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5. His message to God’s people the Israelites was, like Elijah’s, one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
Today, on the cusp of the Messiah’s Second Coming, the spirit and power of Elijah is again being sent to God’s prophets. When he comes, they will again preach repentance to the Church to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. From what will we be called to repent?
To five of the seven churches he addressed in Revelation, Jesus said “repent.” Although he also commended them for some things, he was generally not satisfied with their performance and had words of rebuke for them. To five of the seven churches he also said, “I know your deeds.” Genuine saving faith must result in deeds; without works faith is dead.
The apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy
1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Paul taught Timothy that his salvation was a result of close attention to right living and right believing, and persevering in them. Unfortunately in the Church today the emphasis is on other matters. We are taught that after we repeat a sinners’ prayer from our heart, we are a guaranteed a place in heaven. Our eternal inheritance in heaven having been settled once and for all, we can turn our attention to living a “successful” Christian life on earth. We are taught through a series of sermons, seminars, conferences, and Bible studies how to overcome obstacles in life—admittedly real-life obstacles—in order that we may live happy and productive lives on earth.
There are also teachings to help us to know God better and more intimately. But what is their purpose? Do they really direct us to right living and right believing by which we can save ourselves and make our election sure, or is their purpose primarily for us to be more blessed by God here on earth?
The desire of most Christians today
Most Christians in the west today desire to have a good livelihood with which we can raise our children to fear the Lord in a happy and healthy home environment. We want them to be intelligent and to do well in school and eventually to graduate from good universities and to get good, well-paying jobs. We want them to find a God-fearing spouse from a good family, and to bear beautiful and intelligent grandchildren for us. Of course we will be serving God faithfully in our home church all our lives in some capacity. Then we will breathe our last and die at a good old age and full of years; and like Abraham be gathered to our people.
This is what Christians in the west generally desire for themselves on earth. While the Old Testament does indeed speak of such blessings for the righteous, they unfortunately do not comprise the central message of the New Testament for believers. The blessings described above comprise essentially the Christian version of “the American Dream,” and have their roots in the Old Testament. We know, however, that the Old Testament is but a shadow, and that the New Testament is the fulfillment of that shadow. It is foolish to chase after the shadow when we can have the fulfillment. It is foolish to focus on temporal blessings in this life when eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared in heaven for those who love Him. Some will respond to this by saying that we can desire both temporal and eternal blessings. But if that is the case, why do we expend so much time and effort on the former and so little preparation on the latter which is far weightier?
What is the central message of the New Testament for the Church?
There are many Scripture verses to choose from, but here are two passages which are representative of what the central thrust of the New Testament is for believers. The first passage is from Peter, and the second is written by Paul.
2 Peter 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
… 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. …I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
…17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
The New Testament does occasionally speak of God’s blessings in this life, but far more emphatically on proper preparations for the next life in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to live a fruitful life pleasing to God here on earth in order to receive a rich welcome and to take hold of the life that is truly life. These things were stressed by the apostles of the Lord nearly two thousand years ago. How much more relevant are they today on the likely eve of the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For whom in the Church should we expend our resources?
In Matthew 13 Jesus taught a parable about four types of soil corresponding to four different kinds of people. One type of person is the Christian who has received the word of God, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. Many church programs are designed for such people to help them deal with the problems of this life and how to tap into the God who gives us the ability to produce wealth. But Jesus warns us in advance that these people will not be fruitful for the Lord. Why do we spend disproportionate resources on them?
Instead, should we not concentrate more resources on the one who hears the word and understands it? This is the believer who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. This is the one who hears the central message of the New Testament—the gospel—and understands it, and then obeys it. This believer will produce good fruit for the kingdom of God. This is the one who will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom.
But because of the pressure for numbers in our churches, we waste valuable resources on the many pew-warmers who will not produce fruit (but at least they might bring us tithes and offerings). These are concerned mostly with the things and worries of this life. We can make far better use of our limited resources by directing more to those whose hearts are minds are set on things above, on eternity. They will welcome the central message of the gospel and will know what to do with it. They will produce good fruit unto eternal life. This will be to our credit.
New Testament epistles also warn us against the false teachings which have proliferated within the body of Christ. This is the reason why the Church in the west today is weak and sickly and has thus failed to impact our society for the gospel.
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
We conclude that in view of the Lord’s appearing, right believingand right living (which includes good works) are the central message of the New Testament for the Church. But this is not the primary message we hear from pulpits today. There is grave imbalance in the spiritual diet being fed which has resulted in a malnourished and feeble Church.
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness
Does God want to provide for our varied and diverse needs in this life? Yes, He does. We can certainly be more fruitful for God when we are delivered, healed, and our lives on earth restored. But it need not be in the way that the Church emphasizes today. In contrast to the various seminars and teachings and programs we attend to learn how to receive God’s blessings and provision here on earth, Scripture is rather quite succinct.
Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
When God’s kingdom comes into our lives, we will obey His commands. We will seek to extend His kingdom and His rule on earth. Moreover, “His righteousness” refers not only to the attributed righteousness which comes by faith alone, but also to the practical righteousness through which we actually become holy as He is holy. If we in fact seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, He will indeed provide for us as He has promised without our having to immerse ourselves in the varied teachings so widely available today. The disciples in the time of Jesus and Acts did not have the benefit of such teachings, and they served the Lord fruitfully in their time. Could it be that the Church today, like undisciplined children let loose in a candy store, has lost sight of her priority before the Lord?
The author of this article and his family are personal witnesses of God’s faithfulness. For over thirty years, he has ministered first as a street preacher, then as a foreign missionary in the Third World, a church planter, a local pastor in the United States, an evangelist, and now a teacher. The Lord has blessed us in every way that we have asked of Him. (We did not ask Him for earthly riches.) We did not attend conferences and seminars to learn how to acquire these blessings. We simply believed Him and obeyed His word. And all these things have been given to us as well.
If we do not believe His word and do not first seek His kingdom and His righteousness, then we may have to resort to teachings and methods not explicitly taught in Scripture for help and encouragement. These may provide some measure of relief, but the results will be at most second best.
We are not saying that believers ought not to attend such special events. But there is a very definite and unhealthy imbalance prevalent in the Church today which must be redressed. The very central message of the New Testament has been put on the sidelines. Instead, we have set our hearts and minds on earthly things.
A church founded by Paul compared to the Church of today
Let’s compare today’s Church with the church founded at Ephesus through the teaching of the apostle Paul. Paul’s teaching did not prepare believers to live a “successful and fulfilled life” on earth. Rather, with great urgency he taught believers to live in holiness.
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
In light of what Christ had already done for the Church by God’s wonderful grace, Paul urged the Ephesian believers to live lives worthy of the calling they had received. There was little teaching on what God could do for them on earth. Christ had already died for their sins. Therefore Paul’s teaching rather focused on what the believers could do for the Lord on earth by imitating God and living holy lives. That is the gist of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.
Was the church in Ephesus more pleasing in the sight of God than the Church today with our focus on God’s temporal blessings? We will find the answer to this. In Revelation, Jesus spoke the following words to the Ephesian church.
Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Jesus rebukes this church for forsaking her first love. But he also commends her for other things, including her stand against the hated practices of the Nicolaitans. What are these practices? According to one interpretation, the meaning of the original Greek for this term is “rulers of the people.” The Nicolaitans taught an unscriptural division between the priests and the laity. If this interpretation is correct, Jesus hates the practice of establishing a separate and professional priesthood who would rule over the people in an unbiblical way.
The Roman Catholic Church fell into this error. Perhaps the mention of the Nicolaitans in Revelation was a veiled prophetic reference to the Roman Catholic Church to appear a few centuries later. Has the modern Protestant Church today, the offspring and beneficiary of the great Reformation half a millennium ago, finally free from the error of the Nicolaitans? No, it is clear that the church today is not. We still make a clear distinction between full-time professional “clergy” who are paid for their services and the “laity” who sit in the pews and are the beneficiaries of the those services. Jesus commended the church in Ephesus for opposing such practices. In stark contrast, his subsequent words to the church in Laodicea—which some believe is representative of the Church today—were very harsh. Later we will look at what Jesus said to this church.
The Church in Pergamum rebuked for Nicolaitan practices
Not surprisingly, the third church in Revelation, the church in Pergamum, was openly rebuked by Christ for having tolerated the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Jesus hated the teaching of the Nicolaitans. It would behoove us to understand why this teaching was such an abomination to the Lord. Let’s look at the possible effect of this teaching on the Church of Jesus Christ.
Laodicea: the Church of the last days?
Some believe that the seventh church of Revelation—the church in Laodicea—refers to the Church of the last days.
Revelation 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Believers in the west today for the most part have lost any consistent focus on their eternal reward in heaven, preferring instead to concentrate their resources and attention on what God can do for them on earth. As a result, material and earthly blessings have indeed come to the Church in some areas of the world, especially in the west. But although we may be wealthy here on earth, we are poor and pitiful in the sight of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since we have largely diminished the central teaching of the New Testament, we are lukewarm in his sight. We have shortsightedly set our minds on earthly things, and not on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. How has this come about?
A class of professional clergymen and women
We can attribute it to the teaching of the Nicolaitans which has created a class of professional clergymen and clergywomen. Most of these are called “pastors.” Even the United States government encourages this by kindly providing special income tax benefits for clergy. Outwardly, these benefits are a blessing to servants of God in full-time ministry.
Each pastor leads his own congregation. There will likely be some pressure on him to grow his congregation in size. In the world, numerical growth is an indication of success. The self-esteem of the pastor and the honor accorded him by the community will often be related to the size of his congregation. Ministering before thousands of adoring people week after week, for those of us who have attained it, does wonders for one’s ego. (Given our human nature and our celebrity-mad culture, we begin to think we are actually somebody.) It is possible that even our annual compensation is related to the attendance or membership of our church. Taking precedence over all these worldly considerations, of course, is the Great Commission that Christ gave us to fulfill. Because of all these things, pastors will look for effective ways of “winning the lost” and bringing them into the sheepfold.
The lost must hear the gospel presented in some fashion or another. Then they are challenged to repent of their sins and to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. To do this they repeat a “sinners’ prayer,” after which they are assured that they now have a guaranteed place in heaven. Then they are encouraged to go to church to be taught by the pastor or one of his leaders. They join the church as members and worship there faithfully. They will eventually serve God in some capacity in the church under the authority of the full-time, professional pastor. In this way the church will grow in numbers and appear outwardly fruitful. The “back door” is kept closed. This is what pastors generally hope for when new believers are added to the flock.
A faulty foundation
However, there are problems with this approach which are symptomatic of an underlying faulty foundation. First, the message of the gospel is usually presented with persuasive words of human wisdom and without a demonstration of the spirit and of power. The lost are told that God loves them and that He has a wonderful plan for their lives. God wants to bless them, restore them, and make everything right for them. (The pastor of a very large Singaporean Church was even overheard quoted as saying that he wanted all his people to be millionaires.) Such messages are very appealing to desperate and needy people. It’s a good marketing tool. People will come and the church will grow.
An even greater flaw which is inherent in this approach is that it is based on the teaching of the Nicolaitans. As we have seen, the performance and competence of a pastor are often judged by his peers—whether unconsciously or not—in terms of the size of his congregation. Some may even think that a large congregation, like material wealth, is the evidence of God’s approval and blessing on a pastor. Therefore a pastor will likely be open to various methods which will result in church growth. Such methods, for example, can involve “seeker-sensitive” models to make people feel more comfortable in church. They can involve programs which attempt to satisfy the “felt needs” of the people. Such methods concentrate on satisfying people’s earthly needs and wants.
With this approach, the Church enables people to be happy and blessed and successful on earth. But a moment’s thought will reveal that we have essentially adopted a business model from the world. We offer a “product” which we call the gospel. We have packaged and presented our product in such a way that people will “buy” it. When they do, our churches grow and we are considered successful. It’s quite evident that the Church in North America has perfected this business model. People flock to our churches to learn to be happy and successful and to have their dreams fulfilled. As an extreme example of this business model, a large Pentecostal church in Australia recently held an evangelistic fashion show, complete with models and a catwalk. A woman was seen weeping after the show, testifying that God had touched her deeply. (We can rightly ask what “god” had touched her.)
Most pastors would likely disagree with holding a fashion show in their church, even for the purpose of drawing people to the gospel. But where do we draw the line? How far can we go with this business model? How far should we allow the models of the world to penetrate the holy Church of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Hindus brutally sacrifice 250,000 animals to goddess
In November 2009 Hindus celebrated their once-in-five-years Festival where 250,000 animals are sacrificed to the goddess Gadhimai, many by having their heads chopped off. (Click here for a description.) “The goddess needs blood,” explained a Hindu priest. “Then that person can make his wishes come true.” Manoj Shah, a Nepali driver who has been attending the event since he was six, explained, “If we want anything, and we come here with an offering to the goddess, within five years all our dreams will be fulfilled.” Is this very different from the teaching which prevails in much of the Church today? Regrettably, it is not. The primary difference is that for Christians, it is Christ’s precious shed blood that makes our “dreams and wishes come true.”
It is clear that helping God’s people to be successful on earth and to see their dreams fulfilled are not the central focus of the New Testament. God the Almighty Creator is not to be confused with Santa Claus. Instead, Scripture teaches us to live holy and productive lives on earth in light of and in anticipation of our appearing with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. This is now especially true in view of the dark days in which we now live.
Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
The teaching of the Nicolaitans which creates a separate class of paid professional clergy has ultimately resulted in a church whose focus is primarily on earthly things. One might almost say that the clergy are paid to keep the folks happy. Not surprisingly, this kind of church bears a resemblance to the Church in Laodicea, rebuked severely by Jesus for its materialism and spiritual lukewarmness despite its outward success.
You are not to be called ‘Rabbi’
It may be useful at this point to note what Scripture says about the practice of servants of God using ecclesiastical titles. Jesus taught his disciples not to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who loved to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
Matthew 23:5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
The practice of having others address us with an ecclesiastical title can be a prelude to self-exaltation and pride. Although Christ has apportioned to the Church the five offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist, and teacher, there is no record in the New Testament of servants of God being personally addressed by others as “Apostle Paul” or “Prophet John” or “Pastor Peter” or in some other similar way. Instead we should consider one another as brothers and should personally address one another as such. The use of exclusionary religious titles can create an artificial and unscriptural distinction between the professional clergy and the laity. It may encourage the Nicolaitan system.
The link between the teaching of the Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam
The teaching of the Nicolaitans, moreover, can be linked to the teaching of Balaam found in the Church in Pergamum. Balaam was the prophet of God who could be hired for his services. What is the connection? We know that a person’s financial remuneration as an employee is linked to his job performance. For a paid professional clergyman, the same rule can apply. Although other factors will be considered, his job performance—as we have seen earlier—can be evaluated in terms of the growth of the church in numbers under his tenure. The more souls he can draw to join the church, the greater will be the income of the church. And since “the hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops,” the salary of the pastor will follow commensurately and be increased by the church board. If the church is run by the pastor, he can even give himself a raise if he so desires.
It is not a great leap from this to the teaching of Balaam, where the love of money overcomes the desire to serve God in sincerity and in truth. We are not at all saying that a servant of God should not be supported financially. We are well aware of Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding workers deserving their wages.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
However, giving love offerings to an elder is a far cry from the formal system of a paid professional class of religious leaders supported indirectly by the federal government with tax relief benefits (as welcome as they would appear to be) and where financial reward can be based on performance and numbers. God’s servants no longer live by faith, trusting in the Lord to provide. They are now under contract to the local church which hires them and gives them guaranteed salaries. Is it possible that God’s servants have unintentionally become hirelings under the Nicolaitan system? The intention may appear good—providing enough for a pastor to support his family. But since the foundation is not scriptural, the outcome is failure. Such a system has already been infiltrated by the pernicious teaching of Balaam which is based on greed. The pastor of one of the largest and most “successful” churches in Singapore is young, hip, and charismatic. He reportedly has decided that he is worth an annual salary of one million Singapore dollars, equivalent to over US$700,000. He “deserves” it since his teaching has made many of his members materially wealthy.
Click here for an article on the teaching of Balaam.
Over 450,000 churches in the United States
According to some estimates, there are over 450,000 churches in the United States. (This does not include the many groups not registered with the government.) Most of these churches are small. Many are led by a sincere and well-intentioned pastor who might be struggling financially; a human being who is subject to the flaws and temptations of the Nicolaitan system. He understands from the Great Commission that the Church is to preach the gospel to every creature and to disciple all nations. But he must deal with a flock that has daily needs and demands which he is expected to meet. He quickly learns that realistically speaking his job does not involve discipling his people with the goal of sending them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, but rather to keep them happy and coming to the church. He is to keep the babies fed and dry; to put out fires and to keep the ship afloat somehow. That is his real job.
Sunday after Sunday, program after program, special speaker after special speaker for thirty or forty years until they go home to glory, the faithful go to church to be fed and to support it with their finances. It is reasonable to pose the following question: when will they be allowed to grow up to become responsible adults and leave home to start their own families? When will they be ready to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and make disciples on their own according to their calling? The Nicolaitan system which Jesus hates has given birth to a self-perpetuating institution which limits believers to a continual state of infancy or at most adolescence. It keeps them from growing up in all things into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. It keeps them dependent on their pastor and their local church, thereby justifying their existence. Could this bear any resemblance to the welfare state which keeps itself in power by making its citizens dependent on it?
Tithing and the practice of the Nicolaitans
Because churches have expenses to cover, pastors can be under some financial pressure. We encourage our congregations to tithe using an Old Testament passage taken from Malachi 3:9-10. If they do not tithe, they are under a curse for robbing God. But if they bring their tithe into the storehouse—the local church where they are fed—God will throw open the floodgates of heaven to bless them more than abundantly. The choice for a believer would appear to be very clear. But again, the era of the Old Testament is over. There is no command in the New Testament for believers to tithe to their local church.
Not that believers should not support their local church with their offerings. But we pastors should resist the temptation to use Malachi 3 to compel our people to give. We should instead teach the word of God faithfully and accurately, and trust the Holy Spirit to lead God’s people to give. And God will provide for our budgets, even from unexpected sources. The pressure that some pastors feel to raise funds from their congregations to cover their budgets and projects may be another unintended consequence of the Nicolaitan system which is of the world. In addition, not every expensive project undertaken by a church is of God.
We are not at all saying that pastors and local churches are not needed. They are scriptural and are needed. But we are saying that the Lord is not pleased with a system that by its very nature fosters the failure to train disciples to maturity for them to be released to serve and multiply on their own. It is a pagan model which effectively keeps pastors and local churches in business by fostering mutual dependency between them and their congregations. In contrast, the real job of every servant of God is “for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. And this until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
For more on the teaching of the Nicolaitans and what the Church can do to reverse its effects, please click on: Is the Church following a pagan model?
Jesus went away and left his disciples by themselves
Let us remember that after Jesus trained his disciples, he went away and left them by themselves to fulfill the Great Commission. After his death and resurrection, he ascended to heaven.
John 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
John 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
We should not be afraid to let God’s people go after we have discipled and trained them properly. The Lord will not leave them as orphans; the Holy Spirit will come to teach and guide them. We must trust the Lord to do this. We must release them just as we let our natural children go after they grow up. After our children grow up and leave home, we of course do not expect them to support us financially.
2 Corinthians 12:14 …After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
But in the Nicolaitan system, our spiritual children stay with us forever and support us financially. It makes no business sense to let them grow up and leave us.
Admittedly, churches do typically set aside some resources for sending out missionaries and planting new churches for the Great Commission. But this is more of an obligatory afterthought and not the central focus of the church. Few are the churches whose focus is not on self and growing big and staying big, but instead on the last and great commandment given by Jesus Christ to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. But it is actually not necessary to grow “big” in order to be a blessing to the nations. The model of informal “house churches” in China is a testament to that.
The Church should revisit the model of the self-supporting, “non-professional” tentmaker or some other model that encourages independent support by faith in the Lord. The examples of those who for some reason have failed trying to “live by faith” should not discourage servants of God from trusting the Lord during these critical last days. It is not easy, but it can be done.
Is the Protestant Reformation complete?
Is the Protestant Church today really that different from her mother the Roman Catholic Church? No. It is clear that the Protestant Reformation is incomplete. It has fallen far short of Martin Luther’s teaching regarding the priesthood of all believers. Jesus commands us to repent.
The condition of the United States—spiritual and otherwise—is clearly worsening during these last days. Could the teaching of the Nicolaitans in the Church bear some blame for this? We have not done our job as the salt of the earth. Instead, we have adopted the ways of the world around us.
The figure of 450,000-plus churches in the United States breaks down to about one church for every 600-plus people in the United States—certainly not formidable odds for evangelism. But not surprisingly we have fallen short. Our current President has even informed us that we are no longer a Christian nation. Additionally, the Nicolaitan system has provided a favorable environment for the virus of the teaching of Balaam to thrive and infect the body of Christ.
We must repent from the teaching of the Nicolaitans in view of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Below are the words the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the church in Laodicea—likely the Church of the last days which is the product of the Nicolaitan system.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and REPENT. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:19-20)
How do we repent?
We should prepare God’s people for the difficult times ahead and the Second Coming of the Messiah. We should go back to Scripture and emphasize the central message of the New Testament instead of God’s temporal blessings. We should teach believers to live holy lives in the fear of the Lord. We should train and equip them effectively to do the works of ministry in fulfillment of John 14:12. We should not keep them bottled up in the church, but send them out to the harvest field according to their calling and their gifts. It will surely take sacrifice for a pastor to obey the Lord and fulfill the Great Commission in this way. But let us remember that if we compete as an athlete, we do not receive the victor’s crown unless we compete according to the rules set down in Scripture. Simply having an outwardly successful church does not mean God is pleased with us—remember what Jesus said to the Church in Laodicea. We must watch our lives and doctrine closely. If we as servants of God persevere in them, we will save both ourselves and our hearers. And there will be a glorious eternal reward for us. We will be given authority to rule with Christ in his kingdom.
Revelation 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Revelation 2:26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my Father.