Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nicolaitanism In The Neo-Pentecostal Church (Part 1)

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 and foundation 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).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spiritual Idolatry

Though the term is a fairly familiar one within the context of the church and Christianity, few people really understand what spiritual idolatry is, meaning its true nature. In this article we are going to consider the matter of spiritual idolatry and what it is from a Biblical standpoint.

To merely call idolatry "sin," though it certainly is, somehow seems an extreme understatement, for it is the ultimate affront unto God. Yet, arguably, it is the most pervasive sin of all today among professing believers. Contributing to the prevalence of idolatry within Christendom, no doubt, is the common perception by many that idolatry is something that occurs only in underdeveloped, far-away, foreign lands, or that it is something relegated mostly to ancient civilizations of past ages, while nothing could be further from the truth.

In Galatians 5:20, the Apostle Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit listed "idolatry" as one of the fundamental elements of evil comprising the carnal nature, or sin nature, which actually is the nature of the devil himself, and which is also alluded to as the "spirit of disobedience" — the "spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). So, in other words, because the carnal nature is common to every human, idolatry, then, is a basic tendency of every person ever born.

In simplistic terms, idolatry is making something or someone that to which we look to bring happiness, peace, fulfillment, contentment, and all the things only God is supposed to provide us, which in essence is the definition of a false god.

To put it another way, idolatry is fashioning and forming false gods, or idols, out of one's own vain imaginations. Indeed, idols are really always imaginary, existing solely in the human mind and thoughts. Again by inspiration of the Spirit, in another place, Paul states categorically that those possessing true Spiritual knowledge and understanding "know that there is no such thing as an idol (false god), and that there is no God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4). False gods are false because they really do not exist, except in the mind of the idolater.

Idolatry in actuality then is merely the product of human thinking, manufactured in the factory of the human mind. It is the act of creating an abstract god within the deep, dark void of human reasoning. At bottom, all idolatry is "mind-idolatry," for it is primarily in the mind that all idolatry exists. In a nutshell, the basis of idolatry is what I refer to as "stinkin' thinkin'."

Moreover, the ilk of idolatry which bona fide believers are most guilty of committing even routinely, though unwittingly, is the idolatry of holding to false and contrived ideas about God that in fact are wholly incongruous with what He Himself has revealed in His Word concerning His Divine Nature, Will, and Ways. When it is all distilled down, idolatry is the ultimate form of arrogance and self-righteousness, for it supplants God and His Word, Will, and Way, and puts in His place a false, humanly formed and fashioned god, one made in our own image and after our own likeness, to affirm and hallow our own humanly contrived ideas and concepts. Thus, idolatry, in my view, is the ultimate offense that the human heart can commit against a Holy and Sovereign God.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), who was the pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Toronto and Chicago, for a number of years was also editor of the CMA's official organ, Alliance Weekly, as well as a prolific author of books. His spiritual acumen was so highly regarded by his colleagues that many esteemed him a twentieth-century prophet. Despite all his prodigious achievements, he was perhaps best known for his personal intimacy with God, and his book, The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Row), was a collection of some of his most outstanding messages related to knowing God in personal intimacy. So profound and insightful are his comments regarding the subject of idolatry, as well as exquisitely and eloquently articulated, that they could scarcely be improved upon, making direct quotation the only fitting means of conveyance. The following are excerpts of his commentary, the chronology of which I have taken the liberty of rearranging in order to better serve our purposes here:

"Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it."
"The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. 'When they knew God,' wrote Paul, 'they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.'"
"Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is — in itself a monstrous sin — and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness."
"A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God."
"Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true."
"Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it."

All false doctrine is, in essence, an assemblage of "wrong ideas about God" and "perverted notions about God," as Tozer put it. How profound and Scriptural is his statement: "Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous," for "polluted waters" is a metaphor evoked in Scripture to represent false teaching. Indeed, false teaching is by no means, as some seem to believe, a harmless or inconsequential phenomenon, but rather polluted waters can be lethal, both in the natural and the spiritual. False teaching, which in essence is substituting human ideas and sophistry for the absolute Truth of God's Mind, in fact IS idolatry.

Idolatry and false teaching are synonymous terms. Idolatry always has associated with it some form of false teaching, and false teaching is always an ilk of idolatry. As Tozer so brilliantly articulated it: "The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true." In other words, the person engaging in idolatry simply contrives his own doctrine concerning spiritual matters and the composition of "truth," and conducts his life based on those determinations even though they are not congruous with the real Truth which emanates from and is defined by God as Truth in His Word.

Over the course of Church history, change within the Church has been a slow—at times agonizingly slow—process. Despite the great strides the Church has made since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517 A.D. in ridding false teaching, more yet remains. And false doctrine is far from being the innocuous matter it is viewed as being by many professing believers today. The 21st Century Church needs to accept the responsibility incumbent upon it to point out and repudiate false doctrine of whatever sort and wherever it may be found, for truly false doctrine inherently is spiritual idolatry of the highest order.

[Original Post Date on Real Truth Digest E-zine: 10/15/99]

[Note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement (1970-77). References to "Discipleship" or "Shepherding" (and variables) doctrines, teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth, allude to those pertinences that arose out of that movement.]

Charismatic CaptivationGet Print Book or Ebook (Immediate Download)