John shares Jesus' message to the Church at Pergamum in Revelation 2. After sharing his acknowledgment of those who have suffered for the faith in the church, he then says this "So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (Revelation 2:15 ESV)
So who were these Nicolaitans and what were their teachings?
The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect within the church of the first century that had worked out a compromise with the pagan culture. They taught that freedom in Christ gave them leeway to practice idolatry and sexual immorality. Tradition connects them with Nicolas of Antioch who started out as a deacon in the Jerusalem church. In addition to this group in Antioch, there was a group in Pergamum connected to the teachings and influence of the Old Testament false-prophet Balaam and a group in Thyatira following the woman Jezebel also existed. Suffice to say, the Nicolaitans were compromisers of faith and enemies of the true church of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
The Enemy is a great deceiver and his tactics of attack against God and the Gospel have been systematic throughout the years. Therefore, it is not out of sorts to claim that he has continually resurrected Nicolaitan philosophies and groups to cause harm and disruption to the Kingdom-causes of Gospel-centric churches and disciples.
I received an email from Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in San Diego this morning. It was regarding the recent statement by Alan Chambers, founder and leader of Exodus International. Exodus International was a a ministry that assisted people with same-sex attractions and actions desiring to walk away from sinful acts and into righteousness. The ministry existed for thirty years and while the bane of the gay rights movement, many were ministered to and through the ministry. Nevertheless, last week at the Exodus Freedom Conference in California, Chambers made international news as he capitulated and stated that the therapy and ministry practices of Exodus were ineffective. He apologized to the gay community and basically affirmed that it makes no difference how one lives his/her life. Garlow writes that Chambers basically said, "You can do anything you want, sin all you want, and still be considered a faithful follower of Jesus."
It's a popular message in our culture, and apparently in all cultures throughout time. People want to justify immorality (like the Nicolaitans.)
Heresy abounds and some churches and those claiming the name of Christ are being taken in.
As believers have been watching the news for updates on the Supreme Court's rulings regarding gay marriage and state's rights to define marriage, the inevitable seems to be happening. Christians lament the weak responses of SCOTUS and cry about the state of our culture, while often ignoring the fact that tepid responses and weak examples of traditional, godly marriages within the church have been growing for decades.
What did Jesus say to the Church in Pergamum after calling them out for their Nicolaitan doctrine?
"Therefore, repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth." Revelation 2:16 ESV
I believe it is Jesus' instruction to the Church in America as well.
Of course, there are many sins that are affirmed that would classify a person as Nicolaitan nowadays. The sexual sin of homosexuality is just one of them. It's just that the boulder of abandoning biblical opposite-gender marriage relationships, and affirming all things LGBTQ has been gaining speed and is rolling down the hill at breakneck speed now.
Other than Kanye and Kim's new baby (The baby's name is North West? Really? Is the middle name Bynorth?) it is the storyline covered by just about every news agency. It even appears The Huffington Post cannot publish a story on anything that doesn't somehow connect with the gay pride, same-sex marriage storyline. (I don't actually go online intent to read THP, but one of my iPad news apps pulls articles from various news sources and THP is one of them. That is where my observed opinion comes.)
The church, our church, should be a loving place. However, as stated in previous postings, loving a person is not akin to affirming that person's sin, regardless what it is. There have been many who have attended our church, struggling with same-sex attraction, who have felt dearly loved. Some have attended regularly. Others have left, mostly due to conviction of sin, yet still loved.
Years ago, I met with a man in our church who was dying of AIDS. He was married and had long repented of his sin, but his former promiscuous gay lifestyle was resulting in devastating consequences. His days on earth were nearing the end. We were his friends, his brothers and sisters in Christ, and we sought to love him and his family through his final days. I am confident of his joy and celebration upon entering Christ's presence once he died.
Over the years, numerous men and women struggling with same-sex attraction have been a part of our fellowship. Many have been rescued from the lifestyle, while others have bought the lie of the Enemy regarding being "born that way" and have, unfortunately, been affirmed by friends and others in the culture.
Some accuse the church of hating gays. I'm sure there are some who do. There are definitely groups who claim to be churches who do, and share that message proudly. These pseudo-churches (i.e. false churches) are an abomination. It seems that those who want to hate the church tend to categorize all of us in the same camp as these hate-mongers.
One young man recently said that "We all sin," while attempting to affirm that if living an active gay lifestyle is a sin, it's ok, because everyone sins. He was correct in his statement. We do all sin. However, just as Satan used Scripture, out of context and ineffectively, to tempt Jesus, so too, do those who willingly and unwillingly follow his lead.
The church, it seems is afraid to speak of homosexuality as sin. Why? For fear of being labeled "homophobic" and "bigoted." Pastors often do not want to appear unloving. However, one of the most unloving thing a pastor or leader could do is ignore the Word of God and allow those he is called to pastor to slip into comfortable, cultural, Nicolaitan Christianity.
What is the church to do? Garlow says, "Preach thoughful, carefully researched, exegetically sound, loving sermons on the 'H-word.'"
Shepherds (pastors) - protect the flock!
"Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." 1 Peter 5:2-3 ESV
I had one young, openly, active gay man accuse me of telling him he could not come to our church. Of course, that is not what I told him, but it is what he wanted to hear. This young man plays the victim well. One of our leaders told him "Come to church, but come for the right reasons." What are the right reasons? To hear a word from God. To worship. To find answers.
What are the wrong reasons? To disrupt what God is doing. To influence others to believe as he does. To find a young man to date.
He hasn't come back, but continually spews his lies to those who would give him an ear.
Oh, by the way, these are the wrong reasons for a heterosexual person as well.
I told a heterosexual student years ago to not come back to the youth group if he was going to continue to do these very things (except he was seeking a young girl to date, not a young boy.) He became angry and left. . .and years later , he did come back, for the right reasons. It seems God was working all along.
As for the actions of leaders of Exodus International and the abandonment of biblical truth, they are wrong. Rest assured, God can change a person and does bring rescue and healing. Years ago, one of my married friends came to me confessing multiple same-sex relationships and his failings in this area of temptation. He was seeking rescue and I connected him with local representatives and counselors working in this area. His story is one of victory as his marriage was healed, he was rescued and Christ was the victor. Counseling wasn't what healed him, but was a tool used by God to bring rescue. Christ is transformative.
I am distressed that Exodus is closing and has made this statement, but am encouraged by the growth of ministries like the Restored Hope Network and other "politically incorrect" ministries and churches seeking to minister to and with those seeking rescue.
God has not changed.
He is not distressed.
A court ruling doesn't impact His sovereignty or holiness.
He is not affected by cultural shifts.
He is never surprised.
May we stand firm on His Word, call out the Nicolaitans among us for repentance, in love, and do the work of the church (Matthew 28:19-20).