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The False Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes
by David A. DePra
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Rev 2:6)
So have you also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. (Rev 2:15)
The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was that of a religious hierarchy who claimed spiritual authority over those who were merely of the, "laity." The term, "Nicolaitanes," literally means, "to conquer the people." In a church setting, the meaning ought to be obvious.
There is some debate as to exactly who these people were. But I am not going to enter into such a debate. If you don’t believe that the Nicolaitanes were leaders in the church who claimed spiritual authority over the people in that church, that is fine. Nevertheless, there have always been people who have done this in the name of God – and it is that sin and heresy that I want to address – no matter WHAT you want to call the people who have done it.
Soon after the death of the original apostles, there were already appearing leaders to take their place. But slowly but surely, the authority that these men held was not found in the TRUTH they preached. Rather, the authority they held began to become vested in the POSITION they occupied. In other words, if you were in an office or position in the church, you automatically had authority over the church. And it did not matter whether you were teaching the Truth, or even whether you were a Christian.
In the business world, authority is always vested in the POSITION. But even in the business world, putting a unqualified person in a position, and giving them authority over others, reaps bad consequences. How much more in the church! The fact is, Jesus Christ has NEVER invested His authority in a position. Ever.
"But," someone might object, "Jesus appointed apostles. Paul lists NT offices. What about those?" The answer is easy. Those men who were apostles never occupied an OFFICE that gave them apostolic authority. No. Rather, they BECAME apostles by virtue of the GIFT of God in them, and by virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit. THAT was the basis of their authority. Not a POSITION.
You see, we are so utter brainwashed with the thinking of this world – thinking that has become commonplace in the church – that we can hardly ever, "think outside the box." But read the NT epistles. Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, etc., are never spoken of as POSITIONS to fill, which, once filled, carried authority in the position. NO. Those functions are called GIFTS. In short, they have nothing to do with positions to be filled by men, and everything to do with God’s calling and gift upon the man himself.
What this means is that if I am called by God to be a pastor, and have that spiritual gift, I could theoretically spend my whole life NEVER pastoring a church, but it would nevertheless be a fact that I am a pastor. This is because the gifts and calling of God operate completely independent of the institutionalized church system. A pastor is what a person IS – and is never defined by any position they hold.
Now, once we realize this, it ought to tell us that any spiritual authority involved likewise has nothing to do with the POSITION. A person either has spiritual authority or he doesn’t. And it has nothing to do with any church position he holds.
But even THIS needs to be seen in light of the NT revelation. For when we say that a person has spiritual authority, we are really saying that spiritual authority has them. In other words, ALL authority is given to Jesus Christ, and is found IN HIM. Thus, it is only to the extent that the will of God in Jesus Christ is being executed that what is happening is of God.
For example, the apostles of Jesus were called of Him AS apostles, and because of that, the gift of apostle began to operate through them after the Spirit was given. But did that mean that everything they commanded was backed up by God – because they were apostles? No. Did it mean that those under their spiritual authority were required to obey them, even if what they said, or taught, was in error? No. Indeed, if we disagree with these conclusions, we might ask how the apostles – notably Paul and Peter – came into disagreement? We might even whether Judas, had he not hung himself, could have continued as an apostle – because despite his turning from Christ – he was, in fact, appointed to that office of authority?
No. The Truth is, all spiritual authority is vested in Christ Jesus. Therefore, no authority operates through us unless it is Christ operating through us. And that would require that what is coming through us be the Truth, in word and deed. Outside of that, we have NO authority from God, no matter what our position.
Everything a Christian does, let alone a leader, is to be done, "in the name of Jesus." This is our sole authority for prayer, and for anything in the Body of Christ. But to operate, "in the name of Jesus," means to operate on behalf of Jesus – that is, it means to do what Jesus would do, in spirit and in Truth. And if I am not doing what Jesus would do, then I am most certainly NOT operating in HIS name, but my own. And there can be NO spiritual authority behind me.
Now, that is a rather quick summary of the basis for all NT spiritual authority – all of God’s authority is vested in His Son. But down through two-thousand years of church history, this matter of spiritual authority has been one of the most abused and distorted Truths. And the damage done is beyond measure.
There is probably no better example of this errorthan a teaching I will simply call, "The Authority Teaching." Summarized, "the authority teaching" is based on the premise that God has delegated His authority to the church and it’s spiritual leaders. This authority is said to be the authority of God Himself. Therefore to resist IT is to resist GOD. To submit to it is to submit to God. This false, "authority teaching," operates under the assumption that since God has established all authority, He therefore backs up that authority. The believer is therefore to submit to such authority, even if what the authority says is wrong. The teaching goes on to claim that God will honor such submission because it is based on faith in HIM. This claim is errantly established through the wrong use of scripture, most notably Matthew 16:19, Romans 13:1, and Hebrews 13:17.
There are a couple of qualifying points here. Sometimes this false teaching mandates that believers are not to obey a leader if told to sin. And if a leader tells them to do something they disagree with, they do havethe right to appeal to the leader. But having done so, they must submit to the leader’s final decision. God will supposedly back it up.
This teaching often goes on to state that authority is like a "protective covering" -- an"umbrella of protection," which protects us from the realm of Satan -- as long as I remain "under the authority," -- that is, submit to it — I will be protected from destructive temptations by this umbrella. But if get, "out from under," the authority by refusing to submit, I will be exposed to the influence of Satan.
From that point, "the authority teaching" is applied to all walks of life. It is said to beGod’s structure in the family, church, indeed, the entire Christian life. Does this "authority teaching" sound familiar? It should. It is the general error that governed the Roman Church for 1200 years. It stands behind the "infallibility of the Pope" error, the more modern, "shepherding movement," is directly taught by many cults, and even by some highly visible teachers like Bill Gothard. It is heresy, pure and simple. But it is a heresy that we are going to see more and more, as leaders begin to claim they are apostles, anointed ones, and claim to carry the authority of God.
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Tim 2:4-6)
The error behind, "the authority teaching," is that it denies, or, "waters-down," thebeliever’s direct access to God. It makes a believer’s right standing with God contingent upon submission to leadership. Despite the fact that it is often not stated in so many words, the, "authority teaching," is a direct denial that Jesus Christ is the believer’s sole Mediator between himself and God. Instead, an authority is introduced as an additional mediator. The believer must, in effect, live their relationship with Christ THROUGH this spiritual leader.
There are churches and groups, right now, who are being taught that the personal details and choices of their lives must be cleared through a leader, or a group. This is said to be, "true submission," and supposedly creates, "humility." That is a lie. What it does create is bondage for the believer, and creates religious tyrants out of those who are in leadership. Jesus said that such a state of affairs must never exist among His people.
Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Mat 23:10-11)
But Jesus called them to him, and said unto them, You know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chief, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
Incredibly, I have seen people absolutely RUN THE LIVES of others, all in the name of God, and yet claim that all they were doing was being a SERVANT. People have corrupt minds. You are never a servant of others by running their lives. You are a servant of Christ, and of others, if God is running YOUR life, and you, by word and example, lead others to the place where God runs THEIR life. The Bible teaches no other concept of leadership.
If anyone had spiritual authority in the Body of Christ, it was the apostle Paul. In fact, if there was one person who had the right to demand that people obey him, it was Paul – for he was continually discredited as an apostle by those who hated his message of grace. Yet how did Paul say people ought to view him, or his authority? We have many passages that tell us:
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Cor 4:1)
Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. (2 Cor 13:10)
Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith you stand. (2 Cor 1:23-24)
Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: (2 Cor 10:7-8)
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. (1 Cor 4:9-10)
Paul knew that before he was a servant of any man, or had authority over any man, he was a bond slave of God. That meant that his only authority was to do the will of God – which, he says, is to edify others in Christ. The fundamental purpose of NT spiritual authority is to point others to the Christ that is in them, and to stand fast in the Truth on their behalf. This, Paul says, is his authority from God.
This is, of course, a certain amount of, "tough love," required here. Not only did Paul have the gift of God to preach the Truth with power and authority, but he also had the responsibility to refuse to MOVE from the Truth. For instance, when the Corinthians disobeyed God, or the Galatians, Paul spoke directly to them, without compromise, as to what was the will of God. This is Paul showing that all authority comes from God – and to operate in that authority means that you will do God’s will, preach God’s will, and refuse to compromise God’s will. That being the case, the Holy Spirit will flow through you in authority.
Can we see how much different this is from a person taking upon THEMSELVES authority from God, and using it to run the lives of others? Or using it to build themselves up as a, "big shot," for Christ? Again – there is no authority except of Jesus Christ. If He is not working through us, there is no authority behind what we say.
Probably one of the most subtle abuses of authority comes when leadership says the right words, but tries to use those right words to exercise authority over people in the wrong way. For instance, the Bible says Christians ought to give. But for leadership to make this mean that believers are commanded to give to THEM – well, we can see that this is not of Christ. It is of THEM. They are using the things of God for their own purposes and gain.
None of us have any authority from Christ except that of Christ living through us, unto HIS ends in other people. And then that authority, according to Paul, is that of servanthood; of edification. I edify others in Christ by getting them into business with HIM for themselves. I remain to help, teach, and exhort. But I am NOT running people’s lives. I am simply telling them the Truth about the Truth Himself.
If Christ is in you, then by definition, you have a personal relationship with Him. You have a PERSONAL relationship with Him before you have a relationship other Christians. This does, in fact, bring us to an important Truth about the Body of Christ: We are IN the Body of Christ because we are first in Christ Himself. Contrast that to the error of saying that we are in Christ only to the extent that we are in, or submitted to, the Body of Christ.
There have always been those who have taught that you must abide in Christ through the church. Sometimes the way this is stated is to say that you must, "be in," the group, church, or under the authority of leadership, if you want to be, "in Christ," or at least in the will of Christ. This is error. The branches are never said to abide in each other, despite the fact that there is a relationship among those in the Body. The branches abide in the Vine, and unless it starts there, and is anchored there, the rest will be off the track.
It has never ceased to amaze me how some people continue to insist that you cannot know God, or walk with Christ, unless you do it through the Body. The Truth is, you cannot discern the Body, or walk with the Body, unless you do it through Christ. This is a Truth that ought to be so obvious, and yet it is one of the ones which Satan has distorted most often through church history.
We are member of one another only because we are members of Him. It is HIS body. HE is the head. Members of His body ALL must take direction from the Head of all. What? Do we think that parts of a body get direction from other parts? No. You cannot sever any part of a body from the Head, make it submit to another part, and expect LIFE to be the result. And yet there are men and women of corrupt minds in the church today who insist that you can. They undermine the believer’s personal relationship AND responsibility before God.
Christianity is CHRIST IN US – in the individual. One of the tests for Truth given in the Bible is that, "Jesus IS come in the flesh," that is, Jesus is come to live with, and be at one with, individual flesh and blood human beings. Once I water this down, and say that I cannot walk with Christ except I do it THROUGH someone else, or the church in general, I am denying the VERY ESSENCE of Christianity itself. No wonder Satan likes this heresy. It is a denial of what Christianity IS.
The Coming Apostasy
More and more today, there is appearing on the church scene individuals who claim to have a special anointing from God. Some are claiming to be apostles, prophets, and more. And because many of these people are in agreement in their claims, they are able to sway many people. Some claim that if you, "partner with them," in ministry, that the SAME anointing that is upon them from God, will spill over to you. Others warn that if you do not come under their authority and teaching that you are going to miss out on God’s anointing. But this is nothing more than the very same perversion of spiritual authority that we have been seeing. It is a denial of Jesus as the sole Mediator between God and the individual – howbeit in veiled language.
The idea of IMPARTED anointing is not found in the Bible. Indeed, the ONLY ANOINTING found in the NT is that of the Holy Spirit – is that of CHRIST IN US. And if Christ is in you, you already have all the anointing you need. You must simply walk with Christ and the fruits will be there OF that anointing.
The apostle John certainly ought to have known. Indeed, his writings are God’s direction to us as to how to keep in Christ, keep in the Truth, and not be seduced by such false teachings as this one on authority:
These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him. (1 John 2:26-27)
God does not hand out a THING called, "anointing," and turn people loose to do stuff for Him. He does not impart that anointing to us if we give money, partner, or jump through the right hoops. If Christ is in us, we have THE ONE AND ONLY anointing. If Christ is in us, we have personal and unhindered access to God. If Christ is in us, we have authority in us, and are the Holy Spirit will seek to bring us under HIS authority. Unless we are operating from this basis, we are deceived.
There is nothing that God has for us that we can get from others. Even those who do teach the Truth cannot give it to you – the Truth they teach will tell you that you can get what you need only from Christ.
Turn to John, chapters 14-16. There you will read many things that Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do when He came. Everyone of them comes back to anchoring people in the Person of Jesus – individually as believers – and to helping them in the life in Christ this produces. Thus, any teacher who speaks for God, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, is likewise going to do, and teach, these things. There is NO exception to this. These things are in the Bible so that we might KNOW what is of God, and what is NOT.
So what does a person do who wakes up to the fact that he has put himself under this false teaching, and perhaps is, right now, under the authority of a false teacher or group? My advice is to GET OUT right now. Don’t explain, ask permission, or try to justify yourself – for doing so is nothing more than submission to the very thing you must flee. Instead, just go. Pay the price of getting up and leaving. You will be condemned, criticized, and told that you are going out into the realm of Satan. You may lose friends, or much more. Sure. But these attacks are all part of the system. It is all part of the control. And yet where the Spirit of the Lord is there is LIBERTY. Not control. Not condemnation.
And what if you are a leader who has taught this error? Worse, one who has practiced it? You really have only one course in the will of God: Confess the error to God, but then to those who have lead astray. You must do that. And then stop and get busy with Christ. Your problem is not one of bad theology. Your problem is likely pride, self-importance, and perhaps even a lust for power. Come to terms with your sin against God. There is always forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The teachings of the Nicolaitanes is man’s religious rule over man – most notably found in, "the authority teaching." Jesus said, "I hate that." This ought to get our attention.
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