Posts Tagged ‘Christian Beliefs’

Last fall my church asked me if I would be willing to serve for the next three years as a deacon, one of approximately 60 deacons elected to “minister to those who are in need; to the sick; to the friendless; and to any who may be in distress” in our congregation. I agreed to do so, and began my term in January.

Recently I was reading Acts 6 about how the first seven deacons were chosen by the apostles to administer a food program in the rapidly growing church in Jerusalem after Pentecost. The seven men–Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch—were chosen because they were “well respected among fellow believers and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” Their task as Greek-speaking men was to administer the food and charity program to the Greek widows in the church so that the apostles could focus on spending time in prayer, preaching the Gospel, and teaching the word of God.

But although Stephen and Philip are featured in Acts (6:5 to 7:60; 8:4-40; 21:8-10), there is no mention of the remaining five deacons in other New Testament pages.

So I dug through my library and discovered from early church history and Byzantine art that Prochorus was the amanuensis or secretary to whom the apostle John dictated the Fourth Gospel around A.D. 80-85, and that he was also the bishop of Nicomedia.

I found no further information anywhere about Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas, and I assumed that these men went on to quietly and faithfully work and worship anonymously within the early life of the church.

But what I discovered about the seventh deacon—Nicolas of Antioch—surprised me.

One of the early church historians, Irenaeus, stated that Nicolas of Antioch founded the Nicolaitans, a heretical group that “lived lives of unrestrained indulgence” (Against Heresies, I.26.3; III.11.1). Another early historian, Hippolytus, added that Nicolas departed from the correct doctrine of the faith (Philosophoumena, VII.36) and “was in the habit of inculcating indifference to food and life” (Refutation of Heresies, 7.24).

Although some early historians believe that it was another Nicolas that influenced the Nicolaitan sect, many scholars tend to accept the statements of Irenaeus and Hippolytus.

So, it would seem that approximately 60 years after Nicolas of Antioch was first described as well respected and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, he and the Nicolaitans became known for leading believers astray by introducing into the churches pagan teachings and practices from Greek-Roman society, such as eating food sacrificed to idols and practising immoral sexual acts.

This led Christ to declare in Revelation 2 that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans who had infiltrated three of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation—Ephesus, Pergamum, and, by implication, Thyatira. The leaders at Ephesus had denounced the Nicolaitans in their midst, but the leaders of the Pergamum and Thyatira churches tolerated them, especially a self-styled prophetess espousing pleasure and self-indulgence.

Although the seven churches were facing persecution from the Roman emperor Nero, the greater danger was from within their midst—from the influences of the Nicolaitans who were corrupting the beliefs and practices of the church by including immoral elements of the Greek-Roman society.

They were leading believers astray—and Christ hated their deeds (Rev. 2:6). It wasn’t that Christ hated the Nicolaitans themselves, for he loved mankind enough to have sacrificed his life to save us (John 3:16). He hated what they were doing. He loved the sinners, but hated their sinning!

That’s why Christ showed patience and mercy when he told the church at Thyatira:

I know all the things you do—your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She is encouraging them to worship idols, eat food offered to idols, and commit sexual sin. I gave her time to repent, but she would not turn away from her immorality. Therefore I will throw her upon a sick bed, and she will suffer greatly with all who commit adultery with her, unless they turn away from their evil deeds. (Rev. 2:19-21, New Living Translation)

As I reflected on this passage and on Nicolas and the Nicolaitans, I wondered about how this could have happened. If the Nicolaitans came into being because of Nicolas of Antioch—the deacon who was well respected by the believers and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom—what happened to change him? Why did he begin to introduce heretical beliefs and practices into the church and corrupt the teachings of Christ? How and when did he stop allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him in making wise choices?

And was it a gradual process—a “slight edge” descent into the dark erotic side where he could attract a growing number of followers with a popular message of religous freedom to experience God while indulging in the pleasures of culinary and sexual delights?

And why did some of the churches tolerate this growing subculture within their midst? Were their leaders afraid to speak up against what they were doing? Were they being swayed by arguments that the church needed to be less restrictive and more like the surrounding society in order to attract more followers?

However the changes came about in those years between A.D. 33 and A.D. 90-95, it was enough for Christ to reprimand those churches and to say that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans!

And what about us today?

Might the Risen Christ be saying the same to us today—“I love you, my church, but I hate what some of you are doing”?

Churches and denominations are facing dangers from within as we fight over attempts to blend the ways of God with the ways of a secular world.

We are being split apart by attempts to rebrand and redefine the Bible’s view of God and the person of Jesus Christ into images, beliefs, and way of life that are more compatible and acceptable to an increasingly secular society.

Are we leading people astray when we emphasize the prosperity gospel and fail to teach that the Kingdom of God also involves the cross—suffering, sacrifice, and servanthood? How many people turn away from God when the prosperity that preachers promise fail to materialize?

Are we inviting Christ’s reprimand and chastening upon ourselves when we stray from the biblical standard for marriage, sex, and ordination of the clergy in order to gain the approval of a rapidly changing and indulgent modern society?

As people of God, followers of Christ, and leaders in a variety of roles within our churches and our families, we are being called to choose on which side of these issues we will stand and what legacy we will leave behind.

May we choose wisely.


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