Sunday, June 30, 2019

Strong/Weak Church, Pergamos

Strong Church/Weak Church 13

          Pergamos, although located in western Turkey, had its roots in Greece. Like
The remains of a Roman theater on a hillside
overlooking modern Bergama, Turkey
many Greek city states it was essentially its own kingdom at one point several hundred years before Christ. It was known in its own day as the headquarters for the worship of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine, whose symbol was the familiar-to-us staff and snake of modern medicine. In the temple, which was also a hospital, snakes crawled freely along the floors. Pergamos is known in academic circles for containing what was perhaps the second-best library in the ancient world after Alexandria, Egypt. About a century before Christ, it transferred suzerainty to the Roman Empire, along with the rest of the petty kingdoms in the area. It still exists today, now known as Bergama, and has a population of about 55,000, give or take.
          The Scripture passage that describes this church is found, as with many others in this series, in Revelation.

Revelation 2:12–17
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

          I see three things here: one strength and two weaknesses. Because this diagnosis is shorter than some, I will put the entirety of it within one blog post.
          On the strength side, this church handled persecution without denying Christ. Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you. I have already discussed this in some detail in reference to both Ephesus and Smyrna, so I shall simply note it and move on. I will say that history tells us that like Polycarp in Smyrna, Antipas was the pastor of the church at Pergamos. He, too, was ordained by John but his martyrdom came much earlier than Polycarp’s by some sixty years. Regardless, this church stood strong through it all, and John unhesitatingly commended them for it.
          On the weakness side of the discussion I find two, one already discussed in some detail in reference to Ephesus, namely this: they had begun attempting to lord it over other local churches. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate (Revelation 2.15). I dealt with this extensively a couple of weeks ago and I am not going to repeat it all here. Suffice it to say, Pergamos was on the other side of the equation from Ephesus, and God was highly aggravated with them about it. He uses very strong language here.
          The second weakness was a bit more obscure. I will follow my statement with an explanation, but here is the statement first: they were a sensual church.
          One of the two things God specifically says He has against this church relates somehow to the Old Testament prophet, Balaam. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication (Revelation 2.14). So, what is the doctrine of Balaam?
Coastal Landscape with Balaam and the Ass
by Bartholomeus Breenburgh, 1636
          Balaam was one of the non-Jewish prophets of the Old Testament. He was asked by the local Midian king, Balak, to call down God’s disfavor on the Israelites, to curse them. Balak had heard of what happened in Egypt, and was fearful of Israel. Motivated by greed, Balaam determined to accept Balak’s offer even though God specifically forbad it. When Balaam went to Balak anyway, God got angry with Balaam, and sent an angel to punish him. Balaam did not see the angel but his donkey did, causing Balaam and his donkey to engage in their famous argument. Balaam repents, but God informs him he is free to meet Balak at this point provided he is careful to only prophesy that which God tells him to say. Three times Balak takes Balaam to a high place in an effort to get Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel. Three times Balaam opens his mouth to comply, only to have a blessing come out. Unpaid, and apparently unable to curse Israel, Balaam comes up with a new plan. Since he cannot prophetically curse God’s people, he advises Balak on how to ensnare them instead. Essentially, this plan involved sending Midian’s prettiest young women into Israel’s camp to seduce Israel’s young men to join them in the sexual excesses of their pagan religious rites. God’s response was to send a plague that killed 24,000 Jews (Numbers 25). Later, after Israel had won a war against Midian, Moses demanded that these women be killed.

Numbers 31:15–17
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

          Back then to the question, what was the doctrine of Balaam? It was Balaam’s teaching to Balak to seduce God’s people via a sex cult away from Jehovah toward Baal. In some sense, then, the church at Pergamos had become similar to many of the pagan Roman cults of its day, one that intertwined sexuality with worship of the divine. That is a harsh conclusion, but a justified one, if I understand the Word of God.
          Such an unholy thing in a church rightly draws God’s harsh condemnation. A church is to be different than the world around it, holy where they are unholy. We are specifically called to be a morally pure institution. Any sexual activity outside the bonds of matrimony is not to be tolerated amongst God’s people; especially in some twisted concept of pleasing God by so doing. And a church, any church, that goes easy on such loose living, on such open immorality is heading down an appalling road.
          He is pure.
          We are His people.
          Let us be pure.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Strong Church/Smyrna

Strong Church/Weak Church 12

          Smyrna, to me, is one of the most interesting churches in the Bible. Like Daniel, nothing negative is recorded about it. I am quite sure it had weaknesses, for it was human and everything human is faulty, but none of them are recorded in the few Scripture verses that discuss the church. For this reason, there will be no Weak Church/Smyrna post, only today’s post about its strengths.
The Agora of Smyrna
circa 500 BC
          Smyrna was a substantial city in Turkey along the Aegean Sea. It rivaled Ephesus, which was located about 40 miles away, in trade until the harbor in Ephesus silted over and the rivalry declined. Smyrna was originally founded as a Greek colony, and later passed into Roman hands in the New Testament era. Although it was ravaged during the Middle Ages, it still exists today as the Turkish city of Izmir. It is huge, slightly bigger than Chicago, in fact. To this day, its most famous resident was Homer, the Greek poet. Homer probably wrote the two most famous poems in history, The Iliad and The Odyssey, from a cave along the river in Smyrna about 800 years before Christ.
          Religiously, in the first century it cultivated the typical pagan deities of the day, with some extra-curricular worship of Homer thrown in one the side. Included in this was a very active Dionysian cult. Dionysus, also called Bacchus, was the god of alcohol and sex from whom we derive the term for a wild party, a bacchanalia. (Grasping this informs as well our understanding of the problems of the church at Corinth too.) This god so embraced by Smyrna, supposedly resurrected from the dead, is given special attention in John’s short epistle when John emphasizes Christ’s own real resurrection in Revelation 2.8.
In fact, here is the entire brief scriptural record on the church:

Revelation 2:8–11 (KJV 1900)
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

          In these few verses I see two strengths of the church at Smyrna.
Notice, they served the Lord even though they were poor. Their poverty is mentioned specifically, drawing attention to something that so often prevents people from serving God. It bears repeating, there is no negative spiritual mention about this church which rather shoots a hole in the prosperity gospel theology, amongst other things.
Beyond that, spiritually speaking, poverty engenders two very helpful attitudes on the part of the Christian. First, poverty brings us to realize what our true riches are. When Jonah lost everything a man could lose, including light, he saw an unvarnished value in the mercy of God. Money and the material things of this life so often cloud our vision, and when that fog is lifted we see how wonderful are our relationships, how deep our eternal spiritual blessings in Christ.
Corporately, churches need money to operate. Buildings and staff and ministry are expensive. But many a church can and has focused too much on their income stream, valuing people based on what they give, equating blessing with good offerings, pushing giving at the expense of other spiritual graces, or desiring the things money can do more than the things the Holy Spirit can do. Smyrna was blessedly free from such temptations because it was broke.
Secondly, poverty brings us to the place of dependence upon Christ. Without question, the weakest church of the seven discussed in Revelation is the church at Laodicea. Not coincidentally, it was a very wealthy church. Jesus spoke right to the heart of the matter when He said, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Mark 19.24). It was the rich young ruler who thought he needed nothing, and people/churches who do not need anything from God exercise little faith in Him.
If your church has millions of dollars coming in, or a healthy amount socked
Izmir, Turkey, present day
The Agora is on the right side of the foreground.
away in a capital improvements fund count it a blessing. But if you have neither of those there is no need to count it a curse. Poverty in a church can be a wonderful blessing.
The second primary strength I see in the church at Smyrna was that they stayed right through persecution. Along with poverty, tribulation is specifically mentioned in Revelation 2.9. This persecution took verbal form in their fellow Jews who denied Jesus was the messiah. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. These Christ rejectors may have been Jews ethnically, but any Jew who turns his back on Jesus is in some sense not considered a Jew by God.

Romans 2:28–29
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Romans 9:6
6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

          This verbal persecution from the Jews toward the church in Smyrna later manifested itself as physical persecution, in trial, prison, and martyrdom. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life (Revelation 2.10)
          In Robine Lane Foxe’s massive 1986 work on the era, Pagans and Christians, he tells story after story of those days. I will share just one with you. Sitting in the church at Smyrna that day the letter from John was read to them was a 27 year old young man named Polycarp. He listened eagerly to the Apostle’s message for that apostle, John, had personally won him to Christ. John became his mentor, training him for the ministry. In fact, within just a few short years after he first heard Revelation 2 read he became the pastor of the church at Smyrna. I am sure that passage of Holy Writ was exceeding precious to him and to the people there.
          Polycarp became very influential in his generation, the first generation to claim Christianity without anyone alive who had actually met Jesus. Polycarp stood loyally for the authority and authenticity of Scripture, and for apostolic theology. He refused the bishop of Rome when that bishop attempted to assert control over the church at Smyrna, an example in the historical record similar to what I spoke of regarding Ephesus last week.
S. Polycarpus
engraving by Michael Burghers
circa 1685
          As an old man, after having served Christ faithfully and well for decades as the pastor there he was brought before the authorities during a time of persecution. Just as John warned, the Jews were his most vigorous accusers. He was found guilty of being a Christian, and was burned at the stake with faggots of wood contributed by the Jews. And he went willingly, untied. I am sure he was thinking of John and of John’s words to his church written some sixty years before.

Revelation 2:10–11
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

          At eighty-six years of age, Polycarp, longtime pastor of the church at Smyrna, convert and disciple of the Apostle John, was given one last chance to recant. His reply? “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my Saviour and King?”
          They were made of stern stuff in Smyrna.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Weak Church/Ephesus

Strong Church/Weak Church 11

          Last week, we saw some rather remarkable strengths in the Ephesian church. They were a laboring, patient,fiercely independent church. In the midst of this bounty of spiritual maturity, however, we find one problem. And it is a serious problem, more rightly a massive problem. They had left their first love for the Lord and for people. Nevertheless I have somewhat against the, because thou hast left thy first love (Revelation 2.4).
          In one of the classic New Testament passages that even many in the heathen world know of, our Saviour said that God’s expectations and instructions for humanity hung on two supports – a love for God and a love for people.

Matthew 22:37–40
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

          As I have written in more detail elsewhere, this does not mean there are only two rules. It means every God-given instruction is motivated by one or both of these principles. The church at Ephesus had the right doctrine; they had studied the claims of the Nicolaitans and renounced them. The church at Ephesus had the right character; they labored fervently in their service for the Lord. The church at Ephesus had the right attitude; they bore their trials with stoic endurance. But in a very real sense they did all of this for the wrong reason. Why do I assert that? Because any reason other than a love for God and a love for people as a motivation for our actions is an unscriptural reason. Their reason was something other than love. They had long ago left that behind.
          Beloved, our religion is a relationship. That relationship is with a Person. That Person is Christ. And that Person told us to love Him and to love others. The Apostle Paul wrote an epistle to this same church at Ephesus three decades prior to John doing so, but we find the same message. Paul acknowledges they then had this love. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints (Ephesians 1.15). He urges them to strengthen the ties which bound their actions to such love. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3.17). In fact, in that prior epistle Paul connected numerous aspects of Christianity to love i.e. forbearing one another in love, speaking the truth in love, edifying in love, walking in love, and explicitly connecting faith with love. In my view, Paul stressed this not only because it was important, but because he must have had some level of concern about it, as he clearly expresses in the very last verse. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen (Ephesians 6.24).
          In short, they had it, once. They were losing it. Paul tells them to hold onto it, to grow it. But they turned around and walked away. They left it.

          How does such a thing happen? How does a person or church or organization that once had a fervent love for Christ and for people grow apathetic? At least some of the answer is found in our Saviour’s words in the first gospel. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24.12). We notice here it is not the existence of iniquity that is the problem. Iniquity exists in every human and thus in every human institution, too. But when we allow that iniquity to pick up steam, so to speak, in the parlance of this illustration to charge down the track unhindered, it will choke the love for God and for His people right out of us.
          As I sit here at my dining room table writing in late May, we have just this past week planted our small urban garden. Tiny zucchini, basil, lavender, rosemary, and tomato plants dot the enclosure. As the weather warms into summer and the weeks pass these plants will grow, and we will enjoy their fruit. Well, that is we will enjoy their fruit if they stay rooted, if we water them, if they receive abundant sunshine, and if we keep control of the weeds.
          I have never yet seen a garden without weeds. Every garden has them. They spring up practically overnight, coming back from the spot you previously plucked them or taking root a few inches over. The problem with gardening, however, is not the presence of weeds. The problem arises when you stop dealing with those weeds, when you allow them to multiply unchecked, when you allow them to abound. A garden that abounds in weeds cannot abound in fruit, no matter how good the soil, abundant the sunshine, and regular the watering. And the exact same thing is true of a Christian and a church.
          This is not a dissertation on holiness. I have a book on that subject at the publisher even as we speak. But even within the severely subscribed limits of a blog post I cannot help but mention that is just here that tools such as frequent confession of sin and the mortification of the flesh enter in. It is only by walking in the Spirit that we will not walk in the flesh. The two cannot be done simultaneously. One always pushes the other out.
          Having established how such a condition as leaving our first love arises let us briefly turn our attention to what happens when it does. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John’s short epistle in Revelation to the Ephesian church warns, Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent (Revelation 2.5). The candlestick in context represents the church itself, a shining testimony to the grace of Christ drawing men into His embrace. But a church that is walking away from love as the motivation for all it does is walking into the twilight. The sun is setting. The gloaming gradually deepens into night. And then the testimony of that church is gone.
          I have pastored in Chicago for fifteen years. It is not an easy place to keep a church going, let alone shepherd one forward for the cause of Christ. Over these fifteen years I have seen two Baptist churches located less than a mile from me close their doors permanently. How does that happen? How is it that their candlestick is removed? Somehow, somewhere, in some way, iniquity began to reign unchecked. Their love waxed cold. Their light grew dim. And then went out.
          When it has gone this far it cannot be reversed, but prior to that point I believe it can be. In point of fact, this is John’s precise reason for writing. He seeks to call them back, to get them to return to their first love. He calls on them to remember, to repent, and to do the first works. He asks them to embrace the humility necessary to admit error. He asks them to show that attitude to be genuine, by attacking the iniquity then abounding in their church. Having begun there, they must proceed on to do the first works. They were a working, laboring people, but they needed to get back to laboring like they did when they first started, out of love.

1 Thessalonians 1:3
3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
Hebrews 6:10
10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.   

          Do you serve God?
          The next question is why?
          The answer must be out of love. If it is not, return to what you left. Repent. Attack the iniquity in your life. And fall in love with God and with people all over again. It is the only way to keep the candle of your church burning for the next generation.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Strong Church/Ephesus

Strong Church/Weak Church 10

The ruins of Ephesus
          Last time we saw the genesis of the Ephesian church. Today we are going to examine its strengths, primarily from John’s message to their church in Revelation 2.
          The first strength I see here is that they were a church that was hard at work serving the Lord.

Revelation 2:1–2
1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

          “Works” and “labour” here are not the exact same thing. Works is the idea that God knows exactly what you are doing and not doing. It is a statement of accountability, and is found in reference to all seven of the churches discussed in Revelation. God was paying attention and knew what they were doing and not doing. I know… thy labour, on the other hand, means God viewed them as a church that was hard at work serving Him.
          We neither obtain salvation nor keep salvation by our good works, but we are repeatedly commanded in the New Testament to do good works. A good church is a church that is zealous unto good works. In the original language, labor here means working to the point of utter weariness. In the following verse John commends them by saying they had not fainted (Revelation 2.3). Falling over from exhaustion is not a temptation that comes to the lazy man, ergo they were spending themselves in their service for Him.
          Additionally, they were not only hard at work for the Master but they did that work with the right motivation. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (Revelation 2.3). They did not pour themselves into this labor out of a desire to please their pastor, or because they were afraid of God, or because their pride spurred them on in an effort to build a reputation. They did it solely for the Lord. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
          The second strength I see here is that they were a patient church.

Revelation 2:2–3
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

          In the original language patience implies a persevering endurance. Proper work, good work, high quality work simply must include patience. It requires a careful, methodical craftsmanship. This is true if you are building a dresser or if you are building a new convert into a Sunday School teacher.
Take witnessing, for example. Jesus told us, but that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8.15). Soul-winning is not a church growth method. It’s obediently sowing the seed of the Word of God in the hearts of receptive and unreceptive alike. It takes the Holy Spirit to bring that seed to life, regenerating a lost man, and I cannot rush the work of the Spirit. I can pray for it, plan for it, and prepare for it, but I cannot rush it. Often, it just takes time to bear fruit. Many a pastor and many a church has gotten discouraged because some activity they are doing does not seem to be bearing fruit. But when you connect that work with patience you get “labour”, working patiently to the point of utter exhaustion without giving up.
I want to go to Heaven exhausted. I want to be used up in my service for Him.
The third strength I see in the Ephesian church is the fact that they were fiercely independent.
I am an independent Baptist not by birth but by conviction. I pastor an independent Baptist church. In practical terms, that means our church does not belong to any larger denomination or organization. We do not have any external support, nor do we have any external controls either.
The biblical support for this position is two-fold. First, it is based on the fact the church is local, not universal. Second, it is founded on the idea that the only head of the church, any church, my church or your church, is just Jesus Christ. This theological truth is twice found, not surprisingly, in the epistle addressed to the Ephesian church.

Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

          Plainly, they took this admonition seriously. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2.6). Who or what were the Nicolaitans? In answer, I would point to the definition of the underlying words themselves. “Nico” means to conquer, to get victory. “Laos” means the people i.e. the laity, the layman. From those two root words we get the understanding that says Nicolaitanism was to rule or to conquer the people. It involved ruling over or lording it over God’s church.
          This is warned against elsewhere in Scripture. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (I Peter 5.3). The pastor as bishop does have some genuine authority in the church but it does not rise to the level of dictatorship. He must ever be primarily an influence via his preaching and his example.
          John, the writer of Revelation, had previous experience with this type of thing.

3 John 9–11
9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.

          In that case, Diotrephes inserted himself into the chain of command between the church and Christ. He claimed the preeminence and the power. But who is to have the preeminence in each church? Who alone is to exercise the power of lordship? Jesus Christ. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1.18). No man or group of men is to lord it over God’s church. No man is have the preeminent authority to determine, individually by himself, what the church should and should not do. Rather, these matters are led by the pastor and agreed to by the church corporately.
          We see this latter example of ministry leadership and congregational ratification in the choosing of the first deacons. It was a joint decision. The leadership cast the vision, and the people entered into it willingly and actively with real influence.

Acts 6:1–6 (KJV 1900)
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

          With this as the stated instruction and exemplified illustration in the church how then did the Nicolaitans justify their power grab? Via the guise of apostleship. See, the Apostles were the earthly foundation of the church. They guided its affairs, often directly, until the canon of Scripture was finalized. Paul appointed Timothy as a pastor in both Ephesus and Crete without any indication of congregational agreement. When dealing with the severely disordered church at Corinth he threatened he would show up and set things in order when he got there. Of course, this apostolic authority, like the apostolic sign gifts, was a temporary scaffold designed to enable the church to grow to maturity in safety. Later, when the New Testament was completed, the authority would belong exclusively to the Word of God. (Remember the first B in the Baptist acrostic? The Bible is our sole authority.)
          Thus it is that if you want to exercise human authority over a local congregation of called out believers you say that you are an apostle. Ergo, they must listen to your edicts.
          The classic ancient/modern example of this is still found in the Roman Catholic concept of church structure and government. It is universal (catholic) vs local. It is top-down authoritarian vs congregational. The popes specifically claim the mantle of Peter’s apostolic authority. The system thus produced is a parish that cannot choose its own priests, does not own its own property, never sees a financial report let alone votes on financial matters. Indeed, they never corporately decide anything in relation to the will of God for their church. The whole, from top to bottom, is controlled by a hierarchy external to the local parish – bishops, cardinals, and popes
          …but there are no more apostles. In order to qualify as an apostle a man must have walked with Jesus personally, been personally called by Him to the apostolic office, and prove this by his power to do miraculous works (Acts 1, I Corinthians 9, Luke 6, Acts 2, II Corinthians 12). The Apostles had no successors, Catholic or otherwise. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ (II Corinthians 11.13).
          The church at Ephesus grasped this doctrinal truth tenaciously and applied it fearlessly. They dealt harshly with Nicolaitanism, the false doctrine of an external hierarchy ruling over the local church in the name of apostolic authority. How do I know this?

Revelation 2:6
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Revelation 2:2
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

          Let’s hear three cheers for a hard-working, rightly-motivated, patient, fiercely independent church.
          That’s exactly what I want to build, God being mine helper.

Monday, June 3, 2019

For Your Consideration: An Explanation and a Request

Through the years Brennan's Pen has grown substantially. Directly and indirectly, with it I minister to hundreds of pastors, missionaries, professors, Bible college students, and local church leaders around the world. Whether it is a brief selection from a book I have been reading, or a blog article I have published, an audio sermon I have preached, or a personal interaction with a reader, I send out nearly 15,000 emails a month. Those emails contain completely free content.

The problem that has arisen as this ministry has grown is simple. Providing this much free content on this wide of a scale has begun to cost me more and more money. I view this as a ministry, not a money-making opportunity. I have never charged for any of it. But the cost of providing such a ministry to so many people is becoming onerous. (Go ahead, I will wait while you look that one up on <grin>) If you see value in a ministry to local church leaders like this, and you would be willing to help me bear the cost of doing so I would be grateful for your support. Again, to be clear, I am not trying to make money. I am trying to simply pay the costs associated with providing this much free content so widely.

As a way of saying thank you for helping me in this I want to offer my patrons two unique things. The first is access to the digital files of all the quotes I have sent out over the last ten years. These files contain 2,200 quotes from hundreds of books about ministry. The quotes are organized into 524 categories by subject and more are being added daily. The second unique thing available only to patrons is access to my organized sermon notes. These are not notes to stand alone sermons. They are the notes to in-depth series I have preached over the years, expository series, biographical series, doctrinal series, subject studies, Bible institute curriculum, etc. There are detailed notes for nearly 1,200 messages available with more being added regularly.

If any of this interests you - supporting Brennan's Pen as it ministers to local church leaders, and/or receiving access to the quotes or sermon files - I would simply ask you to consider signing up for a monthly subscription. I suggest $1 per month though I would happily take a more if you want to give it. Patreon is a widely reputable organization, and your financial information will be kept secure. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Tom Brennan