Who were these Nicolaitans?
All Christians are called upon (and expected) to minister.
In the New Testament, there is no distinction between clergy and laity. What amazes me when you get down to looking at the terms clergy and laity, they in no way have anything to do with separate categories of people within the church. The English word “clergy” is related to the Greek word “cleros”. It means “a lot or inheritance”. Nowhere in the New Testament is any form of “cleros” used to designate a separate class of “ordained” leaders. Instead, it refers to the “inheritance” (Greek: clerou) laid up for all the saints (Col. 1:12 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ; Acts 26:18 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ). The saints as a collective whole are conceived of in the New Testament as God’s “inheritance”. All believers are God’s “cleros/clergy” – God’s Inheritance.
The English word “laity” is related to the Greek word “laos”, which means “people”. The Greek word “laikos”, which means “laity”, is not found in the New Testament. All in the body of Christ, are the “people” (“laos”) of God. “People of God” is a title of honor bestowed upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:16 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ; 1 Pet. 2:9-10 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ). All believers are God’s “laos/laity”- The People of God.
Some say that it was not until the third century that “clergy” was employed to designate a limited number of persons who functioned in the Christian assemblies. But I would say that this type of division started much earlier and that wherever you see the clergy/laity distinction/heresy in practice you are seeing the deeds of the modern day Nicolaitans in action as they set themselves up as lords over God’s laity/people. All believers are full time ordained ministers=servants and full time ordained missionaries.
Our Master makes clear who our teacher and leader is: Matthew 23:8-11 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone (in the church) on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Jesus in the revelation of Christ given to John makes an observation of the Ephesian church, noting that they have “hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans.” Who were these Nicolaitans? We shall observe that they were in Pergamum also (Rev. 2:15). Some have suggested that the Nicolaitans were somehow identified with one of the seven servers mentioned in Acts 6:5 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] – “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” This is very doubtful, and has no evidence to substantiate such. The Nicolaitans can probably better be identified by the etymology of the name. Two Greek words are joined together: nike meaning “victory” (such is the basis of Nike brand shoes), and laos meaning “people” (from which we get the word “laity”). The Nicolaitans are those who “conquer the people.” This is indicative of religion. It is an organized attempt to manipulate and control the people, to make them into unthinking pawns and followers who will do whatever they are told to do by the religious leaders (especially to give up their money and time). Religion is afraid of Christians who live by the freedom of God’s grace, allowing the Spirit of Christ to direct their lives and manifest His character. You cannot control those kind of people. They believe that Jesus Christ is their Priest and their Lord, and they will not bow down to any other, or be controlled or conquered by any other.
While the Ephesian church at the time of John’s reception of the revelation of Christ had resisted and hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, Jesus charged the Pergamum church with this: “You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15). Again, the label “Nicolaitans” is etymologically derived from the Greek words nike, meaning “to conquer” or “to be victorious,” and laos, meaning “people.” Nicolaitan religion “conquers the people.” It is but another variation of Balaamite religion that also plagued the church in Pergamum, for the name Balaam is derived from two Hebrew words, bala, meaning “to devour” or “to consume,” and am, meaning “people.” So we see that Religion devours and consumes the people. It uses and abuses them. It “eats them alive,” swallowing up all that they have in order to appease its insatiable appetite for personal enrichment and institutional advancement. Religion does not seek the highest good of men, but it is men seeking their own personal benefit.
So, I would say that the clergy/laity heresy is here to stay and Christians must always be on the lookout for those who would set themselves up as “lords over God’s people.” Interestingly even some who make it on the list of the hero’s within the various organic church denominations such as Nee and Lee have been notorious Nicolaitans who paid lip service to the priesthood of the believer but nevertheless set themselves up over large groups of people as “God’s specialized prophet and mouthpiece”.
The Nicolaitan clergy/laity distinction/heresy is prevalent and very damaging to the church so learning the truth about and meaning of the words “clergy” and “laity” is very important. The root words from which we derive the English words “clergy” and “laity” are found in the New Testament, but the common usage of “clergy/laity” is far removed from the New Testament concepts.
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