Nicolaitanism is often defined as any teaching or doctrine that “destroys the people”, from the Greek nike—“to overcome or destroy”, and laos—“the people”. In general terms, any doctrine, belief or perception that separates people from God, destroying them spiritually, could be labeled as Nicolaitan in nature.
Church of God members easily recognize Nicolaitanism in that other religion, in which the people confess their sins to a priest, who then petitions God for forgiveness on their behalf. Those people are taught to relate to God through their priest; thus they are separated from God. They are discouraged from establishing a direct relationship from themselves to God.
But there is another form of Nicolaitanism that is not so easily recognized among the Churches of God. It is not a misperception of how we should relate up to God. Rather, it is a misperception of how God and Jesus Christ relate back down to—and work through—each of us. It could be thought of as the other “edge” of the two-edged sword of Nicolaitanism.
What I am getting at is this: lay members of churches—especially those with hierarchical organization—commonly have a perception that whenever God works through His Church, He’ll always do it from the “top” down, using apostles first, then evangelists, then ministers, then elders, then deacons, and then as a last resort the regular members. I have had this “trickle down” perception myself, and I’ve heard it expressed by numerous others in the Churches of God.
We “cop out”, thinking that God would use someone else—someone “higher” in the church and “closer to God”—before He would use us. We forfeit or lose faith that God would, for example, give us one of the “gifts of the Spirit” without first giving that gift to someone “higher” in the church.
With this perception in place, many have internalized a passive faith, feeling uninvolved and unempowered in the “work” except for putting their tithes in the mailbox. I submit that we must put this perception away and change to an actively involved, dynamic, living faith—believing God will use each of us personally—if we are to attain “apostolic Christianity”. We must put aside hierarchical thinking: Christ is the head of the Church and we are equal brethren in His sight. Yes, there are different gifts, but we are not of different value to God (Matthew 20:25–28).
I am not saying anyone in any organization intends to install themselves between the laity and God; God will be the judge of that. But I believe the insidious perception that “God will work down through the hierarchy in a church before working through each member” has been debilitating and disenfranchising to many Church of God members. It has disabled the spiritual lives of many.
Here are a few questions that we each might ask ourselves:
Do I believe that God is a respecter of persons?
Have I accepted a perception that God would work with someone else before He would work with me?
Do I believe God could or would be willing to work with or through me as much as with anyone else?
Could God work with me if I do not believe He would?
Would I feel comfortable standing before the judgment seat of Christ saying “I thought you intended for the other guy—‘higher’ in the church—to do that…”?
Did the apostle Paul ever say that the gifts of the spirit were handed out according to a pecking order in the church? (1Cor 12)
At the first Pentecost, did the flames of the Spirit fall only on Peter and John, and the other Apostles? Or did they fall on everyone assembled?
— George Burdick, Rev21v4@att.net