A lion was walking along the street in Kinshasa where he met an alley cat panhandling for change. The cat was dressed in rags and looked a fright, yet the lion was strangely drawn to her. As he studied her, he realized that she could be the most gorgeous supermodel in all of Africa, if she was only cleaned up. So he took her home. His servants bathed her and gave her a flea dip. She was groomed by an expert barber. Her claws were manicured, her nose polished, her whiskers waxed, and everything about her made perfect. The lion invited his friends in the advertising and fashion industry to come see his new find. The cat was excited and eager to start her new career. But when she came out to meet everyone, the guests turned up their noses, for she had put on the same putrid-smelling rags that she was wearing when she was first rescued from the street.
Pergamum (or pergamos) is very interesting, both as a church and as a church age. Geographically, it was close to Smyrna, and was near the center of occult activity for Asia Minor. The Pergamite Christians retained their loyalty to God, but they had allowed some elements to come into the church that ought not be there. Among them were the teaching of the Nicoliatans. More on that later. As a church age, Pergamum represents the first of two ages wherein the Catholic church is the dominant denomination. It was in the formation of the catholic church that the teachings of the Nicoliatans really began to rear their ugly heads.
"Pergamum" means two things. It means "elevation", but it also means "marriage". In the Pergamum age, the church found itself suddenly elevated from pariah to publicly endorsed by the emperor. It also found itself married irrevocably to the government as Christianity became the state religion.
Those of you who have either studied history or watched X-Men 1 know that this happened when Emperor Constantine became a Christian himself. But upon his conversion, he called together bishops from all over the empire to explain to him exactly what Christianity was about. It was during this council that the central doctrines of Christianity were ironed out.
We owe a great debt of thanks to those true Christians at that council who stood unwaveringly for the truth. In especial, the Donatists, whom I am proud to say were among the forerunners of my own denomination. The same goes for the Waldensians. And yes, St. Nick as well. Can't forget him.
But in spite of the early baptistics and other Christians loyal to the truth, teachings crept in which did not jive with the truth. Practices were adopted which Jesus publicly decried during his ministry.
"Nicoliatan" can be broken down into two words: "nico", meaning "against" and "lait", meaning "people". It was the practice of the Nicolaitans to put the priesthood on a higher tier than the rest of the people, giving them a wider degree of lattitude, paying tham a disproportionate amount of honor, and even treating them as gods at some points. It is actually from this practice that we get the term "reverend". It was used to mean someone who is deserving of special reverence. For this reason, my father refuses to use this title. I want you all to know that if you ever hear me call someone reverend, I'm saying that it is their job to SHOW reverence. To give reverence to God, not to be revered. One whose calling requires that he live reverentLY. This is why I'll never call a minister of atheism "reverend". (That, and it would be like saluting a nazi officer during WW2. He may be an officer, but he's not MY officer.)
Jesus had this to say about such priests who exalted themselves:
Luke 28:46 "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.
47 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Now is this to say that it's wrong to enjoy being a minister? Not at all. I, for one, really enjoy being able to hang out with a high class of people. I enjoy the privileges that I have, and it's nice to get respect for once in my life. It becomes wrong when the minister thinks he is ENTITLED to such things, that because he is a minister of God, he's better than everyone else. It's when the minister starts grabbing things for himself that he becomes abominable to God.
Let's pray that never becomes the case here. If I ever start acting like I'm better than anyone else, you have my permission to smack me around. You can feel free to do that with subsequent pastors as well. I know I will. (gleeful grin)
But what was worse is that the Pergamum church followed the error of Balaam. There is a second significance to the fact that Pergamos means "marriage". Balaam was the one who gave Balak the key to destroying the Israelites: Intermarriage. He set into motion a social experiment which had disastrous results for Israel. Israel married the moabites. As a result, they adopted the practices of the moabites. They began to worship the false gods of the moabites. They did things that they were most certainly not suppoosed to do. Among the chief of these was the worship of Baal.
When the church was married to the Roman Government and became the official state religion, it became extremely polluted by the old ways which the Romans were unwilling to leave behind. The Romans had always been idol worshippers. The only difference was that now, instead of worshipping their old gods, they adopted a new pantheon, turning Mary, the apostles and various other saints into their new gods. Those who worshipped the emperor now turned their worship to a pope. Nothing really changed. And before the end of the age, it would become much, much worse. But we'll discuss that next week.
This is the exact opposite of how we are supposed to live. Consider the opening the story and the ilustration on the cover of the bulletin. These are an illustration of ideas presented in Collosians 3. God and Paul compare our old practices to grungy, tattered old clothes. If we are to truly be clean, we must take off those old clothes and put on new clothes prepared for us by God.
8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator...
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Of course, this also takes us back to the old testament, where God repeatedly likens Israel to His wife. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and many other places, He tells and recounts the story of the woman he found in the wilderness or on the street. He takes her into his home, cleans her up, gives her new clothes, and marries her. A short while later, she is back on the street, working as a harlot.
As Israel is the bride of God, so the church is the bride of Christ. Just as Israel returned to its old ways, so the church put on the old clothes of idolatry, faithlessness and stubbornness.
So what does this mean to us as individuals? Remember Romans 12:2.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
To put it simply- take off those old garments which you wore when you were citizens of the world. Take off lying, take off malice, take off wrath and sloth and lust and envy and greed...
But of course, you don't want to be standing around without so much as fur or scales. Instead, clothe your mind with the things that transform it. Love, peace, joy, patence, gentleness, goodness, meekness, kindness... etc. Think of this as a fursuit transformation. You're putting on a new self which, instead of simply altering your appearance, changes your very person.
(This is one reason "I never hurt anybody" won't work as an excuse before God. If you haven't put on His clothing, you're as indecent as a shaven baboon.)
And of course, There is one piece of clothing that is more important than any other- the helmet of salvation. Who here knows about Vic Torious? He never loses sight of his hat, because his hat is the keystone of the entire suit. Without the hat, nothing else works. Without the helmet of salvation, anything else you put on is like celophane. It isn't going to hide you.
So here's a quick run-down of how to get dressed. Helmet of salvation, clothes of the new self, jacket of Christ's righteousness, belt of truth, shoes of preparation of the Gospel, ornamentation of a peaceful spirit, shield of faith, sword of the Word, followed lastly by the mantle of love, which binds it all together.
12 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
13 I know where you live--where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city--where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.