THE CHURCH AT PERGAMUM

A study in doctrinal corruption

The day in which we live is no time for easy-going Christianity, especially when it comes to doctrinal matters.  Our society is drowning in a sea of confused values. 

Life must be guided by some fixed standard of what is true, or it is so easy to get lost in the shuffle of confusing ideas and shifting principles.  Our culture stands in need of Christians who know who they are and what they are doing and, most of all, Christians who are certain of what God has said in His Word.  Life is always a product of thought.  Behavior is the result of what we think.  If our thinking is wrong then our living will necessarily be wrong.  And that is exactly what happened in the church in Pergamum in the first century.  They had become doctrinally corrupt and their behavior followed.

The seven churches of Revelation 2,3 were chosen because of the specific situations in their assemblies, situations which apply to churches of every age.  Seven were chosen to represent all churches.  These letters contain messages not just for the 1st century, but for churches of the 11th century, and the 16th century, and the 21st century. 

The letter to the church at Pergamum is found in Revelation 2:12-18.  Verses 14 and 15 read, “But I have a few things against you: you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”

Paganism had an iron grip on Pergamum.  It was home to a great altar of Zeus as well as multiple temples to pagan gods and the worship of Roman emperors. Though the Christians in Pergamum had not been compromised by the blatant idolatry of the altar of Zeus, some of them had fallen prey to a subtler seduction, the doctrinal heresy of the Nicolaitans.    

According to early tradition (Irenaeus and Eusebius), the Nicolaitans were the followers of a certain Nicolaus.  These followers had left true Christian doctrine and had begun to teach unrestrained indulgence.  In the name of Christian liberty they taught that you could live in whatever manner you desire.  No activity was to be condemned, including immorality.  The Christian faith was being used as a license for lawlessness.  Their logic went something like this: the body is sinful . . . Christ died for all sins . . . therefore what is done in the body does not really matter. 

In Revelation 2:14 the Lord compared the situation in Pergamum to the OT story of Balaam.  Balaam was a prophet hired by the enemies of Israel to curse Israel so her enemies could gain a military victory.  Instead of cursing Israel, Balaam blessed Israel.  It appeared that he was doing the right thing, refusing to utter a curse on God’s people.  But later in the story the truth was revealed.  Balaam would not openly curse the Israelites, but he privately advised Israel’s enemies on how they could conquer the Jews in a more subtle fashion.  “Entice the Jews through immorality and intermarriage.  They will become like your people and they will serve your gods.”  And it worked.  What could not be accomplished through war was accomplished through immorality.  Applied to the situation at Pergamum, the corruption of the church there was not being accomplished openly, through worship of Zeus or the Roman emperor.  It was being done subtly, through immorality, perhaps intermarriage with unbelievers, and doctrinal compromise.

This passage points out two problems in the church which stifle purity.

First, while condemning public evil, we sometimes make allowances for more subtle sins.  For example, we renounce, in loudest rhetoric, the proliferation of pornography in our land.  And well we should because it is a blight on our society.  But what about our own lust … do we deal ruthlessly with that?  We are appalled with abortion and condemn it in no uncertain terms as murder (which it certainly is).  But what about our own hatred for our neighbor, or our Christian brother … do we deal with that?

We might lament that public prayer has been banned from our schools, but the prayer meetings in many of our churches are the emptiest of all the meetings.  What happened in Pergamum is happening to many of our churches today. There is some success in dealing with corruption from without while succumbing to subtle, rationalized corruption within.

Second, and connected with the first lesson, there is a chilling danger today of haziness when it comes to doctrine.  To an alarming degree, we simply do not know well what God has said and the implications of what He has said.  The problem in Pergamum was first, doctrinal, and then practical.  Wrong thinking led to wrong living.  It always doesBeloved, the Word of God must not be only a Sunday practice.  It must be part of our lives like eating and sleeping and working are part of our lives.  Job said that the Word of God was more important to him than the food on his table.  If we do not know what God has said, then the church is in grave danger … not, perhaps, from the pressures from outside our walls, but from subtle corruptions within our own hearts. 

Striving to know and do what is right,

Pastor Cosand

FOR CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM

The mindset of a martyr

The name Roland Taylor is not found in conventional books on church history, nor in religious biographical dictionaries.  But his name and story are found in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and it is a stirring account.  In 1553 Edward VI died and England’s throne passed to his sister, Mary Tudor … “Bloody Mary.”  She was fully given to the Catholic church in Rome and passed edicts that made it illegal for dissenting pastors to carry on their ministries.  Nearly 800 of England’s clergy refused to obey the laws and lost their churches.  Many of them fled to Geneva and Frankfort, but 300 of them were martyred, usually burned at the stake, for their faith.  Among them was Pastor Roland Taylor.

Not long before his execution he wrote the following in his journal.  “I say to my wife and to my children, ‘The Lord gave you unto me, and the Lord hath taken me from you, and you from me; blessed be the name of the Lord!  . . . I have ever found Him more faithful and favorable than is any father or husband.  Trust ye therefore in Him by the means of our dear Savior Christ’s merits . . . Count me not dead, for I shall certainly live, and never die.  I go before, and you shall follow after, to our long home.'”

When he was being taken away, he knelt down with his wife and two daughters, Elizabeth (a thirteen year old girl he and his wife had adopted) and Mary, her younger sister.  “. . . he took his daughter Mary in his arms; and he, his wife, and Elizabeth kneeled down and said the Lord’s Prayer, at which sight the sheriff wept . . . After they had prayed, he rose up and kissed his wife, and took her by the hand, and said, ‘Farewell, my dear wife; be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience.  God shall stir up a father for my children'” (Foxe, Book of Martyrs, 218).  Soon afterward Roland Taylor was burned alive while he recited the 51st Psalm. 

What is the mindset of a martyr?  What is the motivation that causes someone to give up his family and his very life for the sake of Christ?  This is an important question because the mindset of a martyr is exactly what Jesus calls us to.  “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 10:38,39).

            First, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that there are some things more important than life.  “Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You” (Psa 63:3).  “I am hard-pressed between the two [earth and heaven].  My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23).  Earthly life is not as precious as the honor of God and the presence of God. 

Second, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that even tortuous death comes to Christians by the hand of a sovereign God.  When Jesus spoke with Peter about his future and his martyrdom, He did not downplay the horror that awaited him.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.  This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (Jn 21:18,19).  The hand of God led Peter to a cross for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. 

Third, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that there is a wondrous glory that awaits believers on the other side of this veil of tears and pain.  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day . . .” (2 Tim 4:6-8).

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

Though we do not suffer the threat of death, a Christian martyr’s mindset is helpful to us as we live our comfortable lives.  It gives us perspective that clears our minds of sentimental, fuzzy thinking.  It causes hope to course through our veins.  It shakes us from our cultural silliness.  It purifies our priorities and fixes our eyes and affections on our eternal home and our eternal Shepherd. 

 Am I a soldier of the cross?  A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies on flowr’y beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?

Longing to love Christ more deeply,

Pastor Cosand

TREMBLING AND WEEPING AT THE WORD OF GOD

Listening to sermons as an act of worship

Most people probably listen to sermons in church the way they listen to a president’s State of the Union address or the evening news on television.  First, they make assessments as to whether or not the sermon is interesting.  Then, perhaps, is there humor?  Are there stories the listener can relate to?  Is the preacher nervous or relaxed?  Does he make any mistakes in grammar?  Is his tie straight and did it match his suit?  When the sermon is finished, they ask the question, “What did I get out of that?”  The interaction between sermon and congregant is often more inspection and scrutiny than worship.

This sort of analytical approach to listening to sermons was decidedly not the way righteous people in the Bible listened to the Word of God.  During the reign of King Josiah in Judah, the temple underwent a massive restoration.  In the process of repairing the temple the ancient Scriptures were found, perhaps in a jar in the corner of some forgotten room.  The scroll was brought to Josiah and was read in his presence.  “And it came about when the king heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes” (2 Kgs 22:11).  Upon hearing the Word of God read, Josiah tore his clothes in shame and wept (2 Kgs 22:19).  In response to Josiah’s reaction to God’s Word, the Lord heard and answered his prayers (2 Kgs 22:19,20).

After the people of Judah and Israel returned from a seventy year captivity in Babylon, Ezra helped restore worship among the remnant in Jerusalem.  A  certain day was set aside so the people could hear the Word of God read and explained (much like a modern-day sermon).  A podium was constructed for the purpose of this special presentation (Neh 9:6).  When Ezra opened the book in the sight of the people to read it “all the people stood up . . . And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground . . . all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (Neh 8:5,6,9).  In Ezra 9:4, we read that when the people of Israel heard the Word of the Lord read and as they realized that they had been disobedient to its laws, they trembled. 

These Biblical reactions to hearing the Bible read and explained are markedly different than the way most Christians respond to Sunday morning sermons in their churches.  What we must learn to consider is that God is the One who watches and evaluates on Sunday mornings and that all members of a congregation, both preacher and listeners, are being assessed by the Almighty. 

To listen to a sermon, no less than the preacher preaching it, is an act of worship.  When we have a deep reverence for our God and a passionate love for Him, we cannot hear His eternal Word read and explained without a heartfelt response.  Our hearts respond in shame, due to our sinfulness . . . and trembling, due to the majesty of God speaking . . . and thanksgiving at the wonder that the Creator would speak to us . . . and joy, due to the value and truth of what God declares.  

To hear the Word of God declared and to respond with relative indifference is to proudly stand before the Ancient of Days in arrogance and self-satisfaction.  In the parable of the Sower and the Seed in the gospels (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8), the only soil that can be praised is the fertile soil.  “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20).  The people of God are those in whose hearts the Word of God takes root and produces the fruit of righteousness.  When told that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to see Him, Jesus responded by saying, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21).

It is not acceptable to the living God for a Christian to go to church on Sunday morning and simply evaluate the sermon without being conscious of the importance of letting the Word of God evaluate him/her.  Listening to a sermon, rightly, is an act of worship.  It is to hear in the sermon and to observe in the Scripture the supreme excellencies of the King of Kings and to rejoice over Him with pleasure.  Repeatedly, in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2,3, the Lord calls out, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Let us come to church on Sundays not only to worship by the joy of our songs and by the thanksgiving of our offerings, but also by the delight in our souls inGod when we listen to the sermon. 

When the disciples on the road to Emmaus heard the teaching of Christ they later recalled, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).  If our hearts do not burn when the Scriptures are explained to us, then whatever else we may have done, we have not worshiped the living God. Let us plead with God that there might be a trembling and an awe and a burning delight in our hearts at the Word of God, whether on Sunday morning in church or on Thursday morning in our living rooms.  God clearly declares, “. . . to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2).

Rejoicing over God’s truth with you,

Pastor Cosand

THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE

the importance of instruction in the church

In Acts 2:42 there is a reference to the early church “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ doctrine.” There is, in the New Testament, a pronounced emphasis on doctrinal truth.  Some of the epistles are given to correcting doctrinal errors (i.e. Colossians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews).  Many of the New Testament letters can be outlined by dividing them between a doctrinal section and a practical section … a presentation of the truth and the implications, in our living, rising from that truth.  There are repeated references in Paul’s letters to “the knowledge of God.”  “. . . we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9,10).  “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18).

With these Bible passages in mind, the Christian Education activities of a church body which are saturated with a passion for the glory of God will be designed to bring someone from a basic understanding of the living God, revealed in Scripture, to a more advanced and mature understanding of God.  “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Heb 6:1).  This progression should be evident in the design of Biblical presentation in grade school curriculum as the content gradually gets broader and deeper.  We should have content goals for each level of a child’s life.  For example, by the time a student reaches high school, what, exactly, do we expect our children to know regarding Biblical truth?  New learners must be encouraged and grounded in fundamental doctrines and advanced learners must be continually challenged. 

There should be an emphasis on the necessity of learning new truths from every part of Scripture.  A presentation, to our children and our teens and our adults, of the “whole counsel of God” must be our goal.  We must strive not only to understand the stories of the Bible, but to see the timeless doctrinal truths revealed in the stories.  The bridge of time between the people of the Bible and us is the living God, who is the same today as He was thousands of years ago.  So we must teach about God.  It may seem too obvious to mention, but it seems that many times our lessons are not so much about God as they are about the characters in the Bible stories.  Paul prayed in Colossians 1:10 that the Colossians would increase in “knowledge of God.”  This ‘knowledge’ is not just the ability to memorize facts.  The word here is ‘deep knowledge.’  It is not just the memorization of information like memorizing that Columbus came to this land in 1492.  It is to experience God.  It is to meditate about God so His reality grips the heart.  It is to love God … to trust in Him … to delight in Him.  It is to live by what God says and to find Him reliable and wonderful.  It is to taste and see that God is good.  So as we study the Bible we must ask ourselves what a passage reveals to us about the living God.  Only with such a perspective can we understand life and our circumstances and God’s providential activity in our world.

We must teach about the mystery of salvation in Christ.  Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18 that the Ephesian Christians might deeply grasp “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”  One of the major themes of the Bible is the salvation of the human soul which God planned before the foundation of the world.  It is a subject filled with wonder and joy.  I have become a ‘partaker of the divine nature’ through Jesus (2 Pet 1:4).  My guilt is laid on Christ … imputed to Him.  His righteousness is given to me.  The Spirit of God wooed me to God so that I would be willing to humble myself before Him because I saw the value of Christ.  This great salvation is an ocean of wonder of which we must be students all the days of our lives.   We must plumb the depths of the wonder of the work of Christ so we may be joyful and humble and hopeful and at peace.

In our instruction, Bible memory should be stressed, for young and old, as a part of the instructional process in learning and meditating on the eternal Scriptures.  Our Bible reading program encourages our people to be faithful in understanding the content of the Scriptures.  We must ensure that Bethel continues to maintain a good library as a resource for the people of our congregation.   In all our church programs, we must strive for excellence.  A passion for God produces diligence and discipline.  With such a passion nothing will be done haphazardly or half-heartedly. 

In a word, the goal for all our programs and activities in the church is for all of us to be utterly ravished by the person of Christ so that we love Him supremely and value Him above everything and everyone else.  If our church activities do not result in greater communion with the Savior, then all we have is empty religion.  It is this very hollowness that unbelievers shun with vehemence.  But if our church work results in vital intimacy with the Eternal King, this is exactly what the human soul longs for.

Ever learning, with you,

Pastor Cosand

THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE

We teach our children to say that they are sorry when they have wronged someone else and, when pressed to do it, they sometimes offer a reluctant, muffled, barely audible, “I’m sorry.” In children, it is relatively easy to see that although the words are the right ones, the affections of the heart are not at all in line with what is spoken. But in adults, it is not as easy to distinguish between the words of some confession to God (“I’m sorry, Lord”) and genuine repentance. ‘Repentance’ is not a word we hear very often anymore, even in churches. But is a very important notion in the Scriptures. We must all admit that, at times, what we have accepted within ourselves as repentance has been nothing more than a sheepish “I’m, sorry,” offered without a hint of heartfelt shame or sincere willingness to change. Ambrose (AD 340-397), the great pastor in Milan who helped Augustine come to Christ, said, “True repentance is to cease from sin.” Ambrose was declaring that there is more to repentance than saying, “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) defined repentance as follows:

“What is repentance unto life?” Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.”

The Biblical words for ‘repent’ mean to change one’s mind and turn around. First, there is an intellectual aspect to repentance. We must be convinced, mentally, that we are sinful and that sin is offensive to God.

“. . . through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). One of the purposes for the law of God is to show people that they are deeply and undeniably sinful. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psa 51:3). There can be no repentance without an understanding of the rebellious nature of the heart and life.

Second, there is an emotional aspect to repentance. Genuine repentance involves shame and brokenness over sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:9,10, Paul speaks about the Corinthians being “sorrowful to the point of repentance.” He also says, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.” Ezra’s prayer began in the following way: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). Third, repentance involves a willingness to turn from sin and to turn to God for cleansing. God commanded the Israelites of old to “repent and turn away from your idols” (Ezek 14:6). In Acts, Paul declared to the Gentiles that “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). John the Baptist cautioned his onlookers, “Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Lk 3:8). The Bible presents both a genuine repentance, which is followed by acts of obedience, and a fraudulent response to God that, outwardly, may look like repentance. Cain cried out to God that his punishment was too great for him to bear, but this regret and remorse was not repentance. Judas felt remorse over betraying Christ and even declared, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Mt 27:3,4), but in his anguish he did not turn to God for cleansing. Repentance includes emotions like remorse, but remorse, alone, is not repentance. Finally, in addition to a repentance that leads to conversion, there is also a repentance which Christians should experience all the days of their lives. In the opening chapters of Revelation, John repeatedly calls on the people in the church to repent (Rev 2:5; 3:3,19). For Christians, repentance is a daily confession of ongoing sinfulness … a daily turning from the darkness in order to flee to God for refuge from the deadly poison of sin. Looking at his sinfulness, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) exclaimed, “Infinite upon infinite . . . infinite upon infinite! When I look into my heart and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper then hell. . . . It is affecting to think how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy, and deceit left in my heart.” Repentance is not just saying the words, “O Lord, I am sorry.” It is an anguished cry for holiness and a hoping in God for the power to be more like Jesus.

Always repenting,
Pastor Cosand

WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?

WHAT IS GOD’S WAY OF SALVATION?

HOW CAN I BE BORN AGAIN AND HAVE ETERNAL LIFE?

HOW DOES GOD PUNISH SIN? “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). “The soul who sins, shall die” (Ezek 18:4).

AM I A SINNER? “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “There is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl 7:20). “All who depend on observing the Law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them’” (Gal 3:10).

WHAT DID CHRIST DO FOR ME? DID CHRIST DIE IN MY PLACE? “Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the cross, so that we might die to sins, and live for righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

WHAT DOES GOD WANT ME TO DO? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved . . . for every one who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:9,13). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God: God’s anger and displeasure remains on him continually” (John 3:36).

WILL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, BAPTISM, OR ANY GOOD WORKS SAVE ME? “For by grace are you saved through faith. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us” (Titus 3:5).

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST? “Repent ye therefore; and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). To repent means to change your mind from serving sin and Satan to trusting and serving Christ as your only Lord, Master, Savior and God. Faith in Christ means that RIGHT NOW, I place all my trust in Him and believe that He will save me! I depend and hope in Him alone for eternal salvation. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. No one comes to the Father, but by ME’” (John 14:6).
I will trust Christ now! I confidently lean one, rely on, deposit my life, take refuge and dwell in Him forever. I forsake all other man-made ways of salvation, to follow and to make Christ Lord, God and King of my life. I believe in my heart and confess Christ openly. I will not trust in myself! I will believe in Christ NOW!
I can never be lost again after believing in Christ. Jesus said, “I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).
God has a plan for my life now that I am a new creation in Christ. I will serve my Lord on this earth and then go to heaven to live with Him forever and ever! (Rom. 8:28, 2 Cor. 5:17).


Joseph A. Teisan
(1931 – 2018)