The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was created by those who claimed to have a superior status over the laity of the Church; the laity was the rest of the household of God. This doctrine created a division between the people of God known as the clergy-laity divide and prevented the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” from being practiced in the Church then and continues today. Those who followed the doctrine of the Nicolaitans assumed superiority over the people. They exercised authority and power over the people using the positional, top down hierarchy system. This doctrine taught that only those who served as the official clergy were the ones who could hear, understand, and knew what God was saying to the people.
In stark contrast to this approach, Jesus declared in John 16:13, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” And the apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” The anointing is the Holy Spirit, and He abides in us as authentic disciples and teaches us concerning all things. As authentic believers we must learn to listen to and depend upon the Holy Spirit in our lives and be led by Him (Rom. 8:14). If we are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth we will not be deceived. The magnificence of the new covenant is found in Hebrews 8:10-11, verse 11 says, “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, “Know the LORD, for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”
Jesus in Revelation 2:15 said, “Thus you also have those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate”. It is clear that Jesus hated the doctrine (teaching) of the Nicolaitans, which would exalt one believer above another. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans led to the one bishop ruler prevailing in the Catholic Church, which Christianity also adopted during the Reformation by replacing the priest with the pastor. Much of our thinking and our Christian traditions came out of the Reformation and are simply not according to the apostles’ faith, doctrines, and practices. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is still practiced today when we exalt or elevate a priest, pastor, elder, bishop, five-fold minister, or clergy member to a hierarchal position of rank, authority and power over the other members of the family of God.
Jesus taught His disciples that all believers are brethren and all are equal as brothers and sisters. Jesus said in Matthew 23:8, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren” (Matt. 23:8-12). As believers, we have put the doctrine of the Nicolaitans into practice by exalting one believer over another believer through the use of a hierarchal position and title. Of course, not everyone is intending to seize, take, or gain authority over other believers, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Church as a whole has misunderstood the biblical terms of elders, bishops, and overseers. The terms elder, bishop, and overseer were used interchangeably and described their function, not the office, title, or rank over other believers (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1). We need to properly understand that an elder or older brother like Peter would function in the gift he had been given as an apostle. The elders were to use the gift(s) given to them to tend to the believers who were among them by leading by example and equipping them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). This could be any one of the five-fold minister gifts given by Christ to the Church. Notice the elders were not over the flock, they were among the flock, because they were equal as brothers in Christ (1 Pet. 5:2). The five-fold ministry gifts may have be given in order of importance to the Church, but never meant to be one of a hierarchal position of title, office, or rank through which they exercise authority over the other believers (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:7, 11).
We also need to understand that elders were older brothers in the Lord who walked in love toward both God and man (Matt.22:37-40). The elders or older brothers had more experience of walking in love toward both God and man and were able to lead by example (1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 5:1-3). Through their experience of learning to love both God and man they had developed proven character revealing their maturity in the Lord (1 Tim. 3:10). An elder or older brother’s gift could have been any one of the five-fold ministry gifts; therefore they would have functioned according to the gift such as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher.
Although the title of the pastor dominates Christianity today, the Word of God only mentions pastors once (Eph. 4:11). Remember, the gifts were functions and not offices, titles of rank or positions of authority over the family of God. Peter who functioned as an apostle acknowledged that he was an elder or an older brother in the Lord. As an elder, Peter called the elders or older brothers to lead by example (1 Peter 5:1-3). The elders were not to be lords, lording over by exercising dominion, power, authority, and control over God’s heritage or inheritance by being domineering, but were to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3).
Remember, elders, bishops, and overseers were older brothers in the Lord who had developed proven character, revealing their maturity and experience of walking with the Lord in love toward both God and man. Due to their walk of love with the Lord they had gained the experience necessary as older brothers in the Lord to oversee and shepherd (or tend) to the flock of God in their walk of love with the Lord (1 Peter 5:1-5). Due to an older brother’s or elder’s experience of walking with the Lord, their words and counsel were more trusted and respected. We must study the Word of God, re-examine, re-think, and re-gain the proper understanding of the Word of God in order to put it into practice in our lives.
In 1 Peter 5:5, we learn, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The same Greek word “hypotasso” used for the phrase “submit yourselves to your elders” is also used for the phrase “be submissive to one another.” This tells us that it doesn’t matter if we are an elder or a babe in Christ, we must be humble enough to submit to one another, which naturally flows out of love. We must avoid the sin of pride (when we lift ourselves above one another) by becoming and remaining submissive to one another as a younger or elder brother in the Lord.
In Hebrews 10:19-25, the writer is speaking to the brethren, both the brothers and the sisters in Christ (Heb.10:19). In Hebrews 10:22, 23, 24, the Word of God says, “let us” referring to the brethren. In Hebrews 10:24, the “let us” refers to the brethren who were to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works”. It was the brethren (the believers) who were to be ministering to one another. This was the “Priesthood of All Believers” in action ministering to one another without a bishop, elder, overseer, priest, or pastor to lead them. In Hebrews 10:25, the Word of God declares, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.” Notice, the believers (the brethren) were not to forsake the assembling of themselves together in order to exhort one another without a bishop, elder, priest, or pastor overseeing the meeting. All believers participated and functioned in ministry to one another and were to do so much more as they seen the Day approaching.
As authentic disciples, we must reject the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the positional hierarch system it creates in the body of Christ. We must realize we are all brothers, and as such each one is to minister on an equal basis to one another (Matt. 23:8-12; Rom. 15:14; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rev. 2:15). We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Every believer is a priest and should function according to the gifts given to them by the Lord, and as the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to believers (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:7,11; 5:15-21; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 4:10-11; Rev.1:6). We are to speak the truth in love and grow up in all things into Him. The whole body should be joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, every part doing its share, causing the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:14-15). We need to return to the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers in our actual practice, rather than in word only, giving lip service to the belief without the practice. We must return to the practice of allowing every believer to participate and function in ministry each time we come together has the church, just as the apostle Paul taught everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 12:1-11; 14:23-33; 15:58; Gal. 5:13-14; Eph. 4:7, 11-12, 15-16; 5:15-21; Phil. 4:9; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:14; Heb. 6:9-12; 10:19-25; Jam. 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; 4:7-11).
As authentic disciples we must study the Word of God and return to the biblical teachings and traditions of the apostles. We must let the Word of God be our starting point and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. We must seek out the truth, rather than accepting the traditions and rituals passed down to us that are not according to the truth. The Church has lost sight of the simplicity in Christ, which is to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. The apostle Paul simplified our relationship with God and one another in Galatians 5:13-14 saying, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. We do not need a building, a hierarchal system of positions, or titles in order to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to return to the original biblical teaching of the apostles. This included every believer participating and functioning in ministry to one another and giving rather than tithing. For more information concerning the “Priesthood of All Believers” see the article “Every Believer participating and Functioning 1 Corinthians 14:20-40“.
**See the article “Tithing Was Not Taught by the Apostles” for more information concerning tithing. You will discover Martin Luther founder of the Protestant movement rejected tithing in his sermon “How Christians Should Regard Moses” delivered on August 27, 1525. The Catholic Church also documents their own departure from the apostles’ teaching concerning giving in the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia concerning tithing. The Encyclopedia Americana confirms the information. Also, James Hudut-Bumler, Dean of Vanderbilt University, documents in his book “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar” that tithing was not taught, practiced, or suggested in the USA until 1873. He also documents that tithing was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895 and was rejected by the believers.