The Seven Churches, Part V : The Church of Pergamos

After a long and severe conflict, the faithful few . . .”—there were only a few left. The changes that came in when the church began to compromise took a lot more souls than the sword of pagan Rome. Only a few were left. “. . . the faithful few decided to dissolve all union with the apostate church . . .” The Great Controversy, 45. This was the Christian church. There was only one church, but there were two churches within that one church—the faithful and the apostate. “. . . if she still refused to free herself from falsehood and idolatry. They saw that separation was an absolute necessity if they would obey the word of God. They dared not tolerate errors fatal to their own souls, and set an example which would imperil the faith of their children.” Ibid.

I have often wondered at the incredible naïveté of Christians today—especially those in God’s remnant church, who somehow unbelievably think they can sit and listen to any kind of thing being preached or taught without affecting their souls or even the souls of their children. “Just go on,” they think, “it is God’s church; do not worry about it. God will take care of it.” The incredible naïveté! I am telling you that people are being affected in their thinking, in their practices, and in their activities, and they do not even know it.

Ellen White continued, “To secure peace and unity they were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.

“Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated those steadfast souls were revived in the hearts of God’s professed people.” Ibid., 45, 46.

No, no, no! We do not want anything to stir the waters or rock the boat or bring any kind of dissension or trouble. We just want to have peace and love, even at the expense of truth. No, not any big truths, of course, but those little truths that go step-by-step. Some of those little truths are a lot bigger than most people think, I tell you.

So it was that God commended the faithful few who would be true to duty and principle no matter what—those who were willing to die rather than sacrifice their principles, who would not yield to nor maintain ministerial or administrative apostasy in the church. Do you think we need that same attitude today that will not go along with apostasy? Some people think that it is a terrible attitude!

Curse of Compromise

Mrs. White wrote, “There are fearful woes for those who preach the truth, but are not sanctified by it, and also for those who consent to receive and maintain the unsancti-fied to minister to them in word and doctrine.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 261, 262. That was the trouble with the church of Pergamos. A few chose not to receive unfaithful ministers, but the majority chose to receive them and just try to live a good, consistent life at home. Step-by-step, they and their children began to make the same compromises they saw in the leadership.

The people are to make the choice whether they will receive a minister or not. As stated in the above statement, it is a sin to receive one who is not sanctified.

The papacy began to teach that those congregations that made their own choice as to whether they would receive a minister or not, were insubordinate and troublemakers. One of the first departures of Rome was to teach that the central leadership was to make the choices of who was to minister to all the churches. “It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world.” The Great Controversy, 50.

That was not true of the church in the purest of days. In the New Testament, who had authority over who was to preach in the church? The church had that authority, not a central administration. Let us look at the way God had set up the church in the earliest of times. In Acts 20:17, Paul calls for the elders—plural; these are the local elders of Ephesus. He counsels them, in verses 28 and 29: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” Then he continued his counsel to these local elders of the church: “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Verse 31. Who was it that was to guard and protect the flock? The local elders of the church; they were to maintain their purity in the providence of God.

Lessons from the Past

God allowed some circumstances to develop even in the early church, in order for it to be a guiding counsel to us throughout the history of Christianity on this earth. Ellen White says God allowed Peter to make a serious mistake in Galatia, in order to correct the abuses of the papacy throughout the Middle Ages. (See The Acts of the Apostles, 197, 198.)

One of the abuses of the papacy was to think that they had supreme authority over all the church leaders, over all the churches. Look at what it says in Galatians 2:11–13: “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him.” Now, here were Peter and James from the central headquarters church in Jerusalem—the two greatest leaders at that time from the headquarters church.

In Galatians 3:1, Paul exclaimed, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?” It was the leadership from the headquarters church that had bewitched them. Satan, of course, was working through them, but from a human standpoint, it was the church leadership.

Paul counseled them further in chapter 5, verse 1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” That is talking about the ceremonial law and the method by which these laws were again being enforced upon the people of Galatia. But the Pergamons chose to allow themselves to be entangled with the yoke of bondage to an apostate leadership, and God said, “I will come and fight against you with the sword, because you would not fight against those leaders.”

God commended those who were suffering martyrdom rather than yielding to apostasy, but he condemned those who were allowing the apostasy to enter into the church. “I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” Revelation 2:14. Balaam, in the Old Testament, as you will remember, came into the camp of Israel and caused them to make friends with the Moabites. This led to compromise with heathenism and to God’s blessing being withdrawn from the church. Likewise, there were leaders in the early church, after the church became popular, who wanted to make compromises with the pagan church. There were a few faithful, but many of the leaders decided to make some compromising concessions.

“He [Satan] led the heathen idolaters to embrace a part of the Christian faith. . . . Some thought that if they should come down and unite with those idolaters who had embraced a portion of the Christian faith, it would be the means of their full conversion.” Early Writings, 211, 212. Oh, they had high ideals and principles behind what they were doing. They were going to convert these people. Have you ever heard of someone marrying a non-Christian in order to convert the person—I love this person; maybe if I marry him or her, I can convert him or her? That is exactly what the church leaders tried to do. These were not non-Christians. They all believed in Jesus now. They all professed to be Christians. Why not unite with them and help them to come up to an even higher standard? But that is not what happened.

“At last the standard was lowered [instead of being raised], and . . . the heathen were uniting with the Christians. . . . As the followers of Christ gradually united with them, the Christian religion became corrupted and the church lost its purity and power.” Ibid., 211. Oh, God, save us from that today.

Thus some people, thinking to be tolerant, thinking to convert, thinking to unite, thinking to cooperate with these other people who were claiming Christianity, came together in unity—but who was converted? The Christians were converted to paganism instead of the pagans being converted to Christianity. This was the opposite of the people in the apostolic days, the church of Ephesus. “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” Revelation 2:2.

Pergamos’ Great Mistake

This was Pergamos’ great mistake. It was one of the two things that God held against them; thus God said that He would become their enemy. Oh, that we would learn the lesson of the Pergamons. Soon those who were perseveringly trying to uphold the standard of truth and would not go along with the majority began to be persecuted. Those who had once been brothers and sisters now began to persecute each other.

We are told that the same thing will happen in the last days. “As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren. When Sabbathkeepers are brought before the courts to answer for their faith, these apostates are the most efficient agents of Satan to misrepresent and accuse them, and by false reports and insinuations to stir up the rulers against them.” The Great Controversy, 608. This is an exact parallel with what happened in Pergamos.

The Bible tells us, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 11 Timothy 3:12. If the church as a whole is godly, they will suffer persecution by the world. Satan has enough agents yet to bring persecution. But if the church becomes worldly, then those within the church who remain pure will suffer persecution by the rest of the church. That is what happened in Pergamos. The church of Smyrna was a pure church, and the pagans persecuted them. When the church itself became corrupted, then those within the church persecuted those who would remain true, firm, and faithful.

Second Mistake

Besides Balaam, what was the other thing that God had against the church of Pergamos? Revelation 2:15 says, “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” From our study of the church of Ephesus, you will remember that the Nicolaitans were those who believed that, as long as you had faith, it did not matter what you did. The Nicolaitans had a pseudo love; they believed that as long as you professed love to God, it did not matter whether or not you kept His commandments.

Today, “The doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect; that by ‘believing’ we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned.” The Signs of the Times, January 2, 1912.

We are counseled that, “It is our work to know our special failings and sins, which cause darkness and spiritual feebleness, and quenched our first love. Is it worldliness? Is it selfishness? Is it the love of self-esteem? Is it striving to be first? Is it the sin of sensuality that is intensely active? Is it the sin of the Nicolaitans, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness? Is it the misuse and abuse of great light and opportunities and privileges, making boasted claims to wisdom and religious knowledge, while the life and character are inconsistent and immoral? Whatever it is that has been petted and cultivated until it has become strong and overmastering, make determined efforts to overcome, else you will be lost. It is these cherished sins, abhorrent to God, that make enfeebled moral courage, and leave you to choose to walk apart from God, while you retain a miserable, heartless, outward form. Once the soul was all aglow with love for Jesus; but all this is changed. The great Head who moves in the midst of his candlesticks will never be without a church. There will be faithless ones who will go out from us because they were not of us. There will be apostasies. But ‘nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.’ [11 Timothy 2:19.]” Review and Herald, June 7, 1887.

May you separate yourselves from the religion of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.