This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION,
by Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian
abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became
infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the
Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement
known as the "Discipleship or Shepherding Movement
(1970-77)." References to "Discipleship" or
"Shepherding" (and variations thereof) doctrines,
teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth, allude to
those pertinences that arose out of that movement.]
In the 1980s a spiritually perilous trend began
developing in the Neo-Pentecostal realm, which was the human
appointments of certain leaders into the supposed office of
"bishop." This vogue has become especially popular and
common in an increasing number of so-called Neo-Pentecostal
"networks" that have emerged since the 80s, comprised of
affiliated though purportedly autonomous churches. One prominent
Neo-Pentecostal organization has formed what they call "The
International College of Bishops," comprised of certain leaders
of networks upon whom they have conferred this faux title.
This trend has developed despite the irrefutable
fact that no such office or "position" is established anywhere in
Holy Writ (The Bible), but rather in fact is undeniably antithetical
to the governmental offices God has established in His Word.
In other words, there simply is no such an office
established anywhere in Scripture.
So what's the problem? In a nutshell, the problem
is that this is precisely the path that the Early Church followed
under the influence of the doctrines and deeds of the Nicolaitans,
which Jesus Himself specifically stated He hated and for which He
rebuked the Church for tolerating and
espousing, which ultimately led to the utter spiritual apostasy and
decimation of the Dark Ages, from which it is still in the process of
recovery. Follow along with me as I develop this premise and proffer what
I believe to be a prophetic admonition from God to the Church to desist
from this practice.
Applying the Berean Principle:
"Examining the Scripture...to see if these things be so"
The Greek word translated in the King James Version
(KJV) as "bishop" is the word "episkopos," which literally means
"overseer." This word, as it is
used in the original contexts, bears no thought of an "office,"
or position of authority, or echelon of rank in the Church. Rather, it
speaks only of the function of ministry in which everyone anointed
and appointed by the Lord to Fivefold ministry within the New Testament Church
operates. In fact, the terms "elder," "overseer," and "shepherd" are
all synonymous terms referring to the same offices of spiritual
function, which are the Fivefold Ministry offices. If to some the KJV appears to
be referring to an "office" or "position" of "bishop," the reason,
it is vital to understand, is that the cadre of translators appointed by King
James in the Medieval Era to the task of developing an English translation of
canonized Scripture, finally completed in 1611, were working from the mental
backdrop of ecclesiastical concepts founded in the Dark Ages, and ecclesiastical
structure in place at the time in the Roman Church included such positions.
However, the fact that the intention of the Holy Spirit and
the original writers in the usage of the word "overseer" in the original
letters was to refer, not to a position of authority, but rather to
ministry function, and the fact that the terms "elder,"
"overseer," and "shepherd" are all synonymous terms referring to the
function of those appointed by the Lord to Fivefold Ministry is abundantly
evident in two particular passages of Scripture. The first is in the Twentieth
Chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning with verse 17, in which the Apostle Paul
has called together "the ELDERS of the church"
at Ephesus, which he had founded, and over which he had apostolic oversight,
and admonished them, "Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the
flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you
OVERSEERS, to SHEPHERD the church of
God..." (v. 28). Here we see the three terms of elders,
overseers, and shepherd being attributed to the same
individuals, the latter two of which, overseers and shepherds,
spoke explicitly of their function in the capacity as the first, elders.
The second proof text is the first three verses of First
Peter, Chapter 5, in which Peter as an apostle (an elder who has oversight over
other elders by virtue of esteem) addresses the elders of the various churches
with this exhortation: "Therefore
I exhort the ELDERS among you, as
your fellow elder...SHEPHERD the flock of
God among you, exercising OVERSIGHT...."
Again, the same three terms are mentioned here, attributing the functions
of shepherding and oversight to the elders collectively.
Hence, we see from these two passages that what the Holy
Spirit is communicating through this usage of the word "episkopos" is that
all elders have two primary functions: to shepherd the flock
of God, and to provide spiritual oversight (look after the spiritual well-being)
of the flock allotted to their charge by the Holy Spirit. It is referring to the
function of Fivefold Ministers (who, incidentally, are all Shepherds, not
just the pastors), rather than establishing an authoritarian position of
ascendancy and domination over fellow believers as so commonly but wrongly
purported by so many today. In fact, the third verse of the previously mentioned
passage, while specifically instructing the elders to shepherd the flock
of God, exercising spiritual oversight, explicitly enjoined them
against "LORDING IT OVER those allotted to your charge,
but proving to be examples to the flock."
Thus, to summarize the point, when someone takes upon
himself, or has conferred upon him, this purported title of "bishop,"
he is engaging in modern-day Nicolaitanism, the deeds and doctrines
Jesus explicitly stated He "hated." He is perpetrating
a patently ungodly and unscriptural form of predomination over fellows
that certainly is not reflective of the model of servanthood ministers
are called to demonstrate as representatives of the Ultimate Servant and
Chief Shepherd, and now Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Church Jesus is Building
is Founded Upon Apostolic Authority
The Church that Jesus is building is founded upon APOSTOLIC authority.
There is no authority or offices in the Church of which Jesus is the Head higher
than or transcendent over apostolic authority.
In His now infamous dissertation to Peter and the other
Apostles of the Lamb, Jesus declared the Church to be His very own
possession, His consuming passion, and that He Himself was its Chief
architect and builder, when He proclaimed, "I
will build My Church; and the gates
of Hell shall not prevail against it"
(Mat. 16:18). When contemplating this statement, it is imperative to remember
that when Jesus said He would build His Church, He meant He would build
His Church through, foremostly, the foundation ministries of apostles and
prophets (Eph. 2:20).
Prior to His ascension, Jesus personally selected twelve "disciples"
who merely by His appointment and anointing became "apostles"
(Mat. 10:1,2), and relegated to them the task and function of being the chief
surrogate builders of His Church. This established the apostolic precedent for
the ultimate superintendence of the Church. This apostolic precedent Jesus set
and which He has never since rescinded, remains in effect throughout the Church
Age. 1 Cor. 12:28 makes this abundantly clear, in that it explicitly states that
"God has SET in the CHURCH, first apostles, second
prophets," which means that apostles and prophets are permanently set into
Church for as long as the Church exists and remains here upon the Earth, or in
other words, for the duration of the Church Age. The term "set" in
this passage, it is important to understand, connotes permanence, in the way the
term is used to refer to what happens with concrete as it dries—it becomes
set. (Further discussion concerning the office of apostles and their role in
the Church is contained in the book on which this article is
The Church is established upon "the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the Cornerstone"
(Eph. 2:19,20). Truth declares unequivocally that the Church Jesus is
building is founded upon and will be built up through apostolic authority. The
true Church of Jesus can never be established upon any form of government other
than apostolic authority. The Church-Age began with apostolic authority in
place, and apostolic authority will be in place at its culmination. Moreover, it
will only be when the Church returns to apostolic authority and foundation that
genuinely significant spiritual advancements will be made.
Similarity of Nicolaitan and Discipleship
The natural nemesis of that apostolic authority has
always been, and will always be humanly-contrived and -appointed,
politically-based, hierarchical systems of ecclesiastical government.
Supplanting of the apostolic authority or government established by
Jesus was a primary factor precipitating the Church’s gradual descent
into the throes of deception and apostasy that transpired in the
Dark Ages. Abrogation of apostolic authority in favor of
politico-ecclesio hierarchy led to the virtual debacle of the Church
as the instrument for implementation of Divine purpose, reducing it
instead to being an agent of demonically-inspired humanistic purposes.
No other single element was more causal to the deterioration of the
Church during its corporate apostasy than this supplanting of apostolic
authority. The heretical Nicolaitan strategy to "conquer the laity" as
their name implies, was the chief element precipitating the corporate apostasy
of the Early Church.
This modern trend of human appointment of men to the humanly
contrived office of bishop began on the heels of the demonically-inspired
Discipleship/Shepherding movement that emerged in the early 1970s.
When you cut through all the rhetoric and faulty apologetics proffered by their
proponents, the hyper-authoritarian teachings and practices promulgated
via that movement, along with its coupe de grace of "bishops," are
virtually identical to the doctrines and deeds of the Nicolaitans who emerged
in the first century, and whose influence eventually led to the emergence of an
apostate "universal church." These hyper-authoritarian doctrines and deeds of
the Nicolaitans, which Jesus said He hated, eventually led to a hierarchical
system of church government comprised of priests, bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals,
and so forth, under the ultimate authority of the Pope.
Indeed, what is imperative to understand about this issue is
that it is an indisputable fact that the Nicolaitan heresy was the primary force
leading to the supplanting of apostolic authority in the Early Church, which in
turn ultimately led to the corporate ecclesiastical apostasy of the Dark Ages.
So also the heretical Discipleship/Shepherding teachings advocate a counterfeit
authority system that in effect supplants apostolic authority. The similarity is
just too striking to be merely ironic or coincidental. Rather, it is my
confident conviction that the Nicolaitan doctrines were planted by Satan in the
Early Church to supplant and effect the abrogation of apostolic authority, and
in identical fashion the Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines were implanted by
Satan in the End-times Church with the express intent to supplant apostolic
authority, and impede, or if possible, preclude, the restoration of same. In the
case of the latter, however, Satan's hysterical efforts, in the end, will not be
successful, for apostolic authority and anointing will indeed be restored to the Church.
We are told through the writing of Solomon that in reality there is
nothing that is truly "new":
That which has been is that which will be, and that which
has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new
under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, "See
this, it is new? Already it has existed for ages which were before
us. (Ecc. 1:9,10)
And so it also is with the unscriptural hypotheses brought
forth in the heretical Discipleship doctrines. They are virtually identical to
those promulgated by the Nicolaitans, which, as I have said repeatedly, was the
seed from which the fallacious hierarchy of the universal Roman church was
The reason for the similarity lies squarely in the fact
that these doctrines were not merely contrived in the minds of men.
Rather, they genuinely are "doctrines of demons" of the sort
prophesied by the Apostle Paul in his letter to his younger protégé
Timothy (1 Tim. 4:1ff). He foretold that in the last days there would arise
patently demonic but subtle and impelling doctrines of deception that would
actually be promulgated by lying, deceiving spirits through the agency of human
teachers. These false teachings would be so subtle and impelling that many
genuine and sincere believers would be duped by and give heed to them, with the
result that bona fide believers will fall away from a true relationship
and rightstanding with God into apostasy and perdition.
Indeed, this egregiously erroneous Discipleship/Shepherding
teaching, I am absolutely persuaded, is a doctrine of this sort. It is contrived
by the devil himself and promulgated by his fallen cohorts, demons, with the
objective of craftily leading unsuspecting believers into spiritually idolatrous
and adulterous covenants with mere men, and away from effectual relationship and
rightstanding with God. As I have been establishing, these doctrines and
practices are essentially the same age-old attempts by Satan to captivate
and control people through the mythical utopian bliss of religious collectivism:
promising them freedom while they (Satan and his cohorts) are the
slaves of corruption" (2 Pet. 2:19, parenthesis added by the author).
Jesus' Disdain for the Nicolaitan Deeds
Considering the eventual denouement and consequences of the
Nicolaitan heresy, it is little wonder why Jesus issued such a terse but severe
warning to the Early Apostolic churches through the Apostle John regarding the
Nicolaitans in the apocalyptic vision comprising the book of Revelation. It is
in His commendation to the church of Ephesus in which Jesus expresses His utter
disdain for the premise of such ecclesiastical predomination as that proposed
and promulgated by the Nicolaitans: "Yet this you do have, that you
hate the DEEDS of
WHICH I ALSO HATE" (Rev. 2:6).
Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians for recognizing the
hereticalness of the ungodly teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans, and
their consequential resistance and rejection of the false doctrine, is a tribute
to the Apostle Paul who founded the church, to Timothy, who Paul personally
tutored and sent to be their chief elder, and to all the other Fivefold
ministers who contributed toward the spiritual development of the Ephesians.
They had been so well taught that they were not deceived by men who came to them
claiming falsely to be apostles (Rev. 2:2), and they did not succumb to the
demonic doctrines and deeds of the Nicolaitans.
Though the Ephesian church was not taken in by the hypothesizing
and attempted hijacking by the Nicolaitans, unfortunately, this
was not the case with another of the seven Asia Minor churches
explicitly addressed by Jesus in the Revelation communicated through
John-the Pergamum church. Jesus sharply condemned the Pergamum church
because "some" among them (some of which apparently were among the
leadership of the church, else it could not have existed in the church
long) had indeed been deceived into accepting and espousing the
teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans: "Thus you also have
some who in the same way hold the teaching
(doctrine) of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:15).
The Nicolaitan heresy was not the only deception by
which the Pergamum believers had been bewitched, however. For, Jesus also
rebuked them because some of their membership also espoused some other form of
false teaching leading to some form of idolatry and immorality that the Lord
said was akin to the teaching of the prophet Balaam:
But I have a few things against you, because you have
there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to
put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed
to idols, and to commit acts of immorality. (Rev. 2:14)
(Note: The book on which this article is
Captivation, contains an entire chapter devoted to the history of the
Are We Heading Toward Another Corporate
Jesus' apocalyptic warning against the doctrine and the
deeds of the Nicolaitans is more than just interesting. The truth of the matter
is that had the early churches given heed to those Divine warnings, the course
of Church history would have been totally different than what it was, because as
mentioned before the demonically inspired teaching and practices of the
Nicolaitans resulted ultimately in the Papal system that supplanted the
apostolic authority upon which the Church was founded. This, indeed, was not
only the most grievous and egregious effect of the Nicolaitan heresy, but no
doubt also the very objective of the arch-enemy of the Church, Satan, who
personally contrived this diabolical deception.
The question before the Church today is: will we allow
ourselves to be taken into the error and resulting apostasy that was the fate
of the Pergamum Church by continuing on this path of displacement of apostolic
authority by a Scripturally-invalid system of government and authority, i.e.,
bishops and the rest that comes after that, or shall we cease and desist from that
trend and opt instead to return to the apostolic-prophetic foundation so that
indeed "the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former?" The
Worldwide Universal Church will not cease and desist from that path, but will
follow it to the end to in the name of ecumenicism, align all the
"religions" of the world under the Roman Papal System. Sadly, the
Spirit tells me that huge blocks of even the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal
Church will ultimately depart from the true Church that Jesus is building and
ally with the apostate Antichrist universal church, taking multitudes of their
adherents with them, in fulfillment of the Spirit's prediction set forth in
First Timothy 4:1,2.
As sad and distressing as that is, the most important
question of all to you, the reader, and to every believer is: Which church
will you be a part of—the one whose ultimate architect is the arch-enemy
of God which will be led by the false prophet in alliance with the AntiChrist,
or the End-time Remnant Church that Jesus is building and whose Architect is