III.A.6.d Nicholas of Antioch

Part III  –  Application to Pentecostal Theology

Subpart A  –  The Pentecostal Renewal

Article 6  –  The Pentecostal Second-Work as Nicolaitan Error

Section (d)   –    NICHOLAS OF ANTIOCH

i.    Nicholas of Antioch as Namesake of the Nicolaitan Sect

ii.   Nicholas, a “Proselyte”

iii.  Particular-Error Associated with Antioch

iv.  Nicolaitanism as Explicit Concept

v.   Second Work as Modern Corollary to First-Century Judeo-Pentecostal Error

This article may be viewed in video format through the Youtube link below:

Section (d)   –    NICHOLAS OF ANTIOCH

i.  Nicholas of Antioch as Namesake of the Nicolaitan Sect

Having now a reasonable suspicion that Nicolaitanism involves the opting to legalistic-principles as a counterfeit for faith, we remain short on proof until we find the association to bear out in Scripture.

Having discussed the probable-nature of the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” based upon an understanding that it would likely form a converse-relationship to the “teaching of Balaam”, we can now look more carefully at Scripture to see if we can isolate the sense of the doctrine.  Certainly, if an understanding is to be gained on what this doctrine was, it will be gleaned from God’s word.  Therefore the only legitimate-avenue for understanding what is intended by Nicolaitanism is to find either the term or its derivation “Nicholas” in Scripture, and through recourse to a concordance we quickly find there to exist a lone-possible reference.

There is only one “Nicholas” whose name appears in Scripture.  He appears as one of the seven men promoted by the Jerusalem church:

And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose;           Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Procuras,  Nicanor,         Timon, Parmenas, and  Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch.     Acts 6:5

Thus Nicholas was a man chosen by the people to be elevated in the church.  He was certainly a morally excellent and decent man, as Luke indicates he (with the seven) was of “good reputation”.  This Nicholas is also the only one of the seven (apart from Stephen) of whom a special trait is provided, ie. he is particularly described as “a proselyte from Antioch”.

The proposition that this “Nicholas” (of the Jerusalem church) is also the namesake of the heretical-sect of the first-century is by no means novel.  Jonathan Edwards, in discussing the revivals in New England in the context of discerning the true verses the feigned works of the Spirit, alludes to this same “Nicholas . . from Antioch” as an example of how the presence of an apostate does not imply a work not to be of God.  In so doing, Edwards points to this Nicholas as the namesake of the heretical-sect of Revelation chapter two.  Edwards writes as follows:

There were some instances then of such apostates, as were esteemed eminently full of the grace of God’s Spirit.  An instance of this nature probably was Nicholas, one of the seven deacons, who was looked upon by the Christians in Jerusalem, in the time of that extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit, as a man full of the Holy Ghost, and was chosen out of the multitudes of Christians to that office, for that reason; as you may see in Acts vi. 3, 5; yet he afterwards fell away and became the head of a sect of vile heretics, of gross practices, called from his name the sect of the Nicolaitans (Rev. ii. 6 & 15) [1]

ii.  Nicholas, a “Proselyte”

As already mentioned, nothing exists in Scripture without purpose!  Since the only information we possess concerning this “Nicholas” is that he was; “a proselyte from Antioch”, presumptively, our answer lies here.  Indeed, we are informed by Acts 6:5 that this “Nicholas” was “a proselyte from Antioch”.  While one might initially take this as a “proselyte” to Christianity, this would be a misunderstanding, for they were all proselytes in the sense they were all new Christians.  Nicholas, however, was a proselyte to Judaism.   Although the others were Jews, Nicholas was apparently not a Jew by birth, but rather he was a “proselyte” to Judaism.  This is what distinguished him from the other six.  This is the distinguishing-trait that Holy-writ saw fit to mention!

The fact that Nicholas was a proselyte to Judaism seems to have some relevance. While it would hardly seem possible for a group of persons to receive a higher condemnation by Christ than did the Pharisees, the Lord remarkably seems to reserve a higher condemnation for the dynamic at work in the Jewish-proselyte:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.         Matt 23:15

 Keep in mind that the Lord is not speaking particularly of Nicholas!  Rather, He is expressing a condition that is severely-wayward of the true gospel spirit.  What would account for Christ expressing a denunciation of a proselyte to Judaism in terms more terse than His denunciation even of the Pharisees upon whom He pronounced many-a “Woe unto you”?

Consider that for the Pharisees, their religiosity was to some degree an accident of birth.  Further, as natural-born Jews, they were raised up in the traditions of their religious-elders which rendered them prone to the same sorts of hypocrisies, intolerances, and stumbling.  Not so for the proselyte, whose entry into religious-hypocrisy would be much more a product of freewill and volition.  Such a person might be considered a truer Jew than one by birth!  Such a person is less likely to satisfy himself or herself in religion, but will rather strive all the harder to satisfy and to vindicate his/her own volitional choices and conscience.

iii.  Error of Antioch

Not only was Nicholas a proselyte to Judaism, but the text indicates that he was from the city of Antioch.   Was there a doctrinal-error particularly associated with Antioch?   Most definitely-so!   In the years following the selection of the seven, it appears that Antioch became a focus of the Christian legalistic error.  We find that after Paul left Perga,[2] he traveled to Antioch where he was confronted by the teaching; “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”[3]

For Paul, Antioch represented the completion of a circuit – that being the Gospel’s first official missionary work to the Gentiles.  Here in Antioch, “they spent a long time with the disciples”[4] in a time of re-gathering, evaluating, and learning.  During this period members of the Pharisee-sect (who were also believers in Christ) stood up to demand that the Gentiles follow the works of the law, to which Peter stood up admirably against them:

“Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?   But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,  in the same way as they also are.”                                                                                      Acts 15:10-11

Peter therefore turned away this early wave of error in Antioch.  Truth was upheld and the Holy Spirit’s work protected.   But then Paul relates another episode of this error that occurred at a much later-time and which swept even the formerly stalwart-Peter under its influence:

But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.   For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.                                                                      Gal. 2:11-12

 

Paul is writing to the Christians in Galatia in an effort to dissuade them from falling into legalistic apostasy from the gospel.  He provides an account of what occurred in Antioch as an example of how virulent this error can become, ie. that even Peter and Barnabas were ensnared.  Further, the fact that these men came from James, indicates that a proper understanding of “salvation by faith” as firmly impressed upon Paul, was not so firmly impressed upon the Jerusalem church!  Thus Nicholas, (a Jewish proselyte of the Jerusalem church) may well have been of this same frame-of-mind.

Antioch is therefore connected in scripture to the concept of a legalistic form of apostasy from the basic Gospel principle of salvation; “through faith and . . .  not of works”,[5] for after discussing his confrontation with Peter, Paul states:

. . nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.                      Gal. 2:16

While the meaning of this teaching (ie. of the “Nicolaitans”) is not directly indicated by Scripture, it would be profoundly poor expository to resort outside Scripture for the understanding.  Therefore, it seems apparent that this “Nicholas” of Antioch must be the same Nicholas giving rise to the apostate teaching that is condemned.  Further, all inferences to be taken from this man would indicate that “Nicolaitanism” relates to the same error that the Apostle Paul continually confronted during his own ministry, and which he particularly confronted in Antioch.    And yet we must pursue a bit more if we are to positively-identify this “doctrine of the Nicolaitans”.

iv.  Nicolaitanism as Precise Concept

Thus far we have built a case supporting the conclusion that Nicolaitanism involved some form of legalistic-error.  However, there are some aspects of the matter which force us to inquire further in attempting to understand the meaning of the  “doctrine of the Nicolaitans”.

Consider that in the course of this study a logical question arises; “Why did Christ refer to this teaching in such a generally-obscure manner? (ie. “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans”)  Why did He not simply call these persons ‘Judaizers’ or “Pharisees”, which would have been very clear and recognizable principles?  However, that the Lord did not use a commonly-understood brand for this doctrine suggests that a more subtle issue is involved than that reflected in the “Judaizers” of the first century.

We should consider how the error at Antioch would manifest in the church of Christ (wherein resides the work of the Spirit of God), as obviously the two-concepts (ie. “Judaizing Christians” and “Nicolaitans” are not likely precisely the same thing.  Otherwise, the fairly cryptic-reference; “Nicolaitans” would not  have been used.  Although Judaism and the Pharisees of the first-century once stood prominently as the  antagonists to the work of the Spirit of God, these do not do so modernly.  Their hostility to the Gospel in their own day had to do with the fact that the Gospel arose from among their own people and religion and was born from a spiritual-angst arising from the prophetic-principle that the natural-born son (Ishmael) will persecute the child of promise (Isaac).   In the first-century, the Jews in rejection-of-Christ fulfilled a prophetic role in relation to the church.  Therefore Paul writes:

But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.               Gal. 4:29

Those who come-to-term under natural principles (ie. Law) shall rise against, and be persecutor to those who come-to-term by the Spirit.  The implements used to afflict the acceptable sacrifice are those failing sanctification of the Spirit (typified by Ishmael).   Logically, as it was in the days of the original-Pentecost so shall it be in the latter-days of Pentecost.

If the Spirit of God is at work today as in the first-century, then those of the legalistic-spirit so incongruous with faith who plagued the church and hampered the missionary journeys of Paul in the first-century must have children in the present age.  We find them in the religiously-minded whose true spirit devolves from a trust in their own merit and personal efforts under Law.  Certainly such persons would not today be advancing a literal circumcision (as they did in the days of Paul) as a condition for salvation, rather they would be advancing other conditions upon salvation as burdens of their own imposition.

v.  Second Work as Modern Corollary to First-Century Judeo-Pentecostal Error

In the church of the first-century, the nagging dispute centered upon the question; “Must you be circumcised to be a member of Christ?”  When considering the theological strivings that burdened Pentecostalism in the early twentieth-century, it was similarly this question that split the Pentecostals into rival camps, particularly; “Must you be circumcised of heart to receive the baptism in the Spirit? (ie. “baptism into the body of Christ”)  (In other words, must there be an experiential-event that satisfies Gospel-allusions to the putting off of the old man which sequentially precedes one’s baptism in the Holy Spirit?  This was a real dilemma for the early-(Wesleyan) Pentecostals!

For centuries, Holiness  and Wesleyan teaching required that a “circumcision of heart” was critical to salvation.  John Wesley taught a second-definite-work of grace that followed conversion whereby holiness could proceed unto Christian-perfection.  This second-event was referred to as “sanctification”.  And throughout the previous hundred years of the Holiness-Movement this was an established-creed.  The testimonies of many Methodist ministers and teachers was that they (themselves) had received this experience, and as the healing-movement arose, this experience was often associated with an event of divine-healing of the body.  It was marked by a deliverance from sin’s bondage, and the doctrine held that true “holiness” was not attainable until this experience had occurred.

However, something occurred in 1901 and again in 1906 within the ranks of the Holiness-Movement that required a re-thinking of this model; the restoration of Pentecost!  And since the Topeka outpouring of 1901 and the Azusa Street Outpouring of 1906 came upon the Holiness-Movement (ie. a people attesting to having received this work mis-designated “sanctification”) this created a question:

“Where do we fit the baptism of the Holy Spirit into our model of sanctification?”

The logical-inclination was to further-validate Wesley (whose adherents had received the restored experience) by merely tacking the experience theologically upon the end of “sanctification” to create a “Third (ie. Pentecostal) Blessing” consistent with Fletcher’s Checks.  This doctrine was seized-upon and zealously-asserted by those whose origins were in Wesleyanism, a few of the more prominent advocates being Charles Parham (of the Topeka Outpouring) and Azusa-leaders William Seymour and Florence Crawford.  The doctrine was deferred-to without much question by non-Wesleyan recipients of the baptism for the first few years after Azusa-Street

As to the Azusa-leadership, their zeal was expressed in their newspaper, the Apostolic Faith, which set hard upon the course of inclulcating the Wesleyan-model upon the restored experience of Pentecost.  Every issue drove hard the concept of a threefold series of transactions wherein it was asserted that before one could be baptized in the Spirit, he/she must have passed through the two previous-steps of “conversion”, and “sanctification”.  Only then, could one receive the “Third Blessing”, the baptism in the Holy Spirit.[6]

While the Azusa Mission’s doctrine was certainly a logical-extension of Wesley, it bore terribly bitter fruit, as Second Work adherents were forced by their doctrine to question the experience of all around them that were receiving the baptism apart from a definite work of “sanctification”.  This soon digressed into a maligning of newcomers to the faith and castigations upon their experience with the Holy Ghost.  Robert M. Anderson’s observation bears repeating:

Parham, Crawford, and others delighted in pointing out that persons experiencing the Pentecostal Baptism in the Spirit without first passing through a second, definite experience of sanctification had in fact received a Satanic counterfeit.[7]

Such communication tended to contaminate the atmosphere of the Azusa fellowship and the revival quickly divided into separate groups with the Azusa Mission falling into a deep malaise which was not broken until William Durham returned in 1911 to denounce the doctrine and replace it with the Baptistic-formula he called “The Finished Work of Calvary”.[8]  The Holy Spirit began to move anew in Los Angeles under Durham’s preaching.


[1] Marks of the Spirit of God, by Jonathon Edwards, originally published in 1741, republished by The Banner of Truth Trust, © 1958, 1991

[2] Acts 14:25

[3] Acts 15:1

[4] Acts 15:28

[5] Ephesians 2:8

[6] See I.G.4 of this treatise for a fuller treatment.

[7] Vision of the Disinherited, by Robert M. Anderson © 1979 Hendrickson Publishing.

[8] aka “The Finished Work of Christ”

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About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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