A conversation that I have had many times, and you may, too, is why are there so many denominations? Aren’t we all one? Don’t we all believe the same thing?
There are some things that are common among Christian denominations: God “the Father”, Jesus Christ (God “the Son”), the Holy Spirit, the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) that is One God, the fallen state of man, Jesus came to pay the penalty, Jesus came to reconcile man to God, Jesus died (penalty paid), Jesus resurrected (eternal life), by Christ we are adopted into the eternal family of God through repentance, Christ will come again, Heaven and Hell (though understandings differ). Not exhaustive basics, but you will find that Christians agree to these. If you want the full list, the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed summarize this well.
So, again, why all the denominations?
Well, because we’re human. Some would say pride divided the church. Others would say fear divided the church. Others would say nationalism divided the church. This is not an exhaustive list…not by far. The letter to Pergamum actually helps provide light.
Pergamum was a city of many gods. The two prominent temples were one to Zeus (with supposedly 24-hour a day sacrifices) and one to Caesar (the emperor). Within the context of Revelation, it would not be surprising that Caesar is the primary focus, however, the regular sacrificing to Zeus is definitely important in this letter to Pergamum.
Who the Nicolaitans were is unknown (plenty of speculation, though). From what can gather, however, they were a group of “fallen” Christians who were as much in and of the world as they were of the church. As they had not denied Christ, they weren’t too far gone. One can readily conclude that it’s close.
While we don’t know the end result, recent (the last few hundred years) church history shows us what can happen…denominations. We do not want to dismiss the Nicolaitans, but if we re-read the Scriptures, we can see wording that is often used the separate ourselves from others.
In the time of the writing of Revelation, the food sacrificed to idols was a serious issue. While Paul (in 1 Cor 8:1–13) allows for eating such, it is with the expressed requirement that it not be a snare to those weak in the faith. In Pergamum, it was a problem and thus not to be done.
What happened in Pergamum is the failure of discipleship and discipline. This same charge can be levied at the church universal today.
The flip side of this is making sure one disciplines (or divides, if necessary) for the correct reasons. There are far fewer reasons to separate than the many denominations provide witness to.
In addition, there is the failure to disciple. Discipleship is divided into the why (theology, philosophy, information) and how (living life together). One without the other is only half-discipleship, and Pergamum is an example.
Honestly, discipleship has become a buzzword and discipline…well, nobody likes it. The only problem? God requires them.
- What does “church” discipline mean to you? What would it mean to you if a friend “disciplined” you?
- What does discipleship mean to you? What does it mean to disciple another? What does it mean to be discipled?