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" by groups claiming " Petrine apostolic succession." This vogue has become especially popular and common in an increasing number of so-called Neo-Pentecostal "networks" that have emerged since the 1980s, comprised of affiliated though purportedly autonomous churches. One prominent Neo-Pentecostal organization1 in 1982 formed what it called "The International College of Bishops," comprised of ecclesiastical leaders upon whom the organization had conferred the title of "Bishop," which they purported positioned the conferees in the bimillenial hierarchical system of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) supposedly leading back in unbroken "succession" to the Apostle Peter, who the RCC regards as the first "Pope."
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 and subversive to the governmental offices God has established in His Word, namely, the Fivefold Ministry Offices (Eph. 4:11). Nowhere does Scripture establish or even vaguely support the notion of a spiritually efficacious "office" of bishop or hierarchical lineage of ecclesiastical surrogates appointed by Christ, the supreme Head of the Church.
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 rebuked the Church for tolerating and espousing. The doctrines and deeds of the Nicolaitans ultimately led to the utter spiritual apostasy and decimation of the Dark Ages, from which the Church is still in the process of recovery.
Now let me be clear. I am NOT speaking here about the usage of the term "bishop" as a designation basically synonymous with alternate terms also used by many denominations and protodenominations such as: overseer, superintendent, presbyter, and director. To me personally, frankly, a word is a word is a word; it doesn't matter to me if you call yourself a "'38 Oldsmobile'" if that's what you want to be called. Of greater importance than what one calls himself is what GOD calls you, for that is what and who we are, regardless of what we call ourselves! All of these terms, in my view, are essentially innocuous when used as mere attributions of organizational leadership, and thus represent no cause for concern. The problem I am addressing here, however, is the use of such terms as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and so forth as designations of a spiritual office or position of purported special spiritual authority and ascendency in an ecclesiastical hierarchy. That is a matter of grave concern.
With that caveat established, follow along with me now 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 an 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 being made here, when someone takes upon himself, or has conferred upon him, this purported title of "bishop" within the context of an ecclesiastical system claiming special spiritual efficacy through the aegis of purported "apostolic succession" is engaging in modern-day Nicolaitanism, whose deeds Jesus explicitly stated He "hated" (Rev. 2:6), and whose doctrines He expressly condemned (Rev. 2:15). Moreover, he is engaging in a patently ungodly and unscriptural form of ascendency over fellows that definitively and decidedly 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, in which Jesus said, "You are all on the same level as brothers" (Mat. 23:8; LB).
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 as well as the other Fivefold Ministry functions and their role in the Church is contained in a separate chapter devoted to the topic in the book on which this article is based, Charismatic Captivation.)
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/Shepherding Heresies
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 during that movement, which culminated with its coupe de grâce of the International College 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, archbishops, cardinals, and so forth, leading all the way up to the ultimate position of authority in the "Roman Curia," the Papacy.
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, apostolic-prophetic foundation (Eph. 2:20), as well as Fivefold Ministry to its proper function. However, Satan's hysterical efforts will not be successful, for in the end apostolic authority, apostolic-foundation, and Fivefold Ministry function will indeed be restored to the Church that Jesus is building (cf., Eph. 4:7-16; 1 Cor. 12:28).
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 posited by those who promulgate and espouse the heretical Discipleship/Shepherding 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 Roman Universal or Catholic Church was germinated.
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 (the elect) will fall away from a true relationship and rightstanding with God into apostasy and perdition.
Indeed, this egregiously erroneous Discipleship/Shepherding teaching that advocates a spiritually efficacious "bishopric" that transcends apostolic authority and apostolic-prophetic foundation, 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 and Doctrines
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 the Nicolaitans, 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 — i.e., 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: Charismatic Captivation, contains an entire chapter devoted to the history of the Nicolaitans and their teachings, a residue of which remains in the theology espoused by some yet today. Click here to read an excerpt of that chapter.)
Are We Heading Toward Another Corporate Apostasy?
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 God?
1 The International Communion of Charismatic Churches (ICCC). For a complete history of the formation of the ICCC International College of Bishops, click here.