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The Nicolaitans in our systems

The city of Rome, is a city rich with ancient history and tradition. A city ‘built’ on the bones of great men and women. One…

The city of Rome, is a city rich with ancient history and tradition.

A city ‘built’ on the bones of great men and women.

One of such is Julius Caesar: His death has remained a huge source of academic and moral lesson on internal strife, and the role of close allies in destroying a system that they are meant to protect and defend.

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William Shakespeare the 15th century writer brought to the lamplight the life and times of Julius Caesar and his tragic death.

As the story goes “A group of senators saw Caesar as a tyrant.

His friends Brutus and Cassius, decided to plot his death on March 15, 44 BC. Brutus, Cassius and other angry senators, stabbed Caesar to death in the Forum.

Brutus the man who stabbed Caesar last apparently was his confidant and his most trusted friend.

Today’s reflection is centered on why our collective fight against poverty, insecurity and other social ills appears to be losing ground.

Revelation 2:1-6 sheds light on the issue: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands.

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.

I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.

Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.

But you have this in your favor:

You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate”

The above verses are from the letter addressed to the Church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation.

It is the first of the seven letters addressed to the seven Churches in Asia Minor that which at the time was one of the Christian communities that were being persecuted.

They resisted the persuasion to call Caesar “Lord” and to offer sacrifice to Artemis the god of the Ephesian people.

While the angel deplored their lack love for Jesus as they used to when they first received the faith, he lauded their hatred for the Nicolaitans.

And who were the Nicolaitans and why do they matter to us today?

The Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch.

He was one of the first seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5.

It is believed that Nicolaus went astray and became a heretic (William Barclay, Revelation of John 2010).

His followers held to the teaching of Balaam (Numbers 25:1-5).

We find the seduction and the evil influence of Balaam in Numbers 31:16.

Balaam in Israelite history stands for an evil person who seduced the people into sin.

The Nicolaitans were not regarded as preachers and teachers of the faith by the early church. Some Church Fathers had very harsh words for them.

St Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century said of the Nicolaitans: “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence”.

The third-century theologian Hippolytus said that Nicolaus ‘departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifference of food and life.”

He described his followers as “shameless in uncleanness”.

Another early Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandria asserted that they “abandon themselves to pleasure like goats … leading a life of self-indulgence”.

The teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans were not promoted by people outside but by people within the church.

The greatest threat to Christianity all through its history has always been posed by people within the church who preach a Christianity that is devoid of Christ, and who pervert the core of his message.

Those who are within the ecclesial system of the church are the ones who destroy it.

The Nicolaitans of 21st century Christianity come in different forms with an appealing theology.

The major perversion amongst many today is the prosperity gospel.

In a way, the current covid-19 pandemic may give some Christians a respite from the monetary demands of prosperity gospel preachers.

It is now obvious at least to some people that Christianity is not wishful thinking.

It is not about building a castle in the air or daydreaming about an imaginary bank account full of money.

The Nicolaitans are also present outside Christianity.

In many spheres of life we find their likes who pervert the message and seek to undermine a system.

There are some people who are active within the system, with the intention of destroying the system from within instead of building and improving it.

This attitude is present in many of us both as Nigerians and as Africans.

For instance, during the Apartheid regime in South Africa, black police officers were used by the whites to enforce minority white rule.

Two decades ago in Rwanda, the military that was meant to defend the people and the country became part of the blood-thirsty militia that aided the massacre of defenseless Rwandans.

For the past ten years now in Nigeria, the country has been embroiled in an endless fight against the Boko Haram insurgence.

Some retired military officers like T.Y. Danjuma have accused the Nigerian Army of colluding with the terrorists.

Early this year, the Governor of Bornu State accused the Nigerian army of carrying out an attack on his convoy.

It was a confrontation that was almost televised live.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan once admitted that his government was infiltrated by Boko Haram.

Some Politicians who in principle belonged to a particular party were engaged in open anti-party activities in 2015.

The worst of all pains is a betrayal of trust.

Our common experience as a people has been marked in recent times by betrayals from the government, security personnel, present and past leaders.

They are the very people who have betrayed our trust.

They have twisted the appealing message of patriotism of the 1960s and misused every opportunity to their own advantage.

A country is a failed state when it cannot procure military equipment for its armed forces to defend its people against internal and foreign aggressions.

Is anyone surprised that Ghanaians are now treating Nigerians with scorn?

Such is one of the effects of bartering a country’s glory for shame.

That is exactly what Nigerian leaders have done to our collective glory with their betrayal of our collective trust.

Some of our leaders are the enemies within.

Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow. ([email protected])

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