Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gnosticism is alive and well...and gaining. Introduction

In studying Colossians it occurred to me that an exploration of Gnosticism would be a good idea. We started studying the book last night at church, and I get so worked up over the Gnostic doctrines that influenced and polluted the church at Colossae, and affect us today, that I became almost inarticulate with anger. I hate Gnosticism. HATE. IT.

I get very upset because I see so much Gnosticism in this day coming in through many of the most popular teachers, and I'm not talking about the slick, money-grubber false preachers we can easily identify on TV as cranks, but teachers and preachers even in the Southern Baptist Convention who have huge followings. It hurts me so much to see precious brethren drawn away, because it is all so unnecessary.

In his essay, "Gospels, Gospels Everywhere? Gnosticism and the New Testament Canon", Mark A. Pierson wrote, "For once Christians fail to defend their faith effectively, the new Gnosticism pounces, equipped with convoluted responses that many lay people are incapable of dismantling."

Irenaeus wrote in "Against Heresies, Book 1, which was a detailed attack on Gnosticism: "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself."

So true! Gnosticism is difficult to dismantle it because it is so subtle, it sounds Christianese because scriptures are used (though not correctly), and there is no one smoking gun statement or creed one can point to and say 'AHA! False!" If it was so easy to dismantle, I suppose the first century Christians at Colossae under Epahras and Paul's preaching would have spotted it!

So I decided to write a 7-part series. The first part is this one, the introduction. I'll define Gnosticism and list 6 elements that comprise this false doctrine. Then each succeeding part will individually explore each of the 6 elements in more detail. I'll also name names, share book titles, and provide quotes from modern day Gnostics, so you know who they are and we can uncover their works of darkness.

So, in Colossians Paul wrote from jail to the believers at Colossae about man-made doctrines that were taking them away from their sure foundation of the faith: Jesus alone. Colossians 1-2 are especially poignant. Paul dealt with Gnosticism again in Galatians, and it is believed 1 John 4 was addressing the problem of Gnosticism, also. There is another mention in 2 Timothy 3 and again in 1 Timothy 6. It was a huge problem for the first-century church. It is a huge problem for us today.

What is Gnosticism?

Strong's Concordance defines Gnosticism as "Gnosticism" is literally, "the cult based on having special, personal knowledge".

It is seeking of knowledge apart from God, secret knowledge that will provide salvation to those few who found the secret. Gnosticism (the 'g' is silent), is from the word Gnosis. Wikipedia defines "Gnosis as the common Greek noun for knowledge. In the context of the English language gnosis generally refers to the word's meaning within the spheres of Christian mysticism, Mystery religions and Gnosticism where it signifies 'spiritual knowledge' in the sense of mystical enlightenment."

In other words, Gnostics seek spiritual enlightenment apart from God's word. Gnostics seek enlightenment from visions, dreams, experiences, traditions of men, rituals, and philosophies. (Col 2:8). They believe they have the power or insight or luck to find and draw out mysterious knowledge that will put them on a better path or a higher path or a more spiritual path to heaven, and thus get closer to God.

They could not be more wrong.

Gnosticism has been around since the Garden, and is directly one of the reasons for the Fall from grace. Genesis 3:1-6 has the story.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate."

Satan said, 'if you eat the fruit, you will KNOW' (be wise, have insights, Gen 3:4-5). Yet Eve already had the word of God as delivered through Adam. She had the direct Presence of God as she walked and talked with Him. But people fall for satan's trick every day; saying, if you do this - read this - listen to this, you will KNOW.

Satan melded the truth and lies when he conversed with Eve. He said that if she ate, she would not die. He was right- she did not die ... physically. But she did die spiritually. Satan said to Eve that she would know good and evil, and this was true, but not profitable for her. He omitted the penalty for disobedience. And the entire conversation was one where satan intimated that God was holding out on the humans, but satan had the key to the good stuff.

Gnostics in Pauls' day used the same tactics to draw away the Colossians. Gnostics use the same tactics today. Gnostics will mention scriptures, refer to scriptures, twist scriptures, but Gnosticism's foundation is not ON scriptures. The Forerunner Commentary explains, "more than what was contained in Scripture, Gnostics valued what they experienced, what elders told them, or what they learned from "angels," astrology, or chemistry (alchemy)."

In Colossians 1:9, Paul wrote:

"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,"

His use of the word 'knowledge' is "epígnōsis (from Strong's 1909 /epí, "on, fitting" which intensifies 1108 /gnosis, "knowledge gained through first-hand relationship."

An intense first-hand relationship is where the knowledge comes, and that relationship between the penitent/disciple/ servant of Christ and Christ is the foundation of Christianity. Christianity is not an institution, it is a relationship.

A first-hand relationship with Jesus is such a wonderful basis for knowledge. That word 'know' in Colossians 1:9 is different from the word "know" (gnosis) as applied to Gnostics. Strong's again-

1108 /gnṓsis ("applied-knowledge") is only as accurate (reliable) as the relationship it derives from. For example, the Gnostics boasted of their "applied knowledge" gained by their personal spiritual experiences – and it was (is) disastrous!"

In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul wrote, "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”' and Paul here used the word pseudōnumou gnoseos, meaning, what is falsely called knowledge.

Not all knowledge is good. Just knowing stuff doesn't make a person more spiritual or better than the next guy, if the knowledge is from personal experience, man-made doctrines, or other sources apart from God's revelation to us through the bible and His creation. (Special revelation, and general revelation.)

Another major part of Gnosticism is the Gnostics' abhorrence of flesh, or actually, matter. They hated the material so much they disbelieved Jesus came in the flesh, was not actual matter. Forerunner Commentary explains, "Gnostic Christians borrowed the idea of redemption through Christ, but rather than believing that He redeemed them from sin, they believed that He would redeem them from matter - that is, from the flesh, which they considered to be inherently evil. At the core of Gnosticism is the belief that knowledge, typically secret knowledge - knowledge from angels, from the stars and planets, from the ancients - was the path to holiness and salvation. They believed that the path of redemption was through knowledge, and that the worst evil was ignorance. Thus, they did not endeavor to overcome sin, but ignorance."

Zondervan's NIV bible lists 6 elements that comprise Gnosticism. They are:

1. secret knowledge,
2. asceticism,
3. depreciation of Christ (lowering Him in name and in glory),
4. strict rule-keeping, ceremonies, or rituals
5. worship of angels,
6. and reliance on human wisdom and tradition.

Tomorrow, God willing, I'll write on the secret knowledge, a main element of Gnosticism, and who among those teachers and preachers and writers today is promoting it.

The best knowledge is from God. As Proverbs 2:5-7 tells us

"then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,"

Blessings!

Gnosticism series
Introduction
Part 1: Secret Knowledge
Part 2: Asceticism
Part 3: Depreciation of Jesus
Part 4: Ceremonies & Rituals
Part 5: Worship of Angels
Part 6: Human traditions
Conclusion 

4 comments:

  1. I've always been pretty fuzzy on what Gnosticism is so I am looking forward to this series. Thank you for taking the time and doing the research.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Anonymous. It is all pretty amorphous and complicated. There is much more to the matter-spirit part, it figures prominently, but I'm not going to delve into that aspect. I will post links to places where one can learn more.

      As with any 'philosophy' there are different branches, too, like docetism, cerinthism.... I won't go into those either.

      I want to focus on the 6 main elements as listed by Zondervan's NIV bible, especially the secret knowledge, because it is most relevant to today for Christians to use as practical information for discernment purposes.

      Thanks so much for reading and I hope to do it justice in the academic and in the practical.

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  2. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for this information. I know it is rampant in the church right now and I have a number of Christian friends who are falling prey to this! I have tried to mention it to them, but am encountering resistance and I'm thinking it may come between us even more if this continues.

    So, I am fascinated with this topic and at the same time I'm terribly grieved. I too, have had fits of anger knowing that many are being deceived! You have voiced so many things that I myself have thought. It's great that I've found someone of like mind! Praise to our King Who reigns in our hearts and may He receive the glory!

    May our Lord bless you as you continue with this study.

    In Him,

    Mtn Girl

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  3. Elizabeth,

    Looking forward to digging in. Thanks for the time and effort.

    Regards,

    Brian

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