In this part of the series on Gnosticism then and now, we'll look at the third element of this philosophy-slash-religion: a depreciation of Jesus. Though Gnosticism contains many elements, and many other elements from different philosophies and religions overlap with Gnosticism, Zondervan's NIV Bible lists 6, which are the ones I am looking at:
1. secret knowledge,
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.
The best summary of Gnosticism I've found is from Gene Edward Veith. He wrote in World Magazine in this 2006 article The Return of the Cainites, "The Gnostics were eastern mystics who taught that the physical realm is intrinsically evil and that the spirit can be freed from its bondage to physicality through the attainment of secret knowledge (or "gnosis"). They rejected the Christian doctrine of creation (saying that the material world is evil). They denied the incarnation (saying that Christ was a spiritual being who brought the secret knowledge and denying that He became "flesh"). And they denied the redemption (saying that sin is not a moral failure – since what we do in the flesh does not affect our spirits – but simply a lack of spiritual knowledge)."
There is nothing more blasphemous than taking away one iota of praise for the work Jesus did on earth, the cross, and the resurrection, and the reasons for it: our sin. The very things Gnostics deny are the very elements of the Gospel that Paul laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”.
Jesus died for sins. Gnostics claim He died to release us from an evil creation. Yet God called creation "Good".
Gary Zeolla wrote, "The first to deny the Christian doctrine of a bodily resurrection were the Gnostics of the first through third centuries. Many involved in the New Age Movement today hold views similar to the early Gnostics. And the modern-day group know as Jehovah's Witnesses deny the bodily resurrection of Christ."
"Kurt Rudolph explains the concept of resurrection in gnosticism, "For the Gnostic any resurrection of the dead was excluded from the outset; the flesh or the substance is destined to perish. 'There is no resurrection of the flesh, but only of the soul', say the so-called Archonites, a late Gnostic group in Palestine." [Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985)]
Marcion was an early Gnostic philosopher and a Christian bishop. Born in c.80AD, he lived until c.AD 160. Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God, and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This belief was in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology; notably, both are dualistic, that is, they posit opposing gods, forces, or principles: one higher, spiritual, and "good", and the other lower, material, and "evil". (Wikipedia).
Marcion was eventually excommunicated for his heretical beliefs. Yet to this day his assertion that there is an 'Old Testament God of wrath' and a 'New Testament God of love' lives on.
Any philosophy, religion, or discipline that fails to adhere to the three elements of the Gospel as Paul has written to us is false. Period.
Any philosophy, religion, or discipline that fails to adhere to the three elements of the Gospel is an automatic lowering of Christ, a depreciation.
In biblical financial metaphors, Jesus is the ultimate asset, of precious and eternal value.
Investor Words describes the definition of depreciation as: "A noncash expense that reduces the value of an asset as a result of wear and tear, age, or obsolescence. Most assets lose their value over time (in other words, they depreciate), and must be replaced once the end of their useful life is reached."
You note that modern Gnostics (neo-Gnostics) depreciate God by saying the OT God is obsolete, dry, or out of date. Or that OT God is of lesser quality or value.
There are many assets and as Investor Words claimed, most depreciate. Jesus said,
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21).
James wrote in James 5:2, "Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes."
There is only one treasure which does not depreciate, and that is Jesus. In financial terms, we have been given a deposit which will be redeemed on the Day of bodily resurrection:
"Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." (2 Timothy 1:14 NASB). That treasure is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:46) and the King of that Kingdom is the greatest treasure of all, Jesus, to whom has been given all authority. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-8 that all he has in this world is trash, but gaining Jesus is the treasure eternal. Compared to Him, there is no other treasure.
So that is why the Gnostics (via satan's evil whispers) try to depreciate Christ. They do this by any means possible: by insinuating things which lowers Christ from His lofty position as satan did in the Garden to Eve (Did God really say?), by impugning His value (OT God is lower), His work (He never really came in the body), or His people (by drawing them away from Jesus as Paul warned in Col 2:8.). There are two ways to gain the top position, either raise yours higher than your competitor or lower his to below yours. Satan tries both.
‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’" (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Satan said to Jesus on the Temple roof, "And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”(Matthew 4:9)
How does modern Gnosticism depreciate Christ? If a teacher or pastor were to show up and say "satan is higher than God" we would of course know he was a false teacher or pastor. Satan is more subtle than that. Yet many people refuse to entertain a contention for the faith unless the situation is as blatant as the verses in Isaiah or Matthew, where satan is directly saying I am higher and Jesus is lower.
Today's neo-Gnostics' attacks are subtle! They depreciate God by using three methods. Maybe there are more but I'll address these three which I believe are the most prevalent.
They lower Jesus by:
--what they say God/Jesus is saying, (therefore implying the bible is not sufficient);
--how they say it, (irreverently, and their conversations never seem to focus on the same things the God of the bible does: obedience, holiness, sin, or suffering)
--and by diluting His word through sheer volume and numbers. More people today than ever claim to have received authoritative statements from God as exemplified in utterances, visions, and 'word of knowledge' or by direct revelation; by the numerous "visits" to heaven or hell, guided tours conducted by Jesus; and by numerous "new" translations of the bible. More of something always depreciates the original.
Satan was the first to do this in the Garden. He intimated to Eve that God was holding out on her by saying that if she ate the fruit, she will know good and evil, subtly insinuating by reverse psychology that she doesn't know good and evil now, which is bad. Secondly, by offering Eve secret knowledge he alone possesses, which depreciates God's word.
I'd mentioned in the last part about the neo-Gnostic secret knowledge, the example of Jentezen Franklin. Mr Franklin subtly scares the brethren by intimating that unless believers fast, heaven is a locked door to them. He said, "fasting is the secret key that unlocks heaven's door and slams shut the gates of hell." That one statement contains all the elements of the original Gnostic attack on a believer as seen in the Garden, Genesis 3: Franklin has secret knowledge, the door to heaven is locked to you (but not to him), and by doing what Franklin says, you gain power (locking hell and unlocking heaven). Then you will 'know.'
Beth Moore says that she also has secret knowledge from God, which she claims he tells her audibly. The two even have a deal, as if they were equal partners in the relationship, which of course, lowers God. She wrote in Praying God's Word, "Before God tells me a secret, He knows up front I’m going to tell it! By and large, that’s our “deal.” There's that word secret again, used to intimate the person has a higher or better knowledge than the treasured word in the bible and not coincidentally, intimidates others into believing their relationship is lesser, their Jesus is lesser.
So let's compare what and how God spoke in the bible and what and how God speaks to neo-Gnostics. I made a comparison chart. On the left are statements several people have said they heard God say to them, and on the right are God's words as recorded in the bible. I used the New Living Translation so that no one can say that because the KJV or the ESV used more formal language it isn’t a fair comparison.It is everyday speech to everyday speech.
In this exercise, you see that even in the NLT's ‘friendlier’ more everyday language, the times when God spoke to bible people He was still formal, using imperatives, referencing death, obedience, and what they ‘must do’. As an aside, just once I'd like to read a neo-Gnostic saying God spoke to them about their sin. [Sorry about the slightly overlarge formatting but this was the 7th attempt and the best one...]
A lowering of God naturally means an elevation of ourselves. A gnostic will seek to equalize the teeter-totter. In the Beth Moore Living Proof conference I attended, she spoke of "reciprocal relationship." Though we are co-heirs, and Jesus is both our Father and our Friend, we do not have an equal relationship, a reciprocal partnership, or a "deal". He is God, ruling with a rod of iron! (Rev 19:15)
My hope is that through these essays you will have your spiritual antenna raised and when you hear the buzzwords and listen to sermons, you will be able to track if there is any infiltration of Gnostic influences. I pray that you are in a sound, doctrinally solid, bible believing church and you never have to contend with such pollution. I am looking forward to the day when we will be with Jesus and worship him perfectly, with no error or twisted interpretation. What a day that will be!
Meanwhile, let us do all we can to maintain our high view of the only one who deserves it: Jesus. He is the Holy God of Israel, the Groom to His Bride, and our safety in the storm. We owe all to Him. May our prayers and our lives reflect His high position.
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