This is part 5 looking at the origins of Gnosticism and its impact on today's church, I will examine the fifth element that Zondervan's NIV bible lists as the main components of the philosophy/religion: Worship of Angels.
Though Gnosticism encompasses a wide range of beliefs, there are 6 main elements that Paul refutes in Colossians-
1. secret knowledge, (refuted in Col 1:27; 2:3)
2. asceticism, (Col 2:18)
3. depreciation of Christ (lowering Him in name and in glory), (Col 2:18b)
4. strict rule-keeping, ceremonies, or rituals (Col 2:23)
5. worship of angels, (Col 2:18)
6. and reliance on human wisdom and traditions (Col 2:20b-22)
"Gnosticism was the predominant source of heresy when the New Testament was written. The books of John, I Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, I and II Timothy, Jude, and I John all combat various elements of Gnosticism. Even the book of Revelation cites a couple of Gnostic beliefs and practices, referring to "know[ing] the depths of Satan" and "the Nicolaitans" (Revelation 2:6, 15, 24)." (source)
Everything old is new again, and elements of it are infiltrating even the most conservative evangelical, fundamentalist churches today. That's why I call it "neo-Gnosticism" when referring to the modern version of it.
"Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search." source.
In refuting the false doctrines that had infiltrated the church at Colossae, Paul wrote:
"Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize." (Colossians 2:18a).
Why would Paul combine false humility and worship of angels in the same sentence? It seems like those two warnings are completely disparate. But they aren't. "Because of the belief that the spirit of a person was trying to get back to heaven, worship of angels and astrology was a common tenet of Gnosticism, since angels and the patterns of stars and planets were believed to hold keys to this spiritual journey. 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," David Grabbe wrote in Forerunner Commentary.
Paul warned about this again in Galatians 1:8, writing, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
How many false religions were started by or are perpetuated by a fallen angel? Most. Mormonism, Islam, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses were started via "angels", and Catholicism and New Age Mysticism make heavy use of angelic visits though angelic-seeming spirit guides and Marian apparitions. Many New Age sects began through the contact of "Spirit Guides".
Why be so (falsely) humble? Because that way, neo-Gnostics can appear to be pious and make up their own rules at the same time. They say, "I'm too humble to know God's word for sure, but THIS I know for sure, I was visited by an angel who showed me ... And I know it's true because it happened to me!" This aspect of neo-Gnosticism is re-emerging today in increasing amounts. Many are straying away from God's word and substituting mystical experiences and intuition for truth.
Mike Ratliffe wrote, "These reactions are rooted in the “Hermeneutic of Humility,” which is a way of looking at our faith and interpreting the very Word of God through a filter that sees certainty as a product of pride and uncertainty as a virtue. ... people contend that to be certain divides people while uncertainty creates an environment of unity. I contend that the “Hermeneutic of Humility” is that decaying point from which the godlessness in these days has become so manifest in the visible church in our time. Carefully read the passage (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This is a warning of what happens in the Church when the Christian leaders forsake their true duty, which is to minister according the very clear commandments from God’s Word. When Christian liberalism in any form is embraced by those in control in our churches, the Gospel will be neglected. It will be watered down."
Now, angels are not divine and worship of them is explicitly prohibited (as in Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:9).
Mr Grabbe wrote, "In Genesis 3:1, in this first message to mankind, Satan sows seeds of doubt as to whether God can be trusted. Satan's very first words were, "Has God indeed said. . . ?" Spoken or not, this sentiment that God is untrustworthy, and that His Word is suspect, has been a regular feature in mankind's relationship with God ever since. The Gnostics were no exception—in fact, they are a prime example. In its most basic sense, Gnosticism is knowing, but its knowledge, while sometimes including the Word of God, does not have it as its foundation. Instead, 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). Thus, we see elements of Gnosticism in Galatians: a mixture of "lucky days," to which they ascribed spiritual significance (part of their worship prior to conversion) and a belief, brought in by Judaizers or perhaps even an "angel" (Galatians 1:8), that justification could come by works of the law."
Heresy doesn't always mean that a sect or a doctrine denies Jesus outright. The most successful sects and heretics preach Jesus, but they preach a different Jesus. They say that more must be done to attain salvation, that Jesus isn't sufficient. They chip away at His sovereignty and slowly build man up as a partner on the sanctification process. Did you ever wonder why the verse in Acts 1:11 says, "Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
Because if an angel should come and preach a different Jesus, a different Gospel, let him be accursed! We look for, listen to, and worship this same Jesus who came and died and rose again! A Gnostic's Jesus will be different from the same Jesus who incarnated into flesh, ministered on earth, and died on the cross as God's sacrifice for sins, and was resurrected on the third day.
Paul referred to a Gnostic's false humility. A false humility goes something like this: "'so humble unworthy me can't think of worshiping a Holy God. I'll worship this angel instead." But what is true humility? One can find a definition at Christian Research and Apologetics Ministry (CARM):
"Humility is the right understanding of who you are before God. Notice, I did not say it means that you have to hate yourself, or call yourself names, or say you aren't worth anything, etc. Humility is that quality of a Christian that demonstrates a right relationship and position before God. This demonstration is manifested in attitude, words, and deeds."
Paul referred to real humility in Colossians 3:12- "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience," and the word for humility is translated "lowliness of mind." Quite the opposite of the Gnostic's puffed up sense of self and the high importance he places on his visions and experiences and knowledge!
CARM again, "We need to start with our relationship with Him that can only come through a proper relationship with Jesus. We need to be humble before God and dependent up Him, seeking His will. Therefore, prayer, the place of dependence upon God, is the practice of humility before God. When we let our souls bask in the presence of God, we find out who we really are: sinners, saved by grace, and kept by His love. And, as Moses' face shined because of being in the presence of God, so too will your heart reflect the humility and love of Jesus as we spend time with Him in prayer. Seek Jesus and you will find perfect Humility."
Gnostic buzzwords to watch out for,
--"received" as in 'received a text', 'received a revelation',
--spirit guide, spirit being, ascended masters (other terms for false angels and their worship),
--fullness (that is why Paul used fullness in Col 2:9-10),
--mystery, alchemy, altered states of consciousness,
--elementals (Paul refuted the necessity of seeking elemental forces in Col 2:8)
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8)
The Lord Jesus is GREAT! He is mighty to save. I pray for us all "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:12)
Part 1: Secret Knowledge
Part 2: Asceticism
Part 3: Depreciation of Jesus
Part 4: Ceremonies & Rituals
Part 5: Worship of Angels
Part 6: Reliance on Human Traditions