Gnosticism and its pitfalls

What is Gnosticism? The Gnostic claimed special esoteric or secret knowledge (Greek gnosis). It could be possessed only by that section of humanity which was pneumatic, or spiritual.

Gnosticism branched out into ascetic and licentious monistic and dualistic philosophies. In general all the varied schools taught that matter was utterly and irretrievably evil. They agreed that the God of the Jews, the Creator of the world, was not the Supreme Being but a very inferior being whom the called the Demiurge. The Supreme Being, the Absolute, is the unknown and ineffable one of whom nothing can be predicated. To reach up to the Pleroma (fullness) above, one had to have recourse to a series of emanations, or aeons.

According to the Gnostics, the historical Christ was a mere man, but he was taken possession of by the heavenly Christ who was the brightest of all aeons. This heavenly Christ acted in the man Jesus but was never incarnate. He could not be, because matter was so evil. Another version was that the heavenly Christ only had the semblance of a body.

Dangers to the church

Gnosticism not only distorts but denies the Gospel of salvation.

1. In all its forms it is a very dangerous heresy that invaded the primitive church even during apostolic times. Its main errors are referred to in 1 John 2:22; 4:2,3, Colossians 2:2,3 and other portions of Scripture. It denied the incarnation. One of its main tenets was Docetism, the teaching that Christ only appeared to be man but was actually a phantasm. Denying the humanity of Christ also strikes at the atonement. If Christ is not true man then He did not die on the cross; if no sacrifice was presented then no forgiveness is obtained for sinners. The gospel is irretrievably lost.

2. Another form of Gnosticism was the Ebionite party, who maintained that Christ was truly human but certainly not divine, although he appeared so to be. Again, if this is so, then the sacrifice of Calvary is worthless, for if it was simply a man who died his death was not effective to pay the penalty of an innumerable company of sinners.

3. The system was eclectic and its materials were drawn from many quarters such as the mythologies of Greece, Egypt, Persian and India. It mixed different philosophies and theosophies. The aim of Gnosticism was to reduce Christianity to a philosophy and relate it to various pagan teachings and Old Testament passages (distorted).

4. In Gnosticism the historicity of the gospel is not important; indeed it is irrelevant, for it is basically and essentially a philosophy rather than the record of God acting in our favour and for our salvation through Christ, in time and history.

5. Again, Gnosticism seeks to replace faith with knowledge. Faith, it is maintained is for the untaught and ignorant; esoteric knowledge is for the special and initiated class of people. It therefore destroys the way to approach Christ, the only Mediator. It puffs up the mind, whereas God requires of us a contrite and a broken heart, in repentance turning to the Son for life.

6. Gnosticism also denigrated the Holy Scriptures and replaced them with speculation and pagan myths and imaginations that have no basis whatsoever in Godís self-revelation.

7. One of the worst features of Gnosticism was the elevating of a limited number into a specially privileged class, and the consigning of the vast majority of mankind to unredeemable destruction. This was totally contrary to the teachings of Christianity; the church is catholic, and the gospel is relevant to all; all need to hear and respond to it.

8. Under the semblance of knowledge, the Gnostics uttered unimaginable blasphemies and attempted to introduce them into the church, subverting its holiness. The Ophites were a Gnostic sect which venerated the serpent. They taught that God was bad and the serpent good. One school of thought turned the Scriptures upside down, teaching that Pharaoh and Ahab were saints, while Moses and Elijah were sinners. Such nonsensical and perverse teaching is again being sounded today in the New Age movement.

As soon as a church espouses any form of Gnosticism it ceases to be a church of Christ and becomes a synagogue of Satan.