A few weeks ago, I ran across a pastor who was mocking the seminary education one his staff members was receiving. One of my pet peeves is the arrogance it takes to think a degree is beneath them. I understand that many have used their degree to make others feel small and themselves intelligent. That is not the fault of education; that is the fault of the small people whose pride gets in the way of their effectiveness.
Anyway, after a conversation I had with some friends yesterday, I am very glad for that outdated seminary training I received.
The discussion started off with a rather bold question, "What do you think of Gnosticism? And why did the early church consider it heretical?"
To be honest, I struggled to remember the tenets of Gnosticism. I knew some of the basics, and the conversation was about more than just Gnosticism.
But if you thought Gnosticism was a problem for the First Century church and not for today, you are badly mistaken. Many of the Gnostic Gospels are making a comeback. People consider them the "Lost" Gospels or the "Forbidden" Gospels. They seem intrigued by the idea of a church system being secretive and fostering some sort of conspiracy. They also like the idea of a super-spiritual reality that supercedes a material world.
So I did a little research on Gnosticism to refresh my memory. Here are the keys:
1. Gnostics believed they possessed a special "gnosis" or "knowledge" that the normal Christian did not possess. It made them a sort of elite, more spiritual Christian than everyone else.
2. They believed that the material world was evil and that the spiritual realm was all that mattered. This led them to believe that God could not have created the world. They believed that the Yahweh of the Old Testament was not the same God as represented in Jesus. Yahweh was a sort of demigod that created the material world against the wishes of the God of Jesus. This also caused them to reject the humanity of Jesus Christ. Since God would never touch the matter, Jesus never really came in the flesh.
3. For the Gnostic, if Jesus were a real human he certainly was not divine. If he were divine, then he certainly was not human. He only "seemed" to be human.
4. They also held that since the material world was evil and the spiritual realm was all that mattered, their bodies could do whatever they wanted as long as the spirit was focused on God.
For the orthodox Christian, the problems should be clear. The main answer for us is that Jesus is both human and divine. He is the divine Word of God made flesh. This has been affirmed in every New Testament book.
The New Testament also emphasizes a holistic view of humanity. By this I mean that we are both physical and spiritual. There is no separation. Our spiritual side affects our physical side and vice versa.
Part of the problem with the concept of the "Lost" or "Forbidden" Gospel is the role of Council of Nicea and a misunderstanding of the Church under Constantine. It is true that when Constantine made the Christian Church an "official" religion that things changed. The misunderstanding takes place in thinking that the Council of Nicea some how dictated the books that should or should not be included in some sort of judiciary way.
They did not form a council that reviewed all the entries and then excluded some and hid others. The reality is that for 150 years prior the theologians and student of the disciples had been writing their lists of texts they felt were "authoritative." When compared with the writing of those who had actually been with Jesus, the Gnostic Gospels were found to be false. Don't worry, there were many, many Christian books that were rejected as being authoritative or on the level of "inspired" as the other books.
To illustrate I think about the American Idol competition I watched the other night. Several of the girls sang, and they were very good. But, when other of the girls sang, you could tell that they were in a completely different league.
Who knows, you may face a modern day Gnostic someday.
Check out the follow-up post here.