The Gnostic Tendencies of the Modernist Church

As stated in the post above, I believe a simple, direct reading of scripture will show that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all held that there was significant room for doctrinal disagreement with in the unity of the body of Christ (I will give more examples later). It is important to note, the Church of the New Testament was full of a very diverse group of people, socially, culturally, politically, and even religiously. Yet they were bound together by one thing, their faith in Christ Jesus.

In the eyes of Christ and the disciples, the basis for salvation (a right relationship with God) was not in having a specific belief system, but in having faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith as defined in scripture is belief that results in action. Consider Christ as he heals the woman with the issue of blood, or as he called Zacheeus, or perhaps, think of how he spoke with the woman from Syrophoenicia. There was never a doctrinal quiz as to how they viewed the sovereignty of God, the place of women in the Church, or their escatological views. No, they were confronted with two basic questions:

Do you need God’s presence? (Repentance and humility)

Do you believe Jesus is God, present? (Belief and acceptance/acknowledgement)

The result was the Spirit of God transforming the very heart and mind of the person.

This is why Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus shared the basic truth evangelicals so proudly (rightly so) cling to:

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

So how did we get to a place where church splits (and institutional infighting) are more common than cooperation? A gnostic-Christian belief system has permeated the western Church. Whoa… you say – that’s quite and accusation. Just consider the facts. Ever since the protestant reformation there has often been a greater emphasis put on ortho-doxy (right thinking) than on ortho-praxy (right action).

I am very grateful to Luther and others who reclaimed the truth of the gospel in the church. However, many who followed after pushed for more than clear biblical truth, they demanded that their particular interpretation had to be the ONLY way. (This is partly why groups like anabaptists were so persecuted in protestant Europe). As Christianity came to America the lack of one state church (which I also appreciate greatly) opened the door even wider. In the United States new denominations were born at a dizzying rate, (one estimate says the world-wide count is 33,830. (2001 World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press) ) and then you have all the non-denominational churches that pop-up on every corner, proud that they are the ONE-TRUE CHURCH.

The modern, western, church is addicted to “knowledge”. There is the belief that salvation is tied to knowing and reciting the right declarations. So they comb scripture seeking secrets that will make them “better” and more in touch with God. They are convinced that their relationship to God, their ability to communicate with the creator, their ability to receive blessings from the Lord, depends on whether or not they have the right thinking on all topics. They forget they are saved by FAITH in CHRIST JESUS and not by having the best belief system. This is a form of Gnosticism.

The New Advent (Catholic Encyclopedia) writes:

  • The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosisgnostikos, “good at knowing”), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought. …Gnostics were “people who knew“, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.

And CARN (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

  • The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge.” There were many groups that were Gnostic and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.

Sadly, much of the church view their creeds as more important than they Christ Jesus they are supposed to represent

This results in a church that closely represents the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. In John 5 Jesus is confronting their lack of faith and inability to see that he is the Messiah, in vs 39-40 he tells them: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Has modernism created a church today that studies scripture, but fails to know the Christ?

7 thoughts on “The Gnostic Tendencies of the Modernist Church”

  1. I’ve gotten some .. “what do you mean…” reaction to this post…
    SO here’s how it breaks down –
    In my view people are following a gnostic view of the gospel when they say you are not a “real” Christian if you believe ….. (fill in the blank on things that NOWHERE are tied to our faith in Christ) – women in the church, being a republican or democrat, your view on election or free will, if you believe in pre, post, or a- millennialism, the list goes on and on…..

    the problem is it makes us judges of others faith, divides the church, and keeps us from doing what we really need to be about as the church..

    We’ve all heard churches and colleges argue about issues like those above – the grey areas of scripture where honest people can disagree – but when have you heard people really get serious about a verse like this from 1st John 3 :

    11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

    When is the last time churches met – pastors shepherded – leaders argued – professors pontificated – presidents presided over how can we better – “lay down our lives for our brothers..” or on how some people must not love God because they “see a brother in need but has no pity on him…” ?

    Maybe we don’t see this because most of the church believe it is more important to have good doctrine than LOVE? AND if we believe that – we are in direct opposition to the CLEAR teaching of JESUS.

    BUT If we really tried to love more – and judge by doctrine less …
    – maybe we’d be more Christ-like?

  2. Yes, Marque… more Christ-like–that is the key. And as we have talked before, we can choose to make issues out of what we want to make issues out of. All it takes is to sit on a church board or a youth sports board or something like that and see how much time is spent on inconsequential things… And back to the original impetus of this post~the current state of spirituality at NWC, there has NOT been any directive in change in core doctrine, NO watering down of fundamental Biblical truth. Yet there is this un-Christ-like behavior roaring its head from a variety of sources…

  3. hey marque,
    cant tell you enough how overjoyed i am that someone put to words what i’ve been pondering for sometime now…since this summer when i was laid off, i’ve been persuing a minsitry to serve at…and for some reason this has openned my thought on how would i teach others what it means to live for Jesus Christ…thru this persuit i have been watching the modern church(or the denominations in america that i know of) and searching for the place that is allowing the Spirit to teach and lead concerning all things (1john).

    what i’ve come to see in myself is what i’ve been taught so strongely growing up…if i shove enough scripture truth into the learning crowd some of it will stick and God can work with that(the shot gun method). so my desire and focus is on studying scripture to know all the biblical answers to teach right living, good ethics, and what it means to be a Christian. right….well…

    luckily for me…the Lord has been working in my heart and lately my desires have been lured to part of a verse 1 cor. 12:31 which says, “earnestly desire the best of gifts.” i have been praying for just that and seeking the Lords wisdom on what a healthy follower of Christ looks like. what i’ve found over and over is buildings filled with studying, intellect, but where’s the serving, the love, the relationship…how are we helping hte poor, the down and out, the widows…how are my hands representing Christ, my feet…

    i feel there are many living their faith right, and many ignorant of what right faith is, and then there are many who believe they are saved yet thre is no heart transformation only word transformation…that is why i believe your finishing questions lead to very valid and needed thought:

    Has modernism created a church today that studies scripture, but fails to know the Christ?

    BUT If we really tried to love more – and judge by doctrine less …
    – maybe we’d be more Christ-like?

    life in Jesus changes from the inside out…and people dont change people, Christ changes people.

  4. I would very much agree. We must not make Christianity a religion of doctrine alone without action.

    But I believe that we must see doctrine and action as both very important. Doctrines are Christian teachings. Therefore without doctrine we have no Christianity.

    Not to say, for example, that just because a person is a amillenialist they are not… Read More a Christian, or just because a person believes women can teach in churches they are a Christian. Not all doctrines hold equal weight, which I’m sure you’d agree with. But, I believe that we must see the connection between doctrine and action and respect them both. Without doctrine, we have wrong action, and without action we call into question our faith in the doctrine.

    And I have one question. You say that you believe many of the disciples and apostles came from different doctrinal beliefs. Would you then also say that Paul taught some different opposing doctrines in his writings than Peter, James, Jude, or John?

  5. I’d agree – doctrine must inform our actions and actions are proof of our faith and doctrine – but the trouble is as Christians we are often spending way more time beefin’ about doctrine that is often biblically UNCLEAR – rather that simply obeying the CLEAR teachings of Jesus….
    As to your final comment – I don’t know that the apostles came from different doctrinal beliefs – but scripture shows they accepted and tolerated wide doctrinal diversity….. (they were kind of post-modern – or should I say pre-modern…)

    I’m writin’ ’bout that next…..

  6. I’m enjoying your writings very much and they have been helpful to me. I’ve tried to find a place in Christianity that I fit and I’ve found way too many judgmental teachings. After years of defining myself as a follower of Christ instead of a Christian, it has dawned on me that being a Christian has way more to do with Christ than the religion.
    I will continue to read what you have to say because your writing are hitting very close to home for me.

  7. This is a great post, Marque. I’ve felt this way for a long time. Even though I think knowledge is very important and greatly valued in the Bible, the common abuse of it is to puff up, not build up.

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