Modern Christianity – Neo-Gnostics?

If you ever want to denigrate a philosophy that is even remotely Christian, the best thing to call it is Gnostic. Gnostics were around during the time of the early church and the movement purveyed many heretical ideas. In a gross oversimplification, the root tenant of their philosophy was centered on the idea that matter was bad and spirit was good. Therefore what was spirit was to be elevated, and what was matter was to be abased. This allowed Gnostics to live hedonistically due to the separation of good and bad parts of their nature. In the New Testament, there are rejections of this dualism, indicating that the authors knew of this proto-Gnostic philosophy that would develop as a real challenge to Orthodoxy as the church grew.

What does this have to do with modern Christianity?

If you have not heard the #metoo movement you need to crawl out from the rock you are living under. Ever since the revelation that many powerful men have committed sexual assault we have been reacquainted (on a national scale) with human depravity. This was not at all shocking to those of us who know humanity, but it was surprising that the victims were listened to, and action against the perpetrators happened. The subsequent #churchtoo revelations also confirmed what we didn’t want to admit: powerful people in church do the same bad things as other powerful people. From pastors raping students (and being applauded for their confessions), to the child sex abuse scandals and all the other incidents in between, local churches proved to be as corrupt as the rest of society. This is not really news either if you have ever been to church, or hung out with church people. Humanity is sinful, and Christ-followers are just as sinful as anyone else. You have probably heard the phrase “not perfect, just forgiven,” which, while true, doesn’t necessarily push people to righteous living.

How did this happen?

The trite answer is “sin” or “sin nature.” While true, that simple answer is not very helpful as we try to figure out how to deal with this issue in the Church. Unfortunately for the church, the corruption of practice continues to reveal an ever bigger problem, and that is a corruption of belief. While I acknowledge that we have a sin problem, I believe our real problem is the resurrection of Gnosticism in the local church. We do not really believe that body and spirit make up our humanity, so we can try to isolate our sin from our spirit. This is why we can go to church on Sunday and worship in spirit, while living in gross sin in our body. This is why it is so very easy to decouple a woman from her feelings and personhood, and treat her as a sex object. This is why we don’t view casual sex, or premarital sex, or homosexual sex, or polyamorous sex as corrupting of who we are, but just something we do. This is how we can self-justify the murder of unborn children (they are just cells after all) in a genocide that rivals or beats the worst in human history. We don’t feel that our fleshy action is the real us. We don’t recognize that sex involves body and spirit, and that’s why we ruin ourselves spiritually when we act physically. You cannot separate the body from the spirit anymore than you can separate breathing from your lungs: they are one in the same for practical usage. Sin in your body is sin in your spirit, and vice versa. Sin always impacts who you are. Sin always corrupts the totality of you completely.

What can we do about it?

Once we recognize that our actions come from a corruption of belief we can work to correct the theology that informs those actions. As a church, we need to spend more time teaching a correct Anthropology instead of swimming in the dualistic land of the Gnostics. This has to be practical, hands on equipping of the church. People need to know how to embrace their whole self, and how to recognize the impacts that sin has on all aspects of who they are. It has been a long time since I have heard sermons on the unity of the nature of humans, and longer still since I have heard how to fight against sin because of the impact it has on us holistically. I think that’s probably because many preachers are guilty of being closet Gnostics, embracing cultural views on humanity instead of the truth of the Word.

I wonder how many more stories are lurking out in the shadows that hopefully will be brought to the light. I know many probably would rather have them stay in the shadows so that the church isn’t hurt anymore, but I want all the wickedness to be flushed out of the church. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, so pulling the covers back from what we have hidden will push us towards holiness. I want the church to be purified of those who would harbor assailants. I want the church to stand for the victimized. We can only really do that when we embrace what God teaches about humanity:

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27 (NET)

We are unique and amazing creations of God, each of us. We are more than the sum of our material parts, and complicated beyond belief. Gnosticism is ultimately the worst form of idolatry because we place what we believe humanity is above what God says we are, and we the church must stand against it!

What the Heck Happened?

I am not fan of President Trump. I think he is less than desirable in many ways. I probably make my conservative friends upset by saying that, though Trump is not a conservative in many respects. I was not a big fan of President Obama either. I thought he was deficient in my ways also. That probably makes some of my more liberal friends upset. When I look at that state of our discourse on these things, however; I have noticed that as Americans, we are so polarized that any form of discussion of the merits of these individuals has been obfuscated by our own need to “be right.” Our friends cannot disagree with us without becoming our mortal enemies. We cannot possibly admit that someone we do not like at all had a good day, or did something that we appreciate.

What the heck happened?

I remember hearing stories of Democrats and Republicans disagreeing all day long, and then having a beer after work and being friends. That used to be common in America, but it seems like we have lost our ability to reason and be friends with people we disagree with. This is obvious by the raging hate storms you see on any discussion of politics or religion on social media if you are brave enough to view the comments of a post.

I do not really care much for politics, so my concern is always more focused on the church. Unfortunately, the same attitude is present in the church. People who disagree on matters of belief are so quick to condemn their “opponents” (not their friends who disagree) as heretics. People shun and criticize others because they believe or do things just a little bit different. There is no room for dissent about topics that can be arbitrary and no related to anything important. I do believe there are issues that should separate believers, and that there are required divisions in the big tent of the Body of Christ, but I also think those are few and far between.

What the heck happened?

I have tried to be thoughtful about this. I thought: “has anything really changed?” People have always been self-righteous, self-focused, and self-aggrandizing. I think that part hasn’t changed at all, but the rapid ability to disseminate our opinion has certainly changed with the advent of social media. It allows us to make our own platforms that we can pontificate from, regardless of our education on a topic. We can be jerks (me included!), and we can pretend like our way is the right way. We get to have one way discussions, and make sure people know that we are right.

While that is true, I think the issue is really bigger, because Jesus taught His people to behave differently. To love others. To give to others. To respect others. Even those (maybe, especially those) who disagree with us. How can it be possible that those of us who claim Christ act like we do just because we have a megaphone at our fingertips? The answer, I think, is the lack of the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. The Spirit is the one thing that should prompt us to act differently, to love more, and to be more committed to people than we are to ourselves. I believe the church has systematically silenced Him. Baptists do it out of fear (can you imagine if the Spirit got out of His box in some churches)? Charismatics silence Him by overindulging in emotionalism and fake Spirit movements. The high church Protestants/Catholics silence Him through traditionalism. The Spirit, the influence that should be pushing us to be like Christ, is speaking to those who have no room to listen. Our society is suffering for it. Our friends and neighbors are suffering for it. We are suffering individually for it. Most of all, the Kingdom is suffering for it.

What the heck happened?

We tuned the Spirit out and have become the coarse, nasty, and uncaring society that we are today.  The Bible says that those in the Spirit have peace, patience, self-control, joy, and many other things. Do these define us? They certainly do not dominate our culture, and those who claim Christ have lost that subversive, cross-cultural impact we need to keep pushing the Kingdom forward. Not in the sense that we try and be hipster cool, but in the sense that we love radically. People need to look at all aspects of our lives and see a difference.  Too often, what they see are people arguing and trying to justify themselves and their always right opinions.

What the heck happened?
We stopped listening to the Spirit, and we didn’t even notice.