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!