Not long ago, I received an email from a woman who asked me if I could direct her to some information that refutes Gnosticism. She wrote that a friend of hers “claims to be on an extraordinarily intense spiritual ‘pilgrimage’ of ‘really pressing in to know God intimately’— but this guy has in effect divorced himself from the material world and from all relationships (including his wife and 10 children) which he views as a hindrance to his spiritual growth.”
Gnostics claim to have special knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”) on how to live the Christian life that is not revealed to “ordinary Christians.” God’s revelation in Scripture is not good enough or sufficient to give direction on how to live the Christian life. Of course, this refutes what the Bible says when it states that Scripture is “adequate” and equips the Christian “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
She went on to say that this friend, a farmer, “was putting up hay recently and needed to get it in as they were expecting rain. Before he finished, he remembered that he had scheduled a Bible study, so he left his hay to keep the ‘spiritual’ duty. The rain came and the hay was lost, but he felt justified that he had chosen the higher calling.”
Another feature of Gnosticism is the belief that there are two separate realms—“one spiritual, the other material. The spiritual realm, created by God, [is] all good; the material realm, created by the demiurge, all evil. Man [needs] to be saved, not from Original Sin, but from enslavement to matter.” (Dusty Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult (New York: Dorset Press,  1989), 140–141.)
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Of course, this is contrary to what the Bible teaches since God declared what He created as “good” (Gen. 1:31). Even sin did not make the material world less worthy of God’s sovereignty and call for His image-bearers to glory in creation. As Paul writes, there is a moral component in how we use the gifts God has given us:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:1–4).
But the Gnostic can transcend the Word of God claiming to have superior knowledge of what God requires. Gnosticism is demonic.
A further expression of Gnosticism was expressed by someone who “doesn’t believe in voting because that is a ‘worldly affair,’ and he wants only to be engaged in truly spiritual activities.” For the Gnostic, the material world is on a lower plane. Only “spiritual things” are useful and profitable. A Gnostic-like belief might forbid marriage while advocating “abstaining from foods” even though “God has created these things “to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Godliness for the Gnostic is defined as a retreat from the world and despising the things of the world.
[The Gnostics] devised a dualistic cosmology to set against the teachings of the early Christian Church, which, they claimed, were only common deceptions, unsuited for the wise. The truth was esoteric. Only the properly initiated could appreciate it. It belonged to a secret tradition which had come down through certain mystery schools. The truth was, God could never become man. The Gnostic secret is that the spirit is trapped in matter, and to free it, the world must be rejected. (Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult, 147.)
For the Gnostic, life “must be escaped at any cost.” (Philip Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 122.) But if there can be no immediate material escape, then a spiritual escape is a good enough substitute. The Gnostic escapes from the responsibilities of history. But for the Christian, history is the realm of decision making, and, therefore, is anti-Gnostic. If we are not responsible for history, then we are not responsible for decision-making. Even a casual reading of the Bible will show that our faith is to be lived out in the world so that “fruit,” good works, are manifested for the world to see and for Christians to judge (Matt. 7:15–23). No restrictions are placed on where this fruit is to mature.
One of the central issues that divided gnostics and orthodox Christians in the early Church was their understanding of the relationship between religion and politics. The Church Fathers accepted the political worldliness of the Jewish faith, contending that religion and politics are interconnected and inseparable. The early Puritans and even Jonathan Edwards, following classical Calvinism, would have been clearly orthodox in this regard. The world of politics, of human institutions, was for them an essential locus of God’s redemptive work. (Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics, 123–124.)
What is contemporary Gnosticism like? While it might not manifest itself in ascetic practices like pole-sitting, it does reveal itself in an institutional escape. Institutional escape is not in the Protestant tradition, however. Our nation’s earliest Christian citizens did not view escape, eschatologically, ascetically, or institutionally, as being biblical. Education, publishing, law, science, medicine, and politics, to take just some areas, were to be governed by the Word of God as were ecclesiastical affairs. Modern-day Gnosticism thrives in a climate of escapism which means a retreat from this world and responsibility to do anything to change any part of it. If this world means nothing, then I am not responsible for its evils.
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