Gnosticism is a heretical (a teaching contrary to Biblical doctrine) belief system that has been around for quite some time and is still causing problems today. We are surrounded by Gnostic teachings and beliefs on a regular basis (i.e. The Gospel of Thomas) so I think it is important to take a quick look at what Gnosticism is and where you will see it today.
Gnosticism, which comes from the Greek word gnosis, (which means “knowledge,”) became very popular during the second century AD. Gnosticism wasn’t always known by this name. It was originally known as the “Colossian Heresy.” In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians with the sole intent to combat the influence Gnosticism was having on Christians.
At first glance, one could say that Gnosticism appears to be where oriental mysticism meets Greek philosophy. However a more in depth look reveals that instead of being a set of beliefs, Gnosticism tends to be more of a framework for how one view’s the world. Gnosticism in its most basic form attempts to answer two basic questions: “How can evil be explained for God is supreme?” and “What is the relationship between God and matter?” Gnostics believe that they have a special secret knowledge that is hidden from most believers. They believe that the spirit is good, but all flesh, as well as the entire physical world, is evil. They believe that a mutual dualism exists between God and evil. Gnostics are dualists. A dualist is someone who believes that both God and the material world exist, but yet God doesn’t ever intervene or interact with the natural world.
In regards to Jesus Christ, Gnostics deny Christ as both God and Savior. Naturally this indicates that they deny the atonement. They believe Christ only appeared to be a human but yet he wasn’t. This view has some serious ramifications. First and foremost, if they don’t believe in Christ as their savior, how can they get to heaven? Gnostics believe that knowledge of one’s true self and of the character of the universe is the way to salvation. They believe that salvation is achieved when at death the person passes through barriers and is reintegrated with God. Being reintegrated with God tends to have a pantheistic flavor to it. (Pantheism is a belief that God is everything). This utter rejection of Christ will lead to eternal separation from God. (See John 14:6)
Gnosticism is still common today. It is big with new agers as well as those in mind science cults, such as Christian Science. (For example, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, writes “Jesus is the human man and Christ is the divine idea. Jesus is not the Christ but the highest human corporeal concept.”) Can you see the elements of Gnosticism we discussed above as being present in Mary Baker Eddy’s statement?
Some people have even formed a Gnostic Church. I don’t know much about this church other than on one hand they use church saints, the church calendar, and the Bible, yet on the other hand they use Gnostic Scriptures (i.e. the Gospel of Thomas), Catechisms, and readings. You can check out the Gnostic Church’s website at http://gnosis.org/.
In my next posting, I will be dealing with perhaps the most popular Gnostic doctrine out right now, The Gospel of Thomas.