Gnosticism and Today's Church (Part III)
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Gnosticism is a heresy dating back to the second century. Fundamentally, Gnosticism lifts personal revelation and knowledge above Biblical doctrine and the orthodox teachings of the church. The Gnosticism movement tried to blend the Greek philosophy of the day with the Christian teachings the Apostles had brought to the pagan world. Gnosticism has to do with what happens inside of us - instead of what God has done for us - thus resulting in a moralistic, therapeutic, deism. (1)
As it has for centuries, Gnosticism has seeped into today's church, and daily we are inundated with "preachers" who, instead of teaching directly from the word of God, are preaching their own type of gospel (I write about unqualified teachers here).
To demonstrate how Gnosticism has permeated the church, we will examine three social media posts written/said by four "teachers" whose names/identities will not be revealed.
Case Study 1
Allow me to draw your attention to a few sentences in this post.
"...the gift of DISCERNING OF SPIRITS is your ability to see what spirit is operating behind the motives of a man so that you (being filled with the Holy Spirit) have the advantage.
Apostle Paul writes:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Corinthians 12: 4 - 11 (ESV)
Note that the spirit of discernment (the ability to distinguish between spirits) is not given "so that you have advantage" like the above post states. It is subtle, but this is how Gnosticism creeps in - it focuses on you. Whatever spiritual gift given is not for a person's personal edification, but for the edification of the whole body of Christ. Any gospel or teaching that has the Christian transfixed in the centre is dangerous.
"This is the gift the Body is lacking. This is the gift the Body should pray for. This is the gift that should be exercised on a daily basis."
Nowhere in Scripture do any of the apostles tell us that the spirit of discernment in particular is lacking in the body of Christ. By what authority has this "teacher" come to this conclusion? In addition, where is it written in Scripture that the gift of discernment should be exercised on a daily basis? Apostle Paul mentions nine gifts in the passage quoted above, and he especially emphasizes that different gifts are given to different people. Not everyone will have the spirit of discernment, so when this "teacher" says that the gift is lacking in the body and should be exercised daily, they put two-pronged pressure on their listeners/readers:
a) Why don't I have the gift of discernment?
b) If I do have the gift of discernment, why don't I exercise it daily?
This is the danger of Gnosticism. It puts the onus of revelation on the shoulders of the Christian: You must be knowledge; you must exercise the gifts; you must have certain gifts and if you do not, your Christian walk is a farce, and you are not walking in power.
"Rat poisoning. 90% of it is nutritious. This is why the rat keeps coming back for more. 10% of it is poison that kills you slowly over time."
Finally, what makes this post most ironic is the fact that the "preacher" actually seems to be talking about themselves. Not everything a false teacher preaches will be 100% wrong, there will always be a mixture. While the above preacher does seem to speak from Scripture, further examination causes one to see the error in between the lines.
Case Study 2
"You"/"your" is used over twenty times (combined) in the above post. This is no wonder because today "Positive Affirmations", instead of prayers, psalms, or hymns, are common place in the church.
A Christianity that has my goals, dreams, vision, and ambitions centred in the middle is the norm today. I talk a little more about this in Part I of this series. We must remember that the suffering and resurrection of Christ for our justification and redemption is so much greater than the plans we have for our 80 or so years here.
Let's examine a few sentences:
"You're powerful in ways that will take you a lifetime to unravel..."
Who, if given an option between power and weakness, would choose weakness? It is in our innate, sinful desire as we bear the image of the man of dust - Adam (1 Corinthians 15: 49) - to covet power. Theology like the one above feeds directly into that sinful desire for power and vanity.
I am not powerful. Any thing I have (my education, physical strength, career achievement, social status, beauty) is given to me by Christ Jesus:
yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8: 6
"1. Your dreams are valid and almost anything is possible!"
Christianity is not about my dreams.
"6. Your gender is not as important as your Agenda."
Why should my "Agenda" matter at all?
Now, the capital A in "Agenda" is intentional because the writer is trying to draw the reader's attention to the fact that this supposed "Agenda" is actually God's Agenda. This melding of my desires and ideas with God's - trying to convince myself that my dreams come from God and thus he is obligated to help me achieve them - is dangerous. God and I are worlds apart. His thoughts are not my thoughts neither are his ways my ways (Isaiah 55: 8+9). God and I do not share the same drawing board and it is very irreverent to even think so.
Notice points 2, 5, 6 & 10 highlight the writer's demographic: skin colour, those who consider themselves marginalized, a certain gender, being of African decent.
One of the reasons the prosperity gospel has such a hold in Africa is because of the low quality of living for millions of people on the continent. People use God and his promises of "yes and amen" to fill in the gaping hole that corrupt governments have left: God promises me wealth, health, and good things. It doesn't matter what I see today, I will be rich one day if I just stay faithful (and pay my tithes).
It is sad. This is why Karl Marx called religion "the opium of the people". It helps us forget the pain we are in. I write this as someone who spent her formative years abroad and returned to the stark reality that is Nigeria in 2012. I used my Christianity as a balm, promising myself on the behalf of God that I would make millions one day and would be able to help people who were suffering, if I would just hold on tight. After all, God had told me to come back to Nigeria, so there must be a massive plan He would accomplish through my yielding my life to him. The prosperity gospel thrives in Africa because we see that things work elsewhere and we want to believe that all our suffering is not in vain; we will rise in the end.
But God does promise the Christian suffering. John the Baptist and Apostle Paul were beheaded. Apostle John was boiled in oil and exiled; Apostle Peter was crucified upside down. Apostle Thomas went to India as a missionary and was killed. They did not Live Their Best Life Now. They gave up their lives because to take up your cross and follow Christ is actually to die.
John MacArthur sums up the prosperity gospel aptly:
The true gospel is an offer of salvation from sin and spiritual death. The prosperity gospel ignores those eternal realities and falsely promises deliverance from temporal problems like financial poverty and physical sickness. Jesus called His disciples to abandon all, take up their crosses, and follow Him (Like 9:23). By contrast, the prosperity gospel offers carnal comforts, earthly riches, and worldly success to millions of desperate people who literally buy into it.
Strange Fire: The danger of offending the Holy Spirit with counterfeit worship (2013)
Case Study 3
This name of Jesus we lift is very heavy. It takes resources to lift him high. The body of a 33 year old man called Jesus was hanging on the cross. No prayer warrior could bring it down. No fasting giant could bring it down. It took a man of influence and wealth called Joseph of Arimathea to use his influence with the king and ask for the body to come down and to put it in his own virgin tomb. Prosperity played a role in redemption. Reject poverty. Reject it, I am telling you this. But don't just reject it because you want to be rich. Have a kingdom perspective to it. This obsession about money has made ministry look so ugly. Money, money, money, money, money. No. It is impact. Money is a receipt that you have made impact. When you buy something they don't give you the receipt before you pay. They give you the receipt after. The resources that come are attestations that you have changed lives...
Audio Clip Transcipt. Source: Instagram
As mentioned, no false teacher will say things that are 100% wrong.
Let us examine what this speaker said:
"This name of Jesus we lift is very heavy. It takes resources to lift him high."
There is nowhere in Scripture where the above statement is stated or indicated. If this were true, the Apostles would have told us so, as they walked and talked and were taught by the Lord. Does the above excerpt mean that the poor who have little to no resources cannot lift up the name of Christ?
The speaker is referring to supporting the ministry of the church. This is scriptural and encouraged, however saying that Jesus' name requires resources to be lifted up is a lie. Resources are needed to support the work of the ministry, which is to make disciples of all nations; Matthew 28: 16 - 20.
We must be weary of "fresh revelations" that not only impose meanings that are not there unto the text, but also put pressure on Christians to be wealthy. This is what subtle Gnosticism does.
"Prosperity played a role in redemption."
Nothing and noone but God through the death of Christ played a role in the redemption of our souls from sin and death. To weave the need for wealth into the story of redemption is callous.
If God had decided that he wanted a poor, unknown man or woman to walk up to Pilate's Praetorium and ask for the body of Christ, He would have and the body would have been given to that man or woman of low economic status. If God can cause stones to praise his name and a donkey to speak, He can do anything that He wants to do.
The body of Christ was given to Joseph of Arimathea because God ordained it so, not because he was rich. God can use anybody that he wants to use.
"Have a kingdom perspective to [being rich]."
What is a kingdom perspective? It is not stated in scripture what a "kingdom perspective" or "kingdom mindset" or "kingdom shift" is, yet we hear these terms all the time in Christian circles today. What happens is that "teachers" variously decide for themselves what these terms mean, and most times it relates to worldly things that they want to covet in a "kingdom" way.
One of the times Jesus mentioned "kingdom", he said:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6: 33
Another time, he said:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.
John 18: 36
To Jesus, the kingdom of God is heaven. But "teachers" will twist this simple notion and will concoct a stew out of it, mixing in verses that say God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and therefore a kingdom shift means heavenly things.
"The resources that come [from being rich] are attestations that you have changed lives."
What happens when those resources and riches were made via illegal means? Some people have actually made their wealth by ruining the lives of others; drugs, arms, and human trafficking are typical examples.
This is the danger that comes when you paint with very wide brushes because you are bent on making a point or giving a new "revelation".
Case Study 4
More than you desire to prosper, God NEEDS you to prosper so you can use the wealth and prosperity He gives you to propagate His agenda.
Again, as before, notice the words "agenda".
"God NEEDS you to prosper..."
Not only does Go not "need" anything from us - He is self-sufficient - this is also nowhere in Scripture where this notion or idea is communicated.
Should Christians strive and prosperity? No. They should seek first God's kingdom and everything else will be added to them (Matthew 6: 33). The above quote puts pressure on Christians to make material wealth, and it is unbiblical and burdensome for the people who read this.
Not every business person will be wealthy. And the Bible does not indicate that every Christian will be wealthy. Where would that leave the poor missionary who only has his Bible and his wife and children in the thick jungles of Peru? Or our brothers and sisters languishing in prisons around the world because of their faith in Jesus?
We need to be careful the message that we are preaching, ensuring that it aligns only with what is written in Scripture.
Beloved, there are wolves amongst us. The Scriptures warn us time and again to be wary of false teachers: Matthew 7: 15; 1 John 2: 19.
Let us guard our hearts and be careful who we listen to/read from.
Read your bible. Go to church. Be at peace.(2)
(1): The White Horse Inn Podcast tackles Gnosticism thoroughly in Episode 1232: Pluralism & The American Religion
(2): The Messed Up Church.