“If your only tool is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail.”
A similar thing could be said of Gnosticism. If you understand what Gnosticism is and how it works, you will see Gnosticism wherever you look.
“Gnostic,” comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. More specifically, it refers to experiential knowledge. Gnosticism is not about hard facts or objective truths. Its knowledge is mystical and organic, found by peeling back layers to discover the divine spark within you. The Gnostic god is not knowledge. It is Self. Truth comes from within YOU.
Gnostics believe that all religions are the same, because they all point back to the same, common source. All spiritual writings, including the Bible, have value, but only when properly understood. “The written Gospels preserve teachings, not histories. As such, those who look to ancient writings for literal truth will always be disappointed, for the writers of the Gospels were not concerned with telling the literal history: they were concerned with helping others escape suffering and enter into spiritual understanding.” Translation: the Bible’s message is encrypted and must be decoded. Only you can answer the question, “Did God really say that?”
A Gnostic believes that matter is evil, but the spirit is good. Since the body is matter, Jesus could not have been God in the flesh. God could not suffer and die, nor could there be a bodily resurrection. To a Gnostic, salvation is not the forgiveness of wrongs, but unlocking the secret knowledge that will free the spirit from the body.
Gnosticism was one of the first major heresies to threaten the early church. Paul warned, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21) But the error predates the first century. “Knowledge” was the bait on Satan’s trap in the Garden. Adam and Eve could know good and evil, just as God did, by simply following the devil’s promptings. That worked on sinless people, and it is even more effective after the Fall.
Where will you find Gnosticism today? It is present in secret societies such as the Masonic Lodge, in religions that claim to have a secret understanding of the Bible (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and so forth), in churches that place feeling ahead of divine truth, and in cultures where morality is determined by the individual. One example of this sinful subjectivity is the statement that “Only a woman can decide whether aborting the ‘fetus’ (non-person) is right or wrong for her.”
Gnostics avoid distinctions between male and female, animals and humans, good and evil. The fact that a child is born male does not mean that he is male. The fact that you were born into a Lutheran family, does not mean that Lutheranism is right for you. You must decide for yourself. Each person must determine his own truth.
How can anyone combat the lies and blasphemies of Gnosticism? With a hammer. And nail-prints. The hammer is God’s Word. “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; compare Jeremiah 23:28-30) The nail-prints? The Gospel, of course—the message of God’s incredible love and forgiveness in Christ, and of the bodily resurrection that is to come.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.