Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gnostic Protestants?

The other day I tuned to the local Christian station on my truck radio again and guess what I heard this time. A Protestant “bible teacher” (I didn’t catch his name because I was only able to listen for a few minutes) was talking about death. I listened as he said that when we die, the body goes into the grave but the “real person”, the soul, goes into the presence of God. To make sure we understood his point he emphasized further that the body is not the real person; it is only a “shell” that houses the real person. The real person is the soul, and this is what goes to God, or so this teacher claimed.

I’m not sure where exactly this fellow got his ideas about what makes up the “real person” but it certainly wasn’t from the scriptures or traditional Orthodox Christian belief. His views align much more with Gnosticism than with Christianity. The Gnostics, like the pagans before them, also viewed the soul as the prisoner of the body, ever longing to be set free to a purely spiritual existence without the corruption of evil matter to weigh it down. They too viewed the body as a shell and the soul of man as the only true person.

Orthodox Christianity historically denounced such views and held that every aspect of a man’s existence—his body, soul and spirit—together compose a complete human person. The soul is not the “higher” aspect of humanity; neither is the body the “lower” aspect. All are lovingly created by God to form a total human being, and all are fallen and are in need of redemption. This is why Christ assumed both “a reasoning soul and body” as the creed of Chalcedon insists, and not a human soul only or a human body only. Whatever is not assumed by Christ at His incarnation is not redeemed, and whatever is assumed by Him is worthy of redemption in the sight of God.

But what about St. Paul’s statement that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:17NKJV); wouldn’t this indicate that the material body is at war with the Spirit? Not at all! It is the understanding of traditional Christianity that the term “flesh” as it is used here does not refer to the human body at all, but rather to all the fallen aspects of our humanity which affect both body and soul and cause them to persistently oppose the Spirit of God in His efforts to completely transform the whole human being toward perfection in Christ. Neither St. Paul nor the Church held to the view that the body itself is inherently evil or opposed in any way to the spiritual. If it were, then Christ partook of evil when He assumed our flesh at His incarnation.

Clearly, God does not despise the material aspects of His creation, but loves them equally with the immaterial aspects. Thus to describe the body as a “shell” and not a part of the “real person” is to embrace heresy, in this case Gnostic heresy that was anathematized by the Church in the very early centuries.

What disturbed me the most about hearing this guy’s teaching on this was that this particular radio station does not follow some “New Age” format, but only features Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants in its programming. Thus this Protestant teacher, very likely a pastor somewhere, is teaching Gnostic heresy and nobody seems to notice or be bothered by it. Could this be because such concepts have found a comfortable home in contemporary Christianity?

The Gnostics despised anything at all to do with the physical realm, believing it could not lead to salvation, and focused entirely on what they regarded as pure spiritual contemplation. They liked to read various scriptures and meditate on them, for this they saw as the highest spiritual action of man. Of course they entirely rejected the teaching of the Christian Church, particularly anything connected in any way to the incarnation of Christ. The sacrament of Baptism, uniting man to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, would have had no value to them. Partaking of His precious Body and life-giving Blood in Holy Communion would have seemed like cannibalism. In fact all the sacraments, which are physical means that God has blessed to impart His grace to His people, would have been rejected unless they could be “spiritualized” out of their physical aspects, and thus out of their original meaning and value. Gnostics would not have believed there could be saints on earth, men and women who had been so transformed by obedience to Christ as to become holy while yet in their physical bodies. They would not have venerated icons of these people to give glory to God. They certainly would have rejected the veneration of Mary as the “most holy and most pure Mother of our God”. All of these things—traditional elements of historic Christianity—would not fit with the Gnostic understanding of things.

Seemingly, many of these things do not fit with contemporary Christianity either. If you were to create a chart of the beliefs and practices of many contemporary Christians, with a list of Gnostic beliefs on one side and Orthodox Christian beliefs on the other for comparison, you would be shocked to see that contemporary Christians line up much more with the Gnostic side than with the Orthodox side. While technically still confessing the incarnation of Christ, many contemporary Christians zealously deny all the practical manifestations of it in the Christian life, and much prefer symbolism and “pure spiritual contemplation” over the idea that God actually uses sanctified physical means to impart His divine grace to us and to save us.

Gnostics got themselves into their fix by of course allowing themselves to be influenced by pagan thinking. But what sealed their fate was their stubborn insistence that they alone were correct, and Christ’s Church with its unbroken line of faith and practice handed down from the apostles, was incorrect. Sound familiar? Many contemporary Christians also insist that they can’t possibly be wrong in their interpretations and understandings of things, and that if the early Church disagrees with them on any matter, then it must be the Church that is wrong and not they themselves.

I expect to see things get worse before they get better, if they get better at all. Already many mainline Protestant denominations are outright repudiating the virgin birth and the incarnation of Christ and are becoming fully heretical. If Protestants wish to stem this alarming trend, they would do well to take a lesson or two from history, and return to the ancient Christian faith, still fully embodied and confessed within Eastern Orthodoxy today. I hope they will, before these things no longer matter to them.


At 4/30/2006 2:43 PM , Anonymous Trenna said...

A few years ago, when we were still at our Protestant church, and Andrew was still in H.S..... he read the Gnostic gospels and what drew him to Orthodoxy was exactly the realization that you have spoken of .... he realized that modern Protestant Evangelicals have more in common with the Gnostic heresy than with the True Apostolic Faith!!!

At 6/25/2006 5:58 AM , Blogger Brother Of Yeshua said...

Gnosis is the Divine Manna from Heaven that is imparted to those who are willing to pick up their own cross, and follow in TheWay. The Gentiles were too heathen to comprehend the Spiritual Essence of the teachings of Yeshua/Jesus and TheWay ( Those who condemn, what they fail to comprehend, spiritually disenfranchise themselves from the Truth and TheWay.

At 7/26/2011 4:02 PM , Anonymous David said...

Fabulous post.

At 4/06/2014 7:27 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

BEWARE OF THE BROTHER OF YESHUA WEBSITE! I see he posted on this blog post. I have read his material and it is false. It's exactly what Apostle Paul spoke against in Colossians. The premise of his page is 'saving knowledge' which is totally ridiculous. Don't be dupe.d


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