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  • A Gnostic Gospel? The Error Found
    in Many Conservative Churches Today

    ARTICLE INDEX     



    Galatians 1:6-8

    "6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. "

    2 Corinthians 11:2-4

    "2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present [you as] a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. "

    Part 1, Part 2

    Today, many are concerned about the growing trend of church apostasy in the form of the Emergent Church, Prosperity Movement, Mormonism and other popular movements. Christian watchdogs indeed have right to be concerned as many churches forsake scripture for tolerance, understanding or some other "new" concept. And, ironically, even some of these Christian watchdog groups are even falling prey to a false gospel, namely a Gnostic-like Gospel.

    For the conservative protestant who knows his or her Bible, one would assume they could not fall prey to any false teaching, while being diligent. How could someone who is a biblical literalist and knows the Bible thoroughly ever lose sight of the truth?

    For the Conservative, it is a number of things that can cause them to err:

    1. imposing theological concepts onto the scriptures while interpreting.
    2. relying heavily on translations of the Bible in your native tongue (i.e. ~ English).
    3. lacking knowledge about the early church and historic biblical orthodoxy.

    So, what is this "Gnostic-Like Gospel"?

    This Gnostic leaning gospel is more commonly known as the "Easy Believism" Gospel. This gospel teaches that one just needs to "accept Jesus by faith as their Saviour, who died on the cross for their sins". You maybe wondering to yourself, "Where is the error in that?" Well, the problem is, it does not require the person to repent of their sins or to put Jesus as Lord of their life.

    Why is the "Easy Believism" gospel Gnostic by nature? Well, the Early Church Gnostics taught a number of beliefs and concepts which have striking similarities to some teachings found in some conservative protestant churches today. It is not the same belief structure overall, but it definitely has the same basic root. First, they believed that a certain secret knowledge will save you. The term "Gnostic" comes from "gnosis", which means "knowledge". Consider, that it is faith in the knowledge of Jesus being your Saviour which saves you in the "Easy Believism" gospel. You believe a set of facts and are "saved". You are not required to repent or make Jesus your Lord. Just recite a prayer and receive a certain belief, and you are saved forever, even if you never take Christ as your Lord.

    Now, the Gnostic gospel is indeed a different beast, but it does have this "saving knowledge" component. The Gnostics seem to vary in their beliefs, but had a main root from which their theories derived, namely that the flesh is evil, while the spirit is good. That is why some Gnostics did not believe Jesus was physically born of a virgin or suffer, while others did believe both Jesus was born of a virgin and suffered, yet was free from his physical nature in some other way. So, one cannot nail down a set of "Gnostic beliefs" when it came to various doctrines per se, as they had a wide variety. Yet, one can point to the root of the problem, which led to their diverse theories on God's nature. And to the Gnostic, a certain knowledge would be able to free them, as it was tied to spiritual salvation.

    If the Jews were God's chosen people, the Gnostics held a special place as well, as “the people who know” or the gnostikos. Their work on earth was to free themselves from the physical realm of matter. Their salvation came through secret, inner knowledge. - Salvation Through Gnosis

    Is that the only Gnostic point of the Easy Believism Gospel? No. In reality, the whole mindset of those who adhere to the "Easy Believism Gospel" is Gnostic in various respects. Consider this: Gnostics believed that the physical was evil, while the spirit was good, as an evil god created the physical, while a good God created the spiritual.

    How in the world does that relate?

    If you have ever been to a church that teaches "Easy Believism" you will note their high focus on physical sins, particularly entertainment, pleasure or sexual lust based sins. Yet, they minimize or even outright ignore spiritual sins, such as love of money, idolatry or other sins which are against Christ. And if you think about it, it would be a natural progression if you believed that you did not need Jesus as your Lord.

    Also, with Gnosticism, you found either people who had strict form of life avoiding all physical, or the exact opposite. With the opposite, they recognized these physical entertainments as sinful, but then partook in them anyways, as they considered themselves "spiritually enlightened". This seems to echo the idea of "you can't help sinning in word, thought and deed daily", where the neo-Calvinist justifies his sin, and says he is "spiritually saved".

    So unbridled is their [Gnostics] madness, that they declare they have in their power all things that are irreligious and ungodly. And they are at liberty to practice them. - Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W)

    On a side note, I need to clear the air here. John Calvin believed repentance was part of the salvation message. So, I am not slandering John Calvin here. Rather, I am pointing out the errors of some (not all) of those who claim to follow him. Here are just a few random quotes of John Calvin proving this:

    "The title of the chapter seems to promise a treatise on Faith, but the only subject here considered is Repentance, the inseparable attendant of faith"(Calvin's Institutes Bk. III, Ch. III).

    "I reply, Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God"(Calvin's Commentary on Galatians V, XXI).

    So, it should be clear that John Calvin does not agree with those of the "Easy Believism" camp.

    Yet, I should point out that there is danger in both extreme Calvinism and extreme Arminianism. With Calvinism, we see that his teachings were inspired by St. Augustine of Hippo. So the Calvin vs Arminian debate has been compared to the St. Augustine vs. Pelgagian debate.

    Yet, let me explain really what is going on here. The Pelagians, even though they started off on the right foot (Atleast Pelagius did), went into heresy (works-based salvation). So, the Arminian has to be careful not to fall into error on this extreme. I would say that Arminius is directly apposed to the Pelagian heresy, as he aptly demonstrates here.

    However, here is the error on the Calvinist side, which seems to often get a free pass. You see, St Augustine was also influenced by a heresy. I am not saying he had heresy, but that he was influenced by it. It is clear when one reads his viewpoints on various topics, such as abortion, sex, marriage, the afterlife and other topics. The fact is, St. Augustine was a Manichean before he was a Christian. Now, what is a Manichean? It is essentially a form of Gnosticism (what we have been discussing this whole time).

    Now, how does St Augustine's Gnostic beliefs of the past influence his Christian doctrine? Well, he believed that sex, marriage in general, where evil (while keeping a concubine due to societal constraints). He also championed the idea of "eternal torment" in Hell for non-believers (which I discuss in great deal here). Why did he think this? Because of his foundations in Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the physical was evil, while the spirit was good. The Apostle Paul made use of this idea in Galatians 5, yet he pointed out the Christian view of this, rather than the Gnostic view. Likely, St Augustine assumed the Apostle Paul believed the same as his Gnostic ideas, so he assumed that all sex was sinful, which is clear if you read St Augustine's Writings.

    So, what does St Augustine's viewpoint on all sex being depraved have to do with anything? Well, think about it for a minute. Where did St Augustine come up with the idea of "Total Depravity"? Would it not be from his misunderstanding of the topic of sex and believing all physical pleasure is sinful? So, he assumed it was so wired into the Human DNA, that we are "Totally Depraved". This, of course leads to the other doctrines of the TULIP. If one is totally depraved, we have "Unconditional Election". Since God is the only element in the process, he only atones for those he saves. Since the man has no part in the process, it is "Irresistible Grace". And, because man has no part in the choice, God makes sure you stay saved. Hence, one could say that Calvinist theology stems from a misunderstanding of the physical nature of man. Yet, I do believe Calvin makes a point, in that sinful nature is truly sinful and without God, we can not do righteousness. Yet, at the same time, I am not going to make the foolish assumption there is no free will or say a man can not choose God. That to me seems altogether as illogical as to say man on his own can do righteousness. Perhaps God could give ability to choose him through his power? A mix of the two. Why does free will have to be thrown in the garbage (as I think I would have to throw my brain into the garbage with it)?

    Yet, what about the potential error on Arminian's side? Yes, its true, one can become very works based if not careful. We can see this in the Catholic Church. However, I would say that the point of all of this is that EITHER extreme can lead to error. Yet, I would think that Arminius is closer to the truth, based on the fact the early fathers are far more in agreement with him than Calvin.

    Maybe the "moral of the story" here is not to put your theology over scripture. Your theological paradigm could nulify God's Word. Perhaps this is why the Orthodox Church leaves some doctrines as "mysteries", while the doctors of the Catholic Church spent too much time in conjectures, which led to odd doctrines like "Purgatory" or "Limbo". Perhaps the Russian and Greek Orthodox had it right following the KISS model "Keep it Simple Silly", so as to avoid error.

    With regards to this "Gnosticizing" of terminology, you can see the pattern in many church and theological belief structures today.

    Take for example the terms "adultery" and "fornication". Does not fornication and adultery point to sexual sins? Of course. However, Gnostics maximize the physical sinfulness of these terms and minimize the spiritual sinfulness side of these terms.

    For example, the term fornication. This term, according to the original Strong's Concordance means, "adultery, incest, harloty and idolatry". See for yourself below:

    4202 porneia por-ni'-ah

    from 4203; harlotry
    (including adultery and
    incest); figuratively,
    idolatry:--fornication.

    see GREEK for 4203

    However, what we find with those of the Gnostic gospel (neo-Calvinists, certain Baptist and Easy-Believism Churches) is that they believe fornication means, "sex before marriage and a laundry list of other sexual activities".

    Note, they have a total focus on the physical side of the term. They have totally divorced the idolatrous component from the term. From my studies, the term fornication almost never refers to sex before marriage (its the least of its definitions) and half of the time is used to refer to idolatry within scripture. For instance fornication with other nations (committing idolatry, taking on idolatrous practices).

    So, if I misdefine the term, would that not change the meaning of scripture?

    Why do Gnostics gravitate towards condemning the physical and giving a free pass to the spiritual? I believe it is a result of their understanding of the gospel. They believe just an adherence to a set of facts (i.e. ~ Jesus died for your sins) is enough to save you. Mere belief in this set of facts is enough. So, they do not like repentance, commitment or fidelity to Jesus or His Lordship. Which means, they like to commit idolatry. As they do not see it as relevant to put Jesus as Lord. They violate the first, second and third of the Ten Commandments.

    And also, why do they add to the physical meaning? I believe it is a result of their unregenerated state. Consider how the Pharisees in Jesus' day made 10,000 rules (Talmud) surrounding the 10 Commandments. Would that not be adding to scripture? It is clear, non-believers will either add or take away from scripture.

    Back to the topic of "works". The Neo-Calvinist, with sleight of hand, will tell you that "commitment" is a work, "repentance" is a work, "love" is a work. While "faith only" is a non-work.

    Yet, even John Calvin disagrees with them! See here:

    "And although we ought to love God far more than men, yet most properly does God, instead of worship or honor, require love from us, because in this way he declares that no other worship is pleasing to Him than what is voluntary; for no man will actually obey God but he who loves Him"(Commentary on Matthew, Mark and Luke - Volume 3, Matthew 22:37).

    Yet no one challenges this Gnostic perversion of "faith alone". Well, I will challenge them. Where does it say that "faith" is the only non-work? If faith is a "non-work", would not "love" also be a non-work? Jesus says in one passage that if one "loves God and loves neighbor" they shall receive eternal life. Is it not wrong for these "Easy Believists" to cherry pick their favorite verses about faith and ignore all the others that make it clear there is commitment? Is not "fidelity" a non-work? For something to be a work, it has to be a task. Is love a task? Is faith a task? Or is something like cleaning the church a task?

    25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. - Jesus, Luke 10:25-28.

    Well, it appears that Jesus agrees with me. If you love God and love your neighbor, you will inherit eternal life. Notice Jesus never says, pray a prayer and just "believe" and you will be saved. No, what he is showing here is that loving God is equivalent to being "faithful" to God. And this proves the term "faith" means more than just mental ascent.

    Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons. - Irenaeus (c. 180 E) .

    Let us practice righteousness so that we may be saved unto the end. - Second Clement (c. 150) .

    If you do not guard yourself against [anger] you and your house will lose all hope of salvation - Hermas (c. 150, W) .

    It is neither faith, nor the love, nor the hope, nor the endurance of one day; rather, "he that endures to the end will be saved." - Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E) .

    The world returned to sin... and so it is destined to fire. So is the man who after baptism renews his sins. - Tertullian (c. 197, W) .

    So, it is clear, it is by sleight of hand that these neo-Calvinists change the gospel, to fill their bellies. They love to commit idolatry and then tell you that you are working for your salvation, just because you are faithful to Christ. Because, you actually do what the Bible tells you. Well, for me, I am not working for my salvation. Yet, I know the term faith in Greek means more than mere head knowledge and belief. Take a look for yourself:

    Word: pisteuw

    Pronounce: pist-yoo'-o

    Strongs Number: G4100

    Orig: from 4102; to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one's spiritual well-being to Christ):--believe(-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with. G4102

    Use: TDNT-6:174,849 Verb

    Heb Strong: H6004 H8085

      1) to have faith in, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in
      1a) of the thing believed
      1a1) to credit, have confidence
      1b) in a moral or religious reference
      2) by implication, to commit or entrust, i.e. to entrust your spiritual well-being to Christ
      2a) to make a commitment (to trust)
      2b) to put in trust with or place confidence in

    Matter of fact, with the Easy Believism gospel, you can keep money as your god, and just say the sinner's prayer, and be "saved". Naturally, these people explain away the situation in which Jesus told the rich man to give up his god of money and give it to the poor, and come follow him. They find a way to explain away all such verses.

    So, naturally, they like to delete certain portions of definitions. The term faith, for instance, also has been modified to fit their theology. The term faith includes fidelity, commitment, faithfulness. To be faithful, one would first have to repent and put Jesus as Lord. But, these neo-Calvinistic believers do not see it as required.

    Matter of fact, most terms that deal with morality have to be altered or have part of their definitions deleted, obscured or modified to fit their Gnostic agenda. The term adultery does not refer anymore to cheating on God with idolatry. You are no longer his Bride as the Church? You can be a whore and sleep with all manner of false gods you are in love with. Money can be your God. You can even make yourself a God (sounds a little like the prosperity preachers now).

    God does not have to be your Lord. All you need to do is "believe". Yes, do you believe this gospel? Or are you faithful to Christ's gospel? For Christ said, "narrow and straight is the way that leads to life".

    Or do you like the Gnostic leaning gospel? After all, you are not required to live right. You can do as you desire with no consequences. As Christ paid for all of your sins, past, present and future.

    Perhaps those preachers you see on TV and hear on the Radio will end up in Hell? Maybe their leading many into apostasy and God will require their blood for not warning and preaching the gospel correctly?

    "16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. - Matthew 7:16-20

    You and I both know, when reading the Bible, that God requires you to give him your life. It is not mere belief in Christ that saves you. You must repent of your sins, and be faithful to him unto the end. No, you will not just loose your reward in heaven if you live a life of sin. You will also end up in Hades.

    But the Lord is gracious. Did you know, the Gnostics also taught that one goes directly to Heaven or Hell when he dies? Doesn't that sound familiar? Do not most all protestant churches teach the same?

    In reality, all go to the place of the dead (SHEOL/HADES). Some to a higher level (PARADISOS/ABRAHAM'S BOSOM) and some to a lower level of Hades. As we seen in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Is it possible for one to repent in the afterlife? Some of the early fathers believed it was possible and some did not. Protestants today almost altogether reject the idea, however, they do not have any real scriptural ground when one looks into the original languages in which the Bible was written.

    Albeit, there is a pretty solid argument via theology used to claim one has no chance after death. It is one of the only arguments I have ever heard which may have some weight. Essentially, the argument is that one needs to be in the flesh to be saved, as Christ died in the flesh. Yet, one could argue that sin is not only present in the flesh, but also your spirit. Again, back to the Gnostic concepts of the flesh is evil, while the spirit is good. I would say a sinner's spirit is not good, and neither is his flesh. And I would say also, that such a theological argument does not convince me, as it seems a little too simplistic when compared to scripture. Some defenders also reference a passage which states that "after you die, then comes the judgment". Yet, is the judgment right after you die? Or is it at the end of the world when Christ judges all? I think it is clear, that one is not immediately judged upon death based on this.

    "You may have fallen in with some [Gnostics] who are called Christians. However, they do not admit this [intermediate state], and they venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham.. They say there is no ressurection of the dead. Rather, they say that when they die, their souls are taken to Heaven. Do not imagine that they are Christians." - Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.239.

    Its a little too much that the "Easy Believism" teachers of today teach also baptism and communion similar to the Gnostics found in the early church. In the early church, Gnostics believed that baptism had no relevance to salvation. Doesn't that sound familiar? They believed the physical was evil after all. In reality, baptism on a spiritual level is required for salvation, as Christ washes you of your sins. The physical act is a representation of the spiritual change. So also with communion the Gnostics found no relevance, yet in reality Christ is present spiritually in the eucharist. Those of the "Easy Believism" persuasion believe that baptism is not necessary for salvation and teach that communion is only symbolic.

    "This washing of repentance and knowledge of God has been ordained on account of the transgression of God's people, as Isaiah cries. Accordingly, we have believed and testify taht the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the water of life.... For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred." - Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201

    "When we come to refute them [the Gnostics], we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the whole faith.... For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins." - Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.346

    So baptism does save you. Not the physical washing, but you being clean before God. Yet, some within Protestant churches sound very Gnostic in their approach to baptism. They marginalize it into some trinket of Christianity. It is a sign of your faith. It no longer has anything to do with your soul being cleansed of sin. After all, who needs to repent of their sins when all you need to do is "believe and be saved"?

    And what about the Gnostic's view of communion, saying it has no relevancy? Isn't it odd how the "Easy Believism" camp seems to hate anything that has to do with "works"? With communion some churches say it is a symbolic gesture only. Another trinket of Christianity. Yet, in reality, Christ is spiritually present in the host and the wine. It is not mere symbolism.

    "To drink the blood of Jesus is to become partaker of the Lord's immortality... As wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man.... And the mixture of both - of the water and the Word - is called the Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace. Those who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul. " - Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.439

    Are you seeing how Gnosticism has influenced your church? Maybe it is more serious than you thought. Even those who are anti-Calvinistic do not escape Gnosticism. Can anyone deny the overt focus on physical appearance among the Wesleyan/Arminian churches? And the huge focus on physical appearance and conduct, even seeing short sleeves as "lustful"? Would that not also be altogether Gnostic in origin? After all, did not God create women? Or did the Devil create their bodies to be attractive to men? So, did an evil god create the physical body as Gnostics taught? Or did a good God create the human form? If a good God created it, how could one say it is evil and needs to be overtly covered? Hence, we see even those on the other side of the fence are influenced by Gnosticism.

    Consider what RC Sproul says on the topic of sexual immorality:

    "We know, of course, that the Bible does not give us a clear list and directions, a manual of sexual behavior that gives us direct, explicit instructions on what we can and cannot do. There is not a section of the Bible that you can open and it's going to say in there, "Do not place hand upon breast." We will not find a list that says, "No petting above the waist." "No petting below the waist." "No petting over the clothes." "No petting under the clothes," and all that kind of thing. What we do have is an explicit prohibition against fornication " - (Sproul, R.C. Sex and the Single Christian, "How far is too far?" Sound recording, Ligonier Tape Series, Orlando, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, 1996).

    I agree with RC Sproul for the most part regarding the above, minus the point where he says there is not a section of the Bible with a set of directions. Actually, the Bible does give a clear set of directions. It's just not in the New Testament. Rather, its found in Leviticus 18:7-23.

    So, where do all of these other rules come from that are found in some conservative churches today? They are mainly ideas of what people think are sins, not what the Bible actually says. The Bible does not say you need long sleeves, that you cannot dance, that you cannot touch a woman (I am refering to a normal touch. See the odd rules of Pensacola Christian College), etc. These extra rules are just a form of legalism, as RC Sproul also elaborates on here:

    "Legalism involves imposing moral obligations upon people from a human tradition perspective, which are not in fact the laws of God. That is making it mandatory to conform to a certain behavioral pattern where God leaves you free. We see a lot of that in the Christian community. We see all kinds of lists of dos and don'ts that we read that a Christian simply cannot be involved in. A Christian is one who can't dance, a Christian is not allowed to go to movies, a Christian cannot wear lipstick, and all that sort of thing that we've been through at different periods of Christian history. In other words, artificial standards of spirituality and godliness have replaced biblical standards of Christian principles and ethics and sanctity. That's legalism, where we legislate people's behavior where God has left them free (Ibid)." - (Sproul, R.C. Sex and the Single Christian, "How far is too far?" Sound recording, Ligonier Tape Series, Orlando, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, 1996).

    Indeed. But it goes much further than this. For even Matthew 5:27-28 has fallen prey to this Gnostic tradition. For this is the one passage found in the New Testament which appears to speak volumes on sexual immorality. Yet, most are missing its intended meaning. As the verse is paraphrasing the 10th Commandment of Exodus 20, "Thou shalt not covet thy ... neighbor's wife". Yet, some translators decided to translate it as "woman", instead of "wife" in Matthew 5, so it says instead "you shall not lust after a woman". In reality, the Greek terms Jesus used in the passage are the very same ones used in the Greek Septuagint in Exodus 20 (see for yourself: Mat 5:28, Ex. 20:17), which Jesus would have been very well acquainted with (it was like today's KJV to him). So, clearly, Jesus was paraphrasing the 10th Commandment, not saying you can never desire any woman. Hence, many of these rules (but not all) about dress, dancing, thoughts, etc are just rules of men, and are based on a false understanding of this passage of scripture.

    So, we have to be careful when studying God's Word. We have to avoid slanting terms to what we want it to mean. Also, we have to be diligent in seeking the truth and harmonizing scripture. To avoid all manner of false doctrine. Consider also, how making extra rules could nullify God's Word, as we saw with the Pharisees of Jesus day. Sometimes, good intentions could actually turn one against God's Word or could cause some sort of chain reaction of error you did not intend or expect.



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