Beginning this week, Pastor Carlson will include an article in the weekly news exploring one of the various heresies that have existed in the church over the centuries — and still do today. The articles will be based on the Lutheran Witness, August 2023 edition, the article title, “Heresies: Ancient and Modern,” along with other sources and information as cited. Today we delve into the broad and influential heresy of Gnosticism.
As we look around our world, we can’t but help see how strange everything is. From issues of transgenderism where we can no longer define what a ‘woman’ is without offending people, to AI and notions of superhuman computers controlling everything, to the total dismantling of marriage and family, to the climate change dogma pounded into our heads from the moment of birth, to reparations, and on and on…
Then as we look at churches in the media or even in our own back yard, we see this gradual but inevitable slip into theological liberalism, higher criticism, religious tolerance making theology and sound doctrine nothing but a gray-area endeavor, celebrity pastors with their hip rock bands and smoke machines, and the entire church turning, for all practical purposes, into a concert venue where thoughts of liturgy and sound preaching are lost to what is “popular” and “easy on the ears.”
The truth is that all of these things are very much related. They are all a product of how society, driven by postmodernism and post postmodernism tends to reject what is real, substantive, and universal, for what is delusion and fantasy. People, rather than looking outside themselves for objective truth and absolute reality, now look into themselves, into their emotions, their “inner voice” to determine for each one what is true and real.
We call this Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a religion of “knowing” (the word “know” is the English derivative of the Greek “gnosis” or “knowledge,” and Gnosticism is about knowing) but not knowing from objective things, universal things, but seeing this world and existence as the illusion, the lie, while the pursuit of the great Sophia, the highest wisdom, is how to obtain knowledge. According to Gnostic dogma, this universe was flawfully created by the “Demiurge,” a deity of powers who exists in another plane. To separate oneself from the flawed creation of Demiurge, one must separate himself from the illusion of this world and become one with Sophia.
Gnosticism is one of the several heretical religions which St. Paul fought against in the early church, not to mention St. John and even St. Peter. There are also other religions that spawned from Gnosticism throughout the ages such as Zoroastrianism, Platonism, the Mystery religions along with their many false gospels, Jewish Kabbalah, Buddhism, Mysticism, Christian Science, Scientology, Freemasonry, and so very many other sects that parade as Christian or are pantheist, nontheist, or spiritualist.
We find the effects of Gnosticism in the Christian church whenever we find theology that encourages the individual to look into himself for greater spiritualism, knowledge, insight, or depth into God, rather than to the objective Word of God, the Holy Scripture, and the Sacraments, the Means of Grace where God has promises to be found.
Politically, Gnosticism is mixed in with totalitarianism, communism, fascism, and progressivism. All of these political philosophies seek truth, not in absolute notions of moral or civil law, but in utilitarianism and pragmatism. We find Gnosticism in our current “woke” culture where people reject any notion of absolute moral or ethical truth and each person decides for him or herself what is true based on something inside (emotion, inclination, nurture, etc.). For the postmodernist, language is oppressive, so things like gender (male and female) are considered oppressive ideas, too restrictive and not loving. Gnosticism attacks the God-designed system called the family, making marriage an “institution” oppressive to true freedom of expression, and children hinderances to living a full life. This idea is what is ultimately behind the Abortion industry, or at least what keeps it funded.
Gnosticism affects us in so very many ways, and as Christians we must recognize how it has affected us, repent of its pull, and seek Christ and His Word. Our Lord never wanted His people to see His Church as an oppressive institution, full of rules and restrictions (such as theology, morals, right and wrong, etc.) but as a sanctuary of hope, forgiveness, truth, and justice. He never wanted His people to see family and marriage as an appendage of an old, patriarchal society. He never wanted humans to judge right and wrong, truth and lies on feelings or “self-expression,” but on His universal, objective, and unchanging Word.
The good news is that Gnosticism seems to always get pushed out when people see how devastating it is to society. We are in the midst of a Gnostic self-destruction even now. Socially, the “non-binary” movement is collapsing in on itself as women, who fought for equal rights, are not being told that men who want to be women have more rights. In the church, the progressive movement and theological liberal movement is on its last legs and a new love of liturgy and sacred, ancient forms of worship which are faithful to the Scripture and properly teach the faith are being returned. But most importantly, Jesus is still the Lord of all things, and He works for the good of all His people. We may see horrible things in this world, but the Lord is also working good. He is still saving sinners from death and the devil. His Word is still reaching out to the corners of the world with the good news of forgiveness. His blessed Sacrament is still being offered to all who repent and confess the truth every week, just as it’s been for nearly 2,000 years.
In the end of the day, the cure to the pull of Gnosticism is Jesus and His Word. We have it, and we can share it! I encourage you to pray for opportunities to share Christ with your neighbor and help them wake up from the slumber of Gnosticism and the ancient lie of the serpent.