Gnosticism and the altar of special knowledge in the church today

What is gnosticism?

Gnosticism is literally, “the cult based on special, personal knowledge.” The apostle Paul specifically warned against this kind of division, which has spawned several very large Christian-like religions, dozens of very closed denominations, and hundreds or thousands of small sects. Each of these groups claims some “special personal knowledge,” which they have and you do not, which makes them more acceptable to God than you, and which keeps them separate from you.

In the last month, I talked to 2 different people in 2 different organizations that exemplified this behavior. One couldn’t pray with me unless I used the magic phrase of their religion. One couldn’t work with me because they don’t use musical instruments in their worship and I do. You may think these are extreme, but if you talk to very many people, you will soon realise it is all too common. Sadly, it started just a few years after Jesus Christ bled and died on the cross to pay for the sins of humanity and reconcile all people back to himself. Here is what the Apostle Paul commanded one large congregation.

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT)

The Greek language carries a deeper and more picturesque image of this command.

  • The word katērtismenoi draws the picture of a fisherman repairing his net, after the damage of a long day fishing, to restore it to full use. Therefore, the Apostle Paul is pleading with Christians to repair the damage caused by their personal opinions against each other to restore them to full use.
  • The word noi is more than just the organ of the brain, it encompasses all the great abilities of the brain to question, to reason, to think, to learn, and to understand. This is where we learn about God and this where we hear from God.
  • The word gnómé carries the meaning of everything the brain does: personal opinion, the result of direct knowledge, judgement formed by analysis, the purpose that determines what needs to be done, the intention and resolve for doing things, and the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

Stop here for a moment. Consider and meditate on the idea of “knit together in mind and purpose” in those picturesque terms. Jesus Christ wants us to repair the damage caused by our own personal opinions of special knowledge against each other to restore one another to full use.

Gnosticism worships special personal knowledge

1108. gnósis
gnṓsis (a feminine noun derived from 1097 /ginṓskō, “experientially know”) – functional (“working”) knowledge gleaned from first-hand (personal) experience, connecting theory to application; “application-knowledge,” gained in (by) a direct relationship. See 1097 (ginōskō).

1108 /gnṓsis (“applied-knowledge”) is only as accurate (reliable) as the relationship it derives from. For example, the Gnostics boasted of their “applied knowledge” gained by their personal spiritual experiences – and it was (is) disastrous!

[“Gnosticism” is literally, “the cult based on having special, personal knowledge” (1108 /gnṓsis).]HELPS Word-studies

Gnosticism,” says Dr. Gwatkin, “is Christianity perverted by learning and speculation” (Early Church History 73). The intellectual pride of the Gnostics refined away the gospel into a philosophy. The clue to the understanding of Gnosticism is given in the word from which it is derived-gnosis, “knowledge.” Gnosticism puts knowledge in the place which can only rightly be occupied by Christian faith. To the Gnostic the great question was not the intensely practical one, “What must I do to be saved from sin?” but “What is the origin of evil?” “How is the primitive order of the universe to be restored?” In the knowledge of these and of similar questions, and in the answers given to these questions, there was redemption, as the Gnostic understood it.

These little Gnostic sects and groups all lived in the conviction that they possessed a secret and mysterious knowledge, in no way accessible to those outside, which was not to be proved or propagated, but believed in by the initiated, and anxiously guarded as a secret. This knowledge of theirs was not based on reflection or scientific inquiry and proof, but on revelation. It was derived directly from the times of primitive Christianity, from the Saviour Himself and His disciples and friends, with whom they claimed to be connected by a secret tradition, or else from later prophets, of whom many sects boasted. It was laid down in wonderful mystic writings, which were in the possession of the various circles.

“In short, Gnosticism in all its various sections, its form and its character, falls under the category of mystic religions, which were so characteristic of the religious life of decadent antiquity. In Gnosticism, as in the other mystic religions, we find the same contrast of the initiated and the uninitiated, the same loose organization, the same kind of petty sectarianism and mystery-mongering. All alike boast a mystic revelation and a deeply veiled wisdom” (Bousset, op. cit., 153).International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Thus, we learn that Gnosticism is the same as most other false doctrine and false religion. It is setting yourself on the throne of your life rather than God. It is worshipping yourself. It is self-idolatry. It is the exact same sin as described by the Apostle Paul…

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25)

This sin leads to all manner of evil from a depraved mind, which finally culminates in the cult of hatred that God warned us about…

they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:31-32)

Warnings against the altar of knowledge

Don’t just read these verses, or worse, don’t skip over these verses, but follow these links and ponder how to apply this in your life today. What is the command, what is the promise, and what is the application of each of these verses for you right now?

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. (Jude 1:8)

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)

But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other. (Galatians 5:15)

The cure for gnosticism and the altar of knowledge

As with everything, the answer has always been and will always be Jesus Christ.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. (Romans 12:3-5)

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (Romans 12:6-8)

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One Reply to “Gnosticism and the altar of special knowledge in the church today”

  1. Thank you for your article. It was very interesting. Adding some thoughts about the “cure”: As Christians, we are not to elevate ourselves over other of God’s children simply because they may have a different opinion about how to worship the Lord. Though Christians do have the privilege of discussing their bible differences, we are never to put down one another or divide over unessential doctrinal differences. If, however, a group Christians do not embrace or understand the grace of God, and that misunderstanding causes them to not wholeheartedly accept a brother who has some differences, sometimes a peaceful fellowship is not possible. Peaceful fellowship is only possible on God’s terms.
    Col 3:12-15 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
    2 Tim 2: 14-18 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

    2 Tim 2:23-26 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

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