Quill and writing

The Contemporary Church is Gnostic

This complaint is metaphysical not epistemological.  Ancient Gnosticsran with at least two emphases: first, that the material aspect of creation is spiritually subordinate to the invisible, non-tangible elements; second, that secret knowledge is to be acquired in order to properly comprehend ‘spiritual matters.’ My concern here is with the former – i.e., that spiritual mastery involves transcending earth’s physical theatre and focusing one’s gaze upon an unseen ‘spiritual’ realm – the imagined locus of God’s kingdom. 

How and why this heresy arose is beyond the scope of this short article.  I merely want to t delineate the characteristics of this ‘Gnostic’ way of thinking and, by way of contrast, celebrate what the Bible actually teaches.  Let me then describe how such neo-Gnosticism manifests itself:

  • There is a strong tendency to reckon certain activities ‘spiritual’ in contrast to those exercises that are essentially ethically neutral.  Accordingly, religious sentiments arise from devotional pursuits such as Church attendance, Bible reading, hymn singing, fellowship/communion around the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, etc.  Very commonly, either explicitly or implicitly, those whose vocations involve Church leadership or foreign mission are thought to be especially sanctified and their day-to-day labours are considered particularly sacred.  By contrast, plumbers, carpenters, wine merchants, etc,. are SUBTLY made to feel like second class citizens in God’s kingdom. 
  • There is a tendency to play down the importance of politics or any other culturally enriching art or pursuit such as music, literature, history, horticulture, etc.  Why?  Because this physical world is destined to burn (see 2Pet 3:10-13).  Christ’s kingdom, we are told, is essentially found exclusively within the Church and Church business.  Matters of state, matters of civic order and public justice are downgraded as part of the natural order which are considered separate to Jesus’ jurisdiction.  Many Christians disdain political conversation (and even more its activity!) presuming that it represents a display of ‘worldliness’.  Jesus said, after all, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (Jn 18:36). 
  • Accordingly, there is a notable tendency to avoid political discourse or indeed any subject that might not be obviously addressed by the Scriptures.  Preaching tends to be ‘gospel-centred’ which comes to mean that most messages tend to conclude with a ‘gospel call’ urging the hearers to question again their personal allegiance to Jesus and, if necessary, pray again the sinner’s prayer and put their trust in God.  Soul salvation tends to be the primary concern.  Salvation is reduced to a ‘fire and life insurance policy’ providing those who respond with confidence and assurance that, cometh the day of death/judgement, they will spend eternity in God’s heaven.

But all of this is a significant distortion of the Bible’s presentation of metaphysical reality.  I must necessarily be brief in outlining what Scripture actually teaches.  Here goes:

  • God made the world and the universe.  He made it good!  Before the Fall it was declared to be ‘very good!’  The whole of Scripture depicts the Earth as the theatre of redemption.  The psalmist declares, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters’ (24:1).  The Bible tells us that the wicked will be (gradually) removed from the Earth (Ps 37:9) to make way for God’s new humanity – redeemed in Christ.  For ‘the meek shall inherit the Earth’ (Matt 5:5).
  • Sin, not the material of creation, is our enemy.  Sin presently keeps us from perceiving God’s creation as we ought.  Were our minds ablaze with God’s Spirit our eyes would recognize the amazing intricacies and astonishing beauty of God’s handiwork.  Isaiah was briefly enlightened to see it properly; he declared, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ (Is 6:3).  The Earth is today a sort of magnificent wreck – spoilt by sin – but yet, whilst presently firing on just three cylinders, it sports a loud and persistent song of triumph to its Maker whose wisdom, power and love are manifest in every atom (see Ps 139:13-15; Prov 20:12).
  • This Earth is destined to be filled up again (i.e. renewed) with heavenly glory (see Hab 2:14; Is 11;9).  Our posterity is destined to see the reunion of ‘heaven and earth’ (Eph 1:10) – a renewed physical landscape over which Christ reigns and rules resurrected physical bodies which will die no more! (see 1Cor 15).  Realising all of this, Martin Luther, when asked what he’d do if he knew Jesus would return tomorrow, famously replied, “I’d plant a tree!”
  • Nearly done.  How very different authentic Biblical spirituality looks like!  Accordingly, the sanctified, tuned in, Christian who’s learnt to walk humbly before God savours each fleeting moment of his life.  The very pulse of life animating his body is perceived as a miracle of God’s kindness and providence; he seeks to notice details in all of God’s exquisite handiwork (not evolutionism!) – the appeal of freshly cooked fish and chips, the scent of ground coffee, the invigorating taste of honey (see Pr 24:13!); the birth of a grandson, the beauty of a bike ride, etc,. – for, ‘sky above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green, something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen.’ For this reason, regular Christians are the most joyous and happiest people in the world.  They see more clearly, as each day passes, the unfolding providence of God subduing His enemies, sending forth His truth and light transforming everything (Ps 110:1).  They know in their hearts, ‘sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps 30:5)’ 
  • God has not given up on His creation.  His true saints are servant-hearted seeking to bring every thought captive to Christ, thereby fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission here on planet earth.  Politics, science, medicine, agriculture, astronomy, economics, etc,. will yet ALL become centred upon Christ.  They are not ‘religiously neutral’ activities; rather they represent wholesome, good works in need of sanctification by God’s truth (Jn 17:17).  For ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2Tim 3:16).
  • Authentic spirituality celebrates divinely ordained hedonism in Christ (1Tim 6:17)!