There are 3 common denominators between legalism and gnosticism found in churches across America today:
There should be some level of achievement on the part of the believer for the believer to be a genuine, true, Christian. The required achievement regularly orbits around two main principles: behavioral modification (legalism) or intellectual attainment (gnosticism). Within those two poles it may vary. It can be an attainment in virtues & character, experience, holiness, intellect, or mental sacrifice. There stands a threshold to leap over whether mystical, doctrinal, adventurous, or ascetic.
The diagnosis of fallen man's spiritual disease in Neo-Gnosticism and legalism is in essence the same. It denies (or at least ignores) the depravity of mankind and his sinfulness. Paving the way for an enbetterment through a self-devised program. The problem of sinners only finds diagnosis at a behavioral plane, and may even be detected deeper at the level of the soul - discovering that they are "curved into themselves." But the deception of gnosticism is the premise that self-help can reverse the problem of man and self-heal. Self-healing is touted as the answer through disciplined practice — religious, ethical, experiential, meditative, mystical, & aesthetic. The premise is: “It can be done if you will it..." This the language of the law of gnosticism guised in Christianity’s religious law. When troubled men and women stove to change, held or mend themselves to be more as the higher perfected self that religion projects as successful - it is religious “legalism". What is really dangerous about the gnostic form of legalism is that it takes the sinner's accuser -- the law of Moses -- and proposes it as redeemer. But the first error is its diagnosis of the sinner's disease - that it is viable - It is too shallow. Biblical definition for that incurable problem of sin is the reality that no self-help can redeem man from his demise. "Dead in trespasses and sins” - Eph 2.1; at "enmity with God” - Rom 8.7 and "in bondage to sin” - Rom 7.24. How can the gnostic attainment and the legalistic endeavors transform a person? It's not just that the sinner needs transformation -- radical change -- but God has to change, change from being the sinner's judge, the sinner's own executor the sinner's jail keeper - change to being his savior.
Neither legalism or gnosticism needs the cross and risen Christ - any spiritual guru or life coach will do. Somebody else, some exemplary figure, role model, life coach or, trainer or some guru, can do the job that needs doing to get the sinner back on the wagon again. The line of "All you've got to do is...” states for the legalist or neo-gnostic that Christ is really not necessary. Instead of the law's verbage “do and live," the Gospel's contrasting verb is "offer." It is the language of gift, the grammar of grace.
Christianity's foundational belief in salvation through God becoming flesh, and by his bodily resurrection securing the hope of the resurrection of our bodies; was blasphemous to Gnosticism, as it was an offense to the Jews & ridiculous for the Greeks who generally saw spirit as good, and matter as evil. Gnosticism emerged as a form of mystical Christian spirituality blended together with ancient Greek, Egyptian and Persian paganism.
It was one of the gravest of threats to the early Christian Church - It is a heresy that continues to threaten the foundational teaching of the church. It is encapsulated in Satan's lie in Gen 3, "You shall be as gods." It is called "Gnosticism." St. Paul called the Gnostic prophets "super-apostles” in 2 Cor 11.5 who apparently knew more than God - their message went beyond what was written in the Word of God and what was contained in the teaching of the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 John 4:6). They speak of heavenly secrets and offer techniques for escaping mundane earthly life. "Timothy," the Apostle warned, "guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (1 Tm 6:20). "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor 10:5). These elitist-apostles had preached a different gospel with a different spirit. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:13).
The Apostles Paul and John spent much of the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John and the Epistles, teaching against the most dangerous heresy in church history. According to one of its early opponents, St. Clement of Alexandria, Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "knowledge") consisted of the knowledge "of who we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth" (Excerpta ex Theodoto 78.2). Knowledge of these secrets was considered spirituality. The goal of this post will be to explain the roots and pull the mask off of Gnosticism creeping into American churches of all denominations and convictions.
All great moves of God in history eventually were accosted by the wiles of subtle and poisonous gnosticism. Though God was moving by His Sprit and Word, the spirit of gnosticism, which is of the devil himself; would be at work attempting to slip in alongside, like the mixed multitude that departed Egypt with the Hebrews for the promised land.
Gnosticism has its very ancient roots in world history and mankind’s religious culture. As a matter of a fact, gnostic roots lay the foundation of much of the occult and luciferianism. Gnosticism by nature is dualistic - you will notice the accent in the philosophy on “good” and “bad”.
There are 10 characteristics that may be noted about ancient Gnosticism. Note how these principles have made themselves comfortable in churches across America today.
Gnostic syncretism - a belief in everything and anything for the purpose of avoiding a particular conviction in specific Biblical Truth. That is a tolerance, allowance as well as a syncretism of belief of any doctrine yet avoiding the Gospel of Grace; which is a stumbling block for the Jews and an offense to the Greek mindset (a prevalent mindset in our western society today). This syncretistic philosophy would assimilate and include other religious and pagan beliefs into the church for the sake of inclusion and acceptance of all people.
Individualistic and Subjective - These teachers and teachings were very mystical and elitist by nature. It is undeniable that the teaching is individualistic and subjective with an inward focus to the believer or follower. Meaning that the believer (the knower” or adherent of the gnostic teaching) had higher level of importance than God, the Object (that which is to be known). The path to knowing God was thru inward withdrawal, knowing of self, self-awareness and “being true to the heart”. The path of enlightenment and true knowledge was led along by the guardrails of the pursuit of personal happiness, personal rights, liberty and blessing. In fact, the self was the “indwelling of God”. This is also know as Greek Platonism.
God’s Nearness vs His distant Holiness & Sovereignty - God was near, so near that it negated God’s Holiness, His Self-Determination & Sovereignty. In gnostic writings the relationship between the self and “God” was described often as romantic, sentimental, a wooing, even erotic. Worship of this God from self could be characterized as almost a romance - words that were similar in the way to lovers exchange with other. This was considered sacred and very spiritual.
Spirit (being good) vs. Material (matter is evil)- We may know this philosophy better as “mind over matter”. The Greek (the western mind) and the gnostic worldview is “dualistic”, dichotomous - meaning that it divides the world into matter (bad) and spirit (good). This teaching states that evil people and their deeds, all suffering, sickness and disease including death are all associated with the evilness of the material world we live in. Thus matter is the source of all evil. The gnostic teaching on the fall of Adam and Eve in contrast to the Biblical account was that it was not a fall from innocence to disobedience but rather the transformation of pure spirit beings to evil physical bodies of matter. Man did not fall on the inside. His mind and soul was still spiritual and perfect. It was his body that was fallen and now evil. Man was now a prisoner of his body trapped in a material world of limitations and imperfection. He was now separated from his true sprit home trapped in a dying body and he longed to escape to a new spiritual awareness from where he fell. This escape route was an inward path of discovering the soul and to worship a God outside of self and the soul was to be untrue to yourself and commit soul-suicude
Anti-Establishment by nature - Because of the gnostic view of the fall of man, mankind was now in-prisoned within the material walls of fallen flesh that was evil - that meant that anything limiting the freedom being sought for the sole interest of the self was bad. Institutions are viewed as spiritual enemies. They were seen as limiting, legalistic, depriving the self of it’s rights to discover itself and what it wants. Therefore the True God outside the subjective realm of the self as well as the outside Church, were enemies of the true self and soul. From the Gnostic point of view, the structure and discipline of the Church stifled the spirit. The Church and God were perceived as directing the soul-self away from the rightful inner experience - redirecting it to others and to formal cold structural authority, doctrines and traditions. The gnostic follower or believer was not a non-conformist overall, but they were disciplined in discovering and nurturing the individual experiences and concerns. They were ascetic in their belief in self awareness and serving that they forsook community feeling personal experience rather than doctrine form of corporate worship.
Hyper-Spiritual - Gnostic belief is that the occupation with self and it’s direct and uninhibited relationship with the Spirit therefore spiritual knowledge came through a mystical secret revelation and not by the means of material agents such aa a pastor-teacher, the printed Word of God, or systematic teaching from an outside teacher. Things such as church, fellowship with other Christians, water baptism, and other traditional forms of worship are not spiritual enough and are unnecessary. The outward forms of worship and teaching were for the unlearned, uninitiated, unspiritual people not educated in the secrets of the "higher spirituality”. This spiritual elitism was challenged by Jesus himself when he bypassed the pharisees and ministered to the common people preaching a Gospel of “whosoever will"
Anti-History - Consistent with gnostic belief; that matter is evil, institutions are enemies of inward individualism, therefore the slow tedious process of time and its events with the details of life - are all unimportant and irrelevant. Because for the gnostic eternity is opposed to time. The gnostic follower will live in the experience of self for the now and ignore it’s reasons for consequences. Spirituality is to be timeless and the unspiritual details of life are a burden and a annoyance. The incarnation of Christ was a slap in the face for gnostics as he came from eternity and redeemed every moment in time - in the little mundane moments revealing the Higher Wisdom of God. In the Biblical account of creation God created the world and called it “good” not evil. God in His Plan used time and matter to reveal His Plan of Salvation for mankind. Contrary to gnostic belief, salvation does not take place by a supernatural spiritual sphere disconnected from mankind’s history.
Anti-Semitic - This may be surprising to the reader but gnosticism had an aversion to Judaic beliefs and traditions. This is because of the emphasis that the Hebrews had on blood sacrifices as a type of the incarnation of God in the form of "sinful flesh”. This flew in the face of gnostics who believed that salvation was through a (bloodless) descent into self and individual discovery - a self saving philosophy. The gnostics especially hated the discussion of a bloody violent death of The Savior of mankind. This produced a teaching that emerged in the 2nd century AD that viewed the Old Testament as to be rejected and unspiritual, not necessary for the gnostic believer. It was rejected based on the perception that God was an angry judge who created the world and placed pure spirit beings into physical bodies to be trapped. This teaching by Marcion held that the Old Testament was irrelevant but that the New Testament was opposite in that the Creator of the Old Testament was now a God of Love and a Redeemer. This was the Savior the Jews crucified and killed thus the anti-semetic views today of gnostics.
Anti-Male - Feminist by nature - gnosticism has two columns that everything is categories in due to its dualistic nature - “good” and “bad”. Because of the aversion of the gnostics to the God the Father figure of the Bible - and His wrathful anger, the male profile is in the “bad” column. Gnostics exalted the “divine feminine”. Femininity was characterized as “loving”, “nurturing”, “freedom”, “affirmation” & “intellectually developed” over men. The Greeks word for wisdom was in the feminine - “Sophia” therefore “Sophia” the goddess of wisdom became “God” for many Greek gnostics. Because of the primarily patriarchal and authoritarian characteristics of Christianity, gnostics placed the gender of God as not male, and maybe not even female but genderless “androgynous” or sexless so that the spirit of God would be free from the imprisonment of the male dominating gender that limited the free spirit.
Anti-Intellectual - Gnostics preferred a “heart knowledge” over “head-knowledge” - this was a dichotic definition that Christianity never had of knowledge. That being in the Bible the definition was the mind had a spirit and the heart of a man was not serrate from his mind. Thus gnostic knowledge and intellectualism was not intellectual as we would perceive to day but rather it was described as a heart felt knowledge aware of itself and it’s own desires eliminating any external objective knowledge.
The Gnostic Savior - Satan in the Garden of Eden, there to set mankind free from the imprisioned bodies into redemption via an experience of self - wisdom and pleasing to the eye.