Similarities Between Liberal Churchgoers And Some Wicked Gnostics

 

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It would be wrong to say that modern compromising liberal churchgoers are exactly the same as the Gnostics who plagued the early church in the 100’s, 200’s and 300’s A.D. This is especially since these present day liberal churchgoers do not believe in the dualistic and ascetic philosophies of these Gnostic heretics. But as we will see in the following, some of the attitudes of some of these earlier Gnostic cults were very similar to modern liberal churchgoers.

In the following we will examine some of the beliefs and practices of the following Gnostic cults:

 

a)      Basilides and his disciples in the 100’s A.D.

b)      Valentinus and his disciples in the 100’s A.D.

c)      Marcion and his followers in the 100’s to 300’s A.D.

d)      Gnostics from the 300’s A.D. written about by Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis.

 

The modern view of legalism and the Gnostic Basilides

 

The modern popular idea that because New Covenant believers are not under the Mosaic Law any emphasis on precisely obeying God’s New Testament commandments is a form of legalism, is very similar to the wicked teachings of Basilides. Basilides was the leader of a group of Gnostics who plagued the early church in the 100’s A.D. He taught that because the followers of Jesus Christ were not under the Mosaic Law, they could practice sexual immorality and other types of greedy lusts.

The early Church writer Irenaeus [1] said Basilides taught his followers: “to treat as a matter of indifference the indulgence in other practices and in lust of all kinds…” and that the Mosaic Law was from the Jewish God – the Prince who brought the people out of the Land of Egypt.” Basilides taught that this Jewish God was opposed to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the latter two whom he believed were mentioned in the New Testament but not in the Old Testament.

The commands against adultery and coveting or greed in the Ten Commandments are a part of the Mosaic Law. So Basilides regarded any emphasis on these commands in the New Testament as being based on a Mosaic Law mentality.

Modern Christians who regard as legalism any emphasis on precisely obeying God’s New Testament commands about sexual immorality, stealing, greed about money, divorce and so on, usually also believe the ridiculous unbiblical view that any emphasis on these things is an attack on the loving gracious character of the Father God of the New Testament.

 

 

 

The teachings of Valentinian Gnostics about repentance and good works

 

Another wicked Gnostic group continually tried to lead the early Christians astray. The leader of this Gnostic sect was a man named Valentinus. This Gnostic group taught that ordinary Christians needed to repent and turn from their idolatry, attending gladiator fights and having sex outside marriage and should aim to do good works, but insisted that they (the Gnostics) did not need to do these things because they were more spiritual than ordinary Christians.

Note also these Gnostics seduced numerous churchgoers into having sex with them. They were like the modern liberals who claim that God approves of sex between homosexuals or unmarried heterosexuals who supposedly “love” each other. These Gnostics claimed their “spirituality” changed their evil into good. Modern liberals claim that “love” supposedly changes evil into good. These Gnostics were also similar to modern easy believism preachers who say they can be saved by a faith in Jesus which permits them to not repent at conversion and live like the Devil after conversion.

When referring to these Gnostics, the early church leader Irenaeus wrote in his heading for Book 1, Preface and Chapter 6 “Good works needless for them”. Irenaeus also wrote of them: “These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation…

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself…

Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men – because they outwardly are covered with sheep’s clothing (against whom the Lord has enjoined us to be on our guard), and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different, – I have deemed it my duty (after reading some of the Commentaries, as they call them, of the disciples of Valentinus, and after making myself acquainted with their tenets through personal intercourse with some of them)…

Wherefore also they maintain that good works are necessary to us, for that otherwise it is impossible we should be saved. But as to themselves, they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual by nature…Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the ‘most perfect’ among them addict themselves without fear to all kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that ‘they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God’…at every heathen festival celebrated in honour of the idols, these men are the first to assemble; and to such a pitch do they go, that some of them do not even keep away from that bloody spectacle hateful both to God and men, in which gladiators either fight with wild beasts, or singly encounter one another.

Others of them yield themselves up to the lusts of the flesh with the utmost greediness, maintaining that carnal things should be allowed for the carnal nature, while spiritual things are provided for the spiritual. Some of them, moreover, are in the habit of defiling those women to whom they have taught the above doctrine, as has frequently been confessed by those women who have been led astray by certain of them, on their returning to the Church of God, and acknowledging this along with the rest of their errors.

Others of them, too, openly and without a blush, having become passionately attached to certain women, seduce them away from their husbands, and contract marriages of their own with them. Others of them, again, who pretend at first to live in all modesty with them as with sisters, have in course of time been revealed in their true colours, when the sister has been found with child by her (pretended) brother.

And committing many other abominations and impieties, they run us down (who from the fear of God guard against sinning even in thought or word) as utterly contemptible and ignorant persons, while they highly exalt themselves, and claim to be perfect, and the elect seed. For they declare that we simply receive grace for use; wherefore also it will again be taken away from us; but that they themselves have grace as their own special possession, which has descended from above by means of an unspeakable and indescribable conjunction; and on this account more will be given them. They maintain, therefore, that in every way it is always necessary for them to practise the mystery of conjunction. And that they may persuade the thoughtless to believe this, they are in the habit of using these very words, ‘Whosoever being in this world does not so love a woman as to obtain possession of her, is not of the truth, nor shall attain to the truth. But whosoever being of this world has intercourse with woman, shall not attain to the truth, because he has so acted under the power of concupiscence.’ On this account, they tell us that it is necessary for us whom they call animal men, and describe as being of the world, to practice continence and good works, that by this means we may attain at length to the intermediate habitation, but that to them who are called ‘the spiritual and perfect’ such a course of conduct is not at all necessary.” [2]

We are saved by faith and accompanying heart repentance and not by good works nor faith plus good works (see Ephesians 2:8-9, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 20:21, 26:16-20 and Titus 3:5). But these ancient Gnostic heretics fell into the opposite error. These Gnostics were like some modern liberal Protestants who reject the Biblical teachings that saving faith is always accompanied by heart repentance and that the outward fruit or results of true saving faith is always good works in obedience to God’s Biblical commands and teachings.

In his “Against Heresies”, the early church writer Irenaeus recorded that the Valentinian Gnostics “gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures.” [3] The Valentinian Gnostics obtained their views from a mixture of the Bible and pagan philosophers and writers. Throughout church history, nearly every heresy which has plagued the Church has been a mixture of some non-Christian philosophy or ethical standard with Biblical teaching.

 

A new form of the Marcionite heresy

 

Some partially liberal modern Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal churches are similar in some ways to the Gnostic sect begun by a man named Marcion in the 2nd Century A.D. Marcion had been brought up in the Church. His father had been a bishop or leading pastor. But Marcion decided to form his own new type of churches. He had a charismatic personality and preached much about God’s love, God as Father and salvation and justification by grace alone[4].

Note Marcion attracted multitudes of followers. The early Church writer Justin Martyr said Marcion caused “many from every nation” to follow his teachings. [5]

Marcion also used his fine organising or management skills to set up many local churches which lasted for 200 years. [6] While previously a member of the Christian Church, he had been prospered greatly in his finances. [7] He became a wealthy ship owner. He gave an enormous offering of 200,000 sesterces to the church at Rome. This would worth a fortune in 2000 A.D.

Later when he was expelled from the Church in 144 A.D., the Church with great integrity returned his money. [8]

He used his prosperity to establish his new Gnostic “churches”. [9] Outwardly, he experienced great success in his “ministry”. His own personal prosperity and the rapid growth of his “churches” may have deceived many into believing that God by His Spirit was anointing and blessing him greatly. If he had been alive today, Marcion would probably have been invited to many church growth conferences as one of the main speakers.

Also note, Justin says the followers of Marcion were even called Christians by many other people. [10] The Romans regarded the Marcionite Gnostics as a Christian group and persecuted them accordingly. In his “Against Marcion” 1:27, Tertullian referred to Marcionites being persecuted by the Romans. Because the Marcionite groups were so similar in some ways to Christian Churches, Christian leaders used to warn their new converts not to enter Marcionite gatherings by mistake. [11]

 

Marcion’s popular teachings

Marcion strongly opposed the idea that the God of the New Testament is a Judge and a God of justice. Being a Gnostic, Marcion taught there are two Gods – the supposedly evil God of judgment, wrath and punishments of the Old Testament and the loving gracious Father God of the New Testament.

Tertullian wrongly included Roman legal concepts in his teaching on repentance. [12] But in his writing “Against Marcion”, Tertullian listed the opposite errors of Marcion. Tertullian wrote:

“Listen, you sinners; and you who have not yet come to this, hear, that you may attain to sinfulness! A better god has been discovered, who never takes offence, is never angry, never inflicts punishment, who has prepared no fire in hell, no gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! He is purely and simply good. He indeed forbids all delinquency, but only in word. He is in you, if you are willing to pay him homage, for the sake of appearances, that you may seem to honour God; for your fear he does not want. And so satisfied are the Marcionites with such pretences, that they have no fear of their god at all. They say it is only an evil being who will be feared, a good one will be loved. Foolish man, do you say that he whom you call Lord ought not to be feared, whilst the very title you give him indicates a power which must itself be feared?…”. [13]

Similar in many ways to many partially liberal Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics, Marcion had a imbalanced view of the Biblical teaching that God is good. For example, Marcion believed God’s goodness never manifested in hatred of evil, anger against unrepentant evildoers, earthly punishments, sending unbelievers to hell and in other aspects of God being a Perfect Judge.

Marcion also taught about God living inside His people. The expression “He is in you” above relates to this. In addition Marcion taught a very superficial form of honouring God which was a pitiful shadow of the full Biblical teaching on the fear of the Lord.

When commenting on Marcion, the Christian writer F.F. Bruce states: “Of all the apostles, the one who appealed to him most strongly was Paul, to whom he became passionately devoted, concluding ultimately that he was the only apostle who preserved the teaching of Jesus in its purity. He embraced with intelligence and ardour Paul’s gospel of justification by divine grace, apart from legal works…

Paul’s refusal to allow any element of law-keeping in the message of salvation was taken by Marcion to imply that not only the Old Testament law, but the Old Testament itself, had been superseded by the Gospel. The Gospel, he believed, was an entirely new teaching brought to earth by Christ. The law and the prophets made no sort of preparation for it (the Gospel) and if some passages in Paul’s correspondence suggested they did, those passages must have been interpolated (or inserted) by others – by the kind of Judaizers against whom Paul polemicized (or disputed) in Galatians and other letters…Not only did Marcion regard Paul as the only faithful apostle of Christ; he maintained that the original apostles had corrupted their Master’s teaching with a admixture of legalism…

He (Marcion) provided his followers with an edition of the holy scriptures, to which he prefaced a series of ‘Antitheses’, setting out the incompatability of law and gospel, of the Creator-Judge of the Old Testament and the merciful Father of the New Testament…The Antitheses opened up with a lyrical celebration of divine grace…’O wealth of riches! Ectasy, power and astonishment! Nothing can be said about it, nor yet imagined about it; neither can it be compared to anything!’” [14]

The Scriptures which Marcion gave his followers:

 

·         exclude the Old Testament.

·         included a Gospel of Luke which was edited by Marcion.

·         included ten of Paul’s New Testament letters. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were excluded.

·         excluded the other books of the New Testament.

·         excluded passages from Luke and Paul which gave God’s authority to the Old Testament, for example, Luke 1:1-2:52, 3:2-4:30, Romans 1:19-2:1, 3:21-4:25, 9:1-33, 10:5-11:32 and 14:23-15:33. [15]

 

Marcion put Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the first of Paul’s writings. He probably did this because in it, Paul attacked those who had wrong attitudes to the Mosaic Law and to God’s grace and this epistle indicates differences between Paul and the Apostle Peter.

Marcion regarded the Christian churches in the 100’s A.D. as legalists who followed supposedly false legalistic apostles like Peter, James, John and Matthew. Marcion taught that only he and his Marcionite “churches” fully taught the true non-legalistic Gospel of unmerited grace and of faith in Jesus Christ.

Like all heretics, Marcion only quoted from those Bible verses which suited himself. The early church writer Irenaeus recorded the following about Marcion:

“Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removes all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and sets aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord’s discourses, in which the Lord is recorded as most clearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is his Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the gospel to us, delivering to them not the gospel, but merely a fragment of it.

In like manner, too, he dismembered the epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the apostle respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also those passages from the prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us that they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord.” [16]

Marcion taught that Jesus’ original apostles and early disciples had been corrupted by the idea that the teachings of the Old Testament must be imposed on all Jewish and Gentile Christians. [17] Marcion said God had sent Paul to restore the true Gospel. Marcion argued that Jewish believers had amended parts of Paul’s writings and that as a result, he – Marcion – had to remove all these Jewish changes and additions. [18] Marcion’s version of the Pauline revelation and Luke was extremely Biblically imbalanced and cultic.

Partially liberal Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics are similar to Marcion in that they concentrate on those parts of the New Testament which agree with their Biblically imbalanced teachings. In theory, they believe all the New Testament is given by God. But in practice, they edit out those many verses which do not fit their worldly religious system.

The history of the Marcionite Gnostic “churches” proves that if you preach a watered-down version of the Gospel and have plenty of money to spread your errors, you can grow rapidly and become a very large “successful” and prosperous religious group.

 

Liberal Gnostics plaguing the Church in the 300’s A.D.

 

In his chapter called “Gnostics” in his writing “Panarion”, the Early Church writer Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus (approx 310-402 A.D.) wrote about Gnostics in the 300’s A.D. who like the most liberal modern Protestants amended their Christianity to fit in with the current philosophies and practices of many non-Christians at the time: “The Gnostics…basing themselves on pagan superstition, they refashion the fable-filled poetry and illusions of the Greeks, thereby weaving together truth and falsehood…They base themselves upon idiotic visions and prooftexts in the Gospel which they preach…” [19]

Epiphanius records that the Gnostics regularly practiced sex outside marriage, homosexuality, public nudity and abortion and mixed popular pagan Greek myths with the teachings of the Bible: “4.1…They have their women in common. 2. And if a stranger belonging to their religion arrives, there is a sign they have of men for women and women for men, in that when they extend the hand in greeting, they stroke and tickle it underneath the palm, thus signaling that the one who has arrived is of their religion. 3. Then when they have recognized each other, they proceed at once to the feast. They set out an abundance of meat and wine, even if they are poor. Having made their banquet from this and so to speak filled their veins to satiety, they proceed to arouse themselves. 4. The man, moving away from the woman, says to his woman, ‘Arise, hold the love feast with your brother.’

And the pitiful pair, having made love…5…then proceed to hold up their blasphemy to heaven, the woman and the man taking the secretion from the male into their own hands and standing looking to heave. They hold in their hands the impurity and pray.

2. Although they have sex with each other, they forbid the begetting of children. They are eager for the act of corruption not in order to engender children, but for the pleasure…3. But when they have finished taking the pleasure, they take into themselves the seeds of their impurity, not depositing them to have children, but consuming the shameful thing. 4. But if one of them fails to anticipate the immission of the seed from the natural effluence and the woman becomes pregnant, then listen to something even more dreadful which they dare to do. 5. Extracting the fetus at whatever time they choose to do the operation, they take the aborted infant and pound it up in a mortar with a pestle, and, mixing in honey and pepper and some other spices and sweet oils so as not to become nauseous, all the members of that herd of swine and dogs gather together and each partakes with his finger of the crushed up child. 5. And thus having engaged in cannibalism, they pray to God saying, ‘We have not been mocked by the archon of desire, but we have collected the transgression of the brother.’ And indeed they consider this the ‘perfect Pasch.’

7. They dare to do other dreadful things as well. When they fall into a frenzy among themselves, they soil their hands with the shame of their secretion, and, rising, with defiled hands pray stark naked, as if through such an action <they were able?> to find a hearing with God. 8. Their bodies they coddle night and day, the women and the men, with ointments, baths, and feasts, spending their time in lechery and drunkenness.

6.1. They use both the Old and New Testaments, but reject the one who spoke in the Old Testament. And when they find a word which can have a meaning opposed to them, they say that it was spoken by the worldly spirit. 2. But if any passage can be given a color similar to the things which they desire, not because of what it is but because of the condition of their debased minds, they refashion it along the lines of their concupiscence (evil desires) and say that it was spoken by the Spirit of truth.

11.1…Some of them do not approach women, but debauch themselves with their own hands, taking their corruption into their hands and consuming it. 2. As a misrepresented proof text they use: ‘These hands have sufficed not only for me, but for those with me,’ and ‘Working with your own hands, that you may be able to give to those who have nothing.’ 8…These people, debauched with their own hands, and not only they, but also those who have intercourse with women, when finally they are satiated with promiscuity with women, burn for each other, men for men…Having come to utter ruin, they congratulate each other, as though they had achieved a choice status. 9. They also deceive the tribe of women who follow them…saying that so-and-so, who has been debauched these many years and continues to be so every day, is a virgin. Their lechery knows no satiety, but the more shameful anyone is in his actions, the more he is praised by them. 10. They say that those women are virgins who have never been involved in the wordly sexual relations of marriage according to what is customary and natural, which includes semination, but who, although they have sex and fornicate constantly, before the act of pleasure is complete, separate themselves from their seducer with whom they are associated in fornication, and take the aforementioned shamefulness as food.

16.7…All the sects have gathered their erroneous doctrine from the pagan myths, altering them and giving them a worse meaning. 8. For the poets present Zeus as gulping down his daughter Metis. But no one would swallow an infant; as St Clement in ridiculing the turpitude of the pagan gods says, he could not have swallowed the infant in swallowing Metis, but rather the myth about Zeus evidently means that he swallowed his own children…

17.4. I myself, dearly beloved, fell in with this sect, and was indoctrinated into it from the mouth of its practitioners, directly, face-to-face. But the women deceived by it not only offered us its kind of language and revealed its teachings, but also, like the Egyptian woman, the pernicious and wicked wife of the head cook, tried with impudent loquacity and whetted appetite to pull us down in the time of our youth. 5. But the one who then stood by holy Joseph stood by us as well. And we, unworthy and weak as we were, called upon the one who rescued him in that place, and, having received mercy and escaped their pernicious hands, we were able to sing a hymn to the all-holy God and ourselves say, ‘Let us sing to the Lord, greatly has he been glorified, horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’ 6. For it was not in virtue of a rectitude like Joseph’s that we received mercy and were saved, but by our groaning to God. Reproached by those pernicious women, I laughed at the kind of remarks which they made to each other (making fun of me) in the following vein: We were not able to save the youth, but have let him go to perish at the hands of the archon. 7. For whoever of them is beautiful sets herself out as bait, so that those deceived by her are declared to be saved instead of to perish. And the homely woman is reproached by the beautiful in the following vein: I am a chosen vessel, able to save those deceived, while you were not able to do so. 8. So in fact the women who explained the seductive fable of their doctrine were quite beautiful in outward appearance, although in their mind, where their wickedness dwelt, they possessed all of the devil’s ugliness. But the merciful God rescued us from their wickedness, so that after we had read even their books and applied our mind to the truth and not been led astray, but escaped being caught, 9. we hastened to tell the bishops in that place who they were and revealed the names hidden in the church. <So> they were driven from the city, about eighty names in all, and it was cleansed of their weeds and thornbushes…” [20]

The Gnostics were very similar to many modern liberal “Christians” who also teach that God approves of homosexuality, abortion and in some situations adultery and/or public nudity and who mix popular pagan philosophies with the teachings of the Bible. But note the response of the early Church leaders in the 320’s A.D. to the Gnostics in the Church. Following Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, these leaders expelled these liberal Gnostic “Christians” from the Church.

 

 


 

[1] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Book I, 24, 3-5.

[2] Ibid, Book 1, Preface – Parts 1 and 2 and Chapter 6 – Parts 2, 3 and 4.

[3] Ibid, Book 1, Chapter 8:1.

[4] Walter Elwell, “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1984, pages 685-686.

[5] Justin Martyr,  “First Apology of Justin” Chapter 26.

[6] Elwell, page 685.

[7] Cairns, page 107.

[8] Ralph Martin and Peter Davids, “Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments”, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1997, page 705.

[9] Elwell, page 685.

[10] “First Apology of Justin”, Chapter 26.

[11] Martin and Davids, page 707.

[12] Elwell, page 709.

[13] Stevensen “A New Eusebius”, S.P.C.K., London, 1957, pages 94-95.

[14] F.F. Bruce, “The Canon of Scripture”, Chapter House, Glasgow, 1988, pages 134-135.

[15] Ibid, pages 137-141.

[16] Stevensen, page 92.

[17] Elwell, page 685.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Epiphanius, “Panarion”, Chapter “Gnostics”.

[20] Ibid.


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