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Friday, June 6, 2014

Against Gnostics

The last two weeks I have been reflecting quite a bit on the 'absence/presence' of Jesus which has led me to a deeper appreciation of "Church." The Scriptural understanding of Church is multifaceted. There may be "one, Lord, one faith,, one baptism, one God and Father of all and one name given for salvation" but that Oneness is expressed in multiplicity as we move out from the center. One area that Christians disagree on is church, its place and its role. There are different emphases and competing/complementary models of church. However, there is a limit to diversity. At one end, going off the rails, is the idea that one is "born into the people" and that is all there is to it. So if you get baptized "you are in" and one's personal life doesn't matter. (Wrong) We see that manifest in Israel repeatedly in the Bible (hence to prophet's warnings and threats). On the other end is the Gnostic (heresy) idea which has had much influence in Christianity over the years. It emphasizes salvation through "knowledge" (the Greek word gnosis means knowledge). It often times negates the body and emphasizes the "spiritual." (ever hear that one?) It negates the community and emphasizes direct access to God within one's own soul. It rejects the material manifestations of God (like sacraments) and it is prone to see the humanity of Jesus as a negative. The doctrine of the Incarnation is rejected. (So Jesus is God, and His presence among us is to provide saving knowledge and help us escape the world and human enfleshed existence). The appeal of Gnosticism cannot be overstated. It is in many ways simpler than the Truth.

The Bible is not Gnostic and it is not especially "spiritual." The Jewish Scriptures are especially incarnational and earthly. (Early heretics rejected the "Old Testament" and today we see that manifest in pocket New Testaments devoid of the Old) Some even called the God of the Old Testament a different or inferior God. (A God of Law not Love and Grace). What Jesus called the Scripture is that very collection that we call the Old Testament (or Jewish Scriptures) The New Testament certainly makes changes, and the 'next stage' of development is sometimes a radical shift. However, it is clear that the expectation remains the same at some core level. God is among us, in and through concrete reality.

In days gone by He spoke through prophets and the institutions of Israel. In these last days He spoke through a Son. However, the writer of Hebrews wrote at a time when that appearance was relatively recent. We do well to remember that Jesus is coming back, but He has not hurried. We do well to take seriously the role of the church as Jesus' ongoing presence  here and now. The Holy Spirit is at work, but Jesus is not walking on planet earth. The Church is the Body of Christ, it is the Temple. It is empowered as an Ambassador to mediate God's Kingdom on planet earth here and now. What is yet to be revealed is the perfection of the Kingdom, but while we wait we must also work. "Men of Galilee why do you stand there looking up at the sky?" Sky gazing is a metaphor for Gnosticism and its overly spiritual disengagement and disdain for the created material world.

If atheist and agnostics and materialists (of all stripes) ignore the spiritual depth and over-embrace created reality as "all there is" or "all that matters" then the Church must proclaim the other dimensions of creation. But too often, in an effort to reject their errors, we create our own. It is how things work. The Scripture says that we, humans, His Church, are the tools for evangelizing, healing, feeding and reconciling. The Church has the Holy Spirit and the power/authority and DUTY to represent Jesus to the world. We forgive sins (at His command) and we tell people the mind of God (as revealed in Scripture and through the Church). It is a remarkable mystery, but apparently God made the world for that purpose.

Gnostics don't like it, but that is fine. Heretics are notoriously unreliable in doctrine!!! The truth, as found in revelation, is much more concrete and physical. Keep that in mind next time you want to call Church "man" and your spiritual ideas "God."

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