Monday, October 09, 2006

Spinning for Secrets, Reflections from a Lord's Day Journey

Gnosticism (nŏs'tĭsĭz-m), dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.; they all promised salvation through an occult knowledge that they claimed was revealed to them alone. . . .

(The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.)

Although many definitions can be found for Gnosticism, the basic idea is that there is some sort of secret knowledge that will lead to a better state. The prospect entices. We, as fallen beings, want to get ahead of the other guy. We mitigate our competitiveness by convincing ourselves that we would bring everyone else along after we have figured it out. But we do want to be first.

The mystery religions rehash an old story. Satan offered the mystery knowledge to Eve in the Garden. "You will not surely die" was as plain a lie as any ever was. Yet it was accepted, and is accepted in our day, on the ungrounded and greedy belief that we can bootstrap ourselves to the better place. Adam and Eve did not die immediately for their disobedience. But they did surely die. We do too.

I once calculated that a typical undergraduate curriculum requires approximately 1,600 actual hours of lecture time. I recall that during the Reformation, and on through the history of the Protestant church up to the 19th century, it was common for church members to hear three hours or more of tight and logical sermons every Lord's Day. They'd then spend the rest of the day talking about the sermons. Not counting catechism as children, most church goers had the equivalent of two undergraduate degrees of lecture time by their late-twenties. Unlike today's courses, the content was solid. People knew how to think. It shouldn't be so surprising that statesmen from the colonial and revolutionary war period were smart. The pool of thoughtful people was relatively large in those days. Some no doubt were not Christians, but they still had deep wells to draw from.

Even so, that old enemy, self-absorbed Gnosticism, lay in wait. Perhaps the shock of the industrial revolution and the accompanying explosion in scientific knowledge distracted people from their lessons. It became easier to tinker than to think. The improvement in the standard of living was very good. Yet the decline in thinking, in no small part due to the decline in good preaching, opened the door for old and well-crafted deception.

Gnosticism now pops up in strange places: conspiracy theories about sinister people in the know who control things; New Age meditation techniques to heal the world from disharmony; human potential, biofeedback, genetically modified intelligence, etc. All of these things have a ring of plausibility, but only if we are naïve enough to trust our instincts or our feelings.

Of course there are conspiracies, but the ones made up by foolish men with secret knowledge are vanity. Of course the world needs supernatural healing, but our will-power is utterly powerless to accomplish this. And of course humans had potential, but sin snuffed that out. As with a car stuck in the mud, the faster the wheels spin, the deeper goes the rut.

A professor I knew reportedly once said, "there are many ways to do it wrong." Being a Gnostic herself, she probably has not yet realized the import of her observation. The real conspiracy is in how man is distracted from the truth by the mad pursuit of the secret.

Our church's own Lord's Day worship took about three hours yesterday. We considered the total conflict of worldviews, the futility of disbelief, the epistemology of true knowledge, and the glorious sovereignty of God. None of this information is secret knowledge. It is revealed plainly in Scripture. Gnostics hate plain knowledge because it doesn't give them a private advantage.

"Thus saith the LORD: Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Jer. 6:16.

Lord, I pray to be kept on your old paths.


Mrs. B said...

Perspicuous revelation confounds those who prefer the complexity of their own snares and devises--their own "cunningly devised fables"--to the truth of the coming, power, and majesty of Christ. This gives them a shot at "authorship" in God's place.

Sadly, confounded revelation is not limited to gnostics. There seems to be a mode of thought among those who profess Christ that a Christian is a pleasant, agreeable person in all things and in all ways.

For instance, I was looking at some reviews of one of John Robbins's books on Amazon, and saw one by a reviewer who said that, although he is a Christian, he "would not have become a Christian" if he "believed Robbins represented Christ!" Honestly, how does someone like this find his way home at night? The absolutely nonscriptural expecation of a Christian to find all Christians warm and gentle and probably shallow and stupid is even worse than those who at least openly reject and defy the truth of the gospel.

If an antagonist tries to beat you up with his tom-tom stick or blind you with his crystal, you know where he stands. But when he holds up his little cross and sticks out his mean little tongue, I guess you just want to wipe the pablum off his face and wonder how he'll hold up when things get tough.

"There are many ways to do it wrong" was the mantra of my legal writing prof. It seems she found many of those along her career path, as well.

Aye, the plain path for me, Lord.

Victorbravo said...

Heh. I suppose the reviewer would have been put off by Luther or John Knox too. Good thing the moderns haven't read the old guys. Otherwise, they might not have such happy Pablum faces.

Mike Pitzler said...

Bravo, Victor. Our 3 hour a week nutritious and balanced meal we get at the hand of the pastor whom God has so graciously given us contrasts so greatly with the baby food given out at so many other places. Particularly, we praise God for giving His children a regenerate heart that desires real meat indeed. The unregenerate, dead in trespasses, has no hunger for righteousness at all, and the Gnostic thinks he has life already and this secret knowledge he claims to have is his prize in his box of pablum (if it were even as nourishing as pablum. It's not. It's rat poison).
ASV Isaiah 6:10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.

Ruben said...

I like to pronounce it gnostic.