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.