Gnosticism was a major heresy merging Christian doctrines with Neoplatonist thought which the early church had to battle, particularly in the Eastern Roman Empire. This heresy was initially denounced in the 264–268 Synods of Antioch, reaffirmed in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, and codified as part of the Nicene Creed.
The central belief of Gnosticism is a duality of existence, that the world is divided into two distinct, fundamental essences, the material world as inferior, unimportant, and evil and the spiritual world as superior, important, and good. This leads to a host of theological problems; for example, salvation morphs from being rescued from sin and death into escaping the evil material world. Rather than the material world being a perfect creation pronounced good by God and marred only by sin, the material world is instead some kind of cosmic mistake which the soul must transcend. For some Gnostics, since Jesus was good, then obviously He could not have had a physical body; therefore He only appeared to have had a human body. Other Gnostics held that Jesus did have a body with His soul trapped inside it, such that His crucifixion was the way His soul could escape back to the good, spiritual world. For still other Gnostics, since God the Father was good and Jesus had an evil material body, then obviously they could not be made of the same nature, and hence Jesus was a lesser god or being. The Gnostics were repulsed by the thought of a physical resurrection. The good, pure soul having finally escaped the dirty, evil, material body, in Gnostic salvation it would never be reunited with a body for a final judgment or a new heaven and earth. These are just examples of some of the heretical errors produced by Gnostic belief.
We can see many of these points specifically addressed in portions of the Nicene Creed, a creed maintained by all three branches of Christian tradition – and which no one may reject and still be called Christian, it should be noted.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
God is the originator of both the material and spiritual and thus neither may be considered fundamentally evil or a mistake.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
The affirmation of Jesus as the same substance and essence as the Father here is a reference to Gnostic duality.
By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
Making the point about God creating both realms again, and directly connecting Jesus to that creation.
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
Affirming that Jesus had a real human body, not merely appearing to have one.
But those who say that: “There was a time when He was not;” and “He was not before He was made;” and “He was made out of nothing,” or “He is of another substance” or “essence,” or “The Son of God is created,” or “changeable,” or “alterable” – they are condemned by the Holy Orthodox and Universal Apostolic Church.
The pronouncement of anathema on those who held to, among other beliefs, Gnostic teachings concerning Christ.
And yet Gnostic attitudes and beliefs are creeping back into the modern church. Indeed, one might even say that in many ways they have become the majority opinion. How many times in your life have you heard someone respond to some physical issue or concern with something along the lines of, “That’s not important – only heavenly things are important” or, “That’s earthly, and we should only be concerned with spiritual things”? They are meant to make the speaker sound pious, but the ancient Gnostics would have been in complete agreement with either statement. Several years ago, Robin Phillips put together a list of eight Gnostic myths widely held in the modern church:
Gnostic Myth # 3: The Material World isn’t Important
Under the influence of Gnostic myth # 2, as well as various eschatologies which teach a lack of organic continuity between what happens during this age and the future renewal, many Christians have colluded with the Gnostic notion that what happens in this world is unimportant to God.
Phillips followed up that post a few days ago with a longer, more detailed discussion of Gnosticism, including some of Dorothy Sayers’s work on the subject. Sayers was an early-twentieth-century English writer in the same vein as Lewis and Chesterton, and, while she was one of the early Feminists, her theological work is still excellent in many regards. Sayers had this to say regarding Gnosticism:
Notice how entirely different [Christianity] is from the Gnostic and Neoplatonic thought which characterises the great Oriental religions and so often tried to infiltrate into Christianity. For the Gnostics, creation is evil, and the outflowing of the One into the Many is a disaster: the true end of the Many is to lose the derived self and be reabsorbed into the One. But for the Christian, it is not so. The derived self is the glory of the creature and the multiplicity and otherness of the universe is its joy. The true end of the creature is that it should reflect, each in its own way and to its capacity great or small, some tiny facet of the infinite variety comprised within the unity of the One.
The characteristic belief of Christendom is in the Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting of the complete body-soul complex. Excessive spirituality is the mark, not of the Christian, but of the Gnostic.
The visible universe is not an illusion, nor a mere aspect of Divinity, nor identical with god (as in Pantheism), still less a ‘fall into matter’ and an evil delusion (as in the various Gnostic or Manichee cults). It is made by God, as an artist makes a work of art, and given a genuine, though contingent, real existence of its own, so that it can stand over against Him and know Him as its real Other.
It should be stated that Robin Phillips is part of Doug Wilson’s clique and thus solidly Alienist, but in his honest appraisal of the Gnostic heresy we also see the rebuke of Alienism.
The Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body alone is enough to prove Alienism false. The majority view of the modern church view is that our race and ethnicity don’t matter because they are temporal things, not eternal, and thus have no significance for the Christian. I have heard almost word-for-word variations of that statement from dozens of Alienists. This is Gnostic heresy.
Jesus was incarnated as a real human with a real flesh-and-blood body. After His resurrection, He appeared to His followers in his glorified body, and here’s the supremely important part: He was still recognizable as Jesus. Post-resurrection He was not a disembodied spirit, not an unrecognizable androgynous being, but the adult Hebrew man they had known during His life. In Luke 24:15-16, we are specifically told that when Jesus appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus,
So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.
Why were their eyes restrained? Because they had known Him during His life and would have recognized Him even in His glorified body. In verse 31, when Jesus specifically withdraws this restraint, they immediately recognize His identity.
Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Likewise when we are resurrected, our glorified bodies will be recognizable as who we were in life – healed and perfected of course, but still retaining those physical aspects of our identity that make us who we are, such as gender and race. To say otherwise is Gnosticism and anathema.
Here I merely echo the last part of David Opperman’s response to Brian Schwertley pointing to the eternal eschatological significance of race and nation in God’s design:
The apostle Paul teaches that both men and women are united together in the Lord (1 Cor. 11:11-12), while also teaching that there are distinct differences between men and women that are not related to sin and that persist even when we consider the beneficial effects of Christian unity (1 Cor. 11:8-9; 14:34-35, Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:9-15; cf. 1 Peter 3:1-7). The same can be said of ethnic and racial distinctions. The importance of national plurality is established not only by the law as a present reality, but also by the prophets, who assign national plurality an eschatological significance. This is the heart of the disagreement between Kinists and Alienists. What Kinists understand and Alienists do not is that multiple nations rooted in ethnic and racial differences have a purpose that will endure forever, which is what makes them worth preserving.