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Gnosticism in the Church

“It’s all gonna burn anyway.” This is the fatalistic refrain I often hear from Christians when they want to justify why we shouldn’t be concerned about the environmental issues of the earth. I had this conversation with someone who felt that we really didn’t have to be too bothered about the here and now, because we have the hope that when Jesus comes again, the earth will be made new. (1) “Ok”, I countered, “since your body will also be made new (2), it doesn’t matter how you treat it now either. It’s irrelevant what you put into your body and how you take care of your health. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to look both ways before crossing the street! It’s all good: we have hope in the Second Coming!” Clearly she couldn’t affirm that line of thinking, so she consented that maybe she’d have to re-evaluate her logic.

Interestingly enough, her perspective is not one that’s exactly novel. Historical scholars believe that this philosophy crept in even during the time of the early church. It was called Gnosticism. Simplistically speaking, those Christians that adopted Gnostic views believed that what they did to/with their bodies was irrelevant, because spirituality was the most important–in fact the only important–thing. They held that this spirituality was totally separate from the physical. Paul specifically rebuked these teachings, pointing out that we are not our own, we are bought with a price, we should honor God with our bodies, and that our spirituality is indeed inextricably intertwined with our physical realities. (3) One doesn’t exist without the other. Adventists embrace Paul’s teachings, so much so that we promote a strong health message and even build sanitariums, hospitals, and medical schools founded on the principle that “to make man whole” is part of the Christian mission. While we tout that human beings were the crown of God’s creation, made in God’s image, and we should care for ourselves (4), we, contradictorily, are dismissive of the facts that the entire rest of Creation was declared good and it’s even so special to God that we shouldn’t trivialize it with our words (5). God gave us dominion to be good stewards. Scripture is clear: we can’t love God in a spiritual sense and trash Creation in a physical sense; there is no division between the spiritual and the physical.

But we adopt Gnostic attitudes in other ways too. Although we might not treat ourselves any old way just because of our Future Hope, we are quite content to allow others to be mistreated and we justify it with eschatology. We won’t abuse our own bodies, but we stand idly by and watch others be abused. We allow injustices to run rampant. These things are acceptable and even expected, according to the logic, because Jesus said there would be strife and wickedness and war; it’s just a sign of the end. (6) Oh, ok, in that case…! In Isaiah, God rebuked the Israelites’ attitudes that used their spiritual preoccupations to justify neglecting the physical needs all around them. (7) Yet we do the same. In I John, we are told that we can’t claim we love God, Whom we have not seen, while hating our brothers and sisters that we see and interact with right here and now. (8) By the way, this hatred doesn’t have to be active: indifference achieves the same end. (Remember the guys that came on the scene BEFORE the Good Samaritan? [9]) We remain satisfied to allow suffering all around us. Why? Because “the world” has to go through all this suffering before the end! It’s all gonna burn anyway…

Gnosticism wasn’t tolerable in the early church and it shouldn’t be tolerable in the church in the last days. Jesus touched, healed, and alleviated suffering everywhere He went. Let’s follow the example of Christ and actually live out the love we claim to have. (10) After all, in the life of a true disciple, the physical and the spiritual are inseparable.

A graduate of Andrews University, Courtney Ray is a pastor at the Tamarind Ave. Church in Compton, California, and is studying Clinical Neuropsychology at Loma Linda University.


(1) I Peter 3; Rev 21

(2) 1 Cor 15

(3) I Cor 6; Rom 12

(4) Gen 1:26-27

(5) Gen 1; Matt 5:34-35

(6) Matt 24

(7) Isa 58

(8) I John 4

(9) Luke 10

(10) I John 3:14-18

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