Probably the most dangerous heresy that affected the early church was a set of beliefs gathered under the umbrella term, ‘gnosticism’. In general, the ‘gnostics’ held that the spiritual world was good, but the material world was corrupt. Their brand of Christianity reflected this, rejoicing in spiritual truths, and shunning material life.
The Christ of the Gnostics then, was super-spiritual, but not very concerned with the down-to-earth nitty-gritty of daily life. He couldn’t have been a real bloke, he couldn’t have died on a real cross, there couldn’t have been a real resurrection. But if this heresy was a danger for the early church, it has become so once again for 21st century western evangelicals.
Think of the popular opening prayer, ‘Lord, help us to put aside all the troubles and hassles of the week, and focus on you.’ Already, this is a heretic’s prayer, separating Jesus from real life. But our Gnosticism doesn’t end with the opening prayer.
The songs we enjoy, the prayers we pray, the sermons we hear, often fail to take seriously the actual humanity of Christ. The human context of our daily life – even in a purpose-driven, seeker-friendly, relevance-oriented congregation – tends to be bracketed out of our worship. Sure the Monday-Saturday life of the fellowship is taken seriously, sure we can be attuned to the psychological felt needs of worshippers, sure we expect down-to-earth language. But the actual, true situation of Christians in the world today is still not taken nearly as seriously as it should.
Many Christians still get fidgety when worship addresses un-spiritual issues like the environment. If our humanity were taken at all seriously, we would realise that we are on the brink of a new age, when fossil fuels will run out and global warming will be a horrific reality rather than an uncomfortable theory. And future generations of Christians will marvel at the apathetic ecological indifference of those who claimed to worship the Creator God. But who cares about our grandchildren’s generation – let’s just get lost in wonder, love and praise. Behold Gnosticism.
Similarly, many worshippers suffer from ‘compassion-fatigue’, so don’t want to hear about the economic realities of the world in which God has placed us. So what, if a billion people in our world live on less than one dollar a day? So what if real mums and dads see their real children, bloated and crippled by malnutrition? So what if one of those kids dies every few seconds? So what if we are the wealthiest minority of human beings ever to have existed? Even if these truths begin to trouble us, never mind, ‘You are my rock, in times of trouble’. Behold Gnosticism.
Gnostic worship appeals to us, because it means we can get on with living how we like, and worship a Christ who doesn’t have anything to say about our actual human context. But this Gnostic Christ is an image we have fashioned. Christians today have unique ecological, economic, social privileges and responsibilities. Wherever they are not scribed through the very heart of our worship, we have lost touch with the God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Whoever we think we are worshipping inside our church, Christ stands outside, saying, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’.
(Published in the Baptist Times, 9th February, 2006)