Gnosticism in the Mainline
“One of our finest hours was when our Presbyterian Publishing House, Westminster Press, published books on the death of God theology.” Thus spoke the 1996-97 moderator of the PCUSA, as he accepted the 1996 Alumnus of the Year award from Chicago Divinity School.
This “finest hour” helped promote a sustained and growing rejection of the theism of the Judeo-Christian scriptures in the mainline churches. Theologian David Miller had already made the implications clear in 1974:
…the announcement of the death of God [is] the obituary of a useless single-minded and one-dimensional norm of a civilization that has been predominantly monotheistic, not only in its religion, but also in its politics, its history, its social order, its ethics, and its psychology.
Miller went on to prophesy: “When released from the tyrannical imperialism of monotheism by the death of God, man has the opportunity of discovering new dimensions hidden in the depths of reality’s history.” At the funeral of the God, Miller announced the rebirth [of the spirituality] of gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome.
At the time, this connection to spiritual paganism was not always obvious. Had not twentieth century Man “come of age,” outgrowing the need of the “God hypothesis”? In 1979 Naomi Goldenberg, a leading feminist, declared (with no apparent reference to the Death of God theology): “The feminist movement in Western culture is engaged in the slow execution of Christ and Jahweh.”
The elimination of God is an old idea, of course. Without going all the way back to Eden, we can see that the destruction of the Creator was the ultimate goal of ancient Gnosticism. But behind the destruction of God was a deeply spiritual agenda.
Gnosticism for the Elite
The 1945 discovery of a whole library of ancient Gnostic texts, and their translation and dissemination in 1977, brought a modern revival of Gnosticism. James Robinson, general editor of The Nag Hammadi Library in English (1977), and an ex-orthodox Presbyterian minister, raised on the Westminster Confession of Faith, declared his attraction to the spirituality of Gnosticism:
The focus of this [Gnostic] library has much in common with primitive Christianity, with eastern religions, and with holy men of all times, as well as with the more secular equivalents of today, such as the counter-culture movements coming from the 1960’s.
In the late seventies, appealing to fair-pay pluralists, Gnosticism and Orthodoxy were proposed as two “valid” but relative ways or “trajectories” of interpreting early Christianity. “Neither,” reassured Robinson, “is the original Christian position…” Recently the tide has changed. At first, liberals of all stripes enjoyed the “fair-play” pluralism. However, the radicality of the agenda is now obvious to all. The same liberal scholars now claim that Gnosticism was the original form of Christianity. The Orthodoxy of the New Testament is the interloper that must be eliminated. Says Funk, “The lines between orthodoxy and heresy in the earliest church are blurred at best and, in large measure, heresy actually preceded orthodoxy.”
This scholarly work on Gnosticism has given courage to the radicals in the mainline. Episcopalian Bishop, John Spong, proposes, as the Church’s only hope, a “new look” Christianity for a new millennium. Spong believes we come to “the end of an era [where] …most traditional Christian doctrines…have become obsolete.” Specifically he wants the Church to abandon its “theistic definition of God.” In a similar vein, Carter Heyward, a “socialist, feminist, lesbian, womanist” Episcopal priest, dismisses the Trinity as a homophilial/homoerotic image of relationship between males (Father and Son), rejects the divinity of Christ and prefers the Gnostic “Sophia/Wisdom and Christa/community, Hagar the slave woman, and Jephthah’s daughter.” Little wonder conservative bishops speak of “a crisis of leadership and faith” and a “state of pastoral emergency” in the Episcopal Church.
Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, and promoter to “canonical status” of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, enthusiastically adopts the radical program of Bishop Spong. Ominously, the next project of the Jesus Seminar is “The Mythical Matrix & God as Metaphor.” Says Funk: “We are discussing the future of God, so to speak.” With what happened to Jesus, one shudders to think what the Jesus Seminar, with its self-declared unbiased objectivity [!], will do to God.
However, modern “Christian” Gnosticism has not quite yet finished with Jesus. Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, authors of The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? deny that Jesus ever existed. Far from being turned off from Christianity by their research, Freke and Gandy say their premise actually strengthened their faith. “What we’ve discovered is that the message of original Christianity was…about, for the original Christians, becoming a Christ oneself. This leads them to conclude that the Gnostics were the original Christians. Their book has been remarkably well-received, reaching bestseller status in the United Kingdom, garnering at least one “Book of the Year” award, and receiving support from…John Shelby Spong!
Donna Steichen, a Roman Catholic, theologically conservative journalist, documenting the effects of radical, pagan feminism in the Roman Catholic, states: “There s little practical reason for optimism.” “For the present, much of the American Catholic Church is occupied by enemy forces.” In the Spring of 1998, one of these radical Roman Catholic feminist, Rosemary Radford Ruether, gave the Sprunt Lectures at Union Seminary, an historic, mainline Presbyterian institution in Richmond, VA. In a public lecture to future ministers of the Gospel she said: “Redemption does not mean sending down the divine from some higher spiritual world where God is located, into a bodily world…, but rather perhaps it means the welling up of authentic life in a true creation….” Giving new meaning to Christmas, she declared: “Flesh became Word, not Word became Flesh. God is not the power of dominating control from outside but the ground of life-giving relations and their ongoing renewal.”
“Life-giving relations” flourish in contemporary mainline ecumenism at the expense of Christian dogma. Churches Uniting in Christ (CuiC) calls upon Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists to join together in an organic union where, by the very fact of joining, each church automatically approves the theology of the others. The Union would include denominations that ordain homosexuals, and one group, the Light of Life Community Church, that denies orthodox teaching on Christ and the Trinity, and affirms a monistic/pantheistic view of God.
Bill Phipps, the moderator of Canada”s largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada denies the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection and the deity of Christ as well as the reality of heaven and hell. “People have to realize,” Phipps explained, “that within our church there’s a wide range of faith convictions.” The denomination’s General Council, in support of the moderator, announced: “Rarely, if ever, do we use doctrinal standards to exclude anyone from the circle of belonging.” The church as “the circle of belonging” resembles more and more the all-inclusive circle of pagan monism where all religions and faith expressions are welcomed-all, that is, except historic orthodoxy.
This same pantheistic view of God is openly promoted by the Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. In their bi-monthly publication, More Light Update, they send a call for spiritual testimonies of various examples of “connection to The Source, the sacred, the realm of The Spirit…, and all the other ways of describing It.” The call continues: “Dykes! Send us…profound mystical experiences, connection to The source…, the connection between sex and spirit…. How do you connect to The Source? Prayer? Art? Ritual? Magic? Trance? Dance? Mind-altering substances….spells, chants, charms,…[for compiling an anthology of] writings by bi-sexual people of faith (Jews, Christians, Pagans, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, and those following other spiritual paths. Here is the fulfillment of Miller’s prophecy following the liberating “death of God”-“the opportunity of discovering new dimensions hidden in the depths of reality’s history.”
This is not Christianity, and it is not new. It is virulent paganism illegally squatting in the very temple of the Lord, as in the vision of Ezekiel. In these tolerant times even attempting to make such a judgment, as many conservative Christians in the mainline churches do, is identified as a sign of theological sickness. So the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), in the midst of the outcry over the outlandish worship of the pagan Gnostic Goddess, Sophia, at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, made the unforgettable statement: “Whatever you think of Re-Imagining, the style of discourse-the use of words like heretic, pagan [by those critical of it]-is not healthy.”
The radicals know better. Their analysis is crystal clear. In a moment of unusual lucidity, ordained Presbyterian minister and well-known lesbian Janie Spahr, transparently wonders, “Maybe we’re talking about a different god.” From a different perspective, John Christie, a Conservative United Methodist minister, agrees. Reacting to the marriage ceremony performed for two lesbians by Jimmy Creech of Omaha, Nebraska, a fellow United Methodist minister, Christie claims that there are two religions in his denomination: “One based on Scripture and one that feels we are in a new age with new truths.”
Gnosticism for the Unsuspecting Masses
Most people in the pew are not caught up in this radical rejection of the faith. In vast numbers, however, they have adopted the contemporary notions of theological tolerance, effectively giving up any solid ground on which to oppose the onslaught of radical Gnosticism. The sociologists have demonstrated this. George Barna recently stated that “America is transitioning from a Christian nation to a syncretistic, spiritually diverse society.”
A notable case in point says it all.
The choice is simple…between the eternal and the passing…between Jesus Christ and the world, I’ve made my choice. I love Jesus Christ…How about you?
These were the words of Bill Bradley, basketball star in the 60s. In the 90s, Bill Bradley the mature and successful politician, says: “Christianity offers one way to achieve inner peace and oneness with…the world. Buddhism, Judaism, Islam Confucianism and Hinduism offer others. Increasingly I resist the exclusivity of true believers.” Reflecting this same trend, Mary Ann Lundy, from the mainline PCUSA, now Deputy Director of the world Council of Churches, and a well-known worshipper of the Goddess Sophia, announces: “We are learning that to be ecumenical is to move beyond the boundaries of Christianity….yesterday’s heresies are becoming tomorrow’s Book of [Church] Order.” As Lundy and Bradley demonstrate, the ground has moved.
At the heart of this ecumenism is the idea that all the religions are the same. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, writing in the magazine Gnosis (a publication dedicated to the promotion of Gnosticism in the modern world) says: “Envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle. At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphasis.” The theoretical basis of all this is the belief that behind all religions is the same experience of the unio mystica, also called deification,” “the seventh, highest mansion,” “holy marriage,” or “unitive vision.” A leading “Christian” scholar, Huston Smith, believes that the present work of the Spirit is producing an “invisible geometry to shape the religions of the world into a single truth.” Some in the established churches, including Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists, believe Smith is a prophet for the church of the third millennium.
The message of contemporary “Christian” syncretism shares a Buddhist view of God: “You’re not going to find truth outside yourself…You become a Buddha by actualizing your own original innate nature. This nature is primordially pure. This is your true nature, your natural mind. …it is always perfect, from the beginningless beginning. We only have to awaken to it.”
Prophecies and Warnings
One of the major figures of the Theosophical movement, Alice Bailey, made a striking prophecy in 1957: “The coming struggle will emerge within the churches themselves….The fight will then spread to thinking men and women everywhere who, in a protesting revolt, have denied orthodox churchianity and theology.” The prophecy is coming true. Observes New Ager Marilyn Ferguson: “An increasing number of churches and synagogues have begun to enlarge their context…now the heretics are gaining ground, doctrine is losing its authority, and knowing is superseding belief.”
Writing at the turn of the last century, the Dutch Reformed theologian, Hermann Bavinck, warned: “…the twentieth century…[will] witness a gigantic conflict of spirits…between the old and the new worldview.” J Gresham Machen, in the 20s saw the beginnings: “The truth is that liberalism has lost sight of the very center and core of the Christian teaching… the awful transcendence of God.” Francis Schaeffer in the early Seventies, predicted:
“Pantheism will be pressed as the only answer to ecological problems and will be one more influence in the West’s becoming increasingly Eastern in its thinking.” Os Guiness got the term: “The Eastern religions will be to Christianity a new, dangerous, Gnosticism.” It is not difficult to see that these predictions have come true.
The Real Agenda of the Gospels
At the heart of Gnosticism lie two powerful notions: the elimination of the Creator God of biblical theism and the promotion of deep spiritual union with the god of paganism. Long before Naomi Goldenberg declared feminism’s intention to undertake “the slow execution of Jahweh,” Gnosticism declared the “death of God” at the hands of the pagan goddess, Sophia. The Hypostasis of the Archons states:
She [Sophia] breathed into his [Jahweh] face and her breath became a fiery angel…and that angel bound Yaltabaoth/Jahweh and cast him down into Tartaros [Hell] below the Abyss.
According to On the Origin of the World, Sophia, at the end of the world, will drive out the gods of chaos whom she had created together with the First Father (Jahweh). She will cast them down to the abyss. They will be wiped out by their own (injustice)…they will gnaw at one another until they are destroyed by their First Father. When he destroys them he will turn against himself and destroy himself until he ceases to be.
In place of the God of the Bible Gnosticism offered pantheistic spirituality. Jesus reveals to James that when James reaches Him Who Is “you will no longer be James; rather you are the One Who Is.” In other words, the Gnostic Jesus promised that we are all divine Christs. Such status for the believer is based on pagan pantheism, another core teaching of Gnosticism. The goddess Sophia is everywhere. She declares:
I am intangible, dwelling in the intangible. I move in every creature. I am the life of my Epinoia (though) that dwells within ever power and every eternal movement and (in) invisible lights and within the Archons and Angels and Demons and every soul dwelling in [Tartaros] and (in) every material soul.
Because she is everywhere, and true Gnostics are divine, they are thus able to enter into deep spiritual communion with her occult power. This is the essence of Gnosticism-anti-Christian pagan occultism-now masquerading as new-look Christianity. Is this judgment too harsh?
I call as witness Harold Bloom, a world expert on Shakespeare and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale. As a young man in the Sixties, Bloom converted to Gnosticism. He remembers with relish the deep sense of personal liberation in discovering that he was uncreated, as old as God!
We are unsponsored, since the god of this world, worshiped by the names of Jesus and Jehovah, is only a bungler…who botched the False-Creation that we know as our Fall…It makes a considerable difference to believe that you go back before the Creation.
Liberated from his Jewish upbringing, Bloom became a pagan monist. Without any compunction to make Gnosticism palatable to Christian sensibilities, he offers what he believes to be the essence and origin of Gnosticism. He proposes shamanism as the essential paradigm of all esoteric spirituality, in particular the idea that once there was no barrier between Heaven and earth…[and] the shaman is the person who can break through our limits…[via] out-of-the-body experiences, in order to invoke the world of the spirits.
And then he makes this amazing statement:
The shamanistic belief…that a self that is the oldest and best part of one, a divine magical self…seems to me the origin of all Gnosticism-Gnosticism…[emerged]…from shamanism, particularly from the shamanistic occult or magical self.
Johannes van Oort, Professor of church history and the history of dogma at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and a recognized authority on Manicheism, warns:
Gnosis in one form or another is expected to become the main expression of secular religion in the new millennium. In order to equip the Church for this new age, the scientific study of Gnosticism is vital.
Van Oort could also have said that an essential part of equipping the Church is to identify Gnosis within its walls, lest it become the main expression of mainline “Christian” religion.