I was looking at my BAR magazine and was reminded of something. Gnosticism. And as you sit there and think about closing the web browser, give me a few minutes to explain. In The Early Church, Gnostics ran very wild and were not very rare. Everyone knew who they were.
Gnosticism: : the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through special knowledge.
As I read the article, it was mentioned that a group of Gnostic Christians abstained from the following things: meat, alcohol and sex, and marriage. According to the article, these people believed that “women were the work of Satan and wine was venom from the Great Serpent.” I found this intriguing because at different times in the mainline church these things have been proposed for different reasons.
I am technically part of one that abstains from alcohol among a few other things (smoking and gambling just to name two). The decision was made based on its mother church the Methodists, who were honoring John Wesley, who attempted to control alcoholic beverages based on them being social problems (there is some debate on how much John Wesley would prohibit).
I think what grabs me is that I have to constantly question why I am abstaining from certain things. I always have to be careful that I don’t call anything of this earth evil. The reason is that the Christianity has to take creation seriously. The two creation accounts in the beginning of Genesis show us that God of Heaven is the creator of the earth. This God, according to the Gospel of John Chapter 1, and the rest of the New Testament, is the same God that sent Jesus. And that Jesus, who was God, was also very human.
If God can be that invested in the material world, I have to be careful (all Christians should be). Plenty of Wesleyans and other denominations have been no stranger to Gnosticism. Some have been proud of escapism theologies. Others have focused on the “world” being evil (which is a huge misreading considering what John 3:16 says). This is Gnosticism. Western Christianity after the 1800’s has gone this direction and has made the world follow it.
Wesleyans and other denominations that partially define themselves by abstaining from things need to listen to history. Many of our local believers think they are escaping into something or have to defy the material world like its evil. We have to be more scriptural than that. The Bible teaches us that the earth will be redeemed. As a matter of fact, Jesus has already begun that through the resurrection. If you don’t agree, then you have to go to the Apostles Creed, which was formulated before the books of the New Testament was even labeled as Canon (Scripture). It specifically says, “I believe in the Resurrection,” which is not the Rapture or spiritual escape into bliss. It is just what it says. I am going to be raised from the dead and walk the earth after I’ve died. I am going to be raised exactly as Jesus was raised, body and all. That sounds very invested in this world as something that can be good.
I cannot tell you not to follow prohibition or believe a certain way about the material and the afterlife. That’s not my place as a servant.
But I can say that the Early Church Fathers would want you to think about it with core Christian values (The Apostles Creed). Pastors should start using that as the primary commentary for the Scriptures. If we want to hold on to what makes us Christian, let’s always listen to our history. We have not taught it to our congregations well and our churches have suffered. Escapism will lead to churches approaching the world and saying, “I don’t have time for you.” We will see ministries like feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, and comforting the hurting disappear. It will be useless since all material things will have no value. The only thing that will mater is sitting in a pew and getting special knowledge in order to escape. The only that will matter is being a goat as we approach the judgment.
To every denomination, be careful. Think.
Make sure you’re following the good news.
Make sure you’re following the Scriptures and the creeds (Apostles and maybe the Nicene Creed too if you need to).
And remember that God has already redeemed and will fully redeem in the end.
Grace and peace to you all.