The Gnostics Among Us
A Study in First John
1 John 2:7-8
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
1 John 2:24-25
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us-even eternal life.
1 John 2:27-28
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him.
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
1 John 3:11
This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
1 John 3:23-4:1
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 4:4-6
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
The book of First John is one of the most interesting books in the Bible and one of the most relative for the American Church. Someone once said that America is a nation that has the soul of a Church. Well, that is true but the church that it reflects is a Gnostic Church. What do I mean by Gnostic? Gnosticism was an ancient philosophy that was quite diverse in its beliefs. However, there are a few general tenets in all forms of Gnosticism which we can note. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek and means “to know.” People that embraced this philosophy claimed to have special knowledge that was given only to them or their group. They often claimed that this knowledge came to them through some form of revelation. These revelations came in the form of impressions in the mind or a warm feeling that confirmed the thinking of the person or group. If they are Christian Gnostics, they also claimed that this revelation and knowledge are greater or equal to that of the apostles of Christ. They furthermore, believed that their revelations were personal, making them purely subjective. By personal and subjective, I mean there was nothing outside of their own mind that they could appeal to as a source of authority. In contrast, the apostles of Christ worked miracles to confirm their word and revelations (Heb 2:1-4). Gnostics seem to feel no need to ground their teaching in scripture or the doctrine of the apostles of Jesus. In fact, they often created their own scriptures – sometimes forging the name of one of the apostles of Jesus. The proof of their experience is and was only their own testimony, a subjective experience in contrast to the sign and wonders done by the apostles of Jesus. Of course, some Gnostics claim the same power of the apostles and worked counterfeit miracles, which are and were as subjective as their revelations (2 Thess 2:5-12). The Gnostics tried to prove their revelations and miracles by their words. The apostles proved their words by their miracles.
Gnostics also embrace an extreme form of dualisms. Dualism is the separation of the spiritual and the physical. Their dualism was extreme because they believed unlike other dualists that the material or the physical was evil and unclean. This belief had some serious implications for how these people interpret the Christ story. If the physical was evil, how could Jesus – a spirit being who was completely holy enter into a physical body which was evil? So they taught that Jesus was a ghost or illusion. The apostle John addresses the false assumption that Jesus did not come in the flesh in a number places in his letter (1 John 1:1-4). Because, of their negative view of the body, the Gnostics slip into the errors of ascetic and extreme pietism (thinking they were perfect); this led to the abuse or neglect of the body and the denying of any worldly or physical pleasures. They often try to separate themselves totally from what they called worldly activities and people. The desert fathers where gnostics to the highest degree and are still held by Gnostic Christians to be great heroes of the faith.
Many Gnostics embraced antinomian, which is the dislike of law and authority. These folks misused the apostle Paul’s doctrine of grace and turned grace into a license to sin (Rom 6:1-3). There were many false teachers in the early years of Christianity, who taught that Christians were not under any law and therefore, could not sin. Of course, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but they are under the law of Christ, which is the law of love (Gal 6:2, 1Cor 9:20). The apostle Peter warns Christians to watch out for these lawless men who could lead them away from Christ (2 Pet 3:17). John corrects both views of extreme pietism and antinomian by pointing out that Christians do sin, and yet they do not keep on sinning. In other, words the Christian seeks a lifestyle that is free of habitual sin. (1 John 1:8-2:2).
My main interest in writing this article is to look at the Gnostics doctrine of the anointing which John speaks about in his letter. From the words of John, we can build a picture of some of the claims and teachings of the Gnostics, who were a part of the fellowship that John was addressing. However, we know that at least some Gnostics have left the fellowship, believing they were too spiritual to be in the fellowship of mere believers who proclaimed their relationship with Christ through eating bread and drinking wine ( The Lords supper).
The Gnostic world of the first few centuries after Christ, as it is today was one of subjective impressions and feelings. Their truth was not out there in the physical world, in the church or scripture, but in each of their own minds. Truth was what they believed and in the end only supported by their impression and feelings. When someone would challenge their Gnostic beliefs, they would simply say they had an anointing from God that would teach them all truth. Interpreted this means; I have this warm fussy feeling that I have the truth. In this, there were as many faiths (religions) as people. John and the other apostles saw this movement as the greatest damage to the true faith. John refers to these people as anti-Christ. In our day we see the identical thing in what we call religious relativism, which stems from the same sources of Gnosticism. Religious relativism in its simplest form says that religious doctrines are not important and the only thing that matters is what an individual person believes and feels. All beliefs are equal. The authority to choose is left up to the individual.
This brings us to the question of what is the anointing that John speaks about in his letter? (1 John 2:27) Before giving my interpretation let’s note some general observations about this anointing that John speaks about. First of all, whatever, it was; it was given to every Christian not just those with a personal knowledge or a personal religious experience (1 John 2:20). Second, the truth that the anointing provided was a truth that was public and shared by all the body of Christ. It was not personal or individual “all of you know the truth” All Christians had the anointing and the truth that came from it. Third, the anointing came in the beginning of their faith when they placed their faith in Christ through the preaching of the gospel which is the bearer of the Spirit. There is no room here for any second work of grace in the believer, which would create two kinds or classes of Christians (1 John 2:24). This anointing taught all Christians the same truth, a truth that was public and corporate. If we were to boil down the teaching of the anointing to its simplest form, it would be a teaching of faith and love. The anointing of the Spirit teaches all Christians to have faith in Christ and to love one another. Faith and love are the sign and seal that someone has the anointing (Eph 1:13-14, Col 1:4-5, 1Thess 1:2-3).
The anointing comes when one believes the gospel and identifies with Christ in baptism, which puts one into Christ (Acts 2:38, Rom 6:1-3). It confirms in the heart of the believer that Jesus is the Christ in order that the believer may have a certitude of their relationship with Christ (I John 5:10). It is faith in Christ and love for our brothers which gives the believer a mark or seal of assurance that we have the anointing and are saved (Eph 113-14). We need no subjective knowledge or religious experience to confirm our relationship with Christ other than our baptism, faith and love. Because our faith, baptism and love are public, they are both subjective and objective. That is, you can feel them and see them.
There is nothing in John’s words on the anointing that would lead anyone to think that God is guiding them into all religion truth or personal truth by putting impressions on their minds. If that is or were the case why did the early Christian ask the apostles for the answer to their questions? Why did they not just pray for answers to come through revelation? It is obvious the early church believed that only the apostles of Christ had the authority to speak on all religious questions concerning the faith, the faith that once and for all was given to the saints (Jude 3). This faith was completely delivered to the apostles by the Lord and in turn the apostle delivered it to the fellowship (church) through their words and the traditions that they pass down to the church which words are recorded in scripture and interpreted by the spiritual mature. There is no room for new revelation in regard to doctrine, which goes beyond the teaching of the apostles. The church must reject any teaching or tradition that goes beyond the teaching of Christ and His apostles (2 John 9). Only the apostles of Christ were promised to be led into all truth (John 14:26) and even among the apostles, it had to be confirmed by two or three of them (Matt 18:18-20). The revelations were not private. Even the apostle Paul set his teaching before the other apostles to be confirmed (Gal 2:2).
The apostle Paul put little stock in personal religious experience for he knew they were private and in the end proved nothing (2 Cor 12:1-60). It was this kind of personal subjective knowledge, which comes from individual experiences and subjective impressions that filled individuals with spiritual pride. It is not book knowledge that fills people with spiritual pride as Gnostics would have us believe. Book knowledge requires a person to submit to another and gives another credit for one’s knowledge. It recognizes that it is dependent on someone else for knowledge and that knowledge is outside itself and public. In other words, it looks to an authority outside itself for knowledge where subjective knowledge looks to itself. One of the characteristics of Gnosticism is its anti-intellectualism, which stems from its hatred of objective knowledge.
Is there a problem with Gnosticism in the American Church? It seems that many evangelical leaders think so. “Despite the vast cultural differences between North American Protestantism and ancient Gnosticism, the parallels between the two innovations can no longer be ignored.” Philip Lee, “Against the Protestant Gnostics.”
“The studied creedlessness of American Protestantism, its reliance on the guidance of the inner light, its resistance to the specific authoritative claims of Scripture, its ignorance of the teaching of Scripture, its preoccupation with the millennium, its anti-sacramental and anti-ecclesiastical biases are all indicators of an essentially Gnostic world view.” Jay Grimstead, Crosswind Spring/Summer
In his book “Gnosticism: The Coming Apostasy, D.M. Panton alerted Christians to expect Gnosticism the most dreaded foe the Christian faith ever confronted to reappear as a new Theology “ D.M. Panton.
Once we gain a historical perspective on the church’s continuous struggle with the Gnostic seed for over two millennia, we should not be surprised that much of the essence of Gnosticism has managed to permeate evangelical Christianity. The critical difference is that today, due to our disinterest in church history and distaste for doctrinal boundaries, the enemy stalks our camp unrecognized.” Doner Colonel, “The Late Great Evangelical Church”
I could go on quoting church leaders from the Pope to R.C. Sproul and all would say the same thing, that this generation of American Christians are in a death struggle with Gnosticism or what we call the new-age movement which has already infiltrated the Church. Only time will tell whether we are ready for this battle with this anti-Christ.
 In the new testament there are not two kinds of Christians or class of Christians. In Scripture all Christians are born again and all Christians have the Spirit. The only thing that separated Christians are their degree of mature and the gifts given by the Spirit. Spirit filled Christians were simply those that had yielded more to Spirit. The expression “filled with the Spirit” is a metaphor denoting the level of control that the spirit has in one’s life.
 The mark in Eph 1:13-14 is the seal that a king would place on a letter sent with his authority. The mark of a Christian is the Holy Spirit that is manifested in a life of faith and love. Nothing mystical in this passage unless you are a Gnostic and looking for something mystical to set you apart from ordinary Christians.
 Subject and provide religious experiences means nothing more than the fact that you had an experience which you believe came from God. However, your belief that it came from God may be wrong. It may have come from Satan or your own imagination. Every cult leader in the past and present uses their subjective and private religious experiences to prove their religious doctrines and to confirm their authority, to get men to follow them. The greatest example of this is Joseph Smith the founder and first prophet of the Mormon church. He had nothing to prove his cock and bull story other than his own personal revelation. The Mormon Church now has 12 million members and is one of the most Gnostic groups among American religions.
 I highly recommend this book because of the author’s insight into the influence of Gnosticism on American Christianity.