The First Wrong: Gnosticism
In the second century AD, the church fought a fight for the faith that would decide its trajectory forever. Granted, God’s guarantee that the church would survive means that the early church fathers victory was inevitable, but this does not mean that they did not have to fight as if the fate of Christianity depended upon it. Ultimate victory does not negate the fact that decisive action is best. The church could have suffered much more than it did, even while having a guarantee of victory, if the Fathers did not fight as they did. We see this sort of truth in Israel’s history. While God always proved faithful to Israel, when Israel did not prove faithful to God, they suffered. This is a real possibility for the church as well, and I believe we have seen examples of such suffering in our own history.
One of the biggest internal conflicts of the early church was a pull towards Gnostic thought. While Gnostic thought cannot be easily defined since Gnostics did not always agree with one another, there are some veins of commonality that we can locate. One such vein is a dualistic stress between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. Gnostics believed matter to be evil and the spirit to be the good. Each man was a divine spark that was encased in an evil prison made of matter known as the body. A great many Gnostics went to the extreme to say that God, who is all good, could not have possibly created the world, which is evil matter. Moreover, they would suggest that Christ, being good, could not have come in human flesh, he could only come to appear in human flesh.
The Early Church Fathers saw this as a false dichotomy. They recognized a flawed world, but did not attribute this to inherit goodness of spirit and inherit evilness of matter. Instead, they saw our own sin as the issue. In the Gnostic worldview, this world, this life, and our own bodies did not matter. What was the ultimate triumph of life? To die and be freed from the body… Why is this so bad? Do we not often think similar thoughts? Do we not hear many Christians say something to the affect, “I cannot wait to be freed from this world”? In a sense, this is a proper thought. We want to be with Christ and the Bible tells us that to be absent from the body is to be one with Him. Sounds promising to me, but if this leads to less than positive views of God’s good creation, we slip back towards heresy.
The Bible tells us that our ultimate destination is the new heavens and the new earth, a physical place where we will be spiritually whole with God. We will live in our resurrection bodies, bodies that, as Christ’s own resurrection body demonstrates, are made new, but are also made up of what was already here. This material world will be the building blocks for the next. Let’s not abuse what God sees as His good creation. The early church fought and was victorious over such thoughts. Now we must guard against any vestiges that remain.
If we see death as the great reward, we miss the point that death is the result of sin. It is the enemy of God and the tool of Satan. That is why our hope is not just in death, but in resurrection. When we ignore this theology, we ignore God’s good creation, and we act as if it is disposable and an object of our own unadulterated use. But, the reason the world is in decay is due to our own sin. How then can we add to the problem by abusing the world by suggesting that it is worthless?
Let’s not go backwards in mistreating the Creation. The Fathers fought hard against such misunderstanding. Let us honor our family by being mindful of God’s good creation and His care to come into this physical world that groans for redemption. Let’s repent from our own worldly view of God’s handy work. If we have already repented from our sins, let’s also feel a sense of responsibility towards the fallen nature we have set in motion.