Even though Gnosticism is a nearly 2000 year old religious system, a name barely recognized by religious scholars, it still holds a tremendous appeal for people, largely for seeking to resolve tensions that exist in the Bible in either one way or the other. By having a marked hostility for biblical law, especially Sabbath observance, and an extreme hostility towards any one who has a genuine respect and regard for God’s law in its entirety as a necessary component of developing godly character, gnosticism is alive and well, even though its name is nearly forgotten in the shadowy mists of time.
What makes Gnosticism so hard to get a grip on is that it is so protean, so malleable, so able to change its shape and name, to proliferate in a baffling variety of disguises, most of them hostile (more on that in a bit), but all of them implacably opposed to God’s ways and especially his rules. We might therefore determine that Gnosticism is nothing more nor less than the religious system of Satan, in its varied and contradictory forms. Whether we deal with elaborate hierarchies of angels, or trinities, with pantheism or supposed atheism, with epicurian or sybartic devotion to pleasure because immorality is irrelevant or ascetic desires to punish the unworthy flesh and purify the spirit, all that matters to a fallen spirit being unable to enjoy or experience the flesh, and therefore prone to consider it unimportant.
Nonetheless, despite the protean and complicated aspects of gnosticism, there are at least a few tendencies that run through them. For one, gnosticism is divided broadly into two camps: libertines and ascetics. Libertines, such as the Nicholiatans, apparently after an apostate among the first seven deacons, believed that immorality was no problem because the law had been done away with. These are classic antinomians, of a kind very familiar to all. Ascetics, such as various monks and types of believers throughout history, have believed that extraordinary efforts were needed to punish the flesh—fasting for a month, avoiding marriage because of the corruption of the flesh, (a law for all heathen priests among the Catholics), considering all flesh totally depraved, lacking any goodness, wheras human beings, born into rebellion and hostility against God, contain varying and unequal mixtures of good and evil by nature, requiring God’s mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to fully pay their debt to sin.
Another divide within the gnostic camp concerns authority. Some gnostics are egalitarian, not desiring of any recognition of rank or position (think of the Quakers, for example), but rather believing in a total anarchial equality with no offices or authority among them, because of the inability to respect authority in a proper and godly fashion, within limits. Other sects believe quite the opposite, with rigid and often elaborate hierarchies, with the satanic rule of exploitation of the masses as well as abject submission to those above (in theory, never in practice) as well as relentless exploitation of those below one (often practiced). We see this type of gnosticism practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, or the authoritarian branches of the Church of God. It is all Satan’s ways, regardless.
Another divide, also an interesting one, separates those gnostic sects that were mystical or speculative, whether it be Freemasonry or Kabbalah, forgetting or neglecting the practical in search of mystical and hidden knowledge about the spirit world, of angels and lost books of knowledge, of astral projection or transcendental meditation. Whatever the specifics (and they vary by sect) the goal is the same—transcending the limitations of the flesh through control or knowledge of the spirit. Meanwhile, other gnostic sects took the opposite course, dismissing speculation and the spiritual realm for a relentless and remorseless exploitation of the physical realm, seeking to dominate the material world and make it the slave of the rational mind. This sort of gnosticism, equally obsessed with hidden and secret guild knowledge, is the kind we find among our scientists, our business managers, our politicians. It is also gnostic, though, after its fashion.
And so we see humankind trapped at least partially willingly in satanic ways, each of them partly true, with some modest simulcrum of the truth, but all of them willfully opposing God’s ways, with a lack of balance, a tendency to either/or thinking (rather than both/and thinking, as the Bible shows multiple layers of meaning all in harmony and balance, all with deep philosophical implications and readily understood practical application). Gnosticism only offers either one or the other, or an incomplete attempt to harmonize the two flawed in some profound fashion.
At its core, the problem with gnosticism exists with a set of related problems. The first is related to mankind, as both a fleshly and temporal being with an eternal destiny and infinite longings. Both are real, and gnosticism offers an easy resolution of the tension either by denying the importance of one’s mortal life or physical behavior or by denying the importance of eternity and the spirit realm. The second is the denial of God’s authority. Either this is done by a consistent (but anarchial) denial of all authority (in part because of how humans abuse authority, but still a mistaken idea) or by a counterfeit authority that is rigid and hierarchial because human beings cannot be trusted to be responsible for themselves. The third is the denial of God’s law as a proper and lasting standard of godly behavior for believers. Either libertines oppose God’s law because of its limitations upon their base desires, or ascetics oppose it because they believe they must add other punishments onto unworthy flesh, like vegetarianism or celibacy, and because they oppose the “laziness” of the Sabbath commands to let mankind and nature rest in its proper season, either on the weekly, annual Sabbaths or the Sabbath years. However it is done, gnosticism shows itself to be a Satanic system of thought, belief, and behavior.
But what this reveals is something even more profound than the explosion of thousands of heretical belief systems within Gnosticism that have existed, each with their own unique flavors but the overall stamp of demonic approval, throughout the course of human history. It reveals that Satan’s kingdom is divided on many and profound levels. Because Satan’s kingdom is divided, it will not stand. However, because of our own flawed natures and willful refusal to accept the authority of God in our lives, a universal human defect we all must struggle against in some fashion, we all prefer by nature some form of gnosticism to the hard and bitter truths of God, unless in His mercy God calls us, and unless we accept that call and choose the way of truth and light over the innummerable shades of darkness and lies that call themselves out as alternatives and rivals to God’s ways. For there is only truth when one understands the right proportion and balance amid all of the tensions that wrack our lives as human beings. The trouble with gnosticism is in casting aside the tensions by a slieght of hand and not openly facing them, as true believers do.