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Monday, February 1, 2010

Reformed Gnosticism

I have been teaching the letter of I John in adult Sunday school class. I am about finished with this project, and it has been a blessing to me. I find that John makes two very large and profound pronouncements about the basic nature of God. In the first chapter he declares that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. In the 4th chapter he declares that God is love.

He teaches us that anyone who is born of God and has fellowship with Him must of necessity have been touched by the nature of this God. Like something of a dear friend's character will "rub off" on you, so too, when God is that friend it will show in what kind of person you have become.

Since this epistle is basically one of assurance (5:13), he sets forth as measures of assurance these two tests: 1) Do we keep His commandments? 2) Do we love the brothers? John actually expects his readers to find the assurance of faith in these tests.

Gnosticism, at least in the person of Cerinthus, was seen as a danger by John, who evidently exposes his errors by insisting that true believers confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. And he delights in using the format, "This is how we know..." in opposition to the idea of secret knowledge from which gnosticism derives its name ("gnosis" being the Greek word for "knowledge").

There is a lot of good stuff in this little letter for which I am grateful. But as I was pondering the idea of the Gnostics that salvation was found not in what is believed or what is accomplished, but rather in secret knowledge, an unsettling thought popped up in my mind. Gnostics prided themselves in what they knew that others did not. Hmmmm. Does that idea sound familiar?

My denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has a reputation for being a bit more theologically informed than most. I hope that is true. I am pleased with that. Maybe I am a little proud of that fact, and therein lies the danger. Are we proud that we know about predestination? We know something about the different insights of the terms which speak of atonement (redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, sacrifice). We can show why the New Testament requires the baptism of infant children of believers, even though there is no specific command to do so. We know why the covenant of grace brings Israel and the church together into one body. We understand why we don't have or need the supernatural gifts today. Stuff like this means we have knowledge that many other Christians do not yet know. Then along comes a hyper-Calvinist every now and again who argues that Arminians are not really Christians.

Do you see where this is going? The argument seems to be saying that unless a person possess complete understanding of the doctrines of sovereign grace, he cannot be saved. It is then implied that salvation is based on what we KNOW rather than on faith alone. We never say that, but it is not far beneath the surface. Do you see a danger here? Or am I blowing smoke?

1 comment:

  1. True, and no matter how much we know, we only know it because it has been revealed to us. That should humble us, but it doesn't always do that.