Gnosticism in the Church: Alive in Subtle Forms
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2006 Jan 04
There is seemingly no end to what may be characterized as experience oriented religion as opposed to an embracing of revealed truth as given to us in the Scriptures. Our feeling oriented religious society is the offspring of a number of movements of the experiential variety bearing upon the Christian community from within and without Christendom including the modern New Age movement, sixteenth century pietism, and/or the mysticism of the patristic period, to name a few. At the heart of each of these movements and the contemporary commitment to such is the ancient and unbiblical philosophy known as Gnosticism. For the Gnostic, revealed truth and experiencing Christ in terms of power for holy living is insufficient. The Christian must somehow touch the face of God. In this mind set, truth is not ultimate: experience is ultimate. Having an immediate experience with God takes priority over knowing God through mediated truth.
Consider this post from a concerned Shane Rosenthal a few months ago. "According to WACU television in Philadelphia, a South Dakota couple has recently marketed a line of candles which they claim 'smell like Jesus.' Scented candles have long been popular, and have increasingly been offered in more and more unusual scents such as lavender spice, chocolate chip cookie, apple pie, and so forth. But now, buyers have the option of filling their homes with the fragrance of Christ."
"'We see it as a ministry,' says Bob_____. Along with his wife Karen, he got the idea for the scented candle after reading Psalm 45:7-8, 'Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.' Karen explains that this is a 'Messianic psalm referring to when Christ returns.' But she wondered what the fragrance of myrrh mixed with aloes and cassia might smell like, so she ordered those oils and mixed her first batch with a friend who also made candles."
"After the candles went on sale they were an instant hit. Karen suggests, 'It's the only one on the market and everyone tells us it's very unique.' She also added, 'We wanted people to be able to experience Christ in new ways and to be able to read a Bible and have that scent and that candle as a reminder that he is with us all the time.' Her husband Bob commented, 'You can't see him and you can't touch him [but]...this is a situation where you may be able to sense him by smelling. And it provides a really new dimension to one's experience with Jesus.' The candles sell for about $18 and can be ordered at Bob and Karen's website, as well as in numerous stores throughout the country."
What are we to say to something like this? Again, an ancient impetus drives the desire to own candles that "smell like Jesus." Filling one's home "with the fragrance of Christ" is a proper desire if the desire is grounded in a proper understanding of such. The Scripture says that we are the fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. As we preach the gospel, we are the aroma of death unto death to some and to others the aroma of life unto life (2 Cor. 2:15-17). We are a sweet smelling savor unto God when we preach the gospel no matter what the result. To relegate this weighty dynamic to scented candles is to undercut the truth and seriousness of the gospel itself. The couple calls what they are doing ministry. I call it missing the point.
It is in that same Corinthian context that Paul says we are not peddlers of God's word. Rather, we are sincere as messengers from God speaking in Christ before God (2 Cor. 2:17). Helping people to experience Christ is ministering. Telling people they can smell Christ is misleading. Charging $18 for the experience is peddling.
Taking a Messianic Psalm celebrating the espousal of Christ to His church with special emphasis upon His role as bridegroom and king and her role as bride and taking it as a literal cue as to how Christ smelled or to determine how Christ smelled is to not only adulterate the Scriptures themselves, but it is to seek that all important touch of God (in the Gnostic sense). We are being told that it is now not enough to believe on Christ; we must now smell Him in fact to really experience Him. Ministry? Hardly. Try deception.
The telling comment comes when Karen says, "We wanted people to experience Christ in new ways." What's wrong with the old way? What's wrong with the biblical way? Do we need a scented candle to remind us that Christ is with us? What happened to simply believing His promise that He is with us? What happened to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
Let me quickly say that this couple probably loves the Lord Jesus Christ. They no doubt feel that they are indeed ministering to people in this way. I commend them for their desire to exalt Christ and propagate His gospel. My concern is the theology they reflect that is rampant in the church.
According to Bob, smelling Christ "provides a really new dimension to one's experience with Jesus." Agreed: a Gnostic dimension. $18 isn't too much to ask that one might touch the face of God is it? Pretty soon, we won't need the Word at all. For that matter, neither will we need public worship, Christian fellowship, gospel preaching, or anything else. We will have had the experience we need. How tragic. For on that day, we will have not touched God. Rather, we will have lost touch with Him.
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