Pastoring People Away from Evangelical Gnosticism

Most of the New Testament was written with the backdrop of early Gnosticism looming as a threat, seeking to draw people away from the simplicity and radical good news of the Gospel.

When Paul leaves Ephesus, he exhorts the young pastor, Timothy, to be on guard against this very thing:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. –1 Tim 1:3-4

Interestingly, the same exhortation doesn’t require much exegetical interpretation for it to be relevant for our day.

 

A Common Issue

Rampant in the evangelical church is weird, fringe, and far-flung teachings, theological viewpoints, and positions that lead not to greater joy in Christ but act in many ways like Gnosticism did by drawing people away from a focus on the Gospel and its implications to a wide range of myths and speculations.

In my experience as a pastor, I have seen many Christians get sidelined through unhealthy devotion to a multitude of fringe topics:

  • Details of the afterlife (Buying into afterlife experiences people claim to have had)
  • Eschatology (signs of the end are everywhere)
  • Creation Science (Obsession about a few verses in Genesis)
  • Obsession with Christian leaders (their lives, falls, and failings)
  • Reinterpreting prophecy (It’s not about you or America)
  • Charismatic gifts (Obsession with gathering more gifts or people with “cool” ones)
  • Biblical Mysticism (seeking codes in the Greek and Hebrew letters)
  • Angels and Demons (obsession with the spiritual realm)

These odd views accumulate in people’s lives over the years and as a result, they spend way more time on them than in understanding the actual Gospel.

 

Shepherding to Green Pastures

Pastoring folks away from these myths and speculations has been more difficult than expected, though. Gently challenging someone’s obsession with cracking the code on when Jesus will come back, defending a faulty view of the afterlife, or a fixation on supernatural healing is usually met with offense and distrust. But it is vitally important that pursuit of these speculations is broken if someone truly hopes to enjoy Jesus more. Inviting people to genuinely consider what they know to be true has yielded the most fruit.

Do any of us really know what is true in these myths and speculations? No, of course we don’t — there is not enough evidence either testimonial, personal, or scriptural to hold these views up which is why they continue to remain myths and speculations rather than doctrines. In place of wrenching these views of low importance free from their grip, we should emphatically plead with our people to hold what is of first importance as more valuable.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures – 1 Cor 15:3-4

I know that Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) didn’t mean this when he spoke of the expulsive power of a new affection, but only the glory of the risen Lord Jesus and his goodness can dislodge the lesser things like myths and speculations that make up evangelical Gnosticism. It’s deeply important that we do so as we lead and love our congregants.

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