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Upholding The Light Of Jesus In A Dark World

Christianities, Just The Atheist & Skeptics Wet Dream Pt.2

 As Continued From Christianities, Just The Atheist & Skeptic Wet Dream Pt.1

 II: As It Pertains To Gnosticism, Is There Any Biblical Evidence That The New Testament Church Suffered From Diverse Brands Of Christianity Within Itself? 

 As you can see whatever evidence that there may be for alternate Christianities is grossly exaggerated if not out right fabricated. But there is no doubt that the church had a mission to the world and existed in a diverse world and often dealt with diverse issues including other religions and religious thoughts arising within the community. In addition the church became a target of mystery religions who often changed and developed their doctrines to mimic the successful and popularly growing practices of Christianity. There were also Judaizers who tried to force believers from non-Jewish backgrounds to adopt Jewish customs as a condition of salvation. 

In a recent exchange with a die hard anti-Christ advocate on an atheist web site, the issue was raised that the New Testament itself reflects evidence of alternative Christianities. The First Second and Third Gospel’s of John are often cited with references supposedly providing evidences that the church was dealing with gnosticism and that the apostles were fighting to try to control the people begging them not to be Gnostic. Although there is an element of truth to this statement it lacks in substance and proper contextualization. 

The early church struggled long and hard against Gnosticism. However, every reference to “knowledge” or “Gnosis” that we see in the New Testament is not a reference to Gnosticism. The church also taught against and other false doctrines and teaching of the day, which constantly threatened her. As early as Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, we find a strong warning against “proto-Gnosticism,” telling us that Christ cannot be placed in any position other than that of Creator (Col. 1:15-18; 2:8-9). We also find warnings against idol worship and idolotry (1 Cor. 6) and a host of polemic issues such as what to eat. (1 Cor. 8). 

Let’s examine one such instance to determine whether the church was struggling with gnosticism and alternate Christianities within the Christian community of believers: 

In the Second Epistle Of John, John’s goal was to commend truth (notice that the word “truth” is mentioned five times in the first four verses) and to warn against deceivers who taught heresy concerning Christ — more specifically, the heresy of denying that Christ came in the flesh (v. 7). John, therefore, warned, 

 

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting (2 John 10) 

The backdrop to understanding John’s warning in the early days of Christianity is the absence of centralized “church” buildings where believers could gather. Since such church buildings did not appear until the third century, meeting in homes was a necessity for the early believers.

In the New Testament we are specifically told that a church met in Nympha’s house (Col. 4:15), in Aquila and Prisca’s house (Rom. 16:3–5; 1 Cor. 16:19), and in Philemon’s house (Philem. 1–2; see also Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 20:20). Such house-churches were widespread. It was common for visiting religious teachers to be given a platform to deliver messages in house-churches. John’s warning was that such a platform, however, should never be given to one who teaches a heretical view of Christ especially those who were as seriously errant regarding Christ as were the Gnostics.

 “Seen in this context, John’s warning in 2 John 10 takes on great significance. If such teachers were allowed to deliver their heretical message to a house-church, all the members of that church might become doctrinally confused, and this confusion might then spread to other neighboring house-churches like a disease. In order to prevent such doctrinal disease from spreading, John advised that false teachers were to be quarantined outside the church, with no access whatsoever. They were not even to be greeted (vv. 10–11), for such a greeting might be misconstrued as some form of approval. A lack of greeting, by contrast, would communicate to those false teachers as well as Christian observers that they were in need of repentance” [Dr. Ron Rhodes Christian Research Journal, volume 27, number 4 (2004)]

Apostle John did no more than any Pastor regularly does in battling for the community and the church today. To preach against crack cocaine does not mean that the church is struggling with rising “crack cocaine Christianity”. To preach against sin in general is a command but does not mean that the church struggles from the sin that it preaches against or that an alternate Christianity has arisen. This is a most absurd notion, but one that the anti-Christ advocate considers valid. 

Further note that God always sends a warning to the church of false practices, and outlines the problems associated with sin. The preacher and the church was supposed to warn the sinner, the world and the church of sin and its penalty,  

John 16:7-11~ “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” 

Col. 1:26 ~ Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom;  that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:”  

Ezekiel 3 and 33 outline that the church has the command to warn the sinner of his ways and that there is both penalty for failure to do so and reward for doing so. There are teachers that have left the faith and began to teach other doctrines. Paul warned of this sort of thing: 

1 Tim. 4:1-2~ “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;” 

2 Tim. 3:13~ “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”  

Paul considered those who “caused divisions” among the people, non Christian:

Romans 16:17-18: ~ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”  

Paul taught that another type of kind of Gospel other than that was “received” was worthy of being accursed. This certainly in no stretch of the imagination could have been applied to Christian individuals.

Gal. 1:6-9~ “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

 One of the most telling understandings about how the early Christian church and leaders felt about opposing views and perversions of the gospel is found in how the writings of Irenaeus (AD 130–200) regarding how Apostle John intreated known Gnostic teacher Cerinthus

 As stated, Cerinthus was a Gnostic teacher who believed the spiritual Christ entered into a human (physical) Jesus at the time of his baptism (in the form of a dove) and left the human Jesus before the crucifixion. History reveals that Cerinthus lived in Ephesus toward the end of the first century, which was also where the aged apostle John lived. Irenaeus (AD 130–200) tells us that John specifically directed his Gospel against Cerinthus (e.g., John 1:14; 20:19–31). John’s epistles also effectively refute Gnostic heresy (e.g., 1 John 2:22; 4:2–3; 5:1; 2 John 7) He also relates the story of how John entered a public bath in Ephasus in which Cerinthus was also in attendance he stated that when John found out that Cerinthus was there he fled the building “Lest it collapse” (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4)

This action certainly does not indicate that John though that Cerinthus or his message was Christian or accepted by the Christian church or its leaders in any way.  Another of the more telling bits of information about how early church leaders both lived and taught about Gnostic heresy is what Irenaeus teaches against the doctrine of Valentinian teacher Florinus:

 “These opinions Florinus, to say no more, are not of sound judgement; these opinions are not in harmony with the church, and involve those who adopt them with the greatest impiety; these opinions not even the heretic outside the church dared to espouse openly; these opinions the elders before us, who were also the disciples of the apostles did not hand down to you. [(apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.20.4-7) Translation from Grant "Second-Century Christianity" pg. 115-116]

Once again we can identify that even in the second century up until third century, Christians and their leadership were unaccepting of variations of Christianity that did not hold true to the gospel that was both preached and received by the early church. These factors and adherence to these standards of a historical Jesus, the shed blood, the burial, the bodily resurrection and the confession of Jesus through repentance of sins was essential and not as diverse throughout the early church as the skeptic wish and hope to believe.

 Summary:

  • There remains no new testament textual evidence or otherwise that the church suffered from varying brands of Christianity within itself.
  • The message against gnosticism contained within scripture is what we would expect from a church in touch with their community, concerned for the condition of the people and active about affirming the already accepted Gospel message and truth of the deity of Jesus, the personage of Jesus, the physical death and resurrection of Jesus which were all elements of the message of Christianity in the New Testament church.
  • The New Testament does not identify alternate beliefs and worship to idols or “Christ myths” as Christian. 
  • The identity of heretics are made know and those who have “departed from the faith”. This indicates that neither Paul nor the church thought of opposing views of Christ as “Christian”. 
  • The interaction and teaching of second century ante-Nicene church fathers are consistent in the denial of Gnosticism and other doctrines taught with the Christian church as it’s target. 
  • There remains no evidence for competitive brands of Christianity although there is plenty of evidence that heretics were targeting the church as early as first Century AD. 

Exactly why did apostolic Christianity survive and thrive? Robert Speer pulls no theological punches when he proclaims that “Christianity lived because it was true to the truth. Through all the centuries it has never been able to live otherwise. It can not live otherwise today.” [Robert E. Speer, The Finality of Jesus Christ (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1933), 108. ]

Christianity has not survived because of a conspiracy. It has survived because it is built on a TRUE foundation and a rock called Jesus also know as God With Us. Now that’s the Truth RUTH! 

Go to our 5 podcast series outlining the Deity Of Jesus pre-Nicea.

Blessed!

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