It is becoming increasing difficult for believers in Christ to discern what is Scriptural and what is not Scriptural. The rise of the New Apostolic Reformation within the Christian Church today is a point in question. But this dilemma is not new, nor are the root causes. This post will review the history of these false teachings and show how the early church dealt with them and how we can gain from their legacy. As your read through this post, many similarities deriving from Gnosticism and current false teachings should become self evident.
Partial Source: Strange Fire by Travers van der Merwe (1935-1995)
“And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, . . .” (Numbers 3:4).
Even though Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron the high priest, they failed when they presented their offering to God. They knew they were in the wrong. However, like Cain, they thought their way was better! They had obviously taken up with a “new thing” with which they thought God would be pleased.
“Mysticism: The timeless quest for higher/hidden truth, spiritual experiences and knowledge of God by using imagination, intuition, so-called ‘Holy Spirit revelations’ and subjective feelings rather than fact, reason and the undistorted Word of God.”
Most of the heretical trends in the church can be traced to the ancient religion of Gnosticism. Benjamin Walker writes: “There are few unorthodox, schismatic or heretical movements in Christian history that cannot be traced back to gnostic sources.” [Benjamin Walker, Gnosticism: Its History and Influence, The Borgo Press, 1983, p.163]
What is Gnosticism?
Gnosticism was an esoteric religious movement that flourished during the second and third century A.D. and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostic sects professed Christianity but their beliefs sharply diverged from those of Christianity in the early Church. To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm.
The definition of Gnosticism is “a system of religion mixed with Greek and Oriental philosophy (1st-6th century A.D.), intermediate between Christianity and paganism, which taught that knowledge, rather than faith, was the greatest good, and that through knowledge alone could salvation be attained.” [Webster’s Encyclopedia of Dictionaries; Baltimore, Maryland, Ottenheimer, 1978]. Basically what is being said here implies that man’s redemption and justification is not by faith in God according to the Scriptures, but rather in “mystical knowledge” acquired by a personal experience. This is the theme that is intrinsically intertwined in all the doctrines of the cults and occults.
The Latter Rain Movement will be alluded to in the course of this post. Within the movement were many children of God who remained true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, there were those that started out well, but along the way were influenced by “strange” fires that has brought the church to accepting so many different teachings today.
What is Gnosticism? According to Webster, it is “an occult salvational system . . . stressing [knowledge of spiritual things] as essential . . . combining ideas derived especially from mythology, ancient Greek philosophy, ancient religions, and eventually, from Christianity”. [Webster’s New World Dictionary, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1988, p.577].
The doctrinal core of Gnosticism is basically a form of mystical religious or philosophical doctrines which other adherents and some early Christian sects spread and which the early Church leaders vehemently rejected as heresy. Believers in Gnosticism are called Gnostics. The word “Gnostic” is derived from the greek word gnostiko or gnosis (inner mystic knowledge). The Gnostics believe that “gnosis” is subjective (internally perceived by the mind or feelings) knowledge of the divine element or spark in every man that needs to be discovered to be known. They believe the divine spark originally came from the “realm of light” (totally alienated from the world and the flesh), and is resident in the soul of man and is held there in captivity by the flesh (a product of demons). The only way to release the divine spark is through divine “revelation knowledge”, experienced within in the spirit. Also they believe that only when the unconscious spirit in man is awakened by revelation from the “realm of light” can he come to know his real self – the god within.
Explained in a nutshell:
God is within, waiting to be revealed. Any external influence (matter) is evil. Finding the god within comes only via your mind or feelings. There are no external checks or balances, only those which your inner spirit appropriates as you progress in your revelation.
Characteristics of Gnosticism
Man is Co-Substantial with God
As soon as man by “gnosis” (self knowledge) discovers and releases the imprisoned divine spark (spirit), he then starts on a mystic ascent to divine substance and on into the “realm of light”. Through divine revelation knowledge experienced in self, man becomes conscious of his origin with God, his essence as God and his transcendent destiny – all God. The unconscious self of man (the unawakened inner spirit) is co-substantial with the Godhead, i.e. having the same substance or essential nature. This is the kernel Gnostic thought that has led to the creature being deified, worshipped and served more than the Creator.
The mystic “gnosis” (or knowledge) is only taught to the elite – those who have a special capacity beyond the force of reason and the flesh. According to Gnostic writings, this special capacity was imparted by a messenger bearing a “spark” of light from the “realm of light” even before the creation of the world. The goal of the Gnostic is the release of the inner man by virtue of gnosis (inner knowing) and his return to his native “realm of light”. There seems to be a special “place” for a special “people” who are called out or chosen. That is how the spiritual elitism comes forth. It is this Gnostic thought that is behind many of the aberrant teachings of the Latter Rain Movement.
The Gnostic concept of God is determined by the depth of illumination and revelation subjectively (by mind or feeling) experienced “about God”. The concept rejects external faith in God the Person. The reference point for godhood is in self. Gnostic revelation must be distinguished from Christian revelation because it is not rooted in history and transmitted by Scripture. It is rather the intuition of the mystery of self. The dark cloud of mysticism that overshadows the Church can readily be traced to the Gnostic’s “intuition of the mystery of self”.
The Gnostic believes that gnosis (self knowledge) is redemptive and as such needs to be discovered and known. As a result of gnosis, man subjectively discovers as a creature, the reality of his lasting unity with the transcendent God. He discovers that his life is immortal and that he is an ongoing manifestation of the light and the god that dwells in his inner self. This knowledge, it is believed, has a redemptive quality that takes the spirit in man to the ultimate realm of light such as the fulness of God.
Unfortunately, Gnostic trends are developing at an alarming rate within the Church. As early as the Second Century, Gnosticism infiltrated Christian theology. Since that time, it has gradually saturated the Church and is now, in these last days exploding not only within the Church, but also within secular institutions. The world is being prepared for a predominant Gnostic religious form, a New Order that will govern a great part of the world before Christ returns.
Because certain “popular” theological concepts are not being measured and subjected to strict Scriptural scrutiny, Gnosticism is gaining a stronghold. As a result of new theological thought, even fundamental orthodox doctrines are being grossly changed into seed-beds for Gnosticism.
What does FUNDAMENTAL ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY adhere to?
- Based on: God’s Word.
- Acknowledges: Deity of Jesus Christ.
- Believes: Man is basically sinful, and only GOD can correct the evil in him.
- Gives glory to: GOD
- God: Believe in a PERSONAL GOD who is all good.
- Salvation: Spiritual rebirth that takes place when an individual chooses to believe by faith the DEITY of JESUS CHRIST, recognizes the SIN in his life and chooses to follow Christ and turn from his sin according to the Scriptures.
- Faith based on: The Word of God.
- The Answer: Jesus Christ – according to the Scriptures.
- Christ: Jesus Christ, the one and only fully God and fully man.
- The Bible: NOTHING should be added and NOTHING should be taken away from the Bible. It is the COMPLETE WORD OF GOD.
- Commitment: To the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.
GNOSTIC/NEW AGE THOUGHT:
- Based on: Man’s word.
- Acknowledges: Deity of man.
- Believes: Man is good and getting better.
- Gives glory to: Self
- God: Belief in God or a great force or energy or One Mind. An impersonal God with both good and bad.
- Salvation: Spiritual awakening that comes when an individual experiences “his own divinity”.
- Faith based on: Experience.
- The Answer: Finding the “self” or “god” within and striving with “works”.
- Christ: A position of status held by all deserving members. Arrived at by “self”, “experience” and “works”.
- The Bible: They pick and choose Scriptures to suit their purposes. They say the Scriptures can be “interpreted” in many different ways. Spiritualized to say whatever they want.
- Commitment: To self – or God through a passive or emotional experiential form of religion.
A Gnostic Gospel?
Having defined and illustrated the doctrinal core of Gnosticism, we can now effectively identify Gnostic thought as it emerges in the church today. There is a growing network comprised of loosely linked groups with a common Gnostic theme. They refer to themselves in many ways. They use Biblical sounding titles such as “Overcomers”, “The First Fruits”, “Manifest Sons of God”, “The Elect”, “A New Breed”, “Son of Man Company” and even “The New Apostolic Reformation“. These groups can be involved in a wide spectrum of teaching from anti-Semitism, Prophets and Apostles, Restoration, Kingdom Now Theology, and most sinister of all – the New Age philosophy. Bear in mind, the essence of Gnosticism is finding your divinity – the god within you, by subjective experience.
The Latter Rain Movement
Most Pentecostal history books date the historic Pentecostal revival of the Latter Rain movement to 1948 and attribute its geographical origin to North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. Its beginning was explosive among the Pentecostals and like a wild fire spread quickly throughout North America and many places around the world.
The movement was characterized by many healings and miraculous phenomena . . . There was an emphasis on spiritual gifts which were to be received by the laying on of hands. [Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Zondervan Publishing House]
Most people who have had any history in Pentecostalism at all have been influenced at some time in their lives by the Latter Rain Movement. There have been many sincere people who felt they were part of the move of God for the Last Days and were earnestly partaking of the fruit that was offered. Since 1948 the Latter Rain influence has permeated the churches, Bible Colleges, evangelism and Christian television broadcasting networks. The overall magnitude of its influence makes it more difficult to warn of the inherent dangers that are involved.
As a result of the Latter Rain influence in the Christian Church two basic streams of charismatic thought exist side by side. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the one from the other. You have the Assemblies of God Fellowship with over 384,000 ministers in over 212 countries and territories serving approximately 67.5 million adherents worldwide and you have the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement that is a loose collection of non-denominational and independent churches rallying around a particular set of biblical interpretations. The New Apostolic Reformation approaches church leadership and biblical interpretation differently from The Assemblies of God and other mainstream Protestant denominations. Of particular distinction are the role and power of spiritual leaders. With the NAR movement, the elevation of prophets and apostles as church governance “offices” obviously made way for individuals to abuse Scripture. It allowed some to give the ‘Spoken Word’ equality with Scripture.
The Assemblies of God USA has published a number of official statements taking stances against many NAR teachings. Here are some key NAR teachings that have been rejected by the denomination’s leadership.
- The Assemblies of God has rejected the teaching that present-day apostles and prophets should govern the church (see papers titled “Endtime Revival”, “Apostles and Prophets,” and “Prophets and Personal Prophecies“)
- The Assemblies of God has rejected the teaching that the church should work to take dominion of the earth prior to Christ’s return–a teaching known as “Kingdom Now” or “Dominion Theology” (see papers titled “Endtime Revival” and “The Kingdom of God“)
- The Assemblies of God has rejected the teaching that the end-time church will become a victorious, militant army so it can take dominion of the earth–a teaching known as “Manifest Sons of God” or “Joel’s Army” (see paper titled “Endtime Revival”)
- The Assemblies of God has rejected the teaching that Christians must identify a hierarchy of demonic spirits (also called “territorial spirits”) and wage battle against them for the gospel to advance–a teaching known as “strategic-level spiritual warfare” (see paper titled “Spiritual Warfare“)
- The Assemblies of God has rejected the teaching that spiritual gifts, such as prophesying and healing people, can be imparted by church leaders through the practice of laying their hands on people (see paper titled “Imparting of Spiritual Gifts“)
We are facing the same situation that our forefathers faced, only this time it is exacerbated because of the mass media, telecommunications, huge conferences and a strong interlocking network. Promises of a “New Anointing” and a “New Thing” keep the conferences filled and the tape and book sales rolling! When the term “New Thing” is used, the following are some of the thoughts behind the term:
1. New “mysteries” revealed;
2. New “knowledge” of the Christ within – self consciousness;
3. New “form of godliness” that will be the light of the world;
4. New “power” that will do marvellous new things;
5. New “Law of Love” without Scripture;
6. New “Inner Voice” above the Scriptures to guide and govern;
7. New centre of divinity – the soul;
8. New ministries that exceed even those of the prophets and apostles of old; and
9. New consciousness/self potential – self-esteem, self- immortalisation and self-the temple of illumination.
These thoughts are the bedrock of Gnostic experience and its objective of self-realisation of the god within and its subsequent fruit of love and works (born not out of the working of the Holy Spirit but of connecting with your inner self.)
Scripture very clearly gives us insight into the realm of the supernatural. We know that the supernatural realm suffered a terrible rebellion as Lucifer made his bid for godhood. God became man, and this man was Jesus Christ who was born of corrupt humanity. He bridged the supernatural chasm between God and man. All things work and progress according to God’s PLAN and PURPOSES and the supernatural realm functions within the parameters God has set. As natural man, we are forbidden to attempt to even peer into those unseen things that scripture refers to. We are presently to be occupied with bringing the Gospel to the natural realm, the creation.
However, there is a time soon coming, even the angels know that at this appointed time, when the last trumpet heralds the return of Jesus Christ, the saints will put on immortality, cross the supernatural barriers and judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).
Today we are seeing a strange trend as again, man, but his own endeavours (experientially and philosophically), tried hard to relate to the “supernatural realm” and walk in a sense of godhood. The nature of this is clearly characterized as the New Age philosophy, as opposed to Orthodox Christianity. Regretfully, a great part of the church has latched on to this trend. By all appearances, Christians are knowingly or unknowingly dabbling in eastern mysticism and the spirit world. Unless they resist this temptation, they will ultimately fall prey to Satan’s control. Deeper spiritual understanding seems to be the motivation behind it all. The problem is that Christians are no longer satisfied with the literal Word of God. They are looking for experiences “beyond the sacred page”. The Bread of Heaven, according to their inner “sacred feelings”, has become stale and outmoded.
In listening to many videos that are coming out of the present day “prophetic movement”, the underlying current is mysticism. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopaedia defines “mysticism” as “an immediate, direct, intuitive knowledge of God or of ultimate reality attained through personal religious experience“. Experiences are being set up as the criteria for truth. There are many Christians who cannot communicate spiritual knowledge without the use of this term. The danger lies in that when experience is the basis for faith instead of the Word of God, erroneous theological ideas arise. This gives way for a deviance from the Word of God.
The apostate church is a bearer of mysticism as her structure and institutions are subtly being overtaken. From the very beginning, mysticism has plagued the church. In these last days we are witnessing ominous manifestations. This should not be surprising for the Scriptures foretold this:
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)
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 . . . (1 Tim. 4:1)
Signs and Entry Points to Mysticism
1. The cross of Christ is not the sole basis for redemption.
2. The Holy Scriptures are not the complete single revelation of God to man.
3. Experience is the way to perfection and knowledge.
4. Experience takes the precedence over the Scriptures.
5. Intuition is given preference to Scripture and sometimes a substitute for the Holy Spirit.
6. Faith in the Word of God is defected to faith in the Church, man, self, experience, etc.
7. Self is deified.
8. Salvation is based on experience and not the Word of God.
9. The presence of God is sought in a mystical sense.
10. Personal revelations, dreams and visions are given priority to Scripture as final reference in judgements, decisions and guidance.
11. Experiences are sought rather than God’s will and His righteousness.
12. Hyper-faith, positive thinking, self-potential, and self-deification are taught as gospel truths.
13. Finding Christ or forming Christ within according to Eastern mysticism or New Age philosophy.
14. The obsession of “spiritual warfare” with a Gnostic and “New Age” slant – allegedly doing battle in the supernatural realm to free cities and areas from the control of spirit beings before the Gospel can be preached effectively or have power to save sinners in the natural world.
True Spiritual Warfare
The Christian’s battle (true spiritual warfare) is not a reeling, an intuition or an imaginative experience in the spirit realm – however real it might seem. On the contrary, the warfare is against every form of mysticism that ties the feelings, intuition and imagination into the spirit world which God strictly forbids. (Deut. 18:10-12).
As Christians we war against the strongholds of spirit mysticism that war against our minds, feelings and intuitions. By the power of the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified we cast down:
• Reasonings, pagan philosophies, Gnostic concepts and carnal dogmas that nullify the Word of God.
• Imaginations, theories, religion, fables, metaphysics, theosophy and meditations that defy the knowledge of God; and
• Every thought, form of godliness and spiritual intent or practice opposed to the Gospel of Christ.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds: Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ . . . (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
All evidence of the writings of the Gnostics leads to an egocentric direction which is a religious life with self as the object of its devotion. It is a form of narcissism with an escape from the real world into a world of myth and fantasy where no absolutes, parameters or judgements apply. This is why “spiritual warfare” as promulgated today has such an appeal to many. The imagination is titillated as the “spirit realm” is unveiled, and excited warriors find they can do battle with creatures of the netherworld.
A “prophet” from the Kansas City Fellowship in an interview session in 1988 proclaims that the Lord looked at him and said, “I have called the best of every blood line in earth unto this generation . . . I have elected to bring them forth in this generation . . . the ELECT GENERATION. [Bob Jones transcribed from 1988 tapes]
This “New Breed” does not believe in the Rapture eschatology. According to Rick Joyner, one of the “Prophets”:
. . .the doctrine of the Rapture was a great and effective ruse of the enemy to implant in the Church a retreat mentality . . . already this yoke has been cast off by the majority in the advancing church, and it will soon be cast off by all. [The Harvest, Rick Joyner]
The Foremost Danger in Elitism
The foremost danger in these divisive teachings is that Jesus Christ is removed from His high place as God the Son, to the level of all the sons of God. The sons of God are moved up to Christ’s place. The truth of the humanity of Christ is taken to an extreme. This is one of Satan’s chief ways to discredit and finally destroy God’s Word – to add to His message by pushing it to the extreme. History shows that the worst danger in Gnosticism, especially in the concept of elitism, is its inherent propensity to extremism. Given free reign, it inevitably leads to moral, political and spiritual extremism.
This teaching is becoming more widespread as popular circuit “Prophets” proclaim in Kansas City
. . . There is a ministry after the five-fold called the ministry of perfection – the Melchisedek Priesthood . . . your children will be moving into the ministries of Perfection . . . coming into that Divine Nature of Jesus Christ . . . they themselves will be that generation that’s raised up to put death itself underneath their feet . . . because the Lord Jesus is worthy to be lifted up by a church that has reached the full maturity of the GOD-MAN! [Bob Jones, (Kansas City Fellowship) transcribed from 1988 tape]
Those who are overcomers believe they will never be sick or die and they will be here when Christ returns. They believe they are now living in the prophetic time when the Church is being restored and perfected by the five-fold ministries (apostles, prophets, etc.). The Elite (Overcomers) are now in the process of putting on immortality, perfection and godhood and taking dominion of the earth. The Church is about to birth the Man-child – the Sons of God, the incarnation of Christ and brotherhood of Christ.
“Mysticism is the idea that direct knowledge of God or ultimate reality is achieved through personal, subjective intuition or experience apart from, or even contrary to, historical fact or objective divine revelation.”
The teachings of the “New Age” as well as that of the apostate church, for the most part, are designed to magnify and glorify the psyche of man, hence the present obsession with “self-esteem”, “self-potential” and “self- indulgence” within many churches.
A Fine Line
Sometimes the line dividing the Christian from the Gnostic is so fine that it is hardly visible. The only way for a Christian to safely discern Gnosticism is in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
A “Christian Gnostic” is easily identified by his show of piety and especially by his air of humility. The more mystic he appears or sounds, the more spiritual he feels. He takes great pleasure in believing he has attained to a high spiritual level and sees himself as being a member of a special breed of people. Sometimes it is called “The Manifest Sons of God”, “The Melchizedek Order” or “The New Breed”. His spiritual inspiration comes from a mystic source sometimes described as a “still small voice” purported to be the voice of the Holy Spirit. Confidence in the “still small voice” takes precedence over the Scriptures. The written Scriptures are used only in so far as they seem to support particular convictions and concepts. The whole motive behind the “Christian Gnostic” is to make himself and others believe HE is a GOD. In fact, his ultimate dream is to prove to the world that he has power and is a god with limitless potential.
The worst moments in the history of Israel came when Israel was seduced by false prophets to follow after gods of their own making. It was for this very reason that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees as the enemies of God. Jesus warned His disciples against the religion of the Pharisees. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (which is hypocrisy). The Pharisees claimed to embody the essence of the faith, Jesus called them “hypocrites”.
Teachings and practices that are wholly different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be opposed, even if they come from within the Body of Christ. Gnosticism plagued the early church. In fact, some of the Pauline and Johanine epistles were written to address the Gnosticism that was edging its way into the Gospel of Christ. In the writings of the early Church Fathers, Gnosticism was addressed and condemned in the strongest terms. It was on account of Gnosticism that the early church found it necessary to draft the “Apostolic Creed” and form the “Canonicity of Scripture”. A study of Church History will show that within the church there has always been the temptation to accommodate Gnostic thought. As in the past, and more so now, it poses a persistent danger to the biblical faith.