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Saturday, December 5, 2009

What the ancient gnostics were like

This is mainly in regards to government....ect. I also find it ironic that those who advocate the book "Pagan Christianity" seem to have a view about church life that is similar to the ancient gnostics, and what they were doing.


"I must not omit an account of the conduct also of the
heretics— how frivolous it is, how worldly, how merely human, without
seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as suits their creed. To
begin with, it is doubtful who is a catechumen, and who a believer; they have
all access alike, they hear alike, they pray alike— even heathens, if any such
happen to come among them. That which is holy they will cast to the dogs, and
their pearls, although (to be sure) they are not real ones, they will fling to
the swine. Simplicity they will have to consist in the overthrow of discipline,
attention to which on our part they call brothelry. Peace also they huddle up
anyhow with all comers; for it matters not to them, however different be their
treatment of subjects, provided only they can conspire together to storm the
citadel of the one only Truth.

All are puffed up, all offer you
knowledge. Their catechumens are perfect before they are full-taught. The very
women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach,
to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures— it may be even to baptize.
Their ordinations, are carelessly administered, capricious, changeable. At one
time they put novices in office; at another time, men who are bound to some
secular employment; at another, persons who have apostatized from us, to bind
them by vainglory, since they cannot by the truth. Nowhere is promotion easier
than in the camp of rebels, where the mere fact of being there is a foremost
service. And so it comes to pass that today one man is their bishop, tomorrow
another; today he is a deacon who tomorrow is a reader; today he is a presbyter
who tomorrow is a layman. For even on laymen do they impose the functions of
priesthood." - Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 41"

Eventhough he changed some of his viewpoints latter in life, and maybe joined a group that had a woman prophetess. What he said here, pretty much describes what was going on with the gnostics of his day.

I wasn't able to trace their quotes, but I may in due time.


"Of course, there is no human organization that does not include bossy types,
rivals, ambition, and lust for power, but one of my questions has been, and
continues to be, how do you set up church as to cut out as much of the church
crap as possible, or at a minimum, make some new mistakes. There are no perfect
churches, but is God really happy with our edifice complex, our business model
of being and doing church?

So how did ancient gnostics organize
themselves? As Pagel asks, “if they rejected the principle of rank, insisting
that all are equal, how could they even hold a meeting? ” (p. 41) Irenaeus tells
us about one group in his congregation in Lyons led by a Marcus who dared to
meet without the authority of the Bishop, which would be – Irenaeus. Somehow
they pulled it off without the bishop.

How did some Gnostics conduct
their meetings? Irenaeus tell us that when they met all the members first
participated in drawing lots. Whoever received a certain lot apparently was
designated to take the role of priest, another was to offer the sacrament, as
bishop, another would read the Scriptures for worship, and others would address
the group as a prophet, offering extemporaneous spiritual instruction. The next
time the group met, they would throw lots again so that the persons taking each
role changed continually.” (p. 41) It was believed that everyone, through the
Gnostic initiation ritual, had received the gift of direct inspiration through
the Holy Spirit. (p. 41)

In the modern church, using the business model,
we try to find the best possible people to lead worship and to fill different
congregational positions, which can be a camouflage for power plays in the
church and does not take into account biblical narratives which indicate God has
a habit of asking the worst possible people to do stuff.

(On the other
hand, God and the gnostics may want to keep in mind some people seem to be
gifted in some areas and really not gifted in others. You don’t want me doing a
solo, for example. Lord have mercy on my singing and those who hear it.)

Gnostics followed the practice of strict equality. Casting lots
prevented permanent ranks. Gender and social status were of no importance. Wow!
Are you listening modern Christians?"



Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a regular lurker of your blog, looking into Orthodoxy.

Thanks for this post. It answers to my recent apologetics-based needs.

I have a friend who is really into Watchman Nee and the Local/House Church movement. The book you mentioned, "Pagan Christianity?", by Frank Viola and Barna, advocates that movement.

I've talked to him about Orthodoxy but he seems so brainwashed with the radical anti-institutionalism they teach. They take advantage of some of the ambiguities in the terms elder-presbyter-bishop (in the Bible), along with the passage in one of Peter's epistles on the "priesthood of all believers" and they argue that everyone should be equal, etc.

He says he doesn't think he'll ever accept the idea of an "institutional" church--which boggles my mind. However, I was wondering if you could help me with some pointers on this. Back at my home town, this local church movement (or house church movement) is exploding and I need whatever apologetics resources I can get my hands on.

The primary authors of this movement include Watchman Nee, Gene Edwards (who writes much on the early Christians), George Barna, and Frank Viola.

Any help will be greatly appreciated!


Jnorm said...


E-mail me. I might be able to send you to someone that may be able to help you even more.

Some months ago someone else asked me the samething, and I told them that I would get back to them for it may take a few months in order for me to gather the resources I need.

But yeah, I know about the book "Pagan Christianity". I have alot of protestant friends on a particular forum that advocate it.

Eventually I will respond to the book. I don't know when......maybe when I'm done with Morey I'll take a shot at it.

But in regards to Church government, the only book I see at the moment, that might be worth while is the one that Mike(MG) was reading over at Energetic Procession.
Energetic Procession

Apostolic Succesion: Is It True? by Felix Cirlot

But yeah, the egalitarian congrefational view that George Barna, and Frank Viola seem to be advocating is a gnostic one.

Also if you are looking into Orthodoxy from the background you posted, then talking to Fr. Patrick might be good.
You can contact him at
ALL Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church website.


Anonymous said...



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