Gnosticism was one of the earliest Christian heresies. And while this post is not about the specifics of gnostic belief, it is important to know this: Gnosticism created two classes of Christian–the mature enlightened Christians who had special knowledge of God and everyone else. Now I am no expert on history, but I do know that the seeds of such divisive theology are still in our hearts today. In my context, I see it working in two primary strains:
I was ambushed by a prayer group the other day in the library; they phalanxed me while I was working on a term paper. Confession: I was incredibly uncomfortable. And I would not call into question their motives, don’t hear me saying that, but this is how they approached me, they said,
God just really put it on our hearts that you have something you need prayed over. You can say whatever it is to us. We just really had this sense that you were weighed down.
Now, my day could literally not have been going better up to this point, but what do you say to that? “Maybe you’ve got the wrong guy…?” They already “know.” This isn’t the first time this has happened to me either. Nor is it the strangest. In another instance (and this actually happened to a friend) one of the girls was spasmodically twitching throughout the encounter and said not to worry, it was just the Holy Spirit.
Whether or not it was, in fact, here is the catch 22: to point out the degree to which my brothers and sisters are making me uncomfortable is immature, to try to undermine their theology in that moment is unforgivable; but to submit makes me afraid that I have affirmed what is, in my opinion, some bad discernment on their part. My intercessors are acting on intuitions that I don’t believe to be genuine, but there is little platform for conversation. Hyper-spiritualism pushes us to believe we are a higher tier of disciple. “Because anyone who denies that the spirit could be working that way is clearly out of the know, right? This special access and knowledge to what is really going on–our direct access to the mind of God–is bound to make those without it uncomfortable…”
“What the text actually means is…” This either ends as one of the most helpful or dismissive acts one Christian can take towards another, and either way it runs the risk of patronizing. Those with the training and knowledge of biblical scholarship, at least among my peers, are in the terrible danger of falsely establishing themselves as a higher tier of disciple. We create a class which values learning over obedience, one in which ignorance is a sign of immaturity. We are quick to dismiss those “simple people” whose insight is from ordinary life, as if they had little to offer compared to our studies. We get frustrated with people who read the bible or worship uncritically.
It is difficult not to, though. “So much time has been spent in cultivating knowledge, and so much of our church’s thinking is just wrong, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better if we just let the one’s who “really know” what scripture means run the show? No one likes to have their errant thinking corrected so it would make sense that our intellectual instruction would make them uncomfortable right? We have special access and knowledge into what is really going on and they don’t…”
We have to do better about keeping our dialogue in the divine tension, because letting go of one side is where we lose the truth. Neither intellectualization nor the hyper-spiritualization will suffice. But we already know that, don’t we?
You can read a response by friend of the blog-Greg Jeffers, here: Responding to the Gnositc