Summary: The early church was planted in the Greek culture, and immediately the culture began to attempt to influence it. Gnostics applied Greek categories of thought to the Christian message,emphasizing higher spiritual knowledge, making it "elitist." But Chris
I John Sermon Series
Introduction and I John 1:1-4
Pastor Dean Johnson, Lake Pointe Bible Church, 1-11-04
What is now called “The Church” was not yet 50 years old when a rather disturbing and even dangerous teaching began to creep in among Christians. The erroneous teaching could be traced back to Greek philosophers such as Plato, who taught this: SLIDE: There are two distinct realms of reality:
MATTER: there is the realm of physical matter, the physical world of stuff, which you can see and touch, where you currently live.
SPIRITUAL: And then there is the realm of spirit, a higher world of ideas and thought and spirit, which you cannot see or touch.
TWO REALMS ARE NOT EQUAL
However, these two realms of reality are not equal in value and authenticity and quality, the Greek philosophers would say. The truth is, physical matter is inferior, deficient, even evil. It is a perversion, a cumbersome distortion of reality. The physical imprisons the spiritual. Your goal in life, taught the Greek philosophers, must be to escape this physical prison, and to attain the higher world of concepts and spirit and knowledge, understanding.
NOT COMPLETELY INCOMPATIBLE WITH CHRISTIANITY
Now in among this Greek teaching came Christianity, which taught that there is in fact one God, who is spirit, and he sent his son to earth to somehow lead those sinful humans back to God. This basic understanding of Christianity was not completely incompatible with Greek dualism.
SLIDE: And so those who fancied an interest in both Greek philosophy and Christianity began to search for, and even create a belief system which more suitably coalesced Greek and Christian understandings of reality. This belief system became known as…Gnosticism.
5 GNOSTIC ERRORS INFLUENCING CHRISTIANITY
Gnosticism introduced five errors into Christianity:
1. Man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil. (Evil does not exist because of sin and wrong moral choices we make. It is simply because we have physical bodies. And sin doesn’t permeate our entire being--our hearts and minds--it is limited to the physical.) This is to be contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit, and is therefore good. (God is not good because he is a morally good being. He is good solely because he is pure spirit.)
2. Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in a savior, but by attainment of special spiritual knowledge (or gnosis), by becoming an enlightened, clever, intellectual thinker. In Greek culture the most admired person was not the politician or athlete but the philosopher. And in Christianity the most admired person would be the intellectual who could discuss spiritual ideas on a higher level than anyone else.
PROBLEM: CHRIST’S HUMAN BODY
However, there was the issue with the Christian teaching that the Son of God had come to earth and taken on a human body. This could not be, because a body is evil. There must be some other explanation.
3. Christ’s true humanity is denied. If matter is evil, there’s no way God himself could have taken on a physical body. This denial took on one of two approaches:
A. Docetism (from Dokeo, “to seem”) He only seemed to have a body.
B. Cerinthianism, after Cerinthus, who taught that the divine “Christ” joined the physical “Jesus” at baptism, (and God pronounced “This now is my beloved son…”). But the divine Christ left the physical Jesus just before he died, causing Jesus to cry out “My God, My God, (or “my god part, my god part“) why have you forsaken me?”
4. Since the body is evil, it is to be treated harshly. (Paul dealt with this in Col. 2:21-23 p.1166). Mistreating your body is not honoring to God, and it is not the way to achieve holiness. St. Francis did this.
5. Dualism leads to moral liberty and abandonment. Since matter--and not the breaking of God’s laws--was considered evil, you could do anything you wanted in your body. Wild, physical living has no moral consequence.
Can you see how this philosophy was appealing, and a dangerous distortion of true Christianity--like so many new, appealing religious trends and approaches today? Somebody authoritative had to confront Gnosticism. So someone did--the most authoritative Christian alive, the Apostle John, the last living disciple of Jesus at the time. He writes a letter, to be circulated among Christians. We call the letter the First Epistle or Letter of John, or “First John” for short. John had already written The Gospel of John, his book about the life of Jesus. Now he will write three letters: First, Second, and Third John, and five years later he will write a book we call The Apocalypse, or The Revelation.
Because this is our first day of a series on The First Letter of John, before we read what John had to say, let me just mention some historical data.