Gnosticism in the beginning was Docitism, which had a false teaching concerning Jesus Christ in the 1st Century AD. They taught that Jesus did not take a physical body, but rather, He was just a vision or a ghost figure. That meant that Christ was not physically real, that is, He was not human. A supernatural ghost.
They were spiritual people, also believing that reason or matter = evil and the spiritual = good. Materialism was = evil and the spiritual was good. This belief was really close to a belief that Platonism held called Dualism.
Docitism denied the Doctrine of the Incarnation and questioned whether Jesus, who is God, truly became man with a human flesh, or if He was just a divine vision with no bodily form. Which meant that the image of Christ was under attack by Docitism.
They lived in the times of the Apostles, particularly during the ministry of the Apostle John who wrote in his letter 1 John 4:1-3:
1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world”.
The Gnostic’s believed that they gained what they called gnosis, which in the original Greek means ‘knowledge’. And they claimed to have received that which is called an esoteric ‘secret knowledge’. It was requested to anyone who desired to follow the Gnostic’s to have this knowledge, for if anyone did not have received the ‘secret knowledge’, was not saved and was not one in unity with God. Therefore, salvation for them had nothing to do with redemption, rather with the ‘Knowledge’ one had, one would be saved. This was there teaching, which is obviously contrary to what the Gospel teaches. This gnosis was to be found by doing philanthropy, that is, helping society, helping other people, to reach to a certain spiritual ‘gnosis‘ of God. They saw the world teaching that human beings who have flesh and bones are not divine and perfect beings. They were imperfect and fallible. But when they focused on anything spiritual, they regarded it as perfect and divine. Whoever was a Gnostic represented the upper world and those who did not have their secret inward ‘Knowledge’ were on the lower world. They held, they claimed, heavenly knowledge and the non-gnostic was earthly.
Furthermore, at the present time we see that their teachings of ‘Knowledge’ is very similar to New Age teaching, that man’s subjective, that is, inner wisdom is to be exalted and trusted, more than God’s Word. This also meant that if they wanted to reach a certain level were they gain divine wisdom, or connect as it were, with God, they would receive anything that was spiritually divine. But on the contrary, what they received was far worse. They took all kinds of spiritual names, from the metaphysical, mixing it with philosophy. Mixed with culture and curiosity.
Some Gnostic’s believed that Jesus was real, who had a physical body, yet they denied His divine nature. They believed that Jesus was a man who was blessed to bring them the ‘gnosis‘. To them He was a good teacher and He was a mere human being like us. But not the Son of God. That is what they taught.
The Mandaeans saw Jesus was considered a false messiah, who took the teachings of John the Baptist and twisted them; teaching false doctrines. Furthermore some of their traditions identified Adam and Eve’s sons: Seth and Mani as salvific figures.
They believed in Pantheism, that is, everything is god. Not from God, but that it is God. They taught that they were highly gifted and blessed to have this ‘Knowledge’ that they taught. They explained in their ‘divine’ wisdom how the universe worked. They discovered this by their inner ability to seek their own truth in their own heart or soul. Sounds very subject? That’s because it is. This meant that truth was in all who had the knowledge, which was the esoteric (inner self). This involves practices of Mysticism, seeking the supernatural and the ecstatic in the spirit. They were driven by emotionalism and experience, because both these two were their highest principle of knowing truth. Just to clarify, we are not talking about the Holy Spirit. They were not Christians.
You have probably (if you are familiar with theology, history or archeology) heard of the Gnostic Gospel which were discovered in 1945 in Egypt. The Gnostic Gospel’s included the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas, the book of Adam, the book of Abraham and many more. All of these books are not regarded as Gospel’s. They are not from God’s Word they are not inspired (2 Peter 1:21).
You may see in this present age, forms of modern day Gnosticism. From the cultish beliefs of Mormonism to the Rise of Islam and most of the cults who came out of the period of Restorationism. Each cult believed that their religion was the only true one and all the others are not’.
Historically, many early church fathers rejected the heretical teachings of Gnosticism, yet probably the most focused church father who became the opponent of Docitism (which by the 2nd and 3rd Century became Gnosticism) was Ireneus. He especially defended the Christian Faith from Valentinian Gnosticism. They have also denied the Incarnation of Christ. The influence of the Valentinian Gnostic doctrine went as far as to the east, to become part of the teachings of Buddhism.
Gnosticism grew in many forms, there were the Valentinian’s and then there was Marcianism. This group began to develop by a man called Marcian who was the Son of a Christian Bishop who later become the Cult leader of Marcianism. Briefly to state, Marcianism believed that the God of the OT, was different from the God of the NT. God of the OT was angry and cruel, but the God of the NT was kind and gentle. Sounds familiar? Richard Dawkins believes the same and sadly most professing Christians today. Their doctrines were also similar to Gnosticism and thus they were rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church (which is not the same Orthodox or Catholic Church that we have today. This was before the great division).
Another form of Gnosticism was Manakhacainism. They were universalist’s and relevatevist’s or ecumenical. Because they took all the other religions around them and mixed them all together creating it into this new cult. They taught Dualism and Zoroastrianism. Their belief of a God was very much like (if I may say) watching Star Wars Movies, the good force vs the evil force. A battle between good and evil, both equally strong.
Another form of Gnosticism was Monagrianism (2nd Century). They strongly held the oneness belief. That is, God was one. Hence they renounced the doctrine of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, three person, but one God which is the Christian belief.
Out of them, developed another cult called: Montalism.
Montalism began by Sepelius the priest who taught that God is one, yet he appears as different persons. The teaching he held was that God appeared as different people. It is like seeing three different people one at a time, and yet they can’t be the same person in one place. That is how they taught the doctrine of the Trinity. Which the early church called it a heresy. They also teach that God the Father appears only in the OT, in the Gospel’s Christ appears as God and from Pentecost the Holy Spirit became God.
Montalism also adapted to Adoptionism, which believed that Jesus was a man who became God in his baptism. This teaching still exists in Oneness Pentecostalism.
The Montalist were rejected, because they rejected the character of Christ that he was God. They also taught that it was not Christ who died on the cross, but rather God the Father died on the Cross which is heresy according to the Bible.
Moreover, another familiar movement (for our charismatic friends to know) that came out from Gnosticism, is Montanism.
Montanism (2nd Century) began by Montanus, who believed that there was ‘New Revelation from the Holy Spirit’. That is to say, that the Bible is not the only source of Revelation that God has given to man, so there is still new extra biblical messages to come. Montanism adapted too many forms of spiritual ecstasy and many forms of chaos which look much like today’s Sign and Wonders movement, Third Wave movement who are part of the Charismatic movement. They believed that the gift of tongues have not ceased and it is still in operation. They desired much to hear the voice of God and yet rejected His Word of Prophesy, which is in the Holy Scriptures. Many had visions of angels, God, dreams, claiming that God said to them something from above. Hence, historically, Charismatic and Pentecostalism trace their roots with Montanism. Tertulian, who was a great early church father, joined the movement for a while, because they had a very strict moral code. Tertulian left the mainstream church because many were not practicing church discipline at the time. Yet the Montanist movement became a big problem in the Church. So Tertulian left.
Montanism was rejected by the Body of Christ, because they claimed to have authoritative words equal or better than written word’s from God, passed down by the Apostle’s themselves. And anyone who denied their claims they said, were in error and were not mature Christians. Both the great church Fathers Augustine and Chrysostom, defended the Gospel truth against the Montanist’s who caused much confusion and problems in the church. After careful examination, for this was the duty of the Church (Acts 17:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21, 1 John 4:1-4), the Church Rejected Montanism as a heresy.
Here are some reasons why:
- a) Their visions and prophesies where false, acted like spiritual drunkards, and they had intensity and enthusiasm. b) Their two prophetess Priscilla and Maximilla claimed to be the voice of the Holy Spirit. The early Church did not agree because this was exclusively part of the Apostlic office who wrote the Scriptures, which would mean that if God spoken to us, word to word, through Priscilla and Maximilla; then consequently, there would be a new chapter in the Bible, a 67th book as it were. They would say ‘ I am the spirit of God!’. c) Many prophesies did not come true. This is also evident of the ignorance what Pentecostal’s and Charismatics do today. d) They claimed to have experiences of the Spirit, taking them into a deep trance. Describing the spirit of God as an experience of possession or forcing them in a way. e) Montanist’s criticized other Christians for being ‘un-spiritual’, because they would not embrace their new prophesy. f) Some fell in the ‘Sabelian’ teaching, which is Oneness Pentecostalism (which we have already explained) who deny the doctrine of the Trinity. In addition, the Montanist’s claimed to have the same power and authority as the Apostle’s had. Yet they did not see the risen Christ. Montanism lasted from the 2nd century until the 4rth Century, the same period with the ministry of Augustine.
Sadly the influence also continues today and this is why history of the early church and its battles is important to know.
There are many who claim to have the title of an ‘apostle’ and the gifting’s of an ‘apostle’. They are found today in the majority of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement, specifically in the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) led by C. Peter Wagner and his friends the ‘modern day apostles’. Let’s not forget that this is due to the fact, that Gnosticism has spread everywhere making their influence and doctrine known through many continents. All these ancient movements that we have shown here are ranked as Heresies.