Gnosticism and The Early Church
The very term Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, which refers to immediate, experiential knowledge. Thus, the Gnostics viewed themselves as those capable of knowing truth with a specific emphasis on intuitive knowledge. Gnosticism was entirely unbiblical to the core, lying at the heart of this belief system was the fact they believed in a mystical communion with the sacred whereby they anchored knowledge in personal experience. This component brings to the forefront one of the primary issues orthodox believers saw in the false teaching of Gnosticism. They pointed to the reality the Gnostics anchored truth, not in the divine commands of Scripture and Biblical accounts of God’s historical activity, but in speculative myths and secret traditions encapsulated in personal experience. This aspect was remarkably significant for the time period because it meant faithful theologians had to be incredibly precise in understanding Christian truth and engaging false claims of knowledge.
At the heart of this debate between the early church and the Gnostics lay the entire concept of rightly understanding epistemology. This fancy word, while large, merely means a theory of knowledge, or getting to the heart of comprehending how you know what you know. As a Bible-believing Christian, I hold to a revelational epistemology because all knowledge comes from God who reveals it to us as He pleases. Foundationally, His special revelation is the Scripture, which makes it our ultimate authority in life and He generally reveals Himself in creation. This reality stands opposed to Gnosticism which wanted individuals to anchor truth in mystical experience. Thus, the stage for the conflict was set between the two systems. It was a brutal, gritty theological battle, but as always, the true church prevailed by the grace of Christ. In some ways, we still see variations of this thought in our own day.
Epistemological battles of various sorts continue to our modern-day, yet Gnosticism specifically continues to extend its understanding of truth in a new variation dealing with ethnicity. Ethnic Gnosticism references the idea of someone having special knowledge solely on the basis of their ethnicity, as pointed out by Dr. Voddie Baucham.1 Therefore, the epistemology of Gnosticism continues its influence today by attaching to discussions of race relations claiming people have special knowledge on the basis of their skin color and ethnic background. Just as the Gnostics during the period of the early church anchored many truth claims in personal experience, so also those practicing the tenets of Ethnic Gnosticism are taking that same basic action today. If you have a specific shade of skin color, then they profess to want to elevate your views believing it to give you a greater access to the truth than others.
Here is the major issue, we cannot anchor our understanding of truth in anything other than the revelation of God. When we go into God’s creation, we must seek to learn from general revelation on the basis of His special revelation, the inspired Scripture. Ethnic Gnosticism proposes to elevate the experiences of individuals based on the amount of melanin in their skin. However, it is naïve to believe that people with similar skin colors have the same experience or views. There can be lighter or darker color skinned people who have suffered horrific abuses, they could be conservative, they could be on the left, they could be Christians, they could be atheists, my point is that there is a wide degree of variance. Simply because they have the same color of skin does not necessitate two or more individuals would hold identical or even similar views. Beside that reality, we must also readily admit individuals can be mistaken. In other words, just because one of us goes through a certain experience does not mean we understand the totality of what occurred in that event nor that our worldview as a whole is truthful. However, the Scripture transcends my personal experience because it is revealed by the God of perfection, who has infinite knowledge. He places His Spirit inside of believers enabling them to understand truth. Therefore, I must interpret everything through the lens of the Word of God as the ultimate standard. My experiences must not be placed above Scripture, rather, I should examine my experience by the Word.
Practicality in The Local Church
The local church today should learn from the historical battles against Gnosticism on every front, but especially the specific area of epistemology. When making decisions, it is vital for pastors, and everyone, to consult the Scripture as their ultimate authority for knowledge of the truth. Therefore, each pastor must make certain they are not valuing or downplaying someone’s opinion in the church because of their skin color, rather all ideas and claims must be evaluated by the standard of Scripture regardless of who is professing them. Ethnic backgrounds do not add or take away from someone’s ability to know and proclaim the truth. If this reality is not understood, then a church can be fractured by the ideas of Ethnic Gnosticism, leading to different ultimate authorities within the life of a local church tragically dividing them.
Consequently, it is correct to say individuals can learn from personal experience. A man who has done a job for 20-years should be far more proficient than he was on the first day. Yet, while acknowledging that fact, it is incorrect to place personal experience as the ultimate authority for a worldview or knowing God. Individual congregations today can learn from the early church’s battles against Gnosticism by demonstrating the faultiness of relying upon the claims of secret myths, special knowledge, and personal experience. Instead, Christians must wholeheartedly stand upon the Scripture as their epistemological anchor and guiding light by which everything else is viewed. It is not the skin color of a person that should be the primary factor in determining the truthfulness of their theology, rather it is their faithfulness in rightly interpreting and applying the text of Scripture.
 Voddie T Baucham, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Washington D.C.: Salem Books, 2020), 92.