Every now and then, it’s good to read an article (or identify for yourself) the sorts of things that Christians struggle with in the current age. This article had some good mythbusting going on, so I wanted to share it here: http://robinphillips.blogspot.com/2010/06/gnostic-myths-you-may-have-imbibed.html
Myth # 1: Christianity isn’t a Religion, it’s a Relationship
I’ve added my voice to this controversy before. So I’ll just be blunt: if you’re still using that misleading catchphrase, just stop. There is no reason.
Myth # 2: Salvation Means Going to Heaven When You Die
It isn’t altogether clear to me how many people are referring to “the new heavens and the new earth” when they say heaven, or if they really only mean the spiritual home of the Father. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt on this; we really do believe in the resurrection of the body and we really do believe in the merging of spiritual heaven and physical earth at the end of the age. But if people are indeed forgetting the physical side of eternal life, then yes, this needs to be said. Glancing back, I do seem to have made sure to emphasize the resurrection of the body whenever I write about eschatology (endtimes stuff), so I guess I am fighting the good fight here.
Myth # 3: The Material World isn’t Important
As the original article points out, this is closely tied to #2, and so doesn’t need much elaboration. However, it’s also closely tied to the belief that the earth will be physically destroyed at the end of this age, which is another theological garble to deal with at another time.
Myth # 4: Institutional Religion is Bad
This is, in part, an American problem. We’re the land of the free, which includes our religious liberties, listed alongside a bunch of private liberties, thus training us to think of religious liberty as a private thing, and thus training us to think of religion as private. This also links back to myth #1, where we over-emphasize a private relationship with Jesus against the relationship with one another and the whole Church. Unsurprisingly, then, traditions that have a strong Covenantal or Sacramental theology have bought into this myth less than those that don’t.
Myth # 5: It isn’t Going to Last Forever
For the most part, this is a repeat of #3, except focusing on the endtimes part. To be fair, there is a lot of destruction-of-the-world language in Revelation and references to destruction-by-fire in 1 Peter, so readers who are not accustomed to literary imagery would understandably see an Apocalypse wherein the earth is destroyed, rather than renewed. Re-learning how to read the Bible, especially the apocalyptic literature, is no small task, but it’s got to start sometime.
Myth # 6: Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this World
This is indeed a tricky one. The author of the article I cited didn’t really offer an explanation for this, so I will. In John 18:36, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” The word “of” here in Greek is, both times, “ἐκ” which means “of” in the sense of “from.” Jesus is not saying that his Kingdom is otherworldly in nature; he’s saying that his Kingdom is from another world. He did become a King and he is reigning over his kingdom even now, and this world is subject to his rule. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and the earth is part of his domain.
Myth # 7: Knowledge saves
This is gnosticism at its clearest: salvation is from knowledge. Sure, many Christians today say we are “saved by faith,” but what many of them actually mean is that we are “saved by what we believe about God.” Faith is equated with intellectual knowledge and acceptance of doctrine. This is categorically false. Faith is an act of the will, an expression of trust, revealed in a lifestyle, as well as assenting to doctrine. It’s one thing to say we’re saved by “faith alone,” but another thing to prove it with our “works.” More on that here.
Myth # 8: God Doesn’t Work Through Means
Most Christians will, at first, try to assert that God can work through anything. But when specific examples are offered up, that’s when this myth starts to shine through. Many Christians today believe that if I say that we receive the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, I’m putting God into a box and constraining him. If I were to say that we really and truly receive Christ in Holy Eucharist, I’m somehow limiting or controlling or manipulating the activity of God. Once again, this is untrue, and based upon faulty reasoning. Sacraments, as “means of grace,” are not boxes of limitations that we impose upon God, but just the opposite: gifts from God to express and mediate the work of Christ in our lives! When people object, saying that God “doesn’t need” to use physical objects or actions to communicate himself to us, they’re actually making an unbiblical judgment: God’s action is only (or primarily) spiritual and therefore physical reality is inferior or irrelevant. That is not biblical Christianity, that’s Neo-Platonism (spirit=good, matter=bad)!
So, once again, thanks to Robin Phillips for a fun article. These are, indeed, challenges that many Christians struggle with today, and I hope that together we all can overcome the false teachings that feed them before further damage is done to the holy Church of God.
EDIT: Yay, this is my 300th post!