by Travers and Jewel van der Merwe

Chapter 3: A Gnostic Gospel?

Having defined and illustrated the doctrinal core of Gnosticism, we can now effectively identify Gnostic thought as it emerges in the church today. There is a growing network comprised of loosely linked groups with a common Gnostic theme. They refer to themselves in many ways. They use Biblical sounding titles such as "Overcomers", "The First Fruits", "Manifest Sons of God", "The Elect", "A New Breed", "Son of Man Company" and even "The Manchild Company". These groups can be involved in a wide spectrum of teaching from anti-Semitism, Prophets and Apostles, Restoration, Kingdom Now Theology, and most sinister of all - the New Age philosophy.

Though diverse in their outworking, these groups have a common origin in three main bodies of teaching: the Latter Rain Movement, the New Order and the Rosicrucian Order. We will study these three groups in detail, and as we do, the underlying Gnostic philosophy will be evident. Bear in mind, the essence of Gnosticism is finding your divinity - the god within you, by subjective experience.

The Latter Rain Movement

Most Pentecostal history books date the historic Pentecostal revival of the Latter Rain movement to 1948 and attribute its geographical origin to North Battleford, Canada. Its beginning was explosive among the Pentecostals and like a wild fire spread quickly throughout North America and many places around the world.

The movement was characterised by many healings and miraculous phenomena . . . There was an emphasis on spiritual gifts which were to be received by the laying on of hands. [Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Zondervan Publishing House]

Leaders felt that God was giving the Church, in these last days, great insight into the mind of God by prophetic revelation and manifestations. With the outburst of the revival the ministry of an apostle and a prophet was elevated to the rank of an "office". "The ministries were not restricted to penetrating the mysteries within the Bible but included the unveiling of people's lives and heart." [Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Zondervan Publishing House (emphasis added)]. New revelations into the spiritual world emerged - communication with angels, divine visitations, and out-of-body experiences.

Dangers

Revealing a "new thing" or gaining knowledge either by allegorising the Scriptures or by personal prophetic revelation was the spirit of absurdity that overtook what initially seemed to be a move of God. The records show that the revival started out well. Unfortunately, in certain major respects, it ended in abuse and apostasy, thus showing once again the need for the teaching of true Biblical doctrine.

The Latter Rain Movement had a notorious reputation for imparting an assortment of strange teachings. The origin of these teachings, which have no thread of Scriptural foundation except where the Scriptures have been applied out of context, can be traced beyond any reasonable doubt to the occult. These teachings are invariably accompanied by what seems to be supernatural manifestations, which when examined, are characteristically descriptive of the occult. There is evidence that with the Latter Rain revival came a blaze of subjective theology that centred on man, his senses, imagination and intuition above the objective and scriptural knowledge of truth.

This new emphasis started a paradigm shift. The initial paradigm, an orthodox perspective of Christ shifted or changed, caused Christians to be receptive to subjective impressions of Christ, experiences and ideas. To maintain the interest of followers, new ideas and new revelations were (and are) continually in the making.

Most people who have had any history in Pentecostalism at all have been influenced at some time in their lives by the Latter Rain Movement. There have been many sincere people who felt they were part of the move of God for the Last Days and were earnestly partaking of the fruit that was offered. Since 1948 the Latter Rain influence has permeated the churches, Bible Colleges, evangelism and Christian television broadcasting networks. The overall magnitude of its influence makes it more difficult to warn of the inherent dangers that are involved.

As a result of the Latter Rain influence in the Christian Church two basic streams of thought exist side by side. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the one from the other. Like the tares and wheat they have grown up together. Only through God's written Word can a true separation be discerned. The first stream is "Gnostic" thought - the inspiration of many masquerading as apostles and prophets. The second is "Christian orthodoxy" thought based on the Holy Scriptures. It is the Gnostic stream of thought that divides the Christian Church into a dichotomy.

Tangents

Here are some of the subtle doctrinal concepts the Latter Rain fraternity have come to popularise:

  Positive Confession and Prosperity Message
(Hagin, Copeland, Capps, Price)

  Restoration - Apostles, Prophets and the "Inner Voice"
(Bickle, Hamon, Cain)

  Shepherding/Covenantalism
(Simpson, Godwin, Mumford)

  Kingdom Now Theology
(Paulk, Hamon)

  Manifest Sons of God
(Cerullo)

There are many more names and new ways these streams are flowing together now. In spite of these erroneous teachings, many souls around the world have come to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour. However, through these aberrant doctrines, many Christians have or are being swept into a form of religion that too often fits the description of the cults and occult.

Prophets and The New Order

Today with the rise of new "prophets" and "apostles", we are hearing terminology that is clearly unscriptural. Yet, enough Scripture references are used to make the teachings palatable to the average Christian.

The elevation of prophets and apostles obviously made way for individuals to abuse Scripture. It allowed some to give the 'Spoken Word' equality with Scripture. 'There could be no greater error', denominational leaders warned . . . [The Assemblies of God] General Secretary, J. Roswell Flower cautioned, 'Predictive prophecy resulted in untold disaster wherever it had been given free course'. Flower was well-versed in the history of Pentecostalism and recalled numerous prophecies that had come to nothing. The New Order of the Latter Rain in fact was nothing new. The ground had been covered before, with lessons learned through costly mistakes. Now a new generation seemed to want to repeat it all. [The Assemblies of God, A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism, Vol.2, Edith Blumhofer]

This "New Order" has survived and has influenced the course of Pentecostal history. All along there has been interaction among the salvation/healing revivals and the Charismatic movement for the past 40 years. Now another generation later, we are facing the same situation that our forefathers faced, only this time it is exacerbated because of the mass media, telecommunications, huge conferences and a strong interlocking network.

When the terms "Illumination", "New Revelation" and "New Order" are used, immediately the imagination is titillated into wondering, "What does God have new in store for me?" Promises of a "New Anointing" and a "New Thing" keep the conferences filled and the tape and book sales rolling! When the term "New Thing" is used, the following are some of the thoughts behind the term:

1. New "mysteries" revealed;

2. New "knowledge" of the Christ within - self consciousness;

3. New "form of godliness" that will be the light of the world;

4. New "power" that will do marvellous new things;

5. New "Law of Love" without Scripture;

6. New "Inner Voice" above the Scriptures to guide and govern;

7. New centre of divinity - the soul;

8. New ministries that exceed even those of the prophets and apostles of old; and

9. New consciousness/self potential - self-esteem, self-immortalisation and self-the temple of illumination.

These thoughts are the bedrock of Gnostic experience and its objective of self-realisation of the god within and its subsequent fruit of love and works (born not out of the working of the Holy Spirit but of connecting with your inner self.)

The Rosicrucian Order

There is a clear link in modern trends and the above teachings to what is known as "The Rosicrucian Order". (A Gnostic religion). This seems like a bold drastic statement. However, in 1925 there was a book written entitled The Sons of God. It was "A Foreshadowing of the Coming World of the Messenger of The New Age" (R. Swinburne Clymer). Note the similarities in the following quote:

In each life is a spark, a germ of the Divine Nature. This spark is the potential Christos or the potential individual Soul or that 'light which lighteth all the world of man's consciousness'. When man becomes conscious of this light within his own being and recognises and obeys its 'still small voice', he has reached a state bordering on Illumination of Soul or Immortalisation. When he has found within himself the CENTRE whence cometh the LIGHT, Soul Consciousness is attained. This is the beginning of Initiation; the first revealment of the Divine Mysteries. The Divine Spark in each individual may be developed into a centre or globe of pure white fire; it may become a dynamic nucleus of living fires - the Fire of Love and Immortality. This fact gives the key to the significance of the term 'Temple of Illumination'. Man in toto, is the nuceau of Illumination, the Temple of the living, radiating Christos . . . 'God in me and I in you'. Thus, by obedience to the Divine Law, man attains unto Christhood, becomes the Son of God. (page 15)

Out of Gnosticism a variety of religious cults and orders emerged, one of which was Druidism that spread rapidly during the mediaevel era throughout Europe including Britain. It became a prime factor in the direction of all European culture, religion and society. From Gnosticism and Druidism evolved what has come to be known as the Rosicrucian Order that openly admits to having originated in Gnosticism.

We can date the Rosicrucian Order back to 1379. According to their own writings, a Rosicrucian is one who has learned, or is learning a philosophy of life - a path to confident living. Among famous people who were known Rosicrucians were to name a few: Gottfried Leibnitz 1646-1716, Francis Bacon 1561-1626 and Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790. The Rosicrucians boldly advertise "Become united with enlightened minds everywhere". The tragedy is that men who were great thinkers and spiritual leaders in their day became influenced by the Rosicrucians, just as the same thinking is influencing the church in varying degrees today.

As a result of the Rosicrucian philosophy in the eighteenth century, the Freemason Society became one of the strongest influences in Europe and North America. Thus, in the USA as well as in other parts of the world, Gnosticism helped shape much of the Christian thought, culture and politics of the day.

The book Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects by Time-Life Books not only seems to confirm the fact that Freemasonry in part owes its existence to Rosicrucianism, but also substantiates the fact that Gnosticism is at the core of Freemasonry. With reference to the enormity of Freemasonry influence on North America, this book says:

Today of course, the fraternal service group known as the Free and Accepted Masons is a secure strand in the social fabric of the developed world. In the United States alone, some 16,000 lodges welcome several million member Masons, and the leading citizens of many a town consider it a privilege to belong. In some ways, however - in the observance of hidden rituals, the profusion of symbols and honorary titles and high-flown ceremonial language - the Masonic order remains the secret society it has been for centuries untold. (page 83)

Needless to say, a great portion of Freemasonry membership comprises of the Christian clergy and to some extent accounts for the strong Gnostic influence in the Church.

According to the same book, on page 53:

Rosicrucianism's spread in seventeenth-century Germany may have gained impetus from a Gorlitz cobbler named Jakob Boehme. Boehme reportedly has his first spiritual 'illumination' in 1600 when, at the age of twenty-five, he sat gazing at the light reflected from a pewter dish. The revelation led the shoemaker to abandon his trade for myhstical studies. It was William Law's introduction to Jakob Boehme which poured light into Law and inspired him to write The Spirit of Love and The Spirit of Prayer. People who love William Law's writings and respect his teachings cannot believe he was influenced in any way by Rosicrucian thought that was basically Gnostic.

The founder of InterVarsity, Norman Grubb, testifies in his biography,

. . . from Boehme, most difficult to read because he could not easily put the depths of his illuminations into readable form, I got my answer, and to this day know no writer to match him . . . He is the last word to me . . . I am saying that everything is a form by which He manifests Himself, much as my body is not exactly I, but an outward form of the inner me. This fact, gleaned through Boehme, confirmed through the writings of many others, with the foundations in Scripture, has given me my anchor. [Once Caught, No Escape, Norman Grubb, Intervarsity Press]

Norman Grubb confessed to receiving more from mystic writings than from studying the Bible. Apart from Boehme and William Law, other great mystic writers that proved a spiritual help to him were as follows: Saint Teresa, Meister Eckhart, Henry Suso, John Tauler, John of Rusbroeck, Walter Hilton, Plotinus, Angelus Silesius, Richard Rolle, Lady Julian of Norwich, Evelyn Underhill, William Kingsland and Rufus Jones. These names are well known for their Gnostic and even theosophical ideas. With reference to some of the mystic writers he said, "These are out of bounds to the orthodox; but I have often got more from them than from normal Bible exegesis". According to his own testimony, during a time of severe despair and doubt as to the existence of God, he desperately sought for answers amongst the writings of mystics. "My answer came through the mystics and has been widening ever since", he writes.

Norman Grubb is a typical example of countless others, who for whatever reason, struggled to walk by faith and unfortunately turned to Gnostic ideas (mysticism) to experience a sense of spirituality and a feeling of belonging to God. Like Norman Grubb, numerous Christians, in spite of all of their experiences, are floundering in doubt for lack of faith in God's Word and instead are searching for answers in mysticism - the spirit of Gnosticism. No wonder the masses are receptive to the modern Gnostic apostles and prophets.