The Inconsistency Of Spiritual Pharisaism
Presenting the Demand for a Spirit-based Christian Epistemology
[Ed. Note: This is the pilot article of the circulation letter ministry that eventually became known as First Love Ministry. This treatise takes on the faulty unbelieving reasoning that characterizes all spiritually reborn believers in Jesus Christ who reject the ongoing present tense reality of the spoken word of God and other spiritual manifestations beyond the historical account of the written pages of the Bible. For a brief but philosophically deeper consideration of this topic, please download the article Christian Epistemology: Natural or Supernatural? How Do We Know What We Know?]
This first article in our fellowship comes by way of an encounter I had some weeks ago with a young man in seminary. This young man had once been involved with the
Four Square(charismatic) denomination in southern . He had become disillusioned with certain elements of the charismatic churches, especially the great gap between their claim of spiritual experience and their practical holiness. Having a good mind, he turned his attention to the writings of the Reformers in his search for a truer holiness, and wound up in seminary. California
In meeting me one day, he was surprised to find someone who had made the opposite journey. (I began my spiritual trek in the schools of "fundamentalism,” gradually moved out into the "deeper life" fellowships, and now am involved almost exclusively with charismatic groups.) So we arranged to talk about it one evening. Later, on reflection over our very profitable time together, I sent this young man a follow-up letter. It is from that letter that I draw today's article on "Spiritual Pharisaism.”
Laying a Foundation for Understanding
Today we are going to talk about spiritual reality and our relationship to spiritual reality. We are going to talk about the very basic question: "How do we know what we know spiritually? And, How do we know that what we know spiritually is true?"
Now I hope that doesn't sound too "cosmic" or philosophical. It's not meant to, and I will do my best to keep this simple. But you know, as Christians, we have one glaring fault in our discussions with the world and with each other. Our problem is that we just never "get to the bottom of things." We assume everyone else knows "where we're coming from" and what we mean by what we say. We use words like "truth," but we don't define them.
We take too many things for granted. We operate on a host of unspoken "hand-me-down" assumptions based in the teaching of others that we have never questioned or tested for ourselves. Yet we accept them as "gospel truth.” Much of the time even we don't know what we mean by the words we use, never mind others. Is it any wonder then that theological debate and "strife about words to no profit" abound? Is it a wonder that the world thinks we are mad bigots?
Until we get to the root of why we believe what we believe, we're always going to be at a loss to authoritatively say how we know what we know is true. Few of us ever do this. Therefore we always talk past each other, for we all speak based on differing unexamined assumptions. Hence strife. (I think we're afraid to expose and test our hidden assumptions lest we have to "eat crow" by discovering our lifelong assumptions have been wrong).
For this reason we are going to talk at "ground level" today. We're going to lay a foundation for understanding on which our fellowship can build. We're going to come to some very basic understandings about our faith—and hopefully head-off a lot of otherwise inevitable controversy. So, please don't be bored by what follows. Listen carefully, especially with your heart. (Remember what I said in the introductory letter: A teachable heart is the only way to true spiritual mind renewal.)
Follow with me then as we proceed to lay this valuable groundwork.
In this article we are going to establish two major understandings on which we will build the rest of our case. These two are:
1. Establishing the one true and final "reference point for reality" (to be defined);
2. Maintaining consistent appeal to that reference point for discerning spiritual truth from error.
Establishing the One True and Final Reference Point for Spiritual Reality
The first thing we must discuss is having a "reference point for spiritual reality” and what that means.
Having a reference point for spiritual reality simply means having a way that you know for sure what spiritually is and what is not, and for knowing the nature of what spiritually is—whether it is of God or of some other spiritual source. It means "knowing that you know" something in such a way that you don't have to wrestle with it and wonder whether what you "know" is really right, or whether you just "think" you know it's right.
Now we're not talking here about verifying natural things, like whether a car is blue or a table is hard! We're talking about verifying spiritual things. We're talking about knowing for sure what is of God and what is not, what is spiritually reliable and what is not. (If that has been a problem for you, wouldn't you like to have it settled once and for all? If so, read on.)
“How Do You Know You Are Born Again?”
Let’s begin with a question. Now I am assuming that all my readers are "born again,” i.e., you claim to have been "converted" by the "gospel" of Jesus Christ and you now possess eternal life (—if you don't claim this but would like to, or would at least like to know more about it, please write me!)
Very well. For you who claim to be "born again,” here is my question:
What happened to you when you received Jesus Christ as your savior? What do you testify to having encountered? Do you testify to a change in your life in some way? Did eternal life enter into you? Did you receive a release from guilt for your sins through the washing action of His blood? Did you receive a new inner awareness of His life coming into you?
Did all these things really happen to you, or did you just imagine them? Was it all theoretical? If not theoretical and imaginary, if indeed you do testify that these things happened to you, how do you know they happened? How do you know your life was changed? How do you know you were released from guilt?
The Scriptures tell us that when we are born again, we “receive eternal life.” This life is not described as an “idea” but as a quantifiable substance, because God is an actual Being, not someone's idea. He is Spirit. Now spirit is substance of another kind, but it is still substance, not just imagined theory. “I came that they may have life…more abundantly.”
The Scriptures say that as Spirit, God enters into us. This is something that happens to us. When He enters us, we sense release from guilt. This happens to us. When He enters us, we are changed. It is a change we sense somehow, even though we find it hard to describe. Nevertheless, we know that it has happened, and it's because we know it happened that we can testify to it. (You can't testify to something you don't know has happened to you!)
But how do we "know?" Well again, that may be hard to describe. Yes. It is hard. And the reason it's hard to describe is because it involves a new kind of knowing that we've never had before. It is a spiritual knowing. Our spirit has been "made alive to God" (that's how the Scriptures describe it). We receive a new consciousness of God that we never had before.
That's how we know these things happen to us. We have a new spiritual awareness. Moreover, this awareness speaks for itself to us. It needs no proof to us. It's simply so, and we know it's so.
This is like a blind man who gets his sight back. Once he can see, he knows he can see. He doesn't need anybody to prove to him that he's no longer blind! His sight speaks for itself to him. And this is how we know in spirit we are born again. Our new spiritual awareness of God's forgiveness and indwelling Presence speaks for itself to us. (The word for this is "self validating" or "self verifying.”)
But how do we know this new spiritual awareness of "God" is not a false awareness? How do we know we haven't been made alive unto the devil?
Ah! This is because of Who God is. God Himself IS the Truth. He is the Truth because He is the uncreated I AM, the eternal First and the Last. What we call “truth” simply emanates and takes its definition from the fact of His Being. Truth is because He is.
Hence, when He enters us, Truth itself enters us. He enters us as the "Spirit of Truth,” In this, His own nature is self validating that He Is Truth. He needs no proof to us that He Is Truth.
When we are converted therefore to receive a new spiritual consciousness, we not only know of itself that we have been inwardly transformed, but we know by the virtue inherent in God’s nature that our conversion is unto Truth, not to a lie, not to a devil.
Really now, when we were converted, the question of whether we were dealing with the “right God” never even entered our minds! When we were converted, we just knew it (even though we might not have been able to say how we knew), and we knew we were dealing with our Creator.
What am I leading up to? What am I trying to demonstrate through such a detailed discussion of our conversion?
I'm trying to surface to your attention that, far from being a mere figment of imagination or some theoretical fling with intellect, your conversion was your introduction to a new realm of Reality via a new capacity for Knowing which you never had before. We are talking about gaining access to spiritual reality through the capacity to spiritually know. Moreover, this spiritual reality is "True" reality, for God is at the centre of this higher reality and He can be known Personally only through this reality, not through nature. (It is only in our personally knowing Him through the spirit that we have eternal life.)
True spiritual conversion introduces us to a new realm of reality that is ultimate and self-verifying. It cannot be proven “true” outside of its own spiritual testimony. It witnesses to itself and needs no other witness. Our access to this ultimate reality is for us an end of all argument.
Yes, then. This is what happened to you when you were born again. You know it (because it is self-validating), and the Scriptures bear witness to this description. You may not have thought it all through like this before (you didn't need to), but it is still what happened.
Conversion was not something you simply talked yourself into, or that you mentally assented to be true, or that you came to a theological conclusion about! Through conversion, you became spiritually convicted and conscious of Jesus Christ living in you. That is the new eternal Life you received (into you)... new life, new consciousness, new reality. In short, a new creation–on the invisible inside.
Now I ask you—do you have any problem with that? Is that not an accurate description of your conversion? Are not those the spiritual happenings within you to which you bear witness?
I'll tell you right now so you don't need to waste your time reading any further: If you think you were converted because you made a mere mental decision for Christ, or because you can quote certain scriptures that tell men how they can know if they are saved—but you cannot testify to a new inner spiritual awareness of Christ through release from guilt over the conviction and forgiveness of your sins—then you are not born again. And if you insist that you are, you are only lying to yourself and my fellowship is not for you. No scripture can tell you that you are saved. It can tell you by what means you can know so. But if that means itself is not an actuality in your life, you are not converted. Only God’s Spirit within yours can assure you of your salvation.
Now for the punch line. Do you see what we have established through this elaborate description of conversion? We have established that through true conversion, we have access to a new reference point for reality. This reference point is none other than our spiritual awareness of the indwelling Presence of the Spirit of Truth.
Why has all this been so important to belabor? You see, you've always assumed these things to be so. But you are so used to them as assumptions that you have failed to think through the logical implications of them in carrying on your faith. As a result, you are making one claim concerning your conversion, but are making inconsistent statements and affirmations and denials concerning other areas of Christian spirituality. This brings us to our second major point today:
Maintaining Consistent Appeal to the Same Reference Point for Verifying Spiritual Reality
Until you were born again, you had another way for verifying reality. It was based on the experience of your five senses and your ability to reason out your experiences with your natural mind. You depended on your own ability to make sense out of what you encountered naturally. When you get right down to it, you simply believed in your own mind. Your mind served as your compass (reference point) for what is true, what is real.
(In the world, this is called the "scientific method.” The one amazing thing about the theology of the world is that it universally believes in the power of the human mind to verify reality. Where did this assumption come from and why does no one question this?)
After you were born again, you received a new-reference point for reality. But at the same time, you did not lose your old one!
Oh my. What a predicament! Let's run that by again?... Yes, when you were born again, you received a new access to ultimate spiritual reality with the capacity to verify that reality through spiritual awareness. But you did not lose your capacity of a lifetime for verifying (what you thought was) final reality by your mind.
But the problem doesn't end there. You see, these two faculties in you for verifying truth (your mind and your spirit) are not neutral neighbors between which you may casually choose by which one you will think. No. They are each charged by opposing energies, the one by the devil through the world and your own fleshly life force; and the other by God’s Spirit within you. They are at enmity within us, struggling for our allegiance, and we are caught in the middle. It is precisely because this matter of verifying (final) Reality and spiritual truth is an issue of such conflict that articles like this are necessary to help struggling saints!
It would have been so nice if, when we were converted. God had wiped out our old compass before giving us the new one! Wouldn't that have made life so much simpler? Yes. But He didn't do it. And there is a reason He didn't do it. (We'll get to that in a minute.)
Right now, the only point I want to make is this: Whether it's easy or hard to have to deal with two reference points for final reality, the fact is that you can only live by one! And when it comes to judging spiritual things, the only reference point for reality you can use is your access to spiritual awareness.
Sometimes, when it comes to judging natural things, you can see things one way from a natural viewpoint, and then another way spiritually. But concerning spiritual things, the only viewpoint you can use is spiritual awareness. Natural understanding can't tell a thing, and if your spiritual awareness just isn't "up to snuff" over a certain issue, you simply can't pass any valid judgment on it.
In this article, we are only concerned with spiritual things. And since the only reference point you can use to judge spiritual things is your access to spiritual awareness, the point we are making is that you have to be consistent in judging spiritual things by spiritual awareness. After all, we're talking about reality. Choosing a reference point for what is spiritually real and what is spiritually true isn't like shopping for a can of beans. One week you buy this brand. Next week you buy another brand.
No. Choosing a reference point for reality is something you choose once, and then you stick to it forever. Truth can ultimately be based on only one standard for Reality. Otherwise there is no such thing! And the point is that, when you become a Christian and have your first taste of spiritual reality, whether you realize it or not, you are making a lifetime commitment to live by spiritual awareness as your new, unchangeable, reference point for reality.
(That, by the way, is the definition of living by faith. Do you see that? "Faith" is not intellectual agreement with a set of "beliefs.” Faith is the practical outworking of life in response to inner spiritual awareness of God's conviction and revelation. Don't forget that definition!)
The Demand of Consistency
Let's really "zero in" on this consistency thing. If there is anything we read clearly in the Scriptures, it is that inconsistency is a bad thing. James calls it "doublemindedness.” Jesus said it like this: "No man can serve two masters."
What does this mean? Well, while it undoubtedly applies to the choice between serving God and serving "the world,” the bottom-line-of-it is that we can't serve two reference points for reality. We can't serve "two consciousnesses.” We have to choose to live finally by either spiritual awareness, or by natural ability to interpret and apply spiritual things - but not both.
We can't make some decisions based on spiritual "conviction" and others based on what "we think.” Nor can we come to some final evaluations based on "revelation" and others based on "interpretation.” (I know some of you say you don't even believe in "revelation.” Well, you really do, but either don't know it or won't admit it. We'll get to that in a minute.)
Jesus is absolutely "death" on this matter of inconsistency. Yet what we find, and what the purpose of this article is to expose, is that the vast number of us Christians live precisely this way in our attitude toward verifying spiritual Truth. We decide some issues based on our encounter with spiritual reality. And we decide other issues based on what we choose to think, or what some admirable man has taught us is the "correct" way to believe about an issue. Some things we verify through spiritual conviction. Other things we "verify" by personal prejudice, fear, and such like.
Today I intend to challenge you very deeply over this matter of consistency in how you establish your understanding of what is true and false. This leads us straight to the heart of today's article on "spiritual pharisaism.” But before we address that, there's one thing I said we'd come back to.
A little bit ago, I said we'd discuss why God didn't take away our old reference point for reality when He gave us our new spiritual one at conversion. Here's why:
Our access to spiritual reality through spiritual awareness is something that has capacity for growth! It is not static. Remember, spiritual awareness is what eternal life is all about. And life is not dormant. It grows. It expands. It develops. So it is with our awareness of spiritual reality.
But how does it grow, or why? Is it automatic?
No. It is not automatic. In order to grow, spiritual awareness needs exercise. And where there is exercise, there must be a force against which to exercise. Where there is to be motion, there must be friction.
For a runner to run, he must have ground against which to thrust. Well, this is how it is with spiritual growth. God left the natural power of unbelief with us so our spiritual awareness would have a force against which to exercise and come to maturity. As we exercise our spiritual conviction against our native power of mental deduction, our capacity for spiritual sensitivity expands. (And by the way, now you have the true definition of "spiritual growth.” It has nothing to do with our natural ability to assimilate complex theology! Don't forget it.)
As our spiritual awareness grows, it displaces our old natural awareness of things as our reference point for living. So even though as long as we live this life we have to deal with the opposition of our minds to our spiritual growing, our attachment to natural awareness should be an ever diminishing factor for us all.
But look now! If it is true that spiritual growth refers to our capacity to develop spiritual awareness, what does that imply? It implies that there is room for going on to encounter God in increasing spiritual dimensions beyond those we know when we are first converted.
In other words, there is room for things to happen to us on spiritual levels that we at first had no capacity for as new-born babes in Christ! Isn't that true in natural life? As people grow from babies to children to adults, their natural senses develop. Children see what babies cannot see. Adults hear what children cannot hear. This is so. As we mature in natural life, perspective and depth of encounter with life increases.
Well the same is true for our inner man. As spiritual awareness increases through spiritual exercise against unbelief, our capacity for encounter with various dimensions of spiritual reality also increases.
Hey! Wake up! Are you starting to see something here? Now you can understand why there is such a wide variety of testimonies by Christians to so many different kinds of encounters with spiritual reality! Consider:
· Some claim to speak with tongues.
· Some claim to hear God speak (degrees of this vary from spiritual impressions to audible words).
· Some claim to see visions.
· Some claim to cast out demons,
· Some (like me) claim to receive divine revelations concerning Truth.
· Some claim to work miracles and heal the sick.
· Some testify to out-of-the-body encounters with God.
And do you know what? All these testimonies are self validating - just like conversion.
But what about those who have not "experienced" these phenomena and are offended by them and discredit them? (Perhaps you the reader are such a person). But on what basis are they discredited?...
Ah! That brings us to the core subject of our article:
I think everyone here is probably familiar with the term "Pharisee.” Historically, the Pharisees were that group of religion-ists in ancient
who opposed the Lord Jesus Christ. They were noted for their hypocritical "legalism.” They preached one thing openly, but secretly practiced another. Yet they prided themselves on their strict adherence to (their understanding of) the Law—not to mention their multitudinous ordinances derived from their own interpretations of the Scriptures. Because He spoke according to the Spirit behind the letter of scripture, Jesus was neither understood nor received by the Pharisees. Instead, they killed Him. Israel
Based on this history, the term "Pharisee" comes down to us in modern times. It is used quite freely in the Christian community to refer to any Christian individual or group who either does not practice what they preach, or who emphasizes the letter of scriptural interpretation over the heart attitude of obedience. Religious "Pharisees" are noted most for their emphasis on external practices based on their interpretations of scripture to which they hold one another accountable for proof of spirituality. (In our times, the "fundamentalist" movement has come to be most visibly identified with this attitude.)
While what I have just described is the most prominent manifestation of Spiritual Pharisaism, I want in this article to get at something much deeper. I want to get at the root of Pharisaism. This is because Pharisaism is not just an historical thing, nor even just the manifestation of conformity to certain rites that surfaces in many groups of Christians. If we get to the root of Pharisaism, we find that it is a spirit that eats away like a cancer at our thinking process, and it is something we must all deal with as we negotiate our journey over the way of faith.
What then is "Spiritual Pharisaism?” In its simplest definition, Spiritual Pharisaism is the attempt to live by two reference points for spiritual reality at the same time.
We are willing to accept certain things as true based on our spiritual encounter with them. But other things we are unwilling to accept as possibly true because our minds can't accept them. Some things we judge through personal spiritual encounter. Other things we judge by natural reason—by whether they "make sense" or "seem proper.” This is doublemindedness, and this is the root essence of Spiritual Pharisaism.
In turn, when we apply our doublemindedness to evaluating the testimony of others, then it blossoms into hypocrisy. We are willing to testify to the truth of certain spiritual encounters of our own. But when someone else testifies to a spiritual encounter outside the limits of our experience, we reject it based on our mind's inability to identify with it. We reject them for using a standard that we ourselves use. This is hypocrisy, and it is a hallmark of Spiritual Pharisaism.
The hypocritical doublemindedness of Spiritual Pharisaism has two forms. The first is when our arguments against spiritual reality are based on our own personal prejudices, fears, and ideas. The second is when our naturally-minded attempts to verify truth are based on our understanding of scripture. Let's take a detailed look at both types.
"You Can't Go By Experiences'"
If there is one argument used by Christians more than any other to dispute the testimony of someone else whose experience lies outside the realm of their own, this is it. The argument "you can't go by experiences" is representative of all purely personal arguments people use when judging spiritual things with their heads. It is a thoughtless, defensive argument without basis even in scripture.
Of all natural arguments Christians use for verifying further spiritual reality, this is the most hypocritical. This is because everybody goes by experience, whether they like it or not—and every genuine Christian goes by some degree of spiritual experience. Even the unsaved man goes by experience. His experiences are just based in his five senses. That's all.
Look, life and experience are inseparable. There is no such thing as theoretical, non-experiential life. Life can't be verified apart from experience, whether natural or spiritual. And since God is both Life and Truth, and truth is therefore an issue of life and not theory, it means truth can only be verified by experience! If you don't have experience with it, you can't prove what is true. Simple as that. This is so in natural life. It is also so concerning spiritual reality.
When a man disputes spiritual testimony by saying "you can't go by experiences,” all he is admitting is that he himself has never had that experience. But he isn't proving that the other man didn't have it. But in any case, to say that is hypocritical, for every Christian goes by spiritual experience.
Some of you deny the possibility of divine revelation. But what then is conviction of sin? Have you ever been convicted of sin? (If not, you're not a Christian.) But what is it? Is it an emotion? Is it an idea? No. Then what is it? It has to be a spiritual revelation!
Conviction of sin is a spiritual revelation of the most primitive order. But it is still a revelation, not a theory. So you see? You really do believe in spiritual revelation. But if you have spiritual revelation in one form, and that revelation is a function of eternal life, and if life grows, then who are you to deny it when someone else testifies to a much more developed form of revelation? Who are you to say "God doesn't speak today?” This is hypocrisy. It is Spiritual Pharisaism.
Is it not clear that the New Birth is a spiritual experience? You can't be born again without spiritually experiencing it. An experience is simply something that happens to you. A spiritual experience is simply something that happens to you spiritually.
Conviction of sin, release from guilt, awareness of inward cleansing—these are all spiritual experiences that are fundamental to every Christian. And they speak for themselves and they form the basis of our testimony to others, This is not to mention the many other spiritual experiences identified in scripture and considered common to us all—love, joy, peace... You can't theorize these. You either experience them or you don't. So it is foolish to say, "You can't go by experiences."
So where is the real problem? The problem is not with spiritual experience. Every man with eternal life is alive by spiritual experience. The problem is over the degree of the development of our experience.
The problem is that while we have no problem verifying our conversion through spiritual experience, we try to verify the testimonies of those whose experience transcends ours by the pride of our natural reason and personal prejudice. We are offended when others testify to spiritual experience greater than or outside the realm of our experience.
Our minds don't want to admit that there may be more to experience in God than we have attained. We all want to think that our plateau of spiritual experience is the “ultimate” plateau and the standard. “There can’t possibly be any more to spiritual reality than what I have at conversion.” Then when a different or superior testimony to spiritual experience comes along, we try to shoot it down with a non-living argument built on fear and prejudice. (Of course, as is well said elsewhere, so here: A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.)
This is the first form of Spiritual Pharisaism, and it runs rampant throughout the body of Christ. It is fascinating (?) to behold the plethora of spiritual experiences to which so many in the body give testimony—from body to body, from group to group, and from individual to individual—and then to watch the spirit of Pharisaism operate as so many discredit one another's testimonies—from body to body, from group to group, and from individual to individual.
In our day, the greatest visible confrontation is between those who testify to the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, and those who do not. The fundamentalists and other evangelicals have great antipathy toward the charismatics. Of course, the charismatics are not at their mercy. Once you encounter genuine spiritual experience, no one can take it from you, no matter how much they rant and rave.
(You know, if I was a fundamentalist—which I once was—I would wonder how so many millions of "charismatics" who show as much love and zeal for Jesus as I do could all be "making up" this testimony to a further spiritual experience in God? I couldn't in honesty use their faults and “scandals” against them because my people have the same faults and scandals! I would think, surely there must be something more to this, and I must find it out for sure!)
Of course, the strife over spiritual testimonies does not end neatly there. Within these two greater bodies are smaller groups and subgroups who challenge each other's testimony with empty argument. Within the evangelical camp are those who argue over testimony to a "deeper" life" experience. Some argue over hearing God's voice. (The words "The Lord spoke to me" have a dozen shades of testimony!) On the other side, in the pentecostal and charismatic body, there is rife division over the innumerable types of spiritual encounters to which others bear witness. All of this argument is Spiritual Pharisaism in full bloom.
In just a moment we are going to study the second major form of Spiritual Pharisaism. But before we do, I want to challenge you concerning this first form. If what we have described so far describes you in any way, if you claim to be converted in Christ but are relying on personal argument to discredit the testimonies of others to further or different experiences than yours, I challenge you to repent.
Become intellectually honest with yourself. If you are not open to the possibility of spiritual experiences in life, then disclaim your conversion. But if you testify to conversion through experiencing conviction and forgiveness through repentance, then be open to spiritual reality beyond that most basic evidence of it (This calls for humility). Face the fact that you have simply not developed your capacity for spiritual awareness or for encountering spiritual reality—(whatever else you may have been developing!) Become teachable and let God renew your mind. Quit quenching the spirit through argument. Instead, renounce "argument" as your way for verifying Truth.
"Of Oracles and Stumblingblocks"
In the course of human history and God's plan to save to Himself a people, God deemed it necessary to compromise with human intellect if by any means He might reach the spirit of man with His saving Life. He made concessions to us by presenting His Life-giving Word to us in forms that touched our natural awareness. He began by presenting His Word through the audible spoken voice of prophets: Enoch, Noah, and others. Then He conceded to touch our eyes through the word in written form.
The first of these forms was called "The Law" and was delivered through the prophet Moses. From that time forward. God's Word has graciously conceded to meet us through our natural eyes and ears through a succession of written and spoken forms in every generation. The voices of prophets and apostles with their writings have continued to come to us through the centuries. The founding written form has come down to us today in what we call the Bible.
These aids from God held a great potential for blessing, facilitating His ability to reach us and develop us by His Spirit life. But at the same time, God was taking a risk. For these same aids held an equal potential for curse should they somehow be misappropriated to strengthen the unbelief of our minds rather than lead us to encounter with spiritual reality. Why, it was conceivable that these aids could become diverted to instead block our encounter with the Spirit rather than facilitate it!
When we come to study the Pharisees of ancient
, we find that, yes, this is precisely what happened! If there is one thing for which we today note the Pharisees, it is that they misappropriated the oracles of God given to lead them to spiritual reality and twisted them to reinforce their own understanding. Israel
The Pharisees had the Law of Moses. The Law was given them to lead them to faith in Christ of Whom it testified. But instead, the Pharisees used the Law to reinforce their natural reference point for reality and block access to spiritual reality. Instead of coming to True Reality, the Pharisees used the Scriptures to deny the possibility of spiritual reality.
Therefore they could not believe in the One before their faces of Whom the scriptures testified, but instead crucified Him. They took the Scriptures and used them in unbelief as a foundation for their own religion of human rules and ordinances. They had the right materials, but the wrong plan, and so built the wrong building—one fit to be condemned.
From this we learn what Spiritual Pharisaism is in its worst possible manifestation. Spiritual Pharisaism is the misuse of the naturally perceivable oracles of God to reinforce natural understanding as our final reference point for reality.
The Pharisees had the Law. Today we have the complete Bible and other forms of ministry. Whenever we use the Bible in a way that reinforces our trust in natural understanding rather than our spiritual awareness, we are practicing Spiritual Pharisaism.
The Bible was given as a blessing—a gateway to spiritual reality. But when usurped by the power of natural study to the building up of the human intellect, it is become a curse (what scripture itself calls a "stumblingblock"). You see how deceptive Spiritual Pharisaism is. It causes us to believe that since we have the materials that lead to true spirituality, we therefore have spirituality.
Here is what we need to understand about the oracles of God, ie, about any naturally-perceivable form of God's Word (whether Scripture or human ministry): The oracles of God are not the reality, but are the reflections of the reality. Remember this. Anything you can see with your natural eye, hear with your natural ear, or touch with your natural mind is only a reflection of Reality—even if it is given by God and can lead us there. But you have not touched spiritual reality until you have touched it through your spiritual awareness.
The Camera of the Mind
Spiritual Pharisaism substitutes reflection of reality for reality itself. It accepts a reflection of reality in the mind for reality in the spirit. It takes that which is given by God to lead us to spiritual encounter and makes it an object of worship in itself. It makes an end out of that which is only a means to an end.
To use an illustration, Spiritual Pharisaism is like taking a photograph of something and insisting that one has the real thing in his hand. If I hold up a photograph of a man before an audience and ask "What is this?” the audience will invariably say, "It's a man." But it is not a man. It is a picture of a man.
Spiritual Pharisaism works the same way. It takes a reflection of something spiritual—something which the natural mind can snapshot—and then insists that because the mind can grasp it, it has the spiritual reality behind it.
The Scriptures are a "photograph" of spiritual reality. They are a reflection which the mind can snapshot. But the Scriptures are not spiritual reality. They lead us to an end, but they are not the end. They point us to encounter with spiritual reality—but possession of them and natural ability to understand their meaning is no guarantee that we have encountered the Reality behind them through spiritual awareness.
The Scriptures tell us how to be saved, but the Scriptures do not save us. Who saves us? It is Jesus Christ by His Spirit Who saves us. We are not saved because our minds encounter scripture, but because our spirits give entrance to Jesus Christ Himself by the Spirit.
The Scriptures did not die on the cross for us nor rise again. They only tell the story of the One Who did. They only bear witness. God has given us many witnesses of His salvation. But the witnesses do not save anyone. The Savior alone saves through their naturally-perceivable testimony.
We ourselves are witnesses. But our testimony saves no one. Jesus alone saves as He touches men's hearts from within our testimony. So it is with the Scriptures. The Scriptures are a written compilation of the testimonies of those who themselves had made contact with spiritual reality. The Scriptures bear witness. But this compilation of inspired testimony saves no one. Again, it is Jesus Christ touching our spiritual awareness who saves.
What we have just said concerning conversion is nothing new. We already established at the beginning that we knew we were converted because something happened to us inwardly, not because we made a mental deduction.
But here's the point. AFTER conversion, we must go on to consistently verify reality through spiritual awareness. This refers to everything we believe after we are converted. We must prove the veracity of what we believe by our access to the indwelling Spirit of Truth, not by our mere mental apprehension of the reflections of Scripture. As the Scriptures do not save us (though we may be converted through their testimony), neither can we verify further Reality through our natural understanding of Scripture (though the Scriptures are the foundational means through which our spiritual awareness and access to Reality develops).
Take the fact that when we were converted we did not lose the capacity for verifying reality through our minds, and add it to the lie that says the Scriptures are the Reality and not just the reflection of it, and we see why Spiritual Pharisaism pertaining to the use of scripture is an absolutely permeating cancer throughout the Church.
Spiritual Pharisaism tells us that once we are converted, our old minds are somehow automatically sanctified and so, when we approach the Scriptures ( the "end" of all reality), we can now be automatically certain of verifying truth through our ability to “accurately interpret" scripture. Therefore, whatever we conclude as we compare scripture with scripture must be the "Truth.”
(Of all the untested "hand-me-down" assumptions on which new-born: saints have set out to build their faith, these tandem lies are the most reprehensible. And any saint worth his salt after ten or twenty years usually finds out that he has been building his faith on these faulty assumptions and has to go back to tear it down and start all over again. What a waste of spiritual human energy that could have been better spent from the beginning developing spiritual awareness and access to spiritual Reality!)
(As an aside, there is a great irony that manifests through trying to verify Truth with these pharisaical assumptions. It is that everyone who builds his spiritual house on these assumptions also assumes that only he and those who agree with his understandings has this capacity for knowing the "truth.” But any other believer or group who disagrees with his interpretations does not have this capacity, either because he didn't go to the "right" school or was reading the "wrong" books, and is therefore "deceived.”
Is it any wonder there are hundreds of denominations and hundreds more splinter groups? Is it any wonder the world thinks of the Church as a house full of hypocritical bigots? See what happens when you build faith on more than one reference point for reality and use the oracles of God to do so! This is the legacy left to us after 2,000 years of Spiritual Pharisaism. And in the ages to come, the Church Age will be remembered and studied as that age which failed to learn from its Old Testament predecessor.)
No, dear Friends. We must get this straight. The Scriptures shall always only be a reflection of reality (one day when Perfection comes, they will be as unnecessary as they were before they were given), and our minds shall always only be able to present us snapshots of Truth.
But we can only know the truth and verify reality through spiritual awareness of the indwelling Spirit of truth. And if this is the basis of the certain knowledge that we are converted, it is also the basis of our certain knowledge of anything beyond conversion. To grow in truth is to grow in our capacity for spiritual awareness, not to hone our natural ability to interpret scripture.
Mind you, there is nothing wrong with developing our capacity for natural thought. There is nothing wrong with learning correct logic with respect to natural understanding. There is nothing wrong with study, or schooling, or any of these things in themselves. These can be and are valuable "helps" in making us better reflectors of Reality if used properly (Were it not for such helps as these, I could not write you this article to help your faith!) As well, there is nothing wrong with holding personal unillumined viewpoints and opinions over various spiritual issues.
But if we are to speak with authority, we must be able to speak from revelation, not deduction. (I am writing you this article by revelation, not merely by reasoned logic.) This is what distinguished Jesus and the Apostles from the scribes and Pharisees. This is what distinguishes genuine witnesses and testimony from hearsay-ists. And this is what must distinguish Us as men and women who are gaining in conformity to the image of Him whose every word was revealed Truth,
But unless and until you can speak from immediate on-going access to the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, don't insist that you are speaking Truth. Simply say, "That's the way I see it (right now)." Otherwise you are guilty of practicing Spiritual Pharisaism."
"Wrapping It Up"
Here then is the heart of my challenge to you. All of you to whom I write are professing believers in Jesus Christ. My commission is to spur believers on to personal perfection. But you cannot go on to perfection if you are building your life by the Scriptures in a way that reinforces your old reference point for reality.
Therefore, however old or young you are in the Lord, I challenge you right here and now to start taking your faith apart brick by brick. Examine it to see what kind of mortar you have been using. If you are uncertain that from the beginning you have used your access to scripture and ministry to strengthen your grasp of spiritual reality, you need to do this. It is probable that some or much of your building is built with human assumptions concerning Truth.
Check your personal blueprints from God for the course of your life. You may have the right materials (like scripture), but have you tapped into God's personal blueprint through His inward revealed plan for you? Or are you building according to the blueprints of someone else's ministry, or the dictates of some religious organization, or some school of theological thought? Are you a cog in a machine? Are you a "spiritual bureaucrat?”
Now is the time to examine why you are where you are in spiritual service, and why you believe what you believe in spiritual thought. And if deep down inside you know you've been tricked into building your life according to the blueprints of Spiritual Pharisaism, NOW is the time to do something about it.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you examine your true state of faith and purify your consistency:
· Am I a person who draws conclusions from scriptures or who receives revelation through scriptures?
· Do I live by spiritual conviction or by scriptural interpretation?
· Do I measure my estimation of spirituality by correct understanding of doctrine or by spiritual awareness of God's indwelling Presence?
· When I want to verify the truth of what I read, hear, or think, do I ultimately count on my inner awareness of the Spirit of Truth, or do I trust my mental deductions based on the reflections of my own understanding off the pages of scripture?
· When I give testimony to my salvation, do I bear witness to what He is doing in me today, or do I have to look to the past to give an answer for the hope that (supposedly) lies within me?
Look. Reality is all that matters. And if we're not touching the Reality of the Spirit to which we have access through Jesus Christ, we're wasting our time. I ask you to especially take stock of your attitude toward spiritual manifestations and the unknown. If there are things you disbelieve right now, you need to find out if it is because you spiritually verified it from within, or if it is because your mind just doesn't "see it" (or doesn't want to "see it").
Today—in the name of "standing on the Word”—men are quoting their own unbelieving reflections of scripture to declare that "God can't do this today" or "God can't communicate like that today.” This is going on at all levels, not just among evangelicals, but in other ways among charismatics. (No group holds a monopoly on unbelief.)
Listen. I have a word for you. Unless you have a specific scripture to say what God can or can't do today, you're not quoting scripture, but an interpretation of scripture, and frankly, your interpretation is not "worth beans.” You cannot use mental approach to Scriptures to finally verify anything, even if you have a scripture that point blank says such-and-such. And if you can't count on your own understanding of the "clear" scriptures, how much less can you count on interpretations drawn from an arrangement of scriptures, none of which specifically say such-and-such is so?
Follow on with me. You cannot use arguments from silence relative to scripture to say what is and what is not possible for God to do today. I hear people say all the time, "I don't find that in the Bible.” They believe God can only do what He is reported to have done before in scripture. Yet I don't find in the Scriptures where God says He can only do anything as long as it has already been reported as happening in scripture! (Where did this thinking come from? It is one more of those untested, time-honored human assumptions which men call "scriptural" but which cannot be found in Scripture. Our thinking is littered with many such assumptions.)
Has the point been adequately made? Clearly, all such arguments, whether direct quotes of Scripture, or indirect interpretations of Scripture, or arguments only imagined as being based in Scripture—all are irrelevant when it comes to verifying present spiritual reality. This is because no argument can verify spiritual truth. And when we use "scriptural" argument to try to verify rather than confirm reality, we are guilty of Spiritual Pharisaism,
For those of us who have built our spiritual houses on the sands of such argument, it is time to dismantle and get back to re-affirming our first love, even our first access to spiritual awareness of His love—and with it, our brand new reference point for Reality that we received at conversion. It's time to start over, to live solely by that new reference point, and to do so consistently from now on.
For some of you, this idea of living by spiritual awareness as your final reference point for reality is a "scary" thing. But that is only because your present level of awareness is so undeveloped, not because the things to which others testify are not so. For many of you, despite having been a Christian for years, your spiritual awareness has never increased past the point of sensing conviction for your sins and receiving forgiveness.
Therefore, let me say to you the following things. First, before you criticize anyone for an "experience-based" testimony, remember that your own testimony to conversion is "experience-based.” Recognize that the problem is not with a person's experience, but with your own inability to judge whether that person's testimony is of God because your own spiritual sensitivity is not sufficiently developed to comprehend it. Therefore you feel intimidated. Instead of criticizing someone else's testimony to a "strange" experience, you owe it to your own consistency and intellectual honesty to press that much further into strengthening your own spiritual awareness to the place where you can rightly judge spiritual things.
Second, recognize your fear for what it is—a manifestation of your own unbelief. The following spirits flow together: fear, natural understanding (pride of reasoning), unbelief, legalism. These are the core spirits that operate behind Spiritual Pharisaism. Therefore, hear well: Whatever may or may not be true about another person's spiritual experience, one thing is absolutely true—your fear can't be used to validate anything about anyone else! Your fear is merely a commentary on your own unbelief and your inability or unwillingness to let go of your own understanding. But it is no commentary at all on God's trustworthiness to lead and guide us in the way of all spiritual reality (as He promised!)
I have yet to see either in Scripture or through personal experience where God used fear of the unknown as a standard for verifying spiritual Reality. But I do see where God has said that His love and that kind of fear are incompatible, and also where God's challenges to greater walks of faith in people have ever been by the overcoming of their fears to trust Him. So instead of balking at living by spiritual reality (faith) and instead of criticizing the testimonies of others, stand up to your fear like a man and humble yourself before God. But don't succumb to speaking evil of what you know nothing about.
Thirdly, if you have been using Scriptures to hide and protect your fear, lay them down at once before you warp your mind any further. Settle first the issue of having a meek, teachable, open heart—a heart willing to admit that you do not have all there is to have in experiencing God's gracious salvation.
Once you have settled that and come into peaceful submission to the indwelling Spirit of Truth, then open your Bible again and be prepared to see spiritual realities you never saw before. You will find that spiritual reality wasn't such a scary thing after all. You will find that your Brother's testimony to something supernatural was not so "off base" after all. And even if it was, there was no reason for you to have been intimidated by it, because now you have discovered the sufficiency of God's Spirit to keep you in truth one more time.
We are in the last hours of the last days. If ever there was a time to be pressing into the fullness of spiritual reality, it is now. Nothing less will see us through the times ahead. The Church needs people who will press their walk by faith "to the max.” We need to take our encounter with faith into realms hitherto unknown. We should set new precedents for faith of which the next age can boast! —doing things that have never been done before, and receiving revelation unlocking mysteries never unlocked before!
But I say, just what kind of legacy will we leave our spiritual descendants? And when the Son of Man comes, will He indeed find any more faith here than when He left?
Having completed my case, let me close by asking. Where is your heart in all these things?
"Examine your own selves, whether ye be in the faith." First of all, have you experienced by faith the New Birth in our Lord Jesus Christ? If you never have, or have so only "theoretically,” and you would like to - please write me. We will introduce you to this new eternal living Reality which we have found and to which we give testimony.
Second, if you have been converted, have you dedicated your life to pressing on into the fullness of the spiritual reality you first encountered? Are you committed to living by one reference point for reality? Are you eager to encounter your God on greater and greater practical (not theoretical) levels?
Or have you settled along the way, using your Bible to put a cap on any further spiritual reality into which God would lead you? Have you succumbed to the spirit of Pharisaism, hindering not only yourself but others as well? If you have done so ignorantly, I beg to shake you out of your slumber that you might rise to the occasion and achieve your peak of spiritual excellence. If you have done so willfully, I can only warn you of your plight. For God will move on with His overcomers - and you will be left behind, one day to weep in outer darkness. Don't let that happen,
If any of my horn-again readers seems to have trouble grasping your awareness of spiritual reality, may I kindly suggest the possibility that you have never received the Lord's baptism with the Holy Spirit. This spiritual baptism after your conversion is designed to "germinate" your seed of eternal life, affording you an abundant fullness of spiritual awareness of the Lord's Presence inside you.
Without this "clear channel" access to spiritual awareness, you will always be held hostage to your native power of unbelief, facing insurmountable "frequency bombardment and interference" from your own thought life. This makes it exceedingly difficult (if not virtually impossible) for you to live by spiritual awareness as your consistent reference point for reality in any terms other than and beyond conviction of sin. If you would like more help with this, please write.
Finally, to those of you who are pressing on in faith—Keep on! If you have special needs or burdens to share, especially those that appear impossible to you and for which no one else will believe with you, let me know. I would be glad to lift you up in prayer and share the weight of your burden.
It has been a great pleasure for me to write you this way, friends, Perhaps by now you have noticed that I incorporated very few scripture references in the body of this article. I did this intentionally lest you were to “miss the forest for the trees.” It is not that the Scriptures do not witness to what I have written or that this article is not squarely founded on the Spirit behind them. It is for many of you, however, a problem to get beyond your own mindset concerning scripture and I didn't want to invite that kind of interference for you or for you to lose the whole and consistent perspective of what I have said.
I have tried to provide you an objectivity divorced from your own mindset so you wouldn't be tempted to lose the perspective by prematurely arguing with the Scriptures I could easily present. Nevertheless, I am including one brief appendix to give you some examples from scripture of the difference between Reality and reflections of reality as we perceive them through God's oracles.
As God allows, I have already in my heart the beginnings of a related article in which I want to discuss "What is the Word of God?" In such an article, I want to really look closely at what the Word of God is, what the Scriptures are, and see where these terms are synonymous and where they are not. Should that article materialize, we'll look a lot more closely at specific scriptures. Above all, we'll learn the difference between what people say about the Bible and what the Bible says about itself, I promise you, it will be fascinating, if not thoroughly radical and controversial to what we have been taught to believe.
But for today, I just wanted to lay a foundation for you without getting bogged down in "proof texts.” (Those of you who really know the Scriptures and the Spirit behind them don't need any further "proof.” You know that the things' I have said are true and from the Lord.)
I also leave you with a small set of addendums beginning with a list of definitions, spelling out the meanings of key terms as I have used them in this article. Until we next meet. God be with you.
written from Greenville, South Carolina, US
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Reference Point For Reality -
a "compass" for the certain knowing of truth
Spiritual Conversion -
the receiving of a new, previously unknown spiritual awareness of the Presence of God dwelling within the newly recreated inner being of man through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Possession of such awareness of God is also called "eternal life" and is initially sensed (experienced) in terms of an inward release from guilt for sins.
Experience - a happening consciously perceived from outside one's
own mind (as opposed to an imagination, idea, or theory entertained entirely from within one's own mind).
Spiritual Experience -
an experience intrinsically rooted in one's spiritual awareness which may or may not find a sympathetic expression through the emotions (soul) and or body. Spiritual conversion is a spiritual experience.
Living By Faith -
the commitment to consistently appeal to internal spiritual awareness as a Christian's final reference point for reality; the practical outworking of life in response to inner spiritual awareness of God's conviction, leading, and revelation.
Spiritual Growth -
the capacity for deeper and more diverse encounters with and entrance into the Spirit of God through expanding of spiritual awareness. The goal of spiritual growth is complete moral transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth occurs through friction against and displacement of the native power of natural understanding.
Spiritual Pharisaism -
attempting to live by two reference points for spiritual reality at the same time (ie, spiritual doublemindedness), esp. the attempting to verify spiritual reality by natural understanding. When expressed in evaluating testimony of others, it is marked by hypocrisy. In its worst manifestation, Spiritual Pharisaism is the misappropriating of the oracles of God to reinforce rather than displace natural understanding as the final reference point for reality.
Spiritual Pharisee -
one who attempts to verify spiritual Truth through intellectual study and debate while claiming a personal testimony to spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ.
Oracles of God -
All forms of the Living Word of God which touch natural human perception and are therefore reflections of Reality, but are not Reality itself (-does not apply to Jesus Christ who was Reality Incarnate). Foundational written forms are the Scriptures. Foundational spoken forms were the ministries of the first apostles and prophets,
Spiritual Idolatry -
The esteem (worship) of the oracles of God as Reality rather than the means to Reality. Spiritual idolatry is intrinsic to Spiritual Pharisaism. In this context, the oracles of God are called "stumblingblocks.”
Biblical Examples Distinguishing Reflection and Reality
For the sake of help, someone might like some examples from the Bible that illustrate the difference between Reality and reflections of Reality pertaining to the oracles of God. Let me offer three:
1. John the Baptist said, "I am not that Light, but came to bear witness of that Light." John realized that as a witness, he was only a reflection of the One to whom he pointed. This did not mean that John was not from God or that his message was not inspired. He was from God. His message was inspired by God. Yet John could save no one, and no one could be saved simply by hearing John's testimony. So it is with the Scriptures.
2. The apostle Paul said that the Law was a "schoolmaster" to lead us to Christ. Repeatedly Paul speaks of the Law in terms of a reflection of Reality given to lead us to Reality, i.e., faith in Christ through the Spirit. So we see the same thing. The Law was given by God, It was inspired. But merely reading the Law or hearing it spoken with the natural ear did not save anyone. The Law was not Christ.
Now the Law was the scriptures to that time. So this is a commentary on the nature of all scripture. As then, so now. The New Testament scriptures do not save anyone. They are not Christ. They only reflect Christ to us. A man is saved when Christ enters his heart by the Spirit, not because a man's natural eye reads John 3:16—even though his reading of John 3:16 may be the means through which Christ touches and enters the man's spirit.
3. The prophet Elijah recognized the difference between Reality and reflections of Reality. On the
, God gave Elijah a display of wind, earthquake, and fire. God did all these, but yet was not in them. These only reflected His majesty. But then Elijah heard the still, small voice. This was Elijah's contact with Reality, causing him to worship. God was in His Voice. What do we see here? The supernatural acts of God which manifest on the visible plain only reflect Him. But access to God Himself is only through intimate spiritual encounter (Reality). mountainof Horeb
This introduces us to another more complex form of Spiritual Pharisaism that involves our turning to worship our own access to spiritual reality and spiritual experiences for their own sake and as ends in themselves. This kind of Pharisaism occurs among those who have learned how to develop their capacity for spiritual awareness but who then turn in heart to boast in what their natural mind is still able to reflect of that awareness (Remember how we said that displacing trust in natural awareness is a lifelong endeavor. This means we continue to have to deal with its subtle deceptiveness and clamor for worship even though we do succeed at developing our spiritual awareness against the purely visible plain. No matter how far we develop spiritual awareness, we always have to overcome the temptation to esteem whatever our natural awareness is able to perceive of it.)
This complex Spiritual Pharisaism occurs in Pentecostal and charismatic fellowships when people esteem God's supernatural displays of power in this life (e.g., healings, miracles, fulfilled faith, and answered prayers) in place of intimate spiritual acquaintance with God. It also occurs when they esteem their natural perceptions of their spiritual revelations instead of Him! (See how subtly deceptive this can get?)
By the way of contrast, please notice how neither Elijah, nor Jesus, nor Paul were impressed either by the miracles that occurred outwardly through them or by the revelations they received through spiritual awareness. To them, natural perceptions of these spiritual realities were still just reflections, not the Reality. The Reality was for them always found in that Personal Intimate acquaintance with God Himself in their hearts. But all their natural perceptions of these things, whether natural things or spiritual things, were only ever reflections to them. Really, this deeper aspect of Spiritual Pharisaism deserves a complete article devoted just to it. Lord willing, such an article will be forthcoming in the near future.
Answering the Charge of Gnosticism
Spiritual Pharisees sometimes resort to the charge of “Gnosticism” against any believer who testifies to an experiential reality in the knowing of God and His word by the Spirit (i.e., revelation knowledge) beyond what the natural (carnal) intellect can apprehend off the pages of scripture. This charge however is made in both ignorance of what ancient Gnosticism was, as well as in personal hypocrisy regarding the nature of conversion and what the scriptures themselves say about the nature of spiritual knowledge.
Gnosticism is sometimes inaccurately defined as any kind of knowing beyond what the natural intellect may perceive. This can embrace everything from simple intuition to psychic perception to divine revelation. This however is a gross over-reach in definition, not conforming to the meaning of Gnosticism as contested by the first apostles, which contest forms the basis of the modern Pharisee’s use of the charge.
An accurate historic in-context definition of Gnosticism is provided by, among others, the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosis "knowledge", gnostikos, "good at knowing"), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought. Whereas Judaism and Christianity, and almost all pagan systems, hold that the soul attains its proper end by obedience of mind and will to the Supreme Power, i.e. by faith and works, it is markedly peculiar to Gnosticism that it places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge. Gnostics were "people who knew," and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know. A more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism would be:
A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.
However unsatisfactory this definition may be, the obscurity, multiplicity, and wild confusion of Gnostic systems will hardly allow of another. Many scholars, moreover, would hold that every attempt to give a generic description of Gnostic sects is labour lost.
From this definition it’s clear that Gnosticism did not during the apostolic period refer to just any kind of knowing beyond the awareness of human intellectual perception.
Use by spiritual Pharisees of the generalized definition of Gnosticism is not only ignorant, but hypocritical. This is because their own testimony to conversion must embrace some level of spiritual encounter with the Spirit of God, at the very least as conviction of sin, which is an experience that transcends apprehension by natural intellect. If they charge those who testify to possessing and accessing spiritual revelation as Gnostic, they must charge themselves with the same.
Moreover, the Bible’s own description of spiritual knowledge as a knowledge beyond apprehension of the natural (carnal) mind (I Corinthians 2) means that the apostles themselves must be guilty of Gnosticism. Thus the Pharisee’s own Bible is a Gnostic book.
In view of the foregoing, the charge of Gnosticism ought not be dignified with any further response.
written from Greenville, South Carolina, US
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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