In the days of the early communities there came men who claimed to have a better understanding of the gospel than the Apostle Paul. They borrowed their superior wisdom from a group of philosophers, the Gnostics, who believed that the physical world was of no consequence — only the spiritual mattered. These false apostles, as Paul labeled them, preached that Yahshua appeared only as a spirit and not as a flesh-and-blood man. The Gnostics thought that salvation came through spiritual knowledge, apart from the obedience that such spiritual knowledge should produce.
The apostle John considered their error so deadly that he wrote a letter about it:
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that doesn’t is not from Him. (1 John 4:3)
John knew that the spiritual light was dimming in the communities; intellectual stimulation, this special gnosis of the Greeks, began to replace genuine faith in the Son of God. The subtle effect of this teaching took the Christian Gnostics light-years away from salvation. Yet really they were only eighteen inches away — the distance from their head to their heart. Their springtime love for Messiah grew cold, substituted by the counterfeit of mere head knowledge. Paul saw it and warned that:
The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
A myth by definition is a traditional story dealing with supernatural beings. It exists in the mind only — it has spiritual meaning, but no reality. This is the way most people view the stories in the Bible, especially the birth and death of Jesus. As we gathered around the Christmas tree, we cried thinking about baby Jesus in the manger. Even Elvis Presley sang about him, and we joined in too. We can be very emotional about our myths, just as we can be when we see a good movie. Yet how many of us ever made a lasting, radical change in the direction of our life because of a movie?
Biblical figures like Jesus or Abraham seem almost like movie characters — mysterious, abstract, even symbolic in some confused way. Although the reality of what they said and did had little effect on our lives, we enjoyed thinking about them. But, why did we? Perhaps we paid attention to such mythic figures because we were used to enjoying fantasies. Santa Claus, Superman, and Jesus all give us good feelings, so what was the difference? IF we call something the absolute truth but don’t absolutely trust our lives to it, aren’t we really treating it as a myth? Isn’t it possible to strongly believe that something is the truth and yet, at the same time, just as strongly deny that truth with the way we live our lives?
Today Christians firmly confess that Jesus came in the flesh, and reject Gnosticism as a heresy. In keeping with the apostle John, they maintain that Jesus was not only God, but a flesh-and-blood man — physical, real, and tangible. Christianity slammed the door in the face of Gnosticism. But it was only the front door.
Although you will find very concrete doctrines in Christianity affirming the solid manhood of Jesus, Christians actually relegate him to the status of a mythic hero because they are simply unwilling to do many of the things he said. They are just too hard. For example, how could anyone practically obey this command?
No one can be my disciple unless he gives up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)
It is clear that, to the first community in Jerusalem, he was more than some mythical or mystical being. He was someone who had physically suffered on their behalf, loved them to the extreme limit, and was worthy to be obeyed. There was nothing mystical about their response to his words. But what about the response of most Christians today? Would he approve of their response, or would he say, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say?”
Although his humanity can be accepted in the mind, it can also be denied in our everyday experience. Most people matter-of-factly dismiss Messiah’s example as being beyond the reach of their imitation. He might as well have been a mere spirit-being like the Gnostics claimed, for most are unwilling to follow his example. They rationalize that everything he did, he did as God, not as man. As Christian thinking goes, he was able to live an obedient and righteous life on the earth because he was divine. You will hardly find a Christian who thinks he’s expected to live as Christ did, even though he is supposed to have the indwelling Spirit of God who would give him that ability.
So all that is important to Christian religion is the knowledge (or doctrine) of the atoning sacrifice. A life of following and obeying the man Yahshua is not only considered unnecessary, but even impossible! Isn’t this the same as saying that he came in the flesh, but then denying it in deed? Thus the spirit of Gnosticism went around the house and came in through the back door to stay.
This arrogant spirit is most vividly expressed when the subject of unity in the church comes up. The Christian church today is deeply divided by denominational differences, doctrinal disputes, racial separation, and has been so for nearly two thousand years. Yet for the past few decades now we have been told that the unity of Christianity is a spiritual unity, crossing over all those dividing lines through the one Spirit of God. Isn’t that rather strange? Shouldn’t obedience to the Master’s commandments demonstrate something more tangible, more visible to the senses? Are Christians saying the same thing about the church today that the Gnostics said about the physical human body of Messiah: that it’s all mystic, lacking any tangible, visible substance?
Today there is no concept in Christianity that the unity and love of God’s people will demonstrate that the Father really sent His real Son to the real earth. On the contrary, all that is expected is that we should believe. We are told that this is obedience. But our Master Yahshua says:
You should love one another even as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)
Does mystical unity provide this evidence, or should we look elsewhere? Don’t misunderstand. There are many good people in Christianity, but they are believing in a savior who cannot form them into a real, tangible, observable body. Their Jesus is mystical, like a mythical hero or an imaginary figure. He can only form them into an imaginary unity. Just as unbelievers must come to believe in Yahshua by faith in their hearts, Christians must also. Believing in their minds is not enough.
The world has heard enough doubletalk. We need to see a unity that is real, flesh-and-blood togetherness, observable to the senses. We don’t need another empty philosophy or so-called faith that does not require us to love one another deeply and cannot give us a good conscience that we are truly obeying the commandments of God. How else can the world believe that the Father sent the Son? The whole world is groaning to see an earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Where can we find the true Messiah who is worthy enough to lay down our lives for? We need the real Messiah, not a mirage.
How can we settle for something else? How can we settle for what is falsely called knowledge, which produces what is falsely called unity? Must we, like Abraham, move on until we find the real thing?