Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a pretty big nerd. I like to watch the History channel, I listen to public radio somewhat obsessively, and I couldn’t really name one mainstream song that is popular right now…I think there’s one about Bubbles or something?
And this nerdiness is not one-dimensional. I’m not like the nerds who JUST like Science or Anime. My nerdiness is multi-faceted. So in addition to the nerd-like tendencies that I have already listed, my nerdiness has a religious side as well–I like to talk about theology and Church history. That’s what I spent three years studying in seminary, and that’s what I miss the most about seminary.
However, I don’t enjoy these things simply for knowledge’s sake. I like tracking CNN.com and reading about complex Church doctrines because they enhance my understanding of the world and the ways in which my faith sheds light on that world. This knowledge is one way that I can pursue Christ more diligently.
That said, I want to spend the next couple minutes giving you a brief Church history lesson. And before you click “Close” on the window and never come back to my blog again, give it a chance! Church history is of the utmost importance for us as Christians. We need to know our past mistakes or else we will be doomed to repeat them.
More specifically, that is why we study heresies. Teachings that the Church deemed to be heretical thousands of years ago are not behind us in the past. On the contrary, most of the heresies that you would read about in a textbook are still very much alive and well today. We must therefore learn to identify such errant teachings so that we do not fall prey to them ourselves. In fact, some of those heresies pop up in women’s ministry from time to time.
With all of that in mind, I want to briefly introduce you to a famous heresy called “Gnosticism.” The word “gnostic” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge,” and it refers to the belief that humans need a special kind of knowledge to free themselves from this world.
Gnosticism itself was a religious movement that existed alongside the early Christian Church, so Christians were constantly battling to keep its teachings separate. And like Christianity, Gnosticism did not have one form alone. In the same way that we have denominations, Gnosticism developed into a wide range of sects, but the one teaching that most defined this movement was its belief in the evil of the material world. Gnostics felt that humans are trapped in a world from which they must free themselves because all materials things are inherently wicked. And because of this belief, Gnostics taught that Jesus could not be God, because that would mean that God would mix with the material world, something a good god would never do. In this way, Gnostics undermined the divinity of Christ.
Now this teaching was deemed to be heretical some time ago, but you still see its remains all the time. Any religion that teaches that the material world, as God created it, is inherently evil, is fundamentally gnostic. For example, religions that believe sex is dirty, money is bad, or that enjoying nice things like good food are wrong–all of these ascetic beliefs are gnostic. While sex and food and material things can all be turned into idols when we love them in an inordinate way, they are not themselves evil, because God created them, so enjoying these things is to enjoy an aspect of God.
What does this have to do with women’s ministry? Well there is a strand of thought that teaches it is wrong to love yourself, that loving yourself is somehow selfish or vain, and this is a thoroughly gnostic idea. While these teachers do not generally go to the extreme of telling Christians to hate themselves and deny their bodies, the idea of loving yourself is often frowned upon, and sometimes blatantly discouraged. There are many Christian leaders who teach this, some of which are popular women’s ministers.
Unfortunately, this belief is a gnostic one. It buys into the idea that loving the self is inherently wrong, but the problem with this teaching is that God created you as a reflection of Himself. He made you with intention and purpose just the way you are. And when God does such a work, we should do more than love that work–we should worship and glorify God on its behalf!
You see, what is fundamentally wrong with Gnosticism is that it spits upon the very image of God. It denies the infinite number of beautiful ways in which God manifests Himself through His creation, claiming that God will ONLY manifest himself in spiritual ways, when, in fact, God’s fingerprints are all over creation. And more importantly, all over you! That is what’s at stake when you struggle to love yourself.
And that is the beauty of Church history. It reminds us that when we talk about simple things like loving ourselves, we are employing more than self-help jargon. Hating yourself is not merely unhealthy, it is heretical. You were made in the image of God, so it is a serious thing to hate such a marvelous image. Church history therefore reminds us of the weightiness of these matters. So, I hope that in this brief lesson, I have made a theology nerd out of you as well. When it comes to knowing God and who He is, I think we could all stand to be a little nerdier.