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[Home]>[The Man-Made Church]>[57. The Formation of the Imitation Church - Part 2]


This is the 57. Chapter of "The Man-Made Church"


57. The Formation of the Imitation Church - Part 2


by Frank L. Preuss


In the previous chapter of our book "The Man-Made Church," chapter 56, The Formation of the Imitation Church – Part 1 we quoted verse 14 from the second chapter of the letter of Paul to the community in Laodicea.

And that verse is a call of Paul upon the members of the pagan church in Laodicea to return to the church which is in the house of Nymphas, also in Laodicea.

Now one of the purposes of this our book "The Man-Made Church" is also such a call upon the members of the man-made churches, of the pagan churches, to return to the true church, which is the right community of Christ.

The man-made churches distinguish between clergy and laity and that is a distinguishing that is correct – within the man-made churches. The clergy has the spirit of the devil (Laodiceans 2:13) but the laity also consists of many Christians who are earnestly seeking God and should therefore be addressed and informed about the truth and called back into the right community of Christ.

In the previous chapter we dealt with church history and showed that the original church was the true church and did not develop slowly into the pagan church, but that the pagan churches sprung up almost at the same time the true churches came into being, Laodicea being the example, where a pagan church existed already at the time of Paul und why he wrote the letter to the Laodiceans requesting them to return to the house of Nymphas.

Now the history of the church as it is presented to us by Orthodoxy, that is the Catholic Church, and that is almost completely taken over by that other part of Orthodoxy, Protestantism, wants us to believe that this pagan church, Orthodoxy, was the original true church and they have gone to great length to prove that and have made many efforts to do so and destroyed all the documents that proved them wrong and killed all the people who proved them wrong or at least tried to do away with them.

In our last chapter we started to show details of this fight about church history and we also did this in chapter 53. The Canon and the prophet murderers and in this chapter we want to continue this effort.

Right from the first Catholic pope, Diotrephes, 3 John 9, and the leader of the first Catholic church, that in Laodicea, up to the present Catholic pope whatever is name now is, we have a series of servants of Satan, and all these Organisations they formed and maintained, including those of all the other members of Orthodoxy, of all Christian sects and denominations, together form the Oldest, biggest and worst terror organization and what now follows furnishes further evidence to this fact.

Also in this chapter we want to call upon a witness who comes from the clergy of the man-made church and is also a professor of theology.

Our witness is Elaine Pagels. Professor Pagels lives in New York City.

In this chapter we will bring quotes from one of her books.

The book we will quote from is "The Gnostic Gospels," 1979, and it has the sub-title "Written two thousand years ago, these secret texts throw a dramatic new light on the beliefs of the Early Christians."

The history of the Nag Hammadi Library, found 1945 in Upper Egypt, is quite interesting, but we will mainly focus our attention on the conclusions Elaine Pagels has drawn from her study of these ancient documents.

I am now bringing the first quote from Elaine Pagels’ book "The Gnostic Gospels":

Why were these texts buried – and why have they remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? Their suppression as banned documents, and their burial on the cliff at Nag Hammadi, it turns out, were both part of a struggle critical for the formation of early Christianity. The Nag Hammadi texts, and others like them, which circulated at the beginning of the Christian era, were denounced as heresy by orthodox Christians in the middle of the second century. We have long known that many early followers of Christ were condemned by other Christians as heretics, but nearly all we knew about them came from what their opponents wrote attacking them. Bishop Irenaeus, who supervised the church in Lyons, c. 180, wrote five volumes, entitled The Destruction and Overthrow of Falsely So-called Knowledge, which begin with his promise to

set forth the views of those who are now teaching heresy . . . to show how absurd and inconsistent with the truth are their statements . . . I do this so that . . . you may urge all those with whom you are connected to avoid such an abyss of madness and of blasphemy against Christ.

He denounces as especially ‘full of blasphemy’ a famous gospel called the Gospel of Truth. Is Irenaeus referring to the same Gospel of Truth discovered at Nag Hammadi? Quispel and his collaborators, who first published the Gospel of Truth, argued that he is; one of their critics maintains that the opening line (which begins ‘The gospel of truth’) is not the title. But Irenaeus does use the same source as at least one of the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi – the Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John - as ammunition for his own attack on such ‘heresy’. Fifty years later Hippolytus, a teacher in Rome, wrote another massive Refutation of All Heresies to ‘expose and refute the wicked blasphemy of the heretics’.

This campaign against heresy involved an involuntary admission of its persuasive power; yet the bishops prevailed. By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion, when Christianity became an officially approved religion in the fourth century, Christian bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them. Possession of books denounced as heretical was made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed. But in Upper Egypt, someone, possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction – in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years.

But those who wrote and circulated these texts did not regard themselves as ‘heretics’. Most of the writings use Christian terminology, unmistakably related to a Jewish heritage. Many claim to offer traditions about Jesus that are secret, hidden from ‘the many’ who constitute what, in the second century, came to be called the ‘catholic church’. These Christians are now called gnostics, from the Greek word gnosis, usually translated as ‘knowledge’. For those who claim to know nothing about ultimate reality are called agnostic (literally, ‘not-knowing’), the person who does claim to know such things is called gnostic (‘knowing’). But gnosis is not primarily rational knowledge. The Greek language distinguishes between scientific or reflective knowledge (‘He knows mathematics’) and knowing through observation or experience (‘He knows me’), which is gnosis. As the gnostics use the term, we would translate it as ‘insight’, for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself. And to know oneself, they claimed, is to know human nature and human destiny. According to the gnostic teacher Theodotus, writing in Asia Minor (c. 140-160), the gnostic is one who has come to understand

who we were, and what we have become; where we were . . . whither we are hastening; from what we are being released; what birth is, and what is rebirth.

Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, ‘My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate . . . If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.

What Muhammad ‘Ali discovered at Nag Hammadi is, apparently, a library of writings, almost all of them gnostic. Although they claim to offer secret teaching, many of these texts refer to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and others to the letters of Paul and the New Testament gospels. Many of them include the same dramatis personae as the New Testament – Jesus and his disciples. Yet the differences are striking.

Orthodox Jews and Christians insist that a chasm separates humanity from its creator: God is wholly other. But some of the gnostics who wrote these gospels contradict this: self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical.

Second, the ‘living Jesus’ of these texts speaks of illusions and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding. But when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus no longer serves as his spiritual master: the two have become equal – even identical.

Third, orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is Lord and Son of God in a unique way: he remains forever distinct from the rest of humanity whom he came to save. Yet the gnostic Gospel of Thomas relates that as soon as Thomas recognizes him, Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source:

Jesus said, ‘I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out. . . . He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’

Does not such teaching – the identity of the divine and human, the concern with illusion and enlightenment, the founder who is presented not as Lord, but as spiritual guide – sound more Eastern than Western? Some scholars have suggested that if the names were changed, the ‘living Buddha’ appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. Could Hindu or Buddhist tradition have influenced gnosticism?

The British scholar of Buddhism, Edward Conze, suggests that it had. He points out that ‘Buddhists were in contact with the Thomas Christians (that is, Christians who knew and used such writings as the Gospel of Thomas) in South India.’ Trade routes between the Greco-Roman world and the Far East were opening up at the time when gnosticism flourished (A.D. 80-200); for generations, Buddhist missionaries had been proselytizing in Alexandria. We note, too, that Hippolytus, who was a Greek-speaking Christian in Rome (c. 225), knows of the Indian Brahmins – and includes their traditions among the sources of heresy:

There is . . . among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food . . . They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise.

Could the title of the Gospel of Thomas - named for the disciple who, tradition tells us, went to India – suggest the influence of Indian tradition?

These hints indicate the possibility, yet our evidence is not conclusive. Since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures at different times, such ideas could have developed in both places independently. What we call Eastern and Western religions, and tend to regard as separate streams, were not clearly differentiated 2,000 years ago. Research on the Nag Hammadi texts is only beginning: we look forward to the work of scholars who can study these traditions comparatively to discover whether they can, in fact, be traced to Indian sources.

Even so, ideas that we associate with Eastern religions emerged in the first century through the gnostic movement in the West, but they were suppressed and condemned by polemicists like Irenaeus. Yet those who called gnosticism heresy were adopting – consciously or not – the viewpoint of that group of Christians who called themselves orthodox Christians. A heretic may be anyone whose outlook someone else dislikes or denounces. According to tradition, a heretic is one who deviates from the true faith. But what defines that ‘true faith’? Who calls it that, and for what reason?

We find this problem familiar in our own experience. The term ‘Christianity’, especially since the Reformation, has covered an astonishing range of groups. Those claiming to represent ‘true Christianity’ in the twentieth century can range from a Catholic cardinal in the Vatican to an African Methodist Episcopal preacher initiating revival in Detroit, a Mormon missionary in Thailand, or a member of a village church on the coast of Greece. Yet Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox agree that such diversity is a recent – and deplorable – development. According to Christian legend, the early church was different. Christians of every persuasion look back to the primitive church to find a simpler, purer form of Christian faith. In the apostles’ time, all members of the Christian community shared their money and property; all believed the same teaching, and worshipped together; all revered the authority of the apostles. It was only after that golden age that conflict, then heresy emerged: so says the author of the Acts of the Apostles, who identifies himself as the first historian of Christianity.

But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi have upset this picture. If we admit that some of these fifty-two texts represent early forms of Christian teaching, we may have to recognize that early Christianity is far more diverse than nearly anyone expected before the Nag Hammadi discoveries.26 [26. One scholar who, even before the Nag Hammadi find, did suspect such diversity is W. Bauer, whose book, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, first appeared in 1934. It was translated and published in English as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia, 1971).]

Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian churches of the first and second centuries. For nearly all Christians since that time, Catholics, Protestants, or Orthodox, have shared three basic premises. First, they accept the canon of the New Testament; second, they confess the apostolic creed; and third, they affirm specific forms of church institution. But every one of these – the canon of Scripture, the creed, and the institutional structure – emerged in its present form only toward the end of the second century. Before that time, as Irenaeus and others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various Christian groups, ranging from those of the New Testament, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his disciples. Some of these, apparently, were discovered at Nag Hammadi; many others are lost to us. Those who identified themselves as Christians entertained many – and radically differing – religious beliefs and practices. And the communities scattered throughout the known world organized themselves in ways that differed widely from one group to another.

Yet by A.D. 200 the situation had changed. Christianity had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only ‘true faith’. The majority of churches, among which the church of Rome took a leading role, rejected all other viewpoints as heresy. Deploring the diversity of the earlier movement, Bishop Irenaeus and his followers insisted that there could be only one church, and outside of that church, he declared, ‘there is no salvation’. Members of this church alone are orthodox (literally, ‘straight-thinking’) Christians. And, he claimed, this church must be catholic - that is, universal. Whoever challenged that consensus, arguing instead for other forms of Christian teaching, was declared to be a heretic, and expelled. When the orthodox gained military support, sometimes after the Emperor Constantine became Christian in the fourth century, the penalty for heresy escalated.

The efforts of the majority to destroy every trace of heretical ‘blasphemy’ proved so successful that, until the discovery at Nag Hammadi, nearly all our information concerning alternative forms of early Christianity came from the massive orthodox attacks upon them.

So this was our first quote from Elaine Pagels and her book "The Gnostic Gospels."

Now we must not forget that Elaine Pagels is a professor of theology and therefore has the same profession as the people we have quoted before regarding the history of Christianity, like Emil Brunner and Walter Bauer and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen, and that also to her apply all the attributes we have assigned to the others. They all are in the camp of orthodoxy and therefore in the camp of the prophet murderers and therefore all will in the final analysis provide material to fight God and his people. They all come quite close to the truth but there is no sign that they will apply this truth and get out of their resistance to God and become true followers of Jesus.

Elaine Pagels’ discussion in this quote mentions the New Testament and that before the canon of the New Testament was established by the Catholic Church there was a great variety of writings, which then became heretical writings.

Now this fact alone should demonstrate that the canon’s main purpose is to do away with all writings which are not part of the canon, even writings which already existed then, but above all writings which were to come.

And people of this frame of mind, who support this canon business, will of course not expect new revelations from God and therefore also not look for such writings and when they would come across something like this would condemn it and declare it to be heresy.

And that is one of the reasons why people like Elaine Pagels adhere to what they call the New Testament and are not aware of all the books that really belong to the New Testament and that have been given by God during the last 20 centuries to his people. And not all have been destroyed by Elaine Pagels and her compatriot prophet killers and their organizations.

Elaine Pagels is obviously not aware of some of the most comprehensives of such works like that of Jakob Lorber and Bertha Dudde.

The work of Jakob Lorber, "Die Haushaltung Gottes" (The household of God) brings a mass of information about the history of men as it really happened and this work demonstrates in many details how God again and again came to his people on planet earth and instructed them how to live and be in unity with their creator and that religions, especially those of India, were the direct results of such visits and that the original language was the Indian language, Sanskrit.

Religions like the Hindu religion or the Buddhist religion are coming straight from God’s teaching and when they have become distorted with time then the same happened to them what happened to the religion of Christianity and the main problem in all these religions is the same, it is the existence of the clergy.

And the clergy is people like Pagels and Bauer and Brunner and von Campenhausen. They are the cream of it. They are all like Irenaeus, creating and maintaining this terror organisation.

It must become very clear to us that the so-called church fathers are the originators of this Catholic Church, this oldest, greatest and worst terror organization. They are the originators of the killing of the true church. To get an idea of the state of mind just read the writings of one of the earliest ones of these, Ignatius. His idea of spiritual life is: "Do nothing without the bishop."

These professors of theology live in a ghetto. They cannot even think that God could talk today to his people and that there could be a prophet of God who hears God’s voice and writes it down and publishes it, and the same is the case with a real church, that would be too much for them to envisage a real church meeting and the holy spirit working in the midst of it today.

They really belief that these churches they write about and belong to Orthodoxy are Christian churches. These people are in reality materialists and they keep the laity in material bonds and thinking, just as they themselves do, and guide them to the kingdom of darkness and keep all the things that really have something to do with God away from themselves and all the others.

Such people like Pagels and Brunner write books, which explain everything that is wrong with their terror organisation and so stabilize their system by their followers now knowing that it is the wrong thing, but by example carry on belonging to the organization and through this also recommend to their readers to do it as well. They behave like the Catholic bishop who says, we know that we rape your children when you send them to us, but this knowledge is indeed also yours, and therefore we simply cannot do anything else than raping them, because you indeed send them to us.

Elaine Pagels writes: "Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian churches of the first and second centuries." And this shows that contemporary Christianity is the completely wrong kind of Christianity, the Christianity that adheres to the canon, the creed and to institutions, and therefore is fully embedded in the regiment of Antichrist. All these churches are the invention of Satan and all the leaders of these churches are servants of Satan. This does not apply to all members of these churches, but if members of these churches would really take their faith seriously, then they would study God’s word and see the truth there and come out of their man-made churches and leave Satan’s church.

Now follows a second quote from "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels:

Another scholar, Walter Bauer, published a very different view of gnosticism in 1934. Bauer recognized that the early Christian movement was itself far more diverse than orthodox sources chose to indicate. So, Bauer wrote,
perhaps – I repeat, perhaps – certain manifestations of Christian life that the authors of the church renounce as ‘heresies’ originally had not been such at all, but, at least here and there, were the only forms of the new religion; that is, for those regions, they were simply ‘Christianity’. The possibility also exists that their adherents . . . looked down with hatred and scorn on the orthodox, who for them were the false believers. 49 [49. W. Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (tans. from 2nd ed. Philadelphia, 1971, xxii.]

And now the third quote:

A few radical texts even denounce catholic Christians themselves as heretics, who, although they ‘do not understand mystery . . . boast that the mystery of truth belongs to them alone’.

And a fourth:

This controversy occurred at the very time when earlier, diversified forms of church leadership were giving way to a unified hierarchy of church office.61 [61. For a detailed discussion of this process, see Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power, 76 ff.] For the first time, certain Christian communities were organizing into a strict order of subordinate ‘ranks’ of bishops, priests, deacons, laity. In many churches the bishop was emerging, for the first time, as a ‘monarch’ (literally, ’sole ruler’). Increasingly, he claimed the power to act as disciplinarian and judge over those he called ‘the laity’. Could certain gnostic movements represent resistance to this process? Could gnostics stand among the critics who opposed the development of church hierarchy? Evidence from Nag Hammadi suggests that they did. We have noted before how the author of the Apocalypse of Peter ridicules the claims of church officials:
Others . . . outside our number . . . call themselves bishops and also deacons, as if they had received their authority from God. . . . Those people are waterless canals.
The Tripartite Tractate, written by a follower of Valentinus, contrasts those who are gnostics, ‘children of the Father’, with those who are uninitiates, offspring of the demiurge. The Father’s children, he says, join together as equals, enjoying mutual love, spontaneously helping one another. But the demiurge’s offspring – the ordinary Christians – ‘wanted to command one another, outrivalling one another in their empty ambition’; they are inflated with ‘lust for power’, ‘each one imagining that he is superior to the others’.

If gnostic Christians criticized the development of church hierarchy, how could they themselves form a social organization? If they rejected the principle of rank, insisting that all are equal, how could they even hold a meeting? Irenaeus tells us about the practice of one group that he knows from his own congregation in Lyons – the group led by Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus. Every member of the group had been initiated: this meant that every one had been ‘released’ from the demiurge’s power. For this reason, they dared to meet without the authority of the bishop, whom they regarded as the demiurge’s spokesman – Irenaeus himself! Second, every initiate was assumed to have received, through the initiation ritual, the charismatic gift of direct inspiration through the Holy Spirit.

How did members of this circle of ‘pneumatics’ (literally, ‘those who are spiritual’) conduct their meeting? Irenaeus tells us that when they met, all the members first participated in drawing lots.67 [67. Such use of lots had precedent both in ancient Israel, where God was thought to express His choice through the casting of lots, and also among the apostles themselves, who selected by lot the twelfth apostle to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:17-20). Apparently the followers of Valentinus intended to follow their example.] Whoever received a certain lot apparently was designated to take the role of priest; another was to offer the sacrament, as bishop; another would read the Scriptures for worship, and others would address the group as a prophet, offering extemporaneous spiritual instruction. The next time the group met, they would throw lots again so that the person taking each role changed continually.

This practice effectively created a very different structure of authority. At a time when the orthodox Christians increasingly discriminated between clergy and laity, this group of gnostic Christians demonstrated that, among themselves, they refused to acknowledge such distinctions. Instead of ranking their members into superior and inferior ‘orders’ within a hierarchy, they followed the principle of strict equality. All initiates, men and women alike, participated equally in the drawing; anyone might be selected to serve as priest, bishop, or prophet. Furthermore, because they cast lots at each meeting, even the distinction established by lot could never become permanent ‘ranks’. Finally – most important – they intended, through this practice, to remove the element of human choice. A twentieth-century observer might assume that the gnostics saw it differently. They believed that since God directs everything in the universe, the way the lots fell expressed his choice.

Such practice prompted Tertullian to attack ‘the behavior of the heretics’:

How frivolous, how worldly, how merely human it is, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as fits their faith! To begin with, it is uncertain who is a catechumen, and who a believer: they all have access equally, they listen equally, they pray equally – even pagans, if any happen to come . . . They also share the kiss of peace with all who come, for they do not care how differently they treat topics, if they meet together to storm the citadel of the one only truth . . . All of them are arrogant . . . all offer you gnosis!

The principle of equal access, equal participation, and equal claims to knowledge certainly impressed Tertullian. But he took this as evidence that the heretics ‘overthrow discipline’: proper discipline, in his view, required certain degrees of distinction between community members. Tertullian protests especially the participation of ‘those women among the heretics’ who shared with men positions of authority: ‘They teach, they engage in discussion; they exorcize; they cure’ – he suspects that they might even baptize, which meant that they also acted as bishops!

Tertullian also objected to the fact that

their ordinations are carelessly administered, capricious, and changeable. At one time they put novices in office; at another, persons bound by secular employment . . . Nowhere is promotion easier than in the camp of rebels, where even the mere fact of being there is a foremost service. So today one man is bishop and tomorrow another; the person who is a deacon today, tomorrow is a leader; the one who is a priest today is a layman tomorrow; for even on the laity they impose the functions of priesthood!

This remarkable passage reveals what distinctions Tertullian considered essential to church order – distinctions between newcomers and experienced Christians; between women and men; between a professional clergy and people occupied with secular employment; between readers, deacons, priests, and bishops – and, above all, between the clergy and the laity. Valentinian Christians, on the other hand, followed a practice which insured the equality of all participants. Their system allowed no hierarchy to form, and no fixed ‘orders’ of clergy. Since each person’s role changed every day, occasions for envy against prominent persons were minimized.

How was the bishop who defined his role in traditional Roman terms, as ruler, teacher, and judge of the church, to respond to this gnostic critique? Irenaeus saw that he, as bishop, had been placed in a double-bind situation. Certain members of his flock had been meeting without his authority in private sessions; Marcus, a self-appointed leader, whom Irenaeus derides as an ´adept in magical impostures’, had initiated them into secret sacraments and encouraged them to ignore the bishop’s moral warnings. Contrary to his orders, he says, they did eat meat sacrificed to idols; they freely attended pagan festivals, and they violated his strict warnings concerning sexual abstinence and monogamy. What Irenaeus found most galling of all was that, instead of repenting or even openly defying the bishop, they responded to his protest with diabolically clever theological arguments:

They call [us] ‘unspiritual’, ‘common’, and ‘ecclesiastic’ . . . Because we do not accept their monstrous allegation, they say that we go on living in the hebdomad [the lower regions], as if we could not lift our minds to the things on high, nor understand the things that are above.

Irenaeus was outraged at their claim that they, being spiritual, were released from the ethical restraints that he, as a mere servant of the demiurge, ignorantly sought to foist upon them.

To defend the church against these self-styled theologians, Ireaneus realized that he must forge theological weapons. He believed that if he could demolish the heretical teaching of ‘another God besides the creator’, he could destroy the possibility of ignoring or defying – on allegedly theological grounds – the authority of the ‘one catholic church’ and of its bishop. Like his opponents, Ireaneus took for granted the correlation between the structure of divine authority and human authority in the church. If God is One, then there can be only one true church, and only one representative of the God in the community – the bishop.

Irenaeus declared, therefore, that orthodox Christians must believe above all that God is One – creator, Father, lord, and judge. He warned that it is this one God who established the catholic church, and who ‘presides with those who exercise moral discipline’ within it. Yet he found it difficult to argue theology with the gnostics: they claimed to agree with everything he said, but he knew that secretly they discounted his words as coming from someone unspiritual. So he felt impelled to end his treatise with a solemn call to judgement:

Let those persons who blaspheme the Creator . . . as [do] the Valentinians and all the falsely so-called ‘gnostics’, be recognized as agents of Satan by all who worship God. Through their agency Satan even now . . . has been seen to speak against God, that God who has prepared eternal fire for every kind of apostasy.

But we would be wrong to assume that this struggle involves only members of the laity claiming charismatic inspiration, contending against an organized, spiritless hierarchy of priests and bishops. Irenaeus clearly indicates the opposite. Many whom he censured for propagating gnostic teaching were themselves prominent members of the church hierarchy. In one case Irenaeus wrote to Victor, Bishop of Rome, to warn him that certain gnostic writings were circulating among his congregations. He considered these writings especially dangerous because their author, Florinus, claimed the prestige of being a priest. Yet Irenaeus warns Victor that this priest is also, secretly, a gnostic initiate. Ireaneus warned his own congregations that ‘those whom many believe to be priests, . . . but who do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts . . . are full of pride at their prominence in the community’. Such persons, he explained, are secretly gnostics, who ‘do evil deeds in secret, saying, "No one sees us".’ Irenaeus makes clear that he intended to expose those who outwardly acted like orthodox Christians, but who were privately members of gnostic circles.

How could the ordinary Christian tell the difference between true and false priests? Irenaeus declares that those who are orthodox will follow the lines of apostolic succession:

One must obey the priests who are in the church – that is . . . those who possess the succession from the apostles. For they receive simultaneously with the episcopal succession the sure gift of truth.

The heretics, he explains, depart from common tradition and meet without the bishop’s approval:

One must hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves in any place at all. These one must recognize as heretics . . . or as schismatics . . . or as hypocrites. All of these have fallen from the truth.

Irenaeus is pronouncing a solemn episcopal judgment. The gnostics claim to have two sources of tradition, one open, the other secret. Irenaeus ironically agrees with them that there are two sources of tradition – but, he declares, as God is one, only one of these derives from God – that is the one the church receives through Christ and his chosen apostles, especially Peter. The other comes from Satan – and goes back to the gnostic teacher Simon Magus (literally, ‘magician’), Peter’s arch enemy, who tried to buy the apostle’s spiritual power and earned his curse. As Peter heads the true succession, so Simon epitomizes the false, demon-inspired succession of the heretics; he is the ‘father of all heresies’:

All those who in any way corrupt the truth, and harm the teaching of the church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria . . . They put forth indeed, the name of Jesus Christ as a kind of lure, but in many ways they introduce the impieties of Simon . . . spreading to their hearers the bitter and malignant poison of the great serpent (Satan), the great author of apostasy.

Finally he warns that ‘some who are considered to be among the orthodox’ have much to fear in the coming judgment unless (and this is his practical point) they now repent, repudiate the teaching of ‘another God’, and submit themselves to the bishop, accepting the ‘advance discipline’ that he will administer to spare them eternal damnation.

Were Irenaeus’ religious convictions nothing but political tenets in disguise? Or, conversely, were his politics subordinate to his religious beliefs? Either of these interpretations oversimplifies the situation. Irenaeus’ religious conviction and his position – like those of his gnostic opponents – reciprocally influenced one another. If certain gnostics opposed the development of church hierarchy, we need not reduce gnosticism to a political movement that arose in reaction to that development. Followers of Valentinus shared a religious vision of the nature of God that they found incompatible with the rule of priests and bishops that was emerging in the catholic church – and so they resisted it. Irenaeus’ religious convictions, conversely, coincided with the structure of the church he defended.

This case is far from unique: we can see throughout the history of Christianity how varying beliefs about the nature of God inevitably bear different political implications. Martin Luther, more than 1,300 years later, felt impelled by his own religious experience and his transformed understanding of God to challenge practices endorsed by his superiors in the Catholic Church, and finally to reject its entire papal and priestly system. George Fox, the radical visionary who founded the Quaker movement, was moved by his encounter with the ‘inner light’ to denounce the whole structure of Puritan authority – legal, governmental, and religious. Paul Tillich, proclaimed the doctrine of ‘God beyond God’ as he criticized both Protestant and Catholic churches along with nationalistic and fascist governments.

As the doctrine of Christ’s bodily resurrection established the initial framework for clerical authority, so the doctrine of the ‘one God’ confirms, for orthodox Christians, the emerging institution of the ‘one bishop’ as monarch (‘sole ruler’) of the church. We may not be surprised, then, to discover next how the orthodox description of God (as ‘Father Almighty’, for example) serves to define who is included – and who excluded – from participation in the power of priests and bishops.

So that is end of this fourth quote from "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels. And now follows the fifth:

The Apocalypse of Peter describes, as noted before, catholic Christians as those who have fallen ‘into an erroneous name and into the hand of an evil, cunning man, with a teaching in a multiplicity of forms’, allowing themselves to be ruled heretically. For, the author adds, they

blaspheme the truth and proclaim evil teaching. And they will say evil things against each other . . . nay others . . . who oppose the truth and are the messengers of error . . . set up their error . . . against these pure thoughts of mine . . .

The author takes each of the characteristics of the catholic church as evidence that this is only an imitation church, a counterfeit, a ‘sister-hood’ that mimics the true Christian brotherhood. Such Christians, in their blind arrogance, claim exclusive legitimacy: ‘Some who do not understand mystery speak of things which they do not understand, but they will boast that the mystery of the truth belongs to them alone.’ Their obedience to bishops and deacons indicates that they ‘bow to the judgement of the leaders’. They oppress their brethren, and slander those who attain gnosis.

I am going to interrupt this fifth quote.

Elaine Pagels here reports about the Apocalypse of Peter and I am now bringing one section she mentions, but I do not bring it from her book, but directly from the Apocalypse of Peter:

But many others, who oppose the truth and are the messengers of error, will set up their error and their law against these pure thoughts of mine, as looking out from one (perspective), thinking that good and evil are from one (source). They do business in my word.

I repeat this passage once again, but this time not from an English book, but as a translation from a German book:

But numerous others, who resist truth, that are the messengers of error, will lie in wait with their error and their law for my pure thoughts, because they look from one point only, think that good and evil originate from one and the same root, and so trade my word.

There are two things that should be emphasized here.

These two sentences (or one sentence) are part of the words that the Savior spoke to Peter and which Peter here records in his Apocalypse of Peter.

That is the one thing that should be stated. And the second thing is the second sentence, the short one: They do business in my word.

Now this monetary aspect which this short sentence brings up, is an aspect that plays a major role in the New Testament and that is brought up again and again, and it is brought up so often, especially by Paul and by Peter in their letters, because it is the main sign by which we can recognize the false prophets, the hypocrites, the clerics, the leaders of the man-made churches.

And as Elaine Pagels is one of these wolfs in sheep’s clothing, she does not quote this short sentence. She does not quote it because she herself is a person who does business in Christ’s word.

That it is above all about their salary with the clerics, about their wages of unrighteousness, which they love (2 Peter 2:15), that this is again and again highlighted in the New Testament, that we have shown in the 17th chapter of our book "The Man-Made Church", Balaam’s Way. There one can find all the relevant Scriptural passages. And in the writings of the so-called Gnostics it is not different, as we have just seen. Here still further passages, from the writing The Teachings of Silvanus: "So that he may cast out all the merchants," and "And be not as the merchants of the Word of God."

We now carry on with the fifth quote:

The Testimony of Truth attacks ecclesiastical Christians as those who say ‘we are Christians’, but [do not know who] Christ is’. But this same author goes on to attack other gnostics as well, including the followers of Valentinus, Basilides, and Simon, as brethren who are still immature. Another of the Nag Hammadi texts, the Authoritative Teaching, intends to demolish all teaching, especially orthodox teaching, that the author considers unauthoritative. Like Irenaeus – but diametrically opposed – he says of ‘those who contend with us, being adversaries’, that they are ‘dealers in bodies’, senseless, ignorant, worse than pagans, because they have no excuse for their error.

The bitterness of these attacks on the ‘imitation church’ probably indicates a late stage of the controversy. By the year 200, the battle lines had been drawn: both orthodox and gnostic Christians claimed to represent the true church and accused one another of being outsiders, false brethren, and hypocrites.

How was a believer to tell true Christians from false ones? Orthodox and gnostic Christians offered different answers, as each group attempted to define the church in ways that excluded the other.

Gnostic Christians, claiming to represent only ‘the few’, pointed to qualitative criteria. In protest against the majority, they insisted that baptism did not make a Christian: according to the Gospel of Philip, many people ‘go down into the water and come up without having received anything,’ and still they claimed to be Christians. Nor did profession of the creed, or even martyrdom, count as evidence: ‘anyone can do these things’. Above all, they refused to identify the church with the actual, visible community that, they warned, often only imitated it. Instead, quoting a saying of Jesus (‘By their fruits you shall know them’) they required evidence of spiritual maturity to demonstrate that a person belonged to the true church.

But orthodox Christians, by the late second century, had begun to establish objective criteria for church membership. Whoever confessed the creed, accepted the ritual of baptism, participated in worship, and obeyed the clergy was accepted as a fellow Christian. Seeking to unify the diverse churches scattered throughout the world into a single network, the bishops eliminated qualitative criteria for church membership. Evaluating each candidate on the basis of spiritual maturity, insight, or personal holiness, as the gnostics did, would require a far more complex administration. Further, it would tend to exclude many who much needed what the church could give. To become truly catholic - universal – the church rejected all forms of elitism, attempting to include as many as possible within its embrace. In the process, its leaders created a clear and simple framework, consisting of doctrine, ritual, and political structure, that has proven to be an amazingly effective system of organization:

So the orthodox Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, defines the church in terms of the bishop, who represents that system:

Let no one do anything pertaining to the church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by the person whom he appoints . . . Wherever the bishop offers [the eucharist], let the congregation be present, just as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.14 [14. Ignatius, Smyrneans 8.1-2.]

Lest any ‘heretic’ suggest that Christ may be present even when the bishop is absent, Ignatius sets him straight:

It is not legitimate either to baptize or to hold an agape [cult meal] without the bishop . . . To join with the bishop is to join the church; to separate oneself from the bishop is to separate oneself not only from the church, but from God himself.15 [15. Ignatius, Smyrneans 8.2.]

Apart from the church hierarchy, he insists, ‘there is nothing that can be called a church’.

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, agrees with Ignatius that the only true church is that which ‘preserves the same form of ecclesiastical constitution’:

True gnosis is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution [systema] of the church throughout the whole world, and the character of the body of Christ according to the successions of bishops, by which they have handed down that which exists everywhere.

Only this system, Irenaeus says, stands upon the ‘pillar and ground’ of those apostolic writings to which he attributed absolute authority – above all, the gospels of the New Testament. All others are false and unreliable, unapostolic, and probably composed by heretics. The catholic church alone offers a ‘very complete system of doctrine’, proclaiming, as we have seen, one God, creator and father of Christ, who became incarnate, suffered, died, and rose bodily from the dead. Outside of this church there is no salvation: ‘she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers’. As spokesman for the church of God, Irenaeus insists that those he calls heretics stand outside the church. All who reject his version of Christian truth are ‘false persons, evil seducers, and hypocrites’ who ‘speak to the multitude about those in the church, whom they call catholic, or ecclesiastical’. Irenaeus says he longs to convert them to the church of God’ – since he considers them apostate, worse than pagans.

Gnostic Christians, on the contrary, assert that what distinguishes the false from the true church is not its relationship to the clergy, but the level of understanding of its members, and the quality of their relationship with one another. The Apocalypse of Peter declares that ‘those who are from the life . . . having been enlightened’, discriminate for themselves between what is true and false. Belonging to ‘the remnant . . . summoned to knowledge [gnosis]’, they neither attempt to dominate others nor do they subject themselves to the bishops and deacons, those ‘waterless canals’. Instead they participate in ‘the wisdom of the brotherhood that really exists . . . the spiritual fellowship with those united in communion’.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth similarly declares that what characterizes the true church is the union its members enjoy with God and with one another, ‘united in the friendship of friends forever, who neither know any hostility, nor evil, but who are united by my gnosis . . . (in) friendship with one another’. Theirs is the intimacy of marriage, a ‘spiritual wedding’, since they live ‘in fatherhood and motherhood and rational brotherhood and wisdom’ as those who love each other as ‘fellow spirits’.

Such ethereal visions of the ‘heavenly church’ contrast sharply with the down-to-earth portrait of the church that orthodox sources offer. Why do gnostic authors abandon concreteness and describe the church in fantastic and imaginative terms? Some scholars say that this proves that they understood little, and cared less, about social relationships. Carl Andresen, in his recent, massive study of the early Christian church, calls them ‘religious solipsists’ who concerned themselves only with their own individual spiritual development, indifferent to the community responsibilities of a church. But the sources cited above show that these gnostics defined the church precisely in terms of the quality of interrelationships among its members.

This was the fifth quote and we now come to the sixth quote:

When Irenaeus denounced the heretics as ‘gnostics’, he referred less to any specific doctrinal agreement among them (indeed, he often castigated them for the variety of their beliefs) than to the fact that they all resisted accepting the authority of the clergy, the creed, and the New Testament canon.

And now the seventh, the last quotation:

We can see, then, that such gnosticism was more than a protest movement against orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism also included a religious perspective that implicitly opposed the development of the kind of institution that became the early catholic church. Those who expected to ‘become Christ’ themselves were not likely to recognize the institutional structures of the church – its bishop, priest, creed, canon, or ritual – as bearing ultimate authority.


This is the end of "The Formation of the Imitation Church - Part 2"
Go to the German version of this chapter: Die Entstehung der Imitationskirche - Teil 2

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