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A Comparative Analysis of Gnostic and United Church Theologies


By Carman Bradley

Orthodoxy, the English equivalent of Greek orthodoxia (from orthos, “right,” and doxa, “opinion”) means right belief, as opposed to heresy or heterodoxy.  The term is not Biblical; no secular or Christian writer uses it before the second century, though orthodoxien is used by Aristotle.  The word expresses the idea that certain statements accurately embody the revealed truth content of Christianity, and are therefore in their own nature normative for the universal church.  This idea is rooted in the New Testament insistence that the Gospel has a specific factual and theological content and that no fellowship exists between those who accept the apostolic standard of Christological teaching and those who deny it.  Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.  Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). [Note: NIV Study Bible footnote states, “For Corinthian believers to cooperate with false teachers, who were really servants of Satan, notwithstanding their charming and persuasive ways, is to become unequally yoked, destroying the harmony and fellowship that unite them in Christ.”]

At Colassae in Asia Minor, Paul met with perhaps the gravest heresy threatening the early Church.  This was the syncretistic blending of Christianity with theosophical elements drawn from the mystery cults and partly from heterodox Judaism.  According to Henry Chadwick author of The Early Church this heresy belonged to the general category commonly labeled “Gnosticism.”[i]  This is a generic term used primarily to refer to theosophical adaptations of Christianity propagated by sects which broke with the early Church between 80-150 A.D..  The term Gnosticism is derived from the ordinary Greek word for knowledge (gnosis).  The second century sects claimed to possess a special “knowledge” which transcended the simple faith of the Church.  The Gnostic initiate was taught to acknowledge no responsibilities.  According to Kurt Rudolph, author of Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnoticism, the traditional Church accused the Gnostics of deceit and falsehood declaring the supernatural cause of Gnostic teaching to be Satan himself, who sought to corrupt the Church.[ii]

Gnostic tradition frequently drew its material from varied existing traditions, attached itself to them, and at the same time set it in a new frame by which this material took on a new character and a completely new significance.  This “anything goes” theology was anathema to the early Church, as it should be today.  The period between 150 and 250 A.D. was evidently a high point in the debate between the Christian church and the Gnostics.  According to Kurt Rudolph, there was no “Gnostic church” or normative theology, no Gnostic rule of faith nor any dogma of exclusive importance.  No limits were set to free representation and theological speculation so far as they lay within the framework of the Gnostic worldview - that God is forever unknown.  In all but one sect, there was no Gnostic canon of scripture (authorized text).  In libertine sects, the adherent was seen as a new kind of person who is subjugated neither by the obligations nor the criteria of the present world.  Historian H. Jonas writes that the Gnostic in contrast to the orthodox Christian:

…is free from the law - in a quite different sense from that of the Pauline Christian - and the unrestrained use of this freedom is not just a matter of a negative license but a positive realization of this freedom itself.  This ‘anarchism’ then was stamped by a ‘determined resentment against the prevailing rules of life,’ and by ‘obstinate defiance of the demands of the divine cosmic powers who are the guardians of the old moral order.[iii]

Gnosticism culminates in the assumption of a new unknown God, who dwells beyond all visible creation and is proclaimed the real lord of the universe.  Gnosticism is a religion of self-redemption, one is already redeemed, all that is necessary to achieve salvation (freedom) is knowledge.  The Gnostic gospel, Thomas 22, reads:

When you make the two one, and when you make the inmost as the outermost and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and female into a single unity, so that male will not be only male and the female will not be only female, when you create eyes in the place of an eye, and create a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, and also an image in the place of an image, then surely will you enter the kingdom[iv].

Gnostic redemption is deliverance from the world and the body through wisdom, not as in Christianity from sin and guilt by Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  That the Christian Gnostics considered themselves to be Christian and not pagan, and were using the name, severely vexed their ecclesiastical rivals.  Rudolph writes that the Church Fathers commented on the Carpocration Gnostics:

[They] are so abandoned in their recklessness that they claim to have in their power and to be able to practice anything whatsoever that is ungodly (irreligious) and impious.  They say that conduct is good and evil only in the opinion of men…according to their scriptures they maintain that their souls should have every enjoyment in life, so that when they depart they are deficient in nothing.[v]

Subsequently, the Fathers of the Church simply traced the rise of Gnosis to the devil.  The classic formulation of this view was made by the father of ecclesiastical historiography, Eusebuis of Caesarea (ca. 264-339), in his Ecclesiastical History:

Like brilliant lamps the churches were now shining throughout the world, and faith in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ was flourishing among all mankind, when the devil who hates what is good, as the enemy of truth, ever most hostile to man’s salvation, turned all his devices against the church.  Formerly he had used persecutions from without as his weapon against her, but now that he was excluded from this he employed wicked men and sorcerers, like baleful weapons and ministers of destruction against the soul, and conducted his campaign by other measures, plotting by every means that sorcerers and deceivers might assume the same name as our religion and at one time lead to the depth of destruction those of the faithful whom they caught, and that others, by the deeds which they undertook, might turn from the path to the saving word those ignorant of the faith.

According to Chadwick, the Church’s defense against these anti-Christian forces was threefold.  The first defense against Gnosticism was developed in the idea of orthodoxy through succession from the apostles.  Against any heretical claim to possess new and varying revelations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there was the clear argument that Christ would not have failed to impart such wisdom to Peter and Paul and that these apostles would have shared such doctrines through the line of accredited Church teachers.  The succession argument was key for two reasons.  First, the faithful were thereby in some sense assured that revelation was knowable as retrospective historical fact.  Second, it enabled defenders of orthodoxy to oppose the proliferating Gnostic sects, with the concept a one true church unanimous in its possession of an immutable revelation.  The second weapon of orthodox defense was the gradual formation of the New Testament canon.  The controversy with the Gnostics gave sharp impetus to control the authentic tradition which a written document possessed and which oral tradition did not.  The contemporary version of these two defenses is to hold to the authority of the Bible over abject revisionism.  The third and last weapon against heresy was the “Rule of Faith,” a title used to mean a short summary of the main revelatory events of the redemptive process.  The crux of the creed for polemical purposes lies in the assertion of the unity of the divine plan from Old Testament to New.  Gnostic heretics did not believe in the God detailed in the Old Testament and with their low valuation of the Old Testament, were not interested in the fulfillment of prophecy.  [Today Christian creedal statements still have the value of anchoring the faith of adherents and exposing heterodoxy, although the traditional creeds need to be augmented in detail to counteract religious liberalism.]

There is one single point, with which the orthodox can agree with the liberal theologian Rev. Dr. John Shelby Spong: “it matters how one thinks of God.”  Theology affects our faith and the theology of the UCC, to the extent that it can be identified (and unmasked) is as unique from Christianity as Gnosticism was found to be by the first and second century apologists.  Moreover, UCC theology is the equivalent threat to Christianity today that Gnosticism was to the early Church.  Christians are called to confront heretical doctrines and when the teachings persist, to separate from those giving false witness.  The “Rule of Faith” action plan taken by the early Church is a sound model for dealing with apostate denominations (and individuals) that falsely claim to be Christian.  StandForGod.Org proclaims a comprehensive Christian Worldview (as an augmented creedal statement) for protecting the right faith in contemporary times.  It is crucial to compare the extent of UCC apostasy with Gnosticism to recognize the deception and danger existing within Canadian Christendom.

The word “apostasy” comes from the Greek apostasia, a late form of apostasies, originally to desert a post or station in life.  Apostasy is a “falling away” to the revelation of the man of sin, or Antichrist, a passing over to unbelief.  Apostasy is dissolution of the union with God subsisting through faith in Jesus Christ.  The risks of apostasy are well documented:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (2 Peter 2:1-2)

If we deliberately keep on sinning [NIV Study Bible: committing the sin of apostasy] after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that would consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sacrificed him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29) [NIV Study Bible: to reject Christ’s sacrifice for sins is to reject the only sacrifice; there is no other.]

The following table compares Gnostic and United Church theologies and heresies.  In sum the two religious views share the following heresies: (1) denial of the Trinity; (2) denial of the Bible as the Word of God and the final authority on matters of faith; (3) denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ; (4) denial that Jesus Christ is the only way of redemption; (5) denial of original sin; (6) denial of judgment; (7) belief that all will be saved; (8) denial of the Law and replacement with liberal morality; (9) condoning premarital, extra-marital and homosexual sex; (10) no normative theology; (11) no limits set to the free representation and theological speculation; and (12) condoning abortion.  




United Church

Gnostics believed there was revealed truth to be found in many religions.

There was no Gnostic church or normative theology, no Gnostic rule of faith or any dogma of exclusive importance. 


No limits were set to the free representation and theological speculation so far as it lay within the framework of the Gnostic worldview.


Gnosticism was a mix from the mythological or religious ideas of the most varied regions and cultures: Greek, Jewish, Iranian, Christian, Manicheism, also East Indian.


Marcionism rejected the Jewish Scripture (Old Testament) and its prophetic roots and connection with Christianity.


When Gnostics recognize the truth(s) they find the fruits of the truth in themselves.  If they unite with it, it will bring fulfillment.


Denial of the

Bible as:

the  Word of God, the final authority on matters of faith






Romans 15:4

2 Tim.  3:16-17

2 Peter 1:19-21


‘I would want to question some of the conclusions you reach from a platform of natural theology.’[vi]The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, Moderator, 2005. 

Our society is multicultural, our world is multifaith; our church community has varying theological perspectives within it.  Some make exclusive claims to absolute truth and find in these claims authorization to do harm…While believing that our faith is grounded in truth, our truth need not deny the truths of others’  -  Question of Truth, Faith Talk II.

Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavourable view of intimate same-sex relationship.  But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text.  It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness. ..In fact, change is the only medium in which faithfulness can truly become faithfulness.  Uncritical repetition is more like being on autopilot. – The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, Moderator, 2005.

‘The United Church unequivocally supports the right of same-sex couples to have access to civil marriage, it also unequivocally supports the right of religious communities to refuse to perform such marriages.  The United Church does not believe that the faith stance of a community which supports same-sex marriage undermines the faith stance of a community that does not.  -  Choice Okoro, UCC Program Officer for Human Rights

Gnosticism culminates in the assumption of a new unknown God, who dwells beyond all visible creation and is proclaimed the real lord of the universe.  This god is not the creator of the material world. 

Marcion taught that Jesus was a man like any other, who was endowed with the Spirit by the true Father (not the God of Israel) but the unknowable Stranger God.  Marcion held that a real divine Christ could not have taken on a material body.


Jesus Christ of Scripture could not have been divine.  Divinity can not experience suffering.


Gospel of Thomas denies the virgin birth and the resurrection.


The true and good God is unknown.


Knowledge is freedom.


Gnostic Gospels stressed ‘self-knowledge’ where to know the self is to know God.


Jesus is presented as the revealer of wisdom and knowledge, rather than the source of salvation and reunion with God. 


Denial of the Trinity:

Father, Son and Holy Spirit


Matthew 3:16-17

Mark 1:10-11

John 14:16-17

2 Cor. 13:14

Titus 3:4-8

Denial of the



Jesus Christ


(The sole Way, Truth and Life)


Matthew  1:18-25

John 15:5-8

2 Peter 2:1-3

1 John 2:22

1968 - New Creed - Jesus no longer declared Son of God, Saviour and Lord.

‘No I don’t believe Christ was God.’[vii] – The Right Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps, Moderator, 1997. 

In ‘Roses Are Difficult Here,’ The Right Rev. Dr. Short preaches on a non-relational deity: ‘…so much of the spiritual tradition falls into the unlikely…That Jesus was born of a virgin....That Jesus was raised from the dead – not likely…No use for the church to be condemning the modern world.  No use launching into a diatribe against technology, nor an indictment of consumer culture…The absence of God is not caused by those things.  The absence of God is as old as the hills.  Older.’[viii] 

God is not singularly known, adherents may choose their own likenesses: ‘Our words, while necessary, are limited.  We sometimes make false gods of them and use them to exclude or denigrate others.  We therefore also speak of God: as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; as God, Christ, and Spirit; as Mother, Friend, and Comforter; as Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love.’  – Faith Talk II.[ix]

‘The Spirit fills creation in diverse ways and makes the Divine knowable, not only to us but also to others.  We understand faith as an experience common to humanity, as a shared response to God’s self-giving; and we know that our own and other’s expressions of faith are often distorted by insecurity, intolerance and hatred. How others perceive God is often foreign to our perception.   The breadth of Spirit calls us away from isolation to consider the Spirit’s freedom of movement beyond our experience and, however our expressions of faith may differ, to act toward all with the same love by which God acts toward us.’ - Faith Talk II




Gnosticism is a religion of self-redemption, one is already redeemed all that is necessary to achieve salvation (freedom) is knowledge.  Gnostic redemption is deliverance from the world and the body through wisdom, not as in Christianity from sin and guilt by Christ’s atoning sacrifice.



For the Gnostic, achieving gnosis (knowledge) meant to know oneself as God.  But ‘to know’ meant not merely to understand one’s divine origin, but to achieve the classic goal of the mystic: union with God.  The idea that our souls are intrinsically divine stands in sharp contrast to orthodox dogmas which stressed Jesus’ exclusive divinity.  Gnosticism is salvation through knowledge and self-discovery.



Each person is born with a seed or spark of the Divine, a body and a soul.  The divine spark - the God within - acts something like a pilot light, sustaining the divine potential of the soul and body until the soul is ready to be ignited, or awakened to gnosis.  The awakened soul pursues union with the God within and this union is salvation.  




Denial of

Original Sin


1 Peter 1:23

Romans 9:8-15



Denial of



Matthew  3:12

Matthew 7:21-23

John 6:44

2 Peter 3


Denial of Christ as the only way for



1 Cor. 6:11

Ephesians 2

Eph. 5:25-27


‘Before conscious thought or action on our part we are born into brokenness of this world.  Before conscious thought or action on our part we are surrounded by God’s redeeming love.’ - Faith Talk II

‘In Jesus’ resurrection, God overcomes death, reconciles and makes all creation new, faithful to what God in love has created.  Nothing separates us from the love of God.’ – Faith Talk II

‘The Risen Christ lives today, present to us and the source of our hope that nothing can hinder the Compassionate Love that is the origin and end of all.’ –  Faith Talk II

‘The Holy One promises that all will share in abundant life.’ - Faith Talk II 

Indifference to the risk of the UCC same-sex marriage experiment: ‘This is my job.  I do it gladly and enthusiastically, trusting that where we are wrong God will forgive…’[x] - Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, Moderator, 2005

‘We know not when that hour (Christ’s return) will be, many in our day seek such knowledge and false prophets lead many astray, preaching a neo-apocalyptic gospel of smug triumphalism and the abandonment of earth.  We reject that false gospel, choosing instead to love our enemies and to care for the earth, choosing life…Divine creation does not cease until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration with the common ground of all being.’ –  Faith Talk II

‘Evil does not, cannot, undermine or overcome the love of God.  The essence of the Divine enfolds and forgives, reconciles and transforms the results of sin….With God’s help we turn from our sin and seek to be agents of God’s healing and reconciliation.  Repenting of our closed minds and hearts, now we choose to listen to our neighbors in faith, to respect them and the integrity of their understanding, to work together for a whole earth of peace and justice.’ – Faith Talk II

No Gnostic canon (approved books) of their scriptures. 

‘They are so abandoned in their recklessness that they claim to have in their power and to be able to practice anything whatsoever that is ungodly (irreligious) and impious.  They say that conduct is good and evil only in the opinion of men …according to their scriptures they maintain that their souls should have every enjoyment in life, so that when they depart they are deficient in nothing.’ 

Marcionism: rejected the Jewish Law (Old Testament) and the Jewish notions of God in favor of the new idea of a God of love, divorcing themselves entirely from the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Iranaeus, known as the First Church Father, codified orthodoxy in his five-volume Against Heresies, characterized Gnosticism as a refuge of perverts who held orgies, practiced promiscuity and homosexuality, aborted fetuses and refused to bear children.

The libertine adherent was seen as a new kind of person who was subjugated neither by the obligations nor the criteria of the present world. 

The Gnostic is free from the law in a different sense then the Pauline Christian.  The unrestrained use of this freedom bordered on anarchism - a determined resentment against the prevailing rules of life and an obstinate defiance of the demands of the divine cosmic powers who are the guardians of the old moral order.





Denial of

The Law and replacement with liberal morality

‘Scripture is not too hard to live out, nor far off, nor in heaven, that we should say, who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it.  It is near us, in our mouths and hearts, that we might do it, and so we are called to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.’  –  Faith Talk II

1962 - sanction divorce and remarriage.

1960 - First denomination to advocate abortion.

1965 - condone premarital sex.  

1980 - sex report redefines marriage fidelity to include marital sex with spouse and secondary sexual intimacy with an outside partners.

1984 - declare God indifferent to all sexual orientations and recommend ordination of homosexuals.

1988 - unrepentant homosexuals who profess faith in Jesus can join and be ordained.

2000 - adopt a resolution to affirm civil recognition of same-sex unions

2003 - amend the resolution from 2000 to redefine marriage inclusive of homosexual couples. 




Copyright © 2008 StandForGod.Org

[i] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books, 1993), p.34.

[ii] Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnoticism, trans. by Robert McLachan Wilson, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Limited, 1983), p.10.

[iii] Rudolph, p.254.

[iv] Stephen A. Hoeller, Jung and the Lost Gospels (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), p.224.

[v] Rudolph, p.257.

[vi] Response from the Moderator, The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short,  Letter to the Rev. Dr. Connie denBok et al., dated 10 February 2005,, 4/20/2005.  Cornelius G. Hunter writes on Gnosticism in Darwin’s God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2001), pp.149 and 150: “The deity is absolutely transmundane, its nature alien to that of the universe which it neither created nor governs and to which it is the complete antithesis…The world is the work of lowly powers.” Hunter observes that the Gnostic’s belief in “lowly powers” was fulfilled in Darwin’s evolution by natural selection - the theory that life was not divinely created but developed by random chance and  selective survival of the fittest.  The acceptance of evolution, in turn reinforced Gnosticism in modern thought.  Hunter writes: ‘Two important themes are discernible in the writings of Darwin and his fellow naturalists: Gnosticism and natural theology (p.129).’ Wikipedia defines natural theology as theology based on reason and ordinary experience. It is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on Scripture and religious experience.  Howard Bloom, in The American Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p.22, writes that Gnosticism is the most common thread of religious thought today.  He calls it the ‘American Religion’ and concludes: ‘even our secularists, indeed even our professed atheists, are more Gnostic than humanist in their ultimate presuppositions.’  Cornelius G. Hunter records in Darwin’s God that philosopher Michael Ruse observed that Victorians in Darwin’s time had trouble with the idea that God created a natural world that often seemed devoid of His presence.  Ruse found: ‘Darwin is characterized as one held to some kind of ‘deistic’ belief in a God who works at a distance through unbroken law: having set the world in motion, God now sits back and does nothing.’  And Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison Editor-in-Chief, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 162, characterizes deism as follows: Negatively, the deists generally denied any direct intervention in the natural order on the part of God.  Though they professed faith in personal Providence, they denied the Trinity, the incarnation, the divine authority of the Bible, the atonement, miracles, any particular elect people such as Israel or the church, or any supernatural redemptive act in history… Denying revelation and affirming natural theology only, they yet generally claimed to be within the Christian tradition.[my underline]

[vii] Head of church denies Resurrection of Christ! Hamilton Spectator, Nov 27, 1997, p.A2,, 4/16/2001

[viii] Moderator’s 80th Anniversary Sermon, “Roses Are Difficult Here,”, 7/14/2005

[ix] FAITH TALK II: A DRAFT STATEMENT OF FAITH FOR DISCUSSION AND RESPONSE, Committee on Theology and Faith, The United Church of Canada, January 2005.

[x] Response from the Moderator, The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short,  Letter to the Rev. Dr. Connie denBok et al., dated 10 February 2005,, 4/20/2005