Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

October 2023 Newsletter

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” 1 John 4:2

St. John, in the verse quoted above, is dealing with a strange teaching that in his day at the end of the 1st Century was just beginning to make strong inroads into the Church.  A teaching that said that Jesus Christ did not have flesh and blood.  This strange teaching did not deny that Jesus existed, no one in the ancient world ever denied that, everyone knew Jesus existed, only a fool would have said that, but Gnosticism taught that Jesus was not someone that you could touch and feel.  In short, this false teaching denied what we rejoice and confess on Christmas: God has become man.    This teaching is like the Grinch that tries to steal Christmas.  This teaching would soon have a name labeled on it that was called Gnosticism.

The word Gnosticism literally comes from the Greek word: “To know.” As an aside, you have probably met people in your life who are called Agnostics.  It comes from the same root word, but when you slap a letter “a” before the word ‘gnostic’ it means the opposite.  An Agnostic is someone who “does not know.” That is their main position.  An agnostic will say that there is no way to know who God is.  This assumes that God cannot reveal himself.  To put it crassly, an agnostic would say that your guess is as good as mine, but no one can be dogmatic about it because no one can really know.  That position is the serpent’s “Did God really say?” to its practical outcome.

But back on point, the Gnosticism that St. John is dealing with and what will almost destroy the church in the 2nd century was based on the idea that you had to “know” the right things.  And the more you rose in the ranks and had the right connections, the more secret knowledge would be given to you so you could know.   And if you came to know, you would be enlightened and therefore escape this world and be saved.  To “know” was seen in the same sense as a Buddhist would speak of being enlightened.  

Interesting to note is that last century we discovered a gnostic library called the Nag Hammadi Library that had books such as the ‘Gospel of Thomas’ in them.  Early Church Fathers referred to these writings and quoted them in their rebuttals against them, but now these texts have been recovered, and boy are they a doozy.  Sometimes they get sensational news in popular magazines that the masses consume that say things like, “stuff Christians don’t want you to read!” or some such nonsense like that which tends to throw off the balance of Christians not equipped to handle it.

So, what did the Gnostics teach?  St. John tells us that a main teaching was to say that Jesus Christ did not come and still does not come in the flesh (think Communion).  They would say, for example, that Jesus merely appeared to be flesh and blood.  Like a hologram or a ghost.  John notes that this is the teaching of the antichrist.

Realizing this, take note of how often the Gospels emphasis the reality that Jesus is flesh and blood.  When his disciples saw him walking on the water, they thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus told them: “Don’t be afraid.  It is I!” After his resurrection, Mary held onto his feet in Matthew’s Gospel, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus eats a meal in front of his disciples, Jesus implores Thomas to put his hands into his hands and side to see that a ghost does not have flesh and blood as they see he has.  Each Gospel goes out of the way to demonstrate and say that Jesus has a real physical body.

St. John opens his letter of 1 John by saying he is writing concerning the things he saw, heard, and touched.  Words that concern flesh and blood.

So why would the Gnostics say something like that?  Why teach that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh?  Because behind that assertion was the belief that the physical world that we engage with our senses every day is evil and yucky.  And instead, the spiritual world was rather good and beautiful and to be desired.  There is a lot of Plato and Greek philosophy at play in Gnosticism.  There is much more to say about Gnosticism then I can squeeze in here, but for them, the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good.  Of course, the devil is part of the spiritual world, but don’t tell them that.  

The point for them is that we must escape this world and enter into the spiritual world, and we do that by knowing the truth.  They will even use the words of Jesus to say that if you know the truth the truth will set you free.

This idea found a lot of favorable ground and concealed itself in a lot of Christian wrapping.  But it denied the truth.  Jesus Christ came in the body.  God loves the world he created.  It certainly fell into sin and became corrupted, but that is the result of sin and death, not as a result of God making the physical world.  And by becoming incarnated and becoming man, Jesus is showing us the commitment that God has to saving this world and renewing it.

Our hope is that because of God becoming man in Jesus Christ, by assuming a physical body and a rational soul, means that God is redeeming us and the whole world.  As we look at our bodies and our world as it falls apart, our hope is not to escape and abandon this world, but to call it to hope that is given to us that Jesus Christ is the Lord and the one by whom God will renew the world when he comes again on the last day when he raises the dead and judges all.
The Church eventually got her bearings and was able to use the witness of the Apostles and the New Testament to beat back the Gnostic twisting of the faith that was destroying the salvation that Christians had in their Lord.  But recently, Gnostic tendencies have been revived as the Church’s witness has declined.  And it is so pervasive that most of us do not realize it, but it is everywhere, and it impacts our lives as Christians.

Here are just some examples of Gnostic teachings that are destroying the Christians walk with Christ and denying the witness that you can give in Christ:

“My body is only a shell.”  Note here the denial of the physical reality of the body.  Often the body is not seen as who we are, and often it gets in the way of who we want to be.  Note that the transgender movement is a denial of the body, the whole transgender argument is a Gnostic argument.  The talk of my “ideal self” means that we can shape our body however we want and think we are in control of how we are.  Our children are fed a garbage line of thinking in our schools and in public that their body doesn’t matter, but rather who they perceive their ideal self to be.  This is a lie and it is dangerous.

Another way Gnosticism has returned can be seen in the entire online world.  It is Gnostic.  There is no such thing as a body online, just pictures, holograms, images, etc.  On social media, I can shape the image of myself however I want.  Everyone online looks like they are happy and doing well, but it is a facade.  Studies are showing how Instagram and other social media outlets are damaging how girls think of themselves, suicide rates and depression are shown to skyrocket among people who are dependent on social media because we begin to compare and see that our real lives don’t match up to what we make online.   I post the pictures that I want, I share the stories that I want, if anyone disagrees, I can delete them.

Social media ideas such as Meta and even some video games are trying to create a world online where people can live, interact, and even buy virtual coffee and listen to lectures in their own house and yet be ‘with’ thousands of others on an online server.  I can call my mother on the phone and see her face and hear her voice, but she is not there.  All of that feeds Gnostic thought patterns.  God created us to be in person, and I realize more and more that I feel more hollow and alone when using them.  Gnosticism sucks the life out of, well, life.

Covid even showed how deep Gnosticism infected the Church again.  Online Communion is a sham, because it denies the physical presence of Jesus Christ with his people incarnate, literally enfleshed.  (Along with a whole host of other problems).  Communion is never about me and Jesus, but rather it is about the Church with Jesus.  The Church is the body of Christ.  Gnosticism denies that and even denies that Jesus is physically present in the Lord’s Supper.
Even our hope in Jesus Christ and the articulation of the Christian faith is warped because of Gnosticism.  Christians see the hope of our faith as dying and going to heaven.  Forget this body, forget this place, I am out of here.  But that is not how the Scriptures teach it.  Heaven is not the end.  A disembodied existence is a naked and exposed existence.  The saints who are dead and with Jesus are at peace, but they want to come back here to terra firma and regain what they lost in death.  Our hope is that we will regain our bodies, that the earth will be made whole and incorruptible, and that God will dwell on earth with us for all eternity as he makes a new heaven and a new earth and purges it of any evil.

Ideas have consequences.  Ideas often go assumed and unnoticed because we operate on them without knowing that we are.  But pay attention to how people talk and once you are attuned to how the Scriptures talk, Gnosticism sticks out like halitosis and bites like the serpent’s venom.  Anything that denies the physical world as God created it ends up being just another lie that the devil speaks to cause people to wander into pious superstitions to their own destruction.    But that is not how you learned Christ.  Stick to the revealed Word of God that Christians have held to and confessed with their dying breath.  Attend Church because you know that faith desires what Jesus gives us in his Word and Sacrament.  Read your Bible and know it a lot.  Attend Bible classes.  Pass on the faith.  See it as precious.  As I heard recently, so now I also say to you: Keep Calm, Catechize On.  Jesus came in the flesh.  Lived.  Suffered.  Died.  Rose. Ascended.  And is coming back again to finish what he is now in the process of doing.  He did that all for you.

Calendar stuff
It is fall!  Life is happening together at the Church!  Read everything else in this newsletter to see what life together is like here and help beat back the Gnosticism that you just read about by finding ways to meet together in the flesh!  But here are many of those things here as well so you don’t miss it elsewhere in the Newsletter.

Dart Ball/Game Night: Every Tuesday night at 6:30pm.  2nd Tuesday will be a Family Game night.  4th Tuesday of each month will be a Card Night! (2nd and 4th start at 6pm)
Camp Luther Sunday: October 15th we will celebrate and have Camp Luther Sunday.  Come to be made aware of a great resource in our church body that has benefited generations!

PUPPETS:  Cinnamon Roll Sunday is on October 22nd!  They will also be in service that day.  Come and support the PUPPETS and pick up some yummy cinnamon rolls as well!

Voters Meeting/Pancake Breakfast: October 29th!  Come for Bible class at 10:30 and enjoy some pancakes by our elders.  Then after Sunday School, stay for the 11:30am Voters Meeting.  We will be going over the Budget and the election of officers for the next year.

Advent: Starting November 8th our Wednesday Chapel and our Thursday evening sermons turn into Advent!  Services will be different than the Sunday services and sermons.  Advent is a time where we reflect on the sorrows of this life and bring those sighs before the hope that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This year we will focus on Christ in the Old Testament.  Come on out if you want to learn more of how to find Jesus in the Bible!

Bethlehem Walk: Friday, December 1st and Saturday, December 2nd will be the Bethlehem Walk this year!  We need supplies and volunteers!  This is such a fun event, spread the news and consider joining us yourselves!

Reformation/All Saints: Reformation is coming up on October 29th!  See above about the Pancake breakfast by the elders to help celebrate Reformation.  The following week, November 6th, we will observe All Saints Day.  If you have lost a loved one in the faith since November 2nd, 2022, please let us know and we will include them in the service during the remembrance of the faithful departed.

Hymn Sing
Want to learn the hymns that we sing in church?  Want to come to appreciate them more? Want to see what is coming up ahead?  Please join us on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning on November 1st at 5:30pm as we have a hymn sing.  Potter’s House is happening during that time so feel free to stop and grab a snack to eat as well!
God’s peace to you all in Jesus Christ our Crucified and Risen Lord! 
Rev. Andrew Belt