I Embraced Functional Gnosticism

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I’ve encountered a mindset of compartmentalization in the church.

In fact I shared it for a long time.

I saw all life activities in terms of neat little boxes with handy labels like “spiritual” and “fleshly/physical.” For instance, Activity A (Bible reading or prayer) is “spiritual” so it is “better” than Activity B (playing with our children or sharing a meal with friends) which is “physical.”

Then one day I realized I had embraced a form of Gnosticism, which I will call “functional Gnosticism.”

Functional Gnosticism sees the physical/pleasure as evil, or at least “less good” than the spiritual. It’s an idea that we need to weigh our “spiritual” activities in a scale against all the rest of our life activities, and be sure the “spiritual wins.”

This is a perverted view of God’s gift of life and His created order.

When we read passages like Romans 8, the struggle between flesh and Spirit is referring to the struggle between the sinful desires rooted in our fallen nature and God’s Holy Spirit, who leads the believer away from ungodliness into holiness. This shouldn’t be thought of in terms of “physical versus spiritual,” with the physical being “the bad guy.”

All physical realities subjected to Christ are as spiritual as what we consider any purely “spiritual” activity.

Francis Schaeffer wrote, “True spirituality covers all of reality. There are things the Bible tells us as absolutes which are sinful—which do not conform to the character of God. But aside from these the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. In this sense there is nothing concerning reality that is not spiritual.”

There are many ways compartmentalization—functional Gnosticism—might show itself. It may take some form of forced abstinence concerning things that are not inherently sinful: “touch not, taste not, handle not.” Or it may simply devalue in some way what God has called good.

Take, for example, what we call the prudishness of the Victorian era. While there was a good deal of open immorality, the subject of sex (even within marriage) was often treated as something distasteful and shameful. The church was not immune to this error.

The polarized reaction to these attitudes culminated in the 60’s sexual revolution. It was the swinging pendulum effect.

We honor God’s created order by valuing all that He created for our good and His glory—whether it pertains to the body, the intellect, or the spirit/soul.

C.S. Lewis said, “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant a man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”

We will not be disembodied souls in eternity; on the contrary, the resurrection hope (1 Corinthians 15) will be fulfilled in all its glory when we are “clothed…with our house which is from heaven” (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-4). We are looking forward to that day we receive these glorified bodies in which we will live and sing and eat and reign and serve God on the new earth He creates. But until that day, (to paraphrase a friend) we need not spurn life in this world only to treasure it in the next.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever as the Catechism says. To that end He has given us bodies as well as souls. As we walk in holiness before Him we can enjoy all of the good gifts wrapped up in this package called “life,” giving Him thanks for them.

Living, loving, working, playing, praying—whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we can do all to the glory of God.

Tabitha Alloway

Tabitha Alloway is a wife and homeschooling mother of three who enjoys reading, writing, and exchanging ideas with fellow believers.

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