The way I see it there are two kinds of Christians. Both of them fall well short of the Christ-likeness we're told is our goal. One doesn't get there because it's content without it. The other doesn't get there because it doesn't know how.
The first group believes what the church teaches and doesn’t care that it never changes. People in this group avoid anything in conflict with their beliefs and will never consider anything new, since nothing new is needed. God said it. They believe it. That settles it. Asking them to consider something different is like suggesting that 2 plus 2 might not be 4 after all. The bible serves to further assure them that they’re right and that new ideas are from the enemy. But the real enemy lies behind this false appearance of assuredness. Its name is Fear. Not a fear of what will happen if they disobey God, but a more hidden and subversive kind – a fear of an emptiness in their lives without their familiar belief system. Many in this group carry heavy burdens though life waiting for Jesus to miraculously set them free - even though Jesus himself said the truth would do that for them. But they already have the truth. What they're asking for is deliverance. Wait a minute. If they have the truth why would they still need deliverance? And if they don’t have the truth why then don’t they admit it to themselves? This frustrates me until I remember that God brings all of us to the truth in different times and in different ways. It is, in fact, the very purpose of our existence.
The other kind of Christian isn’t content with mere church attendance and knows there's something more. This is the group I've always been in. In fact my wife and I now host a home group for this type of believer. But why are there so many of us? A few months ago I started this blog with that very question. We go from one church to another without finding what we want, only to give up and settle for something close to home. So what is it that we want? More love? More power? More of the mind of Christ? We talk about these things in church all the time but rarely see them materialize in our lives. Finally we come to the realization that what is needed is a more experiential relationship with the source of all these things – the same kind of relationship with God that Jesus had. C.S. Lewis said we wouldn’t have such a need if it couldn't be filled. Singing worship songs and hearing stories about God are nice, but they don’t really bring us the intimacy we want. It’s time to take a look at a different kind of Christianity – one that does.
Most of us picture the early church as a small, tightly knit group banded together against a hostile world, but it was not nearly as single-minded as we think. A Catholic ('universal') Church had been created which offered a system of beliefs and rituals for those who conformed to its tenets. But there were other groups which held very different beliefs about Jesus and his teachings. Unfortunately their writings were not allowed. In the 4th century, in an attempt to unify Christianity and keep it under the control of his growing empire, Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan which officially aligned the Catholic Church with Rome. This had the effect of ending any further diversity found among Jesus' followers. Four gospels were canonized and all others (there were many) lost or destroyed. Among those lost were the writings of a group of Christians known as the 'Gnostics' (from the Greek gnosis which means knowing). Fortunately for believers many of these writings were found in a cave on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. But by then the canonical Bible had achieved the high standing of “Word of God”, inerrant and infallible. It’s no wonder the church quietly ignored the discovery. I always wondered why, with so little information available about the life of the most important person in the history of the world (almost nothing outside of the bible) anything would be suppressed because the Church decided it wasn’t “inspired by God.” Then I read some of the lost gospels and found out why. It's too bad too. The Gnostics had exactly the kind of relationship to God that we're looking for.
Next: What they believed.