It is often said, and more rightly so that those who don’t know history are poised to repeat it. Often, the problems we struggle with today have been before, and we grow in wisdom by looking back at how our forefathers resolved them. The theological and ecclesiastical problems the modern church faces today are not new, as we will see.
The greatest threat to Christianity to the second-century church was Gnosticism. Gnosticism, (from the Greek word gnosis meaning ‘knowledge’) inherited its philosophy from the ancient Greeks, in particular, Socrates and his student Plato, and emphasized ‘deep revelation’ as a means to know God and discover one’s true identity. In this article, our attention shall be drawn to the church in the second century as it battled the gnostic heresies, if perhaps we may learn from it relevant lessons for the current church in Uganda.
The Gnosticism found its way into the early church through Simon Magus, or Simon the Magician. We see this figure in Acts 8. As the gospel was expanding beyond Jerusalem after the murder of St. Stephen, Philip the Evangelist took the gospel to Samaria, Simon’s hometown. Upon seeing the wonders done by Philip, Simon superficially believed, later offering to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles (Acts 8:14-24).
Second century Church Father Justyn Martyr who himself was from Samaria testifies that Simon later traveled to Rome where he was worshiped as a god, saying thus:
He was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you [Romans] with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber [in or near Rome], between the two bridges, and bore this inscription in the language of Rome: Simoni Deo Sancto—”to Simon, the holy god.” Almost all the Samaritans—plus a few of other nations—worship him and acknowledge him as the first god. (Apology 26)
Gnosticism developed, and had various teachers in the early church, with Carpocrates being around in John’s time. John’s letters refer to some of the gnostic teachings of his day, to which we will turn later. Beyond Carpocrates, there was Marcion, Valentinus, Ptolemy, and Marcus.
What Did the Gnostics Teach?
As we explore the gnostic teachings, one needs to remind themselves of the conversations they have had with members of Phaneroo (and indeed every other mushrooming ‘prophetic’ fellowships in town), for the parallels are striking.
The gnostic conception of God/Deity, was pantheistic, in that they believed ‘everything emanated from God’ and shares in His Deity. All is God, so to speak. They tought that as God’s divine sparks moved away and away from the center, they lost more of the divine goodness. One of those who fell away, Sophia (Wisdom) created the material universe. It follows that these ‘divine sparks’ can create the world and earth.
From this view of God, the Gnostics believed that the material world is evil since it was a product of a being fallen further from God, which leads them to view the body as evil since it is material. For this reason, Gnostics denied that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3), because to them, gnosis could not come through an evil vessel!
When it comes to humanity, ‘Gnostics believed that human beings were “sparks” or “droplets” of the very same spiritual substance (or essence) that God is. Somehow, we became trapped in our physical bodies from which we are to escape.’ This is the genesis of the proposition that we are gods.
Gnostics further taught that Humans are generally ignorant of the divine spark resident within them. This ignorance is fostered in human nature by the influence of the false creator and his Archons, who together are intent upon keeping men and women ignorant of their true nature and destiny.
For this reason, Gnostics taught that ‘a human being is, in reality, an eternal spirit that somehow has been imprisoned in the body.’ Notice the idea of ‘eternal spirit’, for we will come to it later.
“As long as spirits are trapped in physical bodies and materiality, they will be subject to sin, which is caused by ignorance of their true nature and home.“
The path to salvation, according to Gnosticism is through gnosis or knowledge. This is only logical, since, as they teach, man’s greatest problem is not sin but ignorance. According to gnosis.org, ‘Gnostics do not look to salvation from sin (original or other), but rather from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Ignorance — whereby is meant ignorance of spiritual realities — is dispelled only by Gnosis, and the decisive revelation of Gnosis is brought by the Messengers of Light, especially by Christ, the Logos of the True God. It is not by His suffering and death but by His life of teaching and His establishing of mysteries that Christ has performed His work of salvation.’
‘According to the Gnostics, they possessed a special, mystical knowledge, reserved for those with true understanding. That knowledge was the secret key to salvation.’– Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus was asked about death, He answered that ‘human beings must come by Gnosis to know the ineffable, divine reality from whence they have originated, and whither they will return. This transcendental knowledge must come to them while they are still embodied on earth.’
What Phaneroo Teaches
Once one has known what Gnosticism teaches, he quickly realizes its similarity with Phaneroo. Indeed, it is as though Phaneroo copies the second-century gnostic heresy, almost word for word! For example;
We saw that Gnosticism taught that everything emanates from God and shares in His deity. Phaneroo indeed teaches that we are emanations of that deity, an extension so to speak. In Apostle Lubega’s words:
‘Everything that God carries inside of him is what you carry. That is why when he looks at you he says, ‘you are of me.’ …for everything that you are right now, none of it is your own; everything is of God. Your children are of God; your thoughts are of God; everything that is in the inside of you is of God. You do not have a will.’ (Of God, May 27, 2016)
Concerning Human Deification: As Gnosticism taught that human beings were “sparks” or “droplets” of the very same spiritual substance (or essence) that God is, Phaneroo as well explains that believers are gods and Christ. Not that they belong or to Christ, but that they are God, they are Christ.
‘You are the lord from heaven. You come with the spirit of lordship. Except a man be born from above, that man cannot experience the realm because the realm is supposed to be an experience. Salvation is supposed to be an experience. You are from above.’ (The Man From Above, November 2, 2015)
The devil entered the serpent enough until revelation referred to him as that serpent. He was not originally the serpent but he entered, ‘tabernacled’ in the serpent and revelation calls him that serpent. In fact, when you dream about a snake, you know that that is the devil, you do not say that that is an angel. If a snake can become the devil and the law can become Moses, how about you child of God? Didn’t you become Christ? (The Man From Above, November 2, 2015)
This, Lubega teaches based on a poor interpretation of Genesis 1:26, 2:7, Gal 2:16,29, Acts 9:4 Ps 82:6 which I will expound on in my next article. I already explained 1 John 4:17.
The idea that we are Christ is one of their chief heresies indeed, for in this they have gone beyond their contemporary heretic Gnostics. I will devote the next article on expositing the main misquoted verses, and the anthropocentric approach to hermeneutics.
Ability to Create: We also saw that Gnosticism taught that this world was created by one of the divine sparks, Sophia (Wisdom). The idea is that the ‘divine sparks’ have the inherent ability to create. Phaneroo echoes this:
The word of God did not create the world; it created worlds, the account we see in Genesis is only of the creation of one world which is earth. Everyone has a world and that world has all the systems. When God created man, he did not plan that all of us create our world according to the sufficiency of the earth; in fact, earth is subject to our sufficiency. Earth is as flexible as you want your earth to be. The ultimate distinction of any minister is to create his own world! If anyone or anything is in your world it’s because you created it there. That’s what faith is for- that you create your world! (Of Revelation, November 14, 2016).
About Having Lived Eternally Before: Socrates championed the idea that humanity has always existed in the spiritual realm before coming into the physical world. Socrates, in prison awaiting his execution by poison the same day discourses with Cebes and Simmias about death and the immortality of the soul. In his Socratic form of questioning, he corners Simmias into accepting that all learning is a kind of recollection of events one encountered before he was born.
‘Then Simmias, our souls existed formerly, apart from our bodies, and possessed intelligence before they came into man’s shape’ – Socrates, Phaedo
‘The superstar (Jesus) returned above, and the moment he reached heaven, he said ‘Apostle Grace, go down on earth and show them.’ I came the day I got Born Again. The moment I entered the tabernacle, the angels told me, ‘welcome to the world of men.’ I am not ordinary. I am from above.’ – Grace Lubega
‘As a child of God, you existed in eternity, live for a particular time span on the earth and will return to eternity.’ (Predestination, July 28, 2017)
About ‘Deep Revelation’: Phaneroo insists on a certain mystical, subjective experience it calls epignosis, far and above the objective eternal written word of God. Like Gnosticism, it emphasizes ignorance as the greatest danger to humanity, rather than sin. And like Gnosticism, Phaneroo proposes this subjective experiential knowledge as a gateway to the mysteries that many ‘miss out’ because of ignorance.
‘To partake in an unworthy manner is to partake without the understanding of the God-like nature one has (2 Peter 1:4). Such people find it robbery to be like sons of God and instead perceive it as humility to consider themselves as ‘rugs, and utter nothingness’ when compared to God. To them, God is high up there, and they are all the way down here.’ (How We Partake The God-Life, June 13, 2017)
‘The renewal of your mind has the power to cause you to change form. The Greek word used for transformed in our theme scripture is metamorphoo which is translated to mean transfigure or to change form. This means that when you constantly apply your mind and spirit to the Word, it propels you into celestial (out of body) experiences.’ (The Renewal Of The Mind: Transformational Power, July 15, 2017)
‘There are shortcuts in higher dimensions, and these allow for the quickening of knowledge. Firstly, ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things (1 John 2:20). This knowledge of all things is an experience in the spirit. The difference between a man who knows all things and one who progressively knows things is THE FAITH to believe the Word of God in light of what has been given him by God.’ (Of Spiritual Portals, July 13, 2017)
Jesus as a Prototype: Finally, Christ, to the Gnostics was that Messenger whose primary reason was not to die for the sins of the world, but to illuminate the hearts of the ‘divine sparks’ with a decisive ‘revelation’ so that they may know who they are. These two concepts are prevalent in Phaneroo as well.
‘Many people think they understand why Jesus came but they actually do not. If you ask many Christians why they think Jesus came, many will tell you what they think brought Jesus or what they assume Jesus came for and some will give answers which are true but are only part of his mandate. For example, Jesus came to save the lost. That is true but there were men who went to heaven before Jesus ever existed in the flesh. Jesus came to wash away our sins. It is true but there are men who did not sin or who walked this life blameless such as babies. ‘ (It Is Finished, February 9, 2016)
‘God is not a soul. He is a spirit. The bible says that he created them in his image and likeness. That means that they were spirit but they were held in heaven, waiting. The first man who is Jesus said, let me give you a sample and he came into the body, healed the sick, cast out devils, did all these kinds of things and said, ‘it is for your good that I go. Why? Because I have just shown you a sample.’ (The Man From Above, November 2, 2015)
How Did the Early Church Respond?
The rise of Gnosticism awakened the early church to establish a Canon. There was a need for the church to define its theological and ecclesiastical boundaries. We have the 66 books of the bible because the Church Fathers thought it important to address the Gnostic heresy.
But the church didn’t stop there. They crafted the ‘Symbol of Faith,’ also known as the Apostles’ Creed, which later gave rise to the Nicene Creed. By ‘symbol’ they meant a means of recognition of those who accept the Apostolic doctrine among those following various heresies. It was at that time that the word ‘Catholic’ was coined, to reflect the universality of the church. But also ‘Catholic’ meant ‘according to the whole,’ that it; consistent with the historical teachings of the Church, from Christ, through the Apostles and those the Apostles left as overseers of the church of God.
The early church responded to the gnostic heresy also through systematic teachings of men like Irenaeus of Lyons. So, Teaching, Canon (Scripture), and Creeds were how the early church reacted. It remains to be seen how we act today. One thing is for sure, we are at war against heresy, and you must decide which side you will be when the dust settles. God used the heretics to awaken the Church to doctrinal clarity. I believe He is doing the same today. If you love truth, you will hate error. And as the battles are fought, you can’t be a spectator.
Grace Lubega and his entourage and UMA are probably sincere people, and probably they mean well. Maybe they want to help people spiritually. But goodwill is not enough, and sincerity is not the same as truth, like I said in the beginning, those who don’t learn from history are hell-bound to repeat it.
In the next article, we will consider a biblical response to modern day Gnosticism, as we handle the texts misinterpreted by Phaneroo, texts that are foundational to their gnostic ideas.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org