SEEKERS MORE THAN BELIEVERS
Gnostic Christians believed that questioning one's faith was
always important for it to change and grow. More than
accepting a system of beliefs, the meaning of "gnosis" was
"to know" Christ, and faith was led by seeking a vital,
positive relationship with him. Seeking "gnosis" led to
wholeness in a person's relationship to God and the world.
Christ's way was a spiritual journey, encouraging persons
continually to seek God and all truth. "Gnosis" did not mean
secret knowledge as opponents charged; new gospels
(without belittling or replacing biblical gospels) teach it
meant "knowing" Christ and God as one knows a friend.
In contrast to this dynamic way of faith, the early "apostolic
church," also known as the "proto - orthodox," declared its
beliefs and doctrines should never be questioned. Those who
asked questions about these beliefs were not true Christians
and were "heretics." Three hundred years after the death and
resurrection of Jesus, Constantine, for political reasons,
sided with those who said only their understanding of Jesus
was correct. Faith became what one believed.
Now we can learn those slandered as Gnostics believed
faith involved beliefs, but that all beliefs could be challenged,
as faith was about our honest relationship and journey with
the one they called the "living Jesus."
Over the voices of those called Gnostics, Orthodox
Christianity not only prevailed, but it has continued
ever since to define Christianity, foremost as a belief
system, dictated by doctrines. The Gnostic scriptures show
that there was and is a more refreshing, spiritual, honest, open,
loving, and exciting way to be a Christian.
This web site is about a different way of faith inspired by the Gnostics and the Gnostic Gospels. These gospels raise the flag that our faith is more important than our beliefs. The site is about the gnostic way of faith, which becomes relevant for today, not for their beliefs or myths, but because they believed in our Christian journey that our beliefs could change and our faith could always grow. In this sense, they bring support for those who believe faith is more than believing beliefs set in stone but is led by trust in Christ and an honest and open seeking of truth and God.
As these gospels give evidence that even the earliest disciples and apostles differed on major beliefs about Christ, they bring knowledge that early Christianity was not as united as often assumed. So-called Christian unity was achieved by one particular church calling all those who did not agree with them "heretics." Now with the Gnostic Gospels there comes the surprising news that these condemned heretics may have something positive to contribute to Christianity.Yes, the Gnostics had beliefs and myths, as we all do, and although particularly their myths have been dismissed by most, what is evident from these gospels is that their faith in Christ was dynamic and powerful. How powerful? If the gnostic way of faith had prevailed, there would be a different face on Christianity today. So what is the gnostic way of faith?
The gnostic way of faith is free, open, and creative. One does not have to be told how to act; particularly, what to believe. You can and should use your brain and modern knowledge. You have the ability to think for yourself. The gnostic style believes seeking God is more important than finding God by a certain dogma or belief. Thus this web site isn't about accepting Gnosticism or their beliefs or myths (yes, some are strange), but its purpose is to share an early and widespread style of Christian faith that those labeled as Gnostics heard Jesus teach. Silenced, condemned, and lost, this way of faith allows new knowledge, such as that which now comes from history and modern science, to inform our faith and change not only our beliefs, but how we are Christian in today's world. Instead of those with all the answers, our belief in Jesus is led by seeking all truth, yet with the realization that in faith no one has the corner on truth. In short, the gnostic way of faith affirms we can agree to disagree, as many more are accepting today, because faith, not beliefs, was the message of Jesus.
Of course, even within the development of the church in the New Testament, there were major difference of beliefs and opinions as seen in the letters to the Corinthians. Yet as the church developed with it systems of bishops, they were able to claim by their political power and self-declared authority that there need not be conflict or difference of beliefs for Christians. Unbelievably, a hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, as a matter of fact, one particular form of Christianity insisted only they understood Jesus and his messages. Historical records show that the early church of the second century said in no uncertain terms that what it believed was eternal and was unquestionable spiritual truth. There was no need to question or differ from their beliefs. Their message was: Only their knowledge of Jesus and God was correct.
Those called Gnostics, who were originally a part of the church, in contrast, felt the freedom to believe differently. They did not accept to be Christian that everyone had to believe the same. Because of this, in spite of all kinds of churches that have tried to establish such control and unity for themselves, the Gnostics were ahead of their time, at least, for many today who respect religious diversity. Yet these Christians would encounter the first major form of a church that declared by the sole authority of Jesus and his apostles, their's was the only true church. As a threat to this purity, the judgment on these who challenged some of the knowledge of the church came to be called "Gnostics,"and were described as "know nothings," which was the intent of the name. Particularly, any belief that differed, for example, belief in a spiritual resurrection rather than a bodily resurrection, was simply false and wrong. End of the story as the church knew the truth. In their writings, they literally say the truth of the church was "immovable." By truth, they clearly meant the beliefs and doctrines of their church. What was truth and what was true were not open questions -- unless they supported the answers of the church.
The Gnostics begged to differ because they never said truth was a closed issue. As will be seen, they had some different beliefs but never do they say that what they believed was final, unquestionable, and unchangeable truth. Thus they become viable as a role model for Christians today because the message they give is:
1. Indeed, our beliefs can change.
2. In regard to faith, we can differ in our beliefs.
3. All beliefs can be challenged.
4. What is true for both the world and religion can be open to question.
Thus, the Gnostics would argue that this early church got it wrong. What is immovable in Christianity is not our beliefs -- but our faith!
Unfortunately, the Gnostics have been defined mostly for what they believed, and generally it was assumed that they simply had a different set of beliefs than the church. Before the Gnostic Gospels were discovered in recent times, many believed they were not even Christians. Now these gospels show that they believed in Jesus, even as Lord and Savior, and these gospels are filled with many beautiful expressions of faith in Christ. That was not expected, but also these gospels bring first hand evidence that they did differ with the church on several doctrines, and on positions about the place and role of women, and the most glaring and controversial difference -- their belief in the design of the spiritual world.
The church believed, not only did they understand the world better than others, but they understood the spiritual world, its details and design, and it was as only as they could explain it. Here, the Gnostics were behind their time, because their myths did not meet the test of time. In fact, the Gnostics' belief in the design of the spiritual world would be what would get them in trouble, and frankly, has been a reason most have rejected them as Christians.
Most of us have faith because we trust that there is more to reality than we know, and we trust there is a spiritual dimension of life that is real. Those called Gnostics by the church believed the spiritual was real, but their design was obviously different from the church. The church basically believed the design of the cosmos was hell below, earth in the middle, and heaven was above. The Gnostics had a much more complicated design. They believed in the popular Greek/Latin mythology of their culture and time. This design of the spiritual world had many and different gods, who were emanations from the divine, much like angels, but for the Gnostics, there was one supreme God. This is often not recognized, but their assimilation of beliefs of their time did not aid in understanding their belief in Jesus.
Most likely today, the Gnostics would say "both" constructions of the divine world were wrong because now it is widely recognized that our knowledge, even in the form of beliefs, can be proven wrong. Clearly, the myths of the Gnostics are erroneous for most, so the gnostic way of faith says these can be rejected, because our faith is more than our myths -- ancient or current. New knowledge makes both designs flawed, and the argument is that just because the Gnostics got the spiritual design wrong, does this make them false Christians as the church charged?
The shock of these gospels is that these Christians had a faith greater than their myths, and they remind us that our own myths, beliefs, and doctrines need to be open to change and truth. Unfortunately, the image and understanding of these gospels has has been led by the traditional view of religion -- "this is what the Gnostics believed." It is as if their beliefs and myths could not change and their history was set in stone. This is sad because they bring to the table more than an old set of beliefs and myths. Indeed, if the interest in these Christians and new gospels was just about reviving their so-called set of beliefs and myths, that effort would be just another addition to the many battles over beliefs. So it is their way of faith, not just figuring out their history, that becomes relevant and instructive for how we are Christians today.
These gospels do something dramatic and transforming for faith. They make us rethink the message of Jesus. They make it exceeding clear that even early Christians did not all believe the same and that one form of Christianity won and established what were to become the correct or orthodox beliefs of the faith. This was a watershed for Christianity as the focus became on beliefs. Of course, we all have beliefs, and by that very fact, when one church established only their beliefs were true, the battles of beliefs began, and then -- even Christian wars were to come. Faith became led by what we believe as evident in the long Protestant/Catholic divisions, which are now thankfully beginning to show signs of peace. The point is that somehow between Jesus and Christianity, too often, the role of faith became what one believed, and particularly, what one believed about Jesus.
Thus it seems natural that many want to just put the Gnostics as a part of this battle for beliefs, but their beauty is that these gospels bring forth a different kind of faith than just establishing another belief system. To have beliefs is not wrong, but faith is more than what we believe and this is what the Gnostics have to offer. Faith is foremost a living trust in a God who loves us, and the Gnostic Gospels give support to those who believe faith, not beliefs, was the message of Jesus.
First of three sections that introduce: "A Different Way of Faith"
As said in the introduction, these gospels encourage a more dynamic, refreshing, open-minded, spiritual, loving, and exciting way to be a Christian. A different way of faith, as some might assume from preconceptions about these gospels, doesn't mean some radical, secret, or cultic way to believe but refers to a dramatic shift in the focus of faith. This focus becomes a dynamic connection to a vital inner experience of God's spirit that Jesus says (in the Gospel of Thomas) is both "within us" and "beyond us." Christianity becomes not merely a collection of facts but an honest and open quest to "bring forth" Christ's spirit for both ourselves and the world. Together as a whole, the discovery of these new early gospels puts more emphasis on "how" we believe.
The "how" is about our personal relationship with the one these gospels refer to as both the "living Jesus" and the "living Christ." They lift up the same Jesus as found in the New Testament gospels, but more than beliefs about him is building our own vital relationship with him. As will be learned, the word gnosis meant not a block of knowledge, but our knowing Christ -- as one knows a friend. Of course, the church didn't understand gnosis this way, as for them it meant one's "knowledge" of God. Thus because these gospels did not fully support such doctrines as the virgin birth, a bodily resurrection, and gave the right for women to be clergy, their "knowledge" was judged false. These positions could be found in The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, so, needless to say, these gospels were false.
Although there is written record that these gospels did exist and would have been read alongside the biblical gospels, one hundred years after the life of Jesus, those in power in the church decided for Jesus (and us) that these gospels were worthless. And those who read them were "Gnostics" because their gnosis was erroneous. So in a sense, this is how the name "Gnostic Gospels" came to be; it was because these Christians appreciated them. And because these gospels contained elements of the Gnostic myths, it was convenient for the church to dismiss them as Gnostic Gospels. Yet now that we know these gospels contained expressions of faith beyond these myths, it can be argued a better name would have been "other" early gospels and writings (there are only a few gospels and many more writings in the collection known as the Gnostic Gospels).
Nevertheless, labeling one's enemy has been helpful in vilifying those we oppose, and in this case, calling all the books "Gnostic," was quite effective in limiting what these Christians meant by gnosis. It appears that the church gave them very little chance to explain what they believed was a more powerful way in understanding the meaning of gnosis --as a way of knowing another. For them, it particularly meant knowing Jesus and God.
Still some argue that gnosis meant their "secret knowledge." No block of "secret knowledge" is found in these gospels, and the secret seems to be that we can know the living Christ in different ways and not just the way dictated by the church. It is true that these gospels are often titled secret, like the "Secret Gospel of Thomas." Yet no one is for sure why they are called secret. They may have been described such because they were forbidden writings. Some put them as advanced or special teachings akin to when Jesus in the Bible draws some disciples away and gives them special or --secret -- teachings. Many still today do associate the word gnosis as meaning some kind of secret wisdom or some very deep spiritual insights, as they do stress the spiritual over the religious. Yet what is really stressed is that faith is Beyond Belief -- the title of one of Elaine Pagels' books.
So some might hope that these books can tell us the secrets of what is beyond belief, but to the disdain of those who believe gnosis means secret knowledge, these gospels do not tell us what these insights or wisdom might be. Certainly, they witness to the belief that the spiritual world is real. Yet unless one accepts their myths as truth, the details actually become more mysterious. Thus these gospels are not about finding "secret" beliefs that Jesus gave just to certain disciples or even finding "secret" spiritual revelations that guarantee us salvation. Although the Gospel of Thomas hints at this, they are not there in these gospels.
Yet this is what the church wanted people to believe about the Gnostics because it made it appear they were just like a cult who knew it all and knew the secrets of the divine and the cosmos. Now it is clear from these gospels that this was an effective tool to slander them as "know it alls," and it worked well; it also becomes clear from them now -- they did not!
In no way do these gospels (or the Gnostics) have all the answers. In fact, these gospels, which supplement, not supplant, the biblical gospels, are for the most part inferior to them, but they are powerful in the sense that they unlock that faith is limited to those who tell us that which we must believe -- or else! Rather, they move faith as being on a journey to seek our positive relationship (gnosis) with God through Christ and his living spirit. Interestingly, then, our spiritual life is something we experience now and is not just another world that comes only when we die. The spirit of Christ is with us now.
The Gnostic Gospels were unexpectedly discovered in Egypt in 1945. To be clear, their discovery was two years before that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which absolutely contained no gospels. Yet they are often confused with the Scrolls, and many Christians don't realized their separate importance. This was a different discovery in Egypt, and it contained news that many Christians didn't want to hear -- there were other early gospels. For many of us it is still shocking that originally there were not only the gospels in the Bible but also gospels attributed as well as to Jesus' first disciples, Thomas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene.
Yet in spite of this shocking news, what many don't realize is that they contain beautiful teachings of Jesus, and scholarly sources have determined they are as old as those gospels in the Bible. So a natural question becomes why most of us never knew or heard of them? And, then from a little known fact, why were they officially ordered destroyed three hundred years after the life and resurrection of Jesus? The short answer is these gospels did not support doctrines that the church said represented the truths of Christianity.
The details and documentation as to why, most likely, you, and even I as an ordained Presbyterian minister, had never heard of these gospels is explained further in this web site's files and even more fully in my book, The Hidden Messages of Jesus: How the Gnostic Gospels Change Christianity (by Rev. Larry A. Angus). There is more on the book below, and there will be a place for you to sign on for free quarterly Newsletters (see the Contact Page), but the real story of these gospels is clear that some early Christians believed Christianity was more a journey of faith than accepting certain beliefs and doctrines. The gnostic way of faith was seeking God in spirit and in truth. Thus the Gnostics believed our beliefs and myths, which we all have, can change -- even theirs; yet what remains constant is our faith.
Until the discovery of other early gospels, the way to be Christian was simply "to believe." This Orthodox or Fundamentalist interpretation of Christ made Christianity another religion -- to oppose others. "Believe in Christ as we do or go to hell." "The only way to know God is limited to our chosen books." "Obey and believe the beliefs and rules of our church -- and its God given authority." In doing so, you would receive the gift of salvation. This was the orthodox message from Jesus -- to be a "believer."
In contrast, and in summary, the Gnostics were "seekers." It was far more important to seek God through all kinds of knowledge rather than "just believe." They were believers in Christ, but they heard a different message from Jesus. They had beliefs, as we all do, but they did not insist they had the corner on -- or final -- truth in interpreting the world or God. Christ's message was more spiritual than religious -- not bearing all the answers. The place to find God was within oneself, not in externals like beliefs, dogma, or dictates of the church. Their interpretation was that we could experience the living Christ and God, by seeking, not finalizing God. Your faith is not what you believe about Christ but your relationship with Him. For them, gnosis meant more than head-type knowledge (that could change as it does with time), but knowing Jesus and God as you know another person. As faith is a two way relationship, it is also essential to know yourself and be touched by what the Gospel of Philip calls the transforming power of "love and light." Seeking God and this relationship, because of Christ and his messages, both in his words and his actions from the cross (which they called a living book), was the true act of faith. That is the gnostic style and spirit found in the exciting materials often called, the Gnostic Gospels!
(Second Section) :
Introduction to the Gnostic Way of Christianity
International Dateline Scott Angus
Gnosticschristians.com is a web site
for those who are interested in learning
about a different way to be Christian that was literally suppressed because it held that Jesus' message was more spiritual than establishing a set of required beliefs about him.
This different way to believe is inspired by those we now know as GNOSTICS --pronounced "Naw-stics." Surprisingly, at least, at first, the Gnostics were actually members of early Christian churches and not an organized denomination or even a church unto themselves. They were a fairly diverse group of the earliest Christians, who accepted the gospels that would become biblical, but also they were those who found value in other gospels. This was not acceptable to one form of the church led by bishops who declared any gospels that did not directly support their beliefs were false. Around 200 C.E., Bishop Irenaeus insisted there were only four true gospels and all others were worthless. This little known Bishop became extremely powerful in silencing other gospels and declaring only the beliefs of his church were precisely those of Jesus. To believe differently was heresy; heresy means "choice." There was no need for choice, and it was a sin to question any of the church's teachings.
In contrast, those vilified as Gnostics (a term they did not call themselves but was what the bishops called them), believed other early disciples of Christ should be heard and also that Jesus' message was more than establishing hard-core beliefs. Further, as they believed that Christian beliefs could be open to change, particularly with new knowledge, they were seen as a threat to "true" Christianity. This judgment was made primarily by bishops who were organizing themselves as the "apostolic church." Only the beliefs of this church were true because they were exactly those of the apostles. Who better could know the truth? Now it is known that some apostles like Mary Magdalene and Thomas were overlooked, but it was established that to believe the truths of their church (and those apostles with whom they agreed) was the way to be Christian.
The gnostic way of faith was to believe in Jesus by relating and knowing (gnosis) Jesus as a friend. Faith involved beliefs but faith that was greater than our beliefs. Successfully deemed heretics and infidels, Christianity became a belief system rather than a faith system. Today, the Gnostics do not call us to their beliefs or myths, but can inspire us to be Christians who are free to seek and learn new truths, and by our faith always seek our vital and honest relationship through him with God.
The Gnostic Gospels, written in the same time period as the New Testament, were known to exist primarily by negative attacks in the writings of early Bishops of the Church. Since these attacks were made around 200 C.E., it is hard to argue these were just later creations. Also it is known that these Bishops boldly declared that those who disagreed with any of their beliefs were "false teachers." These false teachings included the gospels of Thomas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene, and officially, in 367 C.E. (obviously 300 years after the life and resurrection of Jesus), they were ordered destroyed. This is almost unreal that some would want early gospels silenced and not even heard. Yet the fact is they were amazingly successful, as it is fairly common still today that most Christians don't know about them, or they believe, as told, that they are totally false (without even reading them). Even many churches brush them aside -- although they could find a source for great renewal in them -- because of the tradition brought by Irenaeus and latter Constantine that there was no Christian value in them. Thus it is natural to question their worth, but a new truth that might be discovered, for those with open minds, is that these new gospels can actually strengthen the spiritual vision found in the Bible.
Gnostics were not the only ones that were labeled heretics. The "apostolic church," as first the early bishops described it, gave this label to anyone who had other beliefs than theirs. Yet Gnostics were given the severest of attacks, because as members of the church, they were like a cancer within. Early in Christianity, those called Gnostics were slandered as not being true disciples of Jesus, even though one of their leaders, Valentinus, was almost elected as Pope, losing by a few votes in 143 C.E. after the death of Pope Hyginus.
Nevertheless, often, they have been portrayed as not even being Christians. Because they believed differently and challenged some of the beliefs of the church, it was taught because they believed in myths (as if the apostolic church had none), their faith in Christ was simply mythical. Most were told that Jesus wasn't a real person, but now that these gospels can speak for themselves, there is a new story about their strong faith and belief in a real Jesus. In spite of their faith in him as Savior, the elimination of writings judged "heretical," "false," and "impure," was almost successful. But thanks to some monks, who most likely hid the forbidden works in a mountain cliff in Egypt, near a village called Nag Hammadi, the Gnostic Gospels and writings can now speak for themselves.
In 1945, fifty-two texts (including such titles as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth) were found in Egypt at the base of a high mountain ridge having at least 150 caves. Interestingly, a farmer named Muhammad Ali (al-Samman), looking for softer soil for fertilizer in the talus below one of the caves, found a large jar filled with thirteen books written on papyrus, bound in leather. Muhammad's mother actually burned some pages to kindle a fire, but thankfully, he decided to take them to an antiquities dealer. As had long been rumored, we now know indeed there were other Christian gospels written as well as those in the Bible in the early development of Christianity. Careful research has declared them authentic. Finally, after fifty years of study and translation by scholars, they are available to the general public. They raise questions, which have the potential to free Christianity from centuries of simple answers, and for many, unacceptable positions and beliefs, allowing all truth to be a part of the process of faith.
Are you a person who thinks, beyond the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, chosen by early Bishops, that other gospels and writings written in the same time period, ought to be heard?
Are you one who questions certain beliefs or "articles" of faith in the Apostles' Creed, such as the virgin birth or a bodily resurrection?
Are you one who thinks religions other than Christianity may have validity?
Do you believe women have the right to be clergy?
Are you one who thinks your own relationship with God and Christ is more important than what a church tells you is unquestionable belief?
Is your style of faith honestly seeking what is true about the world and God rather than blind belief?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, you could be interested in learning more about these powerful early Christian resources that were suppressed until 1945. (These manuscripts now can be purchased in paperback in a collection called, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by James M. Robinson.)
To register yourself as one who believes, seeking God, is more important than finding God by a certain dogma or belief, go to the "contact us," icon, accessed at the top of this page. This seeking way of faith is also expounded in other files accessed above.
"Christ's Way Was A Spiritual Journey"
The Outback Journey--Australia Scott Angus
(Third Section) :
What follows is information on the Award Winning Book inspired by the responses to this web site, so you may want to move on to a different file or page above, such as the Summary or Contact Page, if not interested in the book. Of course, I hope you consider buying it as I think it tells the story best and explains why these gospels dramatically change the concept of faith. Clearly, by the reviews, most like it, but if you don't, send me your receipt with the book, and I will refund the cost plus mailing. I even have a limited number of books free if you are interested but just can't afford it.
The Hidden Messages of Jesus: How the Gnostic Gospels Change Christianity, by Larry A. Angus, was first published in April 2012. It won the nationally respected CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) 2014 Merit Award in the category Spirituality/Religion. The book gives footnotes and much scholarly ground for the validity of the information presented in this web site. It is available as an e-book or in print from most outlets. A picture of the both the book and author are below. More information on the author is in the file -- Gnostics Christians -- and more so in the "Introduction" to the book.
Certainly, it is not essential for you to have the book to sign on to this network, but it gives far more information and documentation. So please google amazonbooks.com. or other sights. Type in the name of the book (The Hidden Messages of Jesus). If you do order or read it, please give your review (positive or negative) there or at other sites such as goodreads. You can preview it free at "inside the cover" at amazon or barnesandnoble.
Why Consider the Book? In the book, you will learn much about the Gnostic Gospels, how and why they were ordered destroyed, who the Gnostics were, and why they were considered heretics. By demonizing them, facts are given how Bishop Irenaeus and Constantine together, but separately, decided what true Christians had to believe, and how this laid the groundwork for many battles and even wars, not for faith, but for Christian beliefs.
Not just presenting facts, there is the revelation that these new gospels bring the unexpected news that there were early Christians who were not locked into narrow and absolute beliefs and myths. Instead, they surprisingly teach that "gnosis" for them meant one's relationship--as in knowing another, especially Christ and God--not some secret knowledge! This knowing was led by searching for the truth--not declaring it as so many have done, including bishops in the early church, who literally put in writing that only they knew the truth of God.
Gnostic Christians, in contrast, believed faith was not a closed system of beliefs but foremost a spiritual journey.
The book isn't about making one a Gnostic or promoting Gnostic Churches --it is about what might be called a "gnostic" way of faith. It is about how these hidden gospels can inspire Christians, in your own church, or for those of you may have left certain churches, to be, as the Gnostics tried to be, honest, open, loving, seekers of God. For more information, open the tabs at the top of this page. Thanks!