During the gathering of our Order of Elders, I shared a brief comment about the modern-day versions of the Gnostic and Docetic heresies. Several have asked me to explain further, and so let me explain in the context of our Christmas preparations.
The early Christian community was plagued by many heresies (false beliefs) which forced the Church to further define Christianity through a series of councils and their resulting creeds and statements of faith. Two of those heresies were the Gnostic and Docetic heresies which I find still present among many people today. Without boring you with too much early church history, Gnosticism is the belief that there is a body of spiritual wisdom (the word "gnosis" is Greek for knowledge) which an individual believer can access through his/her own spiritual quest. These so-called "mysteries" are only available to the individual believer who discovered such wisdom on a spiritual quest. Meanwhile the Docetic heresy focused upon belief that the world itself is evil and so any divine being (including the Son of God) would not deign to get involved in the dirt of human existence, therefore Docetics postulated that Jesus did not live in a physical body but was more ghost-like, leaving no footprints when he walked on earth.
I believe that those ancient heresies have their modern-day counterparts in two false teachings which plague the Christian community today. The first is represented by those many persons who claim to be "spiritual but not religious." Such statements are common today when people are asked to claim a religious affiliation. Like the ancient Gnostics, they respond with an elitist spiritual attitude which claims their own spiritual wisdom over and against the conventional spiritual wisdom of any organized religion. The second modern-day heresy is represented by those who claim to "love Jesus but not the Church." Like Docetics of old, they somehow propose to love Jesus without his Body in the world today.
The Church is largely at fault for the presence of these modern-day heresies. The Church has not adequately taught an orthodox theology about Christ and the Church – instead the Church in its many denominational and congregations forms has been distracted arguing among ourselves about how to interpret the Gospel for various social issues, how best to organize and share power in the world, and how to make the Church relevant to our times. I confess that the very presence of modern-day heresies is the result of the Church not doing its job well. I don't blame those persons who get caught up in the "I'm spiritual but not religious" or the "I love Jesus but not the Church" errors. Such false teachings are the fault of those who profess to love Jesus and his Church.
But Christmas comes along as an answer to those heresies, an answer which we can proudly proclaim. Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus is a dirty animal stall because "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" for this world with all its evils. Christmas brings us back in touch with those religious rituals and traditions which are the pathway to deeper spiritual truths. Christmas calls us into community, to "come home for Christmas" and discover our connections to God and one another. And Christmas provides an opportunity for nearly every congregation to be "church at its best" as we engage in caring ministries to care for the poor and the lonely.
Just when we might fall prey to a variety of heresies and false understandings of the Christian faith, Christmas brings us back to our senses, reminds us of God's incarnate love, and invites us to discover the beauty of the Body of Christ once again. Christmas is the answer, if we prepare our hearts, lives, and congregations for that kind of Truth.