as related by Tau Mikhael
“Where is the true Church of Christ?” This is a question that has plagued Christians since the time of the apostles. For millions of believers, the Roman Catholic Church remains the ‘One True Church’ led to this day by the successors of the apostle Peter. Other Christians are convinced their particular church is equally ‘true’ and faithful to the ‘original teachings’ of Jesus.
Beyond all the apparent confusion and division, what unites the overwhelming majority of professing Christians is a shared acceptance of doctrinal statements drawn up back in the fourth century.
The story of Jesus as the unique Son of God, born of a virgin, who died and rose again on the third day, only became Christian dogma thanks to the Council of Nicea which convened in 325 CE in an attempt to unify the diverse Christian communities under Emperor Constantine.
Bart Ehrman, professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, describes the process that brought this about:
One form of Christianity... emerged as victorious from the conflicts of the second and third centuries. This one form of Christianity decided what was the “correct” Christian perspective; it decided who could exercise authority over Christian belief and practice; and it determined what forms of Christianity would be marginalised, set aside, destroyed.
It also decided which 'books' to canonise into Scripture and which books to set aside as “heretical”, teaching false ideas ...
Only twenty-seven of the early Christian books were finally included in the canon, copied by scribes through the ages, eventually translated into English, and now in most homes in English-speaking countris. Other books came to be rejected, scorned, maligned, attacked, burned, all but forgotten – lost.
Back in the early centuries after Christ there were also many Christians who did not accept the Christian ‘orthodoxy’ that was fast becoming dominant thanks to the patronage of the Roman Empire. These Christians had their own sacred writings and distinct traditions received from the apostles. One significant group of these early Christian ‘dissenters’ are identified as the ‘Gnostics’.
Gnostic Christians distrusted the surperficial manifestations of the 'orthodox' Christians: the deity (represented by the imagined figure of Jesus) piously on display, officially worshipped and within everybody’s easy reach.
The Gnostics spoke of a hidden God, the true and nameless One, who goes unperceived by the materially minded mob. Only through the experience of the Gnosis – that is through the gift of profound spiritual insight – can human spirits approach the Secret of Secrets.
The Gospels record Jesus' sayings which point to this path, rather than tell the story of a god-man sacrificed for the sins of the world, as the 'orthodox' Christians believed. It was the infinite 'Christ' who spoke through the form of the man Jesus to impart the Gnosis of Light to the apostles, but only gradually and not to all of them in equal measure.
Mary Magdalene, St Thomas and St. John the Evangelist were held in particularly high regard by Gnostic Christians. It was to these and several other disciples, rather than the apostle Peter, that the Master had imparted His profoundest ‘secret teachings’.
With the triumph of the Roman Catholic Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, Gnostic Christians suffered persecution and were forced underground. The Gnostic tradition could not be exterminated and it survived to resurface throughout history in various movements. This is the story of Christianity’s other tradition, the hidden one.
The Hidden Church of John
"You know without doubt, dear Unknown Friend, that many ... promulgate the doctrine of the so-called ‘two churches’: the church of Peter and the church of John, or of two ‘epochs’ – the epoch of Peter and the epoch of John. You know also that this doctrine teaches the end – more or less at hand – of the church of Peter, or above all of the Papacy which is its visible symbol, and that of the spirit of John, the disciple loved by the master, he who leaned on his breast and heard the beating of his heart, will replace it. In this way it teaches that the ‘exoteric’ church of Peter will make way for the ‘esoteric’ church of John, which will be that of perfect freedom."
~ Valentin Tomberg 
In the Gospels, it is the apostle Peter who openly denied Christ Jesus, while it was the ‘beloved disciple’ John to whom the dying Jesus commended his mother Mary.
The Gospel of John speaks more about the Holy Spirit than the other Gospels. Gnostic Christians invoked the mystical and apocalyptic St. John as the source of their authority. The twentieth century mystic, Omraan Mikhael Aivanhov, explains in his book Aquarius:
All the Initiates in the past, the purest, most learned men were all disciples of St. John; they were also all persecuted by the official church because of their nondual 'spirituality'....
Unlike the church of Peter – the church of empire, the exoteric, involved with law and power – the church of John is an underground church of the esoteric, concerned with transcendence. It is the ‘Secret Church’ whose only law is love.
The church of John is decentralised, free and eternal; the church of Peter is centralised, hierarchical, complex, and worldly. The battle between the two churches is the Old Testament battle of the prophets with the priests. Mystic vision versus organised religion.
The church of John is the affirmation of spiritual brotherhood and rejection of the alienation of a worldly material civilisation. We find signs of this universal church of John in the different Gnostic communities appearing through the ages.
An Awakening of the Heart
The first followers of the Christ in Jesus did not see the Master's teachings as merely intellectual fodder meant for endless debate, nor as a mere set of humanitarian principles and moral pronouncements. The teachings of Jesus, they believed, were meant to be lived so that the individual person may awake to “Christ in you, the hope (source) of glory.”
For as the mystic Angelus Silesius wrote: “Even if Christ were born a thousand times in Bethlehem, But not in you, you would still be lost for all eternity.”
The ‘Secret Church’ still exists in the world in the twenty-first century. Gnostic Christians are a worldwide community united not by a rigid set of beliefs, but by a mysterious bond of brotherhood derived from a shared vision and experience of the living Christ.
Gnostic Christianity is experiential. It's about transformation, about a higher consciousness, not about dry words or external forms. Theologies and commandments are the formulations of men. No matter how sublime or noble, rational or logical, they are all man-made.
Gnosis is the experience of the divine. Words along with all theological and philosophical discourses are insufficient to explain it. You must taste it, as the Psalmist declares: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).
The goal of the Gnostic Christian is nothing short of Awakening to Christ Consciousness.
Following the Way of the Christ, as revealed in the Gospels, we are called to “the 'mind' which was in Christ Jesus.”
Almost the entire history of Christendom is a protest against the words of Jesus the Christ. Hatred and persecution, hypocrisy and ignorance, intolerance of one’s neighbours: all in the name of him who gave the command to 'love your enemies'. In the name of him who said: “My kingdom is not of this world”!
Institutional Christianity, with its religious dogmatism and obsession with commandments, is a contemporary example of the same force that confronted and sought to kill Jesus in his own time.
But behind worldly Christianity is the interior church of John or the church of Thomas etc -- the universal Gnostic church where the ever-living Christ continues to reveal the Light of Consciousness within our hearts.
This is the other tradition of Christianity, the hidden one, but it is always accessible to awakening souls.
About Tau Mikhael
Tau Mikhael is the Chief Bishop of the Universal Life Gnostic Fellowship and currently serves as the international secretary of the Universal Gnostic Alliance. An ordained minister since 1980, he holds degrees of Doctorate of Divinity and Theology. He has traveled extensively in Eurasia, Africa and the Middle East, and currently divides his time between Australia and South East Asia.
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