Friday, May 25, 2012

Coming up short

Thirty years ago I didn't quite know what to do with my Lutheran roots.  I had been raised in a Lutheran church that baptized, educated, and nurtured me.  In that small congregation I was given the chance to explore my gifts for teaching and leadership.  The message I got at home and the message I got in church was the same message.  It was the same message that has been passed down from generation to generation for two thousand years: Jesus is Lord.  You are saved by God's grace.

As I looked around, however, I saw that in some ways, my Lutheran church was lacking.  I saw lots of people who didn't take this message seriously -- at least I couldn't see any evidence that their lives were changed by it.  I recognized some of that complacency in my own life, as well, and I wondered what was wrong with my church that it didn't seem to measure up to the church I read about in the book of Acts.  And at the same time, I wondered what was wrong with me, that I didn't measure up to Paul, or Peter, or even the minor characters like John Mark or Barnabas?

I started to think -- and these thoughts were amply fueled by friends, by conversations overheard, by preachers on television and radio -- that our church lacked evangelical zeal.  That was the sort of term I heard a good deal in those days.   Revival preachers and Pentecostal hand-raisers alike seemed to look down their noses at those staid, steadfast -- not to say boring -- Lutheran churches.  We were little better than the Catholics to them, it seemed: complacent, baby-baptizing, lukewarm pew-sitters.

I visited a few other churches, listened to a few other preachers.  I thought the Pentecostals had the right kind of fever, and the full-body-baptizers had the right passion.  As the years slipped by, I continued to wonder about my roots.  At the same time, though, I had the privilege of studying under some amazing teachers.  These were passionate people, even feverish.  And they taught me a deep, subtle, and most important, biblical way of understanding Jesus, and what it meant to follow him.  They talked about the difference between law and gospel.  They debated about the third use of the law.  They agreed without argument about words like "simul iustus et peccator" and "sola scriptura."  They taught me stories of people like Martin Luther, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others.

So I stayed Lutheran, and grew deeper and deeper into that faith.  But I always still felt the lack, the quiet sadness, that my church was too complacent.

Let me be crystal clear here: I do believe the Lutheran churches -- all of them -- are too complacent.  But I have also come to see that it is no solution to simply say we're going to stop baptizing babies, get a full immersion tank, call ourselves a Community Church, and move on from there.  It is no solution to guilt people into sidewalk evangelism where we rattle off four spiritual laws and pray a prefab prayer with the victim -- oops, I mean "convert" -- and move on down the sidewalk.

Fact is, I believe most -- nearly all -- churches in North America are too complacent.  We have all, sadly, accepted a lighter version of the gospel that is really no gospel at all.  I have talked with dozens if not hundreds of parents who want to have their child baptized as a sort of watery protection from the fires of hell.  I have also talked to many evangelicals who have been "converted" by saying a prefab prayer and accepting-Jesus-as-my-personal-Lord-and-Savior (JAMPLAS for short). Because they have done this, if you ask them what difference this makes, they know that they will go to heaven when they die.

None of this is biblical Christianity.  None of it.

Look for one place in the New Testament where someone is encouraged to be baptized, or to pray a prayer inviting Jesus into their heart, so that they can avoid hell and go to heaven.  You won't find it.  You will find almost no emphasis on going to heaven at all, in fact.  And while you will find much about God's judgment, you will find very little about avoiding hell. The very simple problem with this kind of non-Christianity is that it is totally and utterly self-centered.  Jesus said that those who lose their life will find it, but we are encouraging people to be baptized and to receive Jesus in order to save their lives -- what Jesus labeled a sure route to being lost.  We have replaced biblical Christianity with a self-preserving brand of fire insurance.  We think that the basic question of Christianity is, "How can I go to heaven when I die?"  Again, search the New Testament.  You will not find that question, or at best you will find it rarely, and then only implied.  That question has little or nothing to do with Christianity.

No, the basic question of Christianity is this: "Who is Lord?"  Well, you're thinking, Jesus, of course.  What a silly question.

Let me ask you a few questions about Jesus being Lord -- and at the same time I will ask these questions of myself because I need to:

  • If someone followed you or me around for a week, who would they say is Lord?
  • If someone looked at the amount of time we've spent digging into a Bible, either by ourselves or with others, in the last week, who would they say is our Lord?
  • If you or I logged our time, minute by minute, what would the record say about who is Lord?
  • If you're a parent, like I am, and someone asked our kids who is our Lord, what would they say?
  • If we laid out our spending records for the last year, who would the records say is Lord?
According to the New Testament, if Jesus is Lord, it makes a difference.  His Lordship changes things. We are transformed -- regenerated -- made new -- because Jesus is Lord.  Not that we become suddenly perfect or superhuman, but Jesus changes us in tangible ways.  This is not a one-time event, but a process that the Bible calls sanctification.  So here's another question, and this one is worth pondering, not just hanging your head in guilt:

What significant changes has Jesus made in your life in the last six months?  Or better yet, what changes is he working in you right now?  If you call him Lord, where is he stretching, breaking, remaking you?  Who is he using to break your heart?  What group of people, or what individuals, has he used lately to put you on your knees to plead for them?  What habits has he confronted and begun to break in you?  What prejudice has he confronted in your heart?  What old sin has he brought to the surface so that you might repent?  What old grudge have you had to release so that as you forgive another person, you might receive forgiveness as well?

All these things are part of sanctification, part of Jesus' lordship in our lives.  If you can't point to something significant in the last six months, maybe it's time to take a day and just get close to Jesus.  Maybe it's time to set aside some time -- more than just five minutes -- to read his book and talk -- and listen -- to him.

The sad reality of Christianity in North America is that most of us have settled for a self-focused idolatry that makes our religion about us and our eternal security.   We get sprinkled or dipped, we pray a prayer, and feel like we're suddenly secure.  We jump through the Jesus hoop and then we turn back to life as it used to be.  We're still lost, still broken, but we feel a little bit safer because we don't have to fear the car accident or the cancer diagnosis, because if those horrible things do happen, in spite of all our prayers for our own safety (another symptom of our idolatrous disease) we have Jesus there to welcome us into our eternal reward.  

Trouble is, heaven is mostly -- from what I read in the Bible -- about being in the presence of God, knowing God, seeing God face to face, being completely overwhelmed by God.  If we go through this life focused on ourselves, we will be poorly suited for heaven.  And we will have missed out on the main idea of the whole New Testament, the whole of Jesus' ministry, the focus of Jesus preaching -- what he called the "kingdom of God".  What is that, you ask?  Pull out that old Bible and start reading. If you want to know about the kingdom of God, I recommend Luke's gospel.  Then read Luke's second volume, the book of Acts, to put a little more reality to what the kingdom looks like when it happens in and through the church. 

My Lutheran roots and the roots of my Pentecostal and evangelical siblings in the church are all good roots, because they go down deep into Jesus Christ.  The trouble is when we practice these forms of Christianity as if they were simply a way for us to get what we want -- salvation, security, heaven, hope, healing, happiness.  No, Christianity must be, if it is anything, all about Jesus, and the God revealed in his incarnation, teaching, death, and resurrection.  If we are not pursuing this Jesus, this revelation of God, we have come up short.

Sad to say, I know some of you right now are thinking, "So how do I really get to heaven?"  The answer is, quite simply, stop worrying about it.  Forget about getting yourself to heaven and ask how you can get to know Jesus better.  That decision, about who gets into heaven and who doesn't, is pure and simply not your business.  It is God's decision.  Your business is to know and follow Jesus.  That is certainly enough to occupy us all for this lifetime, and the next.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A very good evening

Our pastorate met again tonight.  I am so enjoying this experience -- seeing this group form and begin to gel.  We are still very much in the early stages of development.  Members of the group have a hunger for community and a hunger for God's Word.  We laugh together, eat together (we also have a hunger for cookies), talk together, pray together, study the Bible together.  We have good leaders and a good spirit permeates the group.  This is very much what I was hoping and praying for over the last six years as I've prayed and hoped and taught and pushed for pastorates to become an integral part of Central Lutheran Church.

Two thoughts that remain at the forefront of my mind as I stew in thankfulness about these pastorates.

First, I think what a privilege it is for me as a pastor to be a participant in this group.  It is such a joy to have capable leaders who understand their role and are willing to let me just participate.  As a pastor, that is a rare and precious privilege, and I am so grateful for it.

Second, I look forward to the future.  As good as these beginnings are, I look forward to a few specific things that I hope and pray will become integral to our pastorates in the near future:

  • I am so excited to see new people coming into our pastorates, to have so many people gathered together that we can't all fit in one house and we need to give birth to a new group.  Part of this process will mean identifying leaders and giving them some experience.  The end result is that we are in the process of planting new churches, in a very real sense, that will reach still more people.
  • I am eager to have our pastorates begin to focus outward, to identify missions that they can take on, and run with those.  This might mean having a "mission champion" in each pastorate that acts like a burr under the group's collective saddle, keeping people focused outward and just a little restless.  The quickest way for these pastorates to become ingrown and selfish is if they do not engage in significant mission beyond themselves.  So I am looking forward to seeing that part of our life together develop.  I have little doubt it will come soon -- listening to people's thoughts and insights tonight, it was clear to me that we have a motivated group of people who understand this community needs to focus beyond ourselves.
  • I anticipate the long-term effect these groups will have on the children involved.  Over the last half dozen years I've seen the impact of parents being deeply involved in a Jesus-focused community.  This involvement impacts both parents themselves and their children.  I'm so excited for kids to have the experience of meeting together with their parents and other families in an intergenerational way that leads them to know and follow Jesus.  We had a wonderful cacophony of kids tonight, and their play echoed up from the downstairs of the home where we met.  But before they went off to play, one of our leaders sat with them and led them in a short devotional time, totally creative and appropriate to their level.  Then their parents blessed them (the leaders had provided a printed blessing) and sent them off to do kids' stuff.  It was gorgeous.
Yes, it has been a very good evening.  And I haven't told you yet about the amazing theological conversations I've been having with my daughter Teya.  Maybe another time.  Suffice it to say she has learned over the years to ask really, really hard -- but good -- questions, and not to settle for easy answers.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Are you grown up?

I'm obviously biased but I think this is one of the most important things you will read today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day

This year, May 17th in the church calendar marks Ascension Day, the commemoration of Jesus ascending into the heavens.  In Acts chapter 1, this event took place 40 days after his resurrection, so we mark this festival 40 days after Easter.

So what?

I just read an online blog saying that Jesus' ascension is really about him getting out of the way, making sure we could focus on the business of doing the work of the church instead of wondering when Jesus would show up again.  Here's a direct quote:
If he had just disappeared again, well there would have been more Jesuses seen in Jerusalem than Elvises in Las Vegas. It’s difficult to get busy with the important business of loving the Christ in your neighbor if you are constantly on the lookout for another resurrection appearance.
This is horrible theology and a bad reading of scripture.  What difference does the Ascension make?  The Apostles Creed lays it out.  "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."  Jesus ascends not to get out of the way, but to get IN the way.  He ascends to take up his authority as God's only begotten Son, who rules in authority over the heavens and the earth.  He ascends in fulfillment of Daniel 7 and so many other prophecies.  He ascends to take up his mantle as God's chosen judge (Acts 2:36, 17:30-31), God's chosen champion (Revelation 19:11-16), and in fulfillment of his title as the "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13-14).  Jesus' ascension is not about getting him out of the way, not even so the Holy Spirit can come to the church; rather, it is Jesus taking up his authority, his exaltation (see Philippians 2:9-11).

Point is, Jesus ascends not to get out of our way, but to get in our way.  He is now Lord over all powers that we are tempted to serve.  He is God's chosen, the ultimate authority.  If you set out to do anything -- including "the important business of loving Christ in your neighbor" without acknowledging his absolute rule, his absolute authority, you are fooling yourself and engaging in idolatry.  Jesus' ascension means that he has the authority to evaluate your actions, to rule over your preferences, to demand your allegiance.

The ascension is Jesus taking up his throne as King.  If he were not also the ultimate loving servant-king, this would be terrifying beyond belief.  It is Jesus' love, his self-giving, other-serving love, that gives us courage to approach him.  But he is still King of kings and Lord of lords.  Too often theologians and teachers who ought to know better live with the illusion that he's gone, that he's out of the picture.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Praise God!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morality and the gospel, or "Be good?"

Those of you who listen to me teach or preach regularly know that I get a little up in arms about this topic.  Specifically, the question is, what is the relationship between morality and the gospel?  Now, for those of you who think (or will think soon) that Jeff is off his rocker and that he has issues with teaching morality, wait just an antinomian minute.  (The theological sophisticates in the crowd will accuse me of antinomianism, by the way, because I'm going to come down on the side of saying teaching morality is not the gospel.)

Ooops.  I gave away the ending.

Well, plow ahead anyway.  What gets me so angry about this topic is that too often, people walk away from our church services believing -- no matter what we have preached -- that we have just advised them to go home, be good, behave, and if they do it right God will love them.

Note: I am not against good behavior.

But if you believe that God expects good behavior of you and that he's marking down good versus bad actions on some kind of cosmic spreadsheet, then your good behavior is standing between you and Jesus.

See, the Bible talks a lot about the expectation that our behavior will be good.  Officially and theologically, the term for this is "the law."  We teach this to children at home and in Sunday School.  We teach it to first graders when we expect them to stand in straight lines and not wipe their boogers on the walls.  We teach this to middle schoolers when we advise them that they should wait till marriage to have sex.  We teach it to college students when we try to help them be financially responsible.  We teach this to married couples when we try to teach them good communication skills.  Behave well, the message goes, and your life will be better.

It's absolutely true.

But it's not the gospel.

I spoke once to a junior high gathering.  The hundred and fifty or so students there were restless and totally immersed in the opposite sex.  They needed something -- a story, preferably -- that was going to grab their minds and open their hearts.  My job was to communicate the gospel.  So I told the story of Elaine, a girl about their age who got pregnant.  She went through all the shame and embarrassment and condemnation you might expect from a good family and a comfortable church.  She agonized over what to do with her baby, and finally decided for the baby's sake to give it up for adoption.  She traveled a long journey through guilt and shame and heartache and loss.  On the far end of it, she found an acceptance in the love of Jesus that she had not known before.  She discovered that her identity was not in her goodness, but in the love of Jesus for her even though she was damaged goods in the world's eyes.

The middle schoolers were spellbound, and you could see the lights begin to click on for some of them as they understood that Jesus doesn't love you because you're good; he loves you even in the midst of failure.

After my talk, a couple parents, serving that weekend as youth group chaperones, came up to talk to me.  They shook their heads and looked at the floor and mourned how I had missed such a great opportunity.  I asked what they meant.  A middle-aged man finally looked me in the eye and said, "You should have told them to keep their zippers up."

Christians have too often sold their inheritance -- the free acceptance of God through Jesus Christ, given to us without cost and without calculation -- for a bowl of oatmeal that has the words "be good" spelled out in raisins across the top.

In the New Testament, the best place to find this problem addressed is the middle of the book of Galatians.  In Galatians 3, Paul says that the law -- that system of requirements about being good and shaping our behavior -- is a tutor, a nanny, a custodian (it's a hard word to translate from Greek to English, but the idea is someone who has care of a child until the child grows into their inheritance) that has charge over us until we grow up enough to take possession of our inheritance.  The law tends us and protects us until we are ready for the glorious freedom of living as heirs of God, co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Then we are free from the law, because we are now governed by the much more demanding "law" of Christ that is not about behavior but about your heart.  (By the way, your behavior will naturally change if your heart changes.)

So the moralists among us are not bad people.  They want everyone to behave well, and they want strict rules to enforce that good behavior.  They're just immature, according to the Bible.  They just don't get what it means that Jesus sets us free.  They want the law as a guarantee because they don't get Jesus.

And if you think you're in Christ, if you think you get what it means to be free in him, do a gut check.  Are you using your freedom as an excuse to indulge your flesh, your own desires?  Are you giving in to pride?  Are you arrogant about making use of your own rights in Christ, and in your heart you despise those weak moralists who don't understand freedom?  Read Romans 14 and see what it says about caring for your weaker brothers.

If you want to see what real authority, real freedom, real gospel looks like, read the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet in John 13.  John makes sure, at the beginning of this chapter, that we know clearly that it is simply because Jesus knows who he is, where he comes from, and where he's going that he does this task -- the task of the lowliest servant, washing the filthy feet of the twelve.  Including Judas, by the way, for those who say, "I'll serve everyone except ..."

The gospel is total freedom.  It is total and complete freedom, that comes at the cost of your whole life.

Let's make sure we don't give in to the temptation to settle for being good.  It's just not nearly enough.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Whose language are you learning?

I gave in to peer pressure.  Everybody else in my household speaks some degree of Spanish.  Over the years I've picked up a few words here and there, but being able to say "Dos cervesas, por favor," does not mean you can speak Spanish.  (NOTE: I did not learn that phrase from my family.)  So starting last winter, I have been intentionally focusing some of my spare time on learning -- actually learning -- Spanish.

So I went through the Sesame Street phase, when you can understand about twenty-five words and it seems like fluency is right around the corner.

I enjoyed the "recognizing Spanish phrases" stage, when you can understand most of the words on the bilingual signs behind the counter at the auto parts store.

I struggled through (and frequently return to) the frustration stage, when you throw up your hands and say (en Ingles) "Why do they say it like that??"  At this point fluency seems totally impossible.

I've drifted in and out of the obsessive stage, when you find yourself in spare moments trying to figure out how to string together the words to say, "I wanted to send Mom an email" but you realize this is about as attainable as slam-dunking a basketball.  At your age.  (See "frustration" above.)

I'm toying at the moment with the methodical stage, when I'm tempted to give in to my wife's suggestion that I should make charts of irregular verbs, past tense endings, and various other eccentricities of language, because sometimes it comes down to the sheer hard work of memorization.  Sigh.

(By the way, if you're interested in learning a language and you have time, I highly recommend the Rosetta Stone programs you see advertised everywhere.  I've been very impressed.)

So what's my point?

Christianity by its very nature demands translation.  While many religions require you to learn the language of the religion -- to read the Qur'an properly you need to learn Arabic, and good Jewish children have to learn Hebrew to read Torah correctly, for example -- Christianity has always moved into the language of the hearer.  Though scholars learn Greek and Hebrew to better understand the Christian scriptures, the message of Jesus and his love has always found its home in the heart language of the hearers.

This has been true all through history, from the earliest times.  Jerome translated the Bible into the language of the common people, which at that time was Latin.  (Thus Jerome's translation was called the "Vulgate" because of the common, or "vulgar" people it was intended for.)  Luther's biggest break with the Roman Catholic Church came not when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the University Church in Wittenberg -- he could have been forgiven for that -- but rather when he translated the Bible into German so the common folk could read it.  Wycliffe was burned for translating the Bible into English.  Today people all over the world give years and years to the complex task of learning an unwritten language, figuring out how to write it, and then translating the Bible into that language so that a people group can have Jesus' story in their own language.

This is what Christians do.  Translation.  We are constantly being driven by the Spirit to find new wineskins.

This push always lives in tension with our innate tendency to get comfortable with our old familiar wineskins.  Thus we like to worship in our own forms, rather than translating our worship styles into something different that will reach people who don't sit in our pews currently.  We like our own old metaphors and phrases, the ones that helped us to know Jesus back when, rather than finding new terms and new language that communicates effectively with those who laugh at our old, tired Christianese terminology.

So here's my question -- whose language are you learning?  I hope there is someone in your life who doesn't know Jesus, and that you are praying for them.  Are you learning their language?  Perhaps they speak a different tongue, like Spanish.  Or maybe they think and speak the language of postmodernism, or the language of tinkering in the garage, or the language of a style of music that you don't speak.  Are you willing to be pushed by the Spirit to speak their language?

Whose language are you learning?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Telling the story

Tonight at 6:30 our GAT (Global Alpha Training) has the privilege of telling stories of our trip.  This is one of the most important parts of doing mission trips -- come home and tell the story!  We've been a little frustrated at the difficulty of getting this event scheduled -- now people are thinking about the fishing opener, Mother's Day, and plans for Memorial Day weekend.  We've lost a little bit of the initial rush when we first came home.

Judging by people's comments, though, we'll have a good crowd of people who have been invested in this trip all along.  We had so many people who supported us in every way -- I'm excited to be able to show pictures, tell stories, and help them feel like their investment was and continues to be important!

The other part of this is, in the wisdom of God, that since we arrived back there have been a few important developments that may help Alpha grow among the Protestant churches in the central Philippines.

So if you're in the neighborhood, come to Central tonight, have some coffee and a cookie or two, and enjoy the funny and heart-expanding stories of our trip!

Friday, May 4, 2012

What do you believe?

I have a bad habit of starting a book and then leaving it for a long time, picking it up later and reading for a while, then neglecting it again ... Usually I'm reading four or five books in this poorly structured way at any given time.

The other day I resumed reading The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez.  It is a well-written, accessible history of Christian faith through the ages.  I started it this winter and just got a chapter or two into it, and now I'm devouring it.  There is so much here that is good to be thinking about right here, right now!

For example, reading about how the Apostles Creed came to be.  It's not called the Apostles Creed because Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the crew wrote it down, as some stories have it.  No, it was written about 150 AD or so to encapsulate the faith as it was handed down through the Apostles.  Imagine a time when the great-grandchildren of the original twelve apostles are now adults within the church.  The stories of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the other New Testament authors, are all being read and retold within the churches.

But there are also other movements growing and active in the culture.  Some groups tell wild stories -- tempting stories -- about how Jesus was not really who the apostles said he was.  Jesus really had a secret mission to accomplish, they say -- a mission to impart a secret knowledge that will save us from this evil, physical world and set our spirits free from these embarrassing physical bodies.  The physical world, they said, was not created by the true God but rather by an evil spirit who created the physical universe either as an experiment or out of disobedience to the true God.  These groups, called "gnostic" meaning "knowledge" for the secret knowledge Jesus supposedly taught -- were very popular in the 2nd century.

There's another set of stories circulating about this time, started by a man named Marcion.  Marcion grew up in the church but he despised two things.  First he hated everything Jewish.  He believed the Old Testament was the product of an evil, sadistic god that was totally separate from the God Jesus named his Father.  This Old Testament god was selfish, jealous, vengeful, violent, and cruel.  The God Jesus named Father was loving, accepting, tolerant, and would never judge anyone.  Marcion taught that the entire Old Testament should be discarded.  He also wanted to get rid of much of the New Testament that seemed too "infected" with Jewish ideas.  From the New Testament, Marcion kept Luke's gospel and the writings of Paul, but he discarded all the Old Testament quotations in them, believing they'd been added later.

The second thing Marcion hated was the idea of the physical world.  He believed, like the gnostics, that spiritual reality was good, but physical matter was evil.  Because of this, the idea of Jesus being born in a physical sense was repulsive to him.  Marcion claimed that Jesus simply appeared, fully grown, in the appearance of a physical body.  The Christian churches throughout the Mediterranean rejected Marcion, so he went to Rome and started his own church.  Though he was discredited, his followers remained an identifiable presence within Rome for several hundred years.

In this context, where you have Marcion on the one hand and the Gnostics on the other attacking Christian teaching -- not by claiming it's false, but by the much more dangerous tactic of claiming that they have the true understanding of Jesus and his message, while the Christian churches mean well, but they are sadly mistaken -- it was important to define what was and was not true to the teaching of Jesus.

So the first argument the churches made was to state that Jesus would not have entrusted his secret message -- if he had one, which he didn't -- to just one apostle, but he would have entrusted it to all of them.  This is one reason the New Testament includes four gospels that occasionally contradict one another.  These multiple witnesses who sometimes disagree on the details do in fact agree on the main points.

One thing the four New Testament gospels agree on is that Jesus entrusted his work to all of the apostles, not to some secret messenger.  (It's about this time that the Gnostics began writing their spurious "gospels", each claiming to have been written by that secret messenger -- so the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Peter, and the recently discovered Gospel of Judas all come from these Gnostic groups writing in the mid-2nd century.)

Another thing all four gospels -- as well as the rest of the New Testament -- agree on is that physical reality is not evil, but that God delights in the physical world, though of course it is broken by sin.  What's more, this God is not different from the God of the Old Testament, but rather Jesus must be understood against the backdrop and heritage of the Old Testament scriptures.

So when the Apostles Creed was written, probably in Rome around 150 AD, it was written specifically  to combat these heresies.  Both Gnosticism and Marcionism, by the way, are very popular in our own day.  So it might be worth looking at the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried. 
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead. 
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Read it through carefully.  Can you see how various phrases within this creed would fly in the face of the Gnostics or Marcion?  One of the earliest uses for this creed -- something we still do today -- was that it was used as a public statement of faith for people desiring baptism.  This ensured that those being baptized were not accepting some altered form of Christianity but rather the true version that was passed down by the unanimous testimony of Jesus' apostles.

So what do you believe?  Take a look at these questions:
1. Is it hard for you to accept the Old Testament?
2. Does the idea of Jesus having some special teaching, aside from the church's traditional message, appeal to you?
3. Does the idea of your spirit "escaping" from your physical body appeal to you?

We could go on and on, but you get the idea.  If these kinds of questions appeal to you, you have probably been influenced by some of the Gnostic ideas about Jesus that are popular today.  You can read many of these ideas every Christmas and Easter when the news magazines come out with their latest "Jesus issue" that calls traditional Christianity into question.  There are many forms of these ancient heresies, and many others like them, in our world today.  Don't allow yourself to be led away from Jesus, who is the truth, to pursue these tempting teachings!