Continuing our study of Church History, we must take note of one of the earliest issues that we find addressed within both the NT and within the writings of the Patristics. The issue is still relevant today. It is a subject that predates Christianity (cf. Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume II under the section of the Heresies of the Ante-Nicene Age); yet it still reveals itself from time to time in the practical theology of individuals. The issue is Gnosticism.
The early Christians witnessed the amazing growth of the Church in an extremely rapid pace. Scholars suggest that by the 3rd and 4th century, Christianity was the dominating religion of the Roman Empire and that by as early as the end of the 1st century, Christianity had made a huge mark on Roman culture. Yet while Christianity was growing rapidly through the preaching of the Gospel, many warnings were issued from the apostles regarding what would be a soon coming test.
The apostle John helps us understand the theological landscape well. In fact, his reason for writing his first epistle was to encourage fellowship with the Father and Son through the eternal life that can only come through Jesus (cf. 1:3-4; 5:11-13). The question that naturally arises is simple: why does John emphasize the importance of fellowship with the Father and Son? After all, John traveled to Ephesus shortly after the preaching and teaching ministries of Paul (cf. Acts 19-20) and Timothy (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3). The Ephesians had clearly been taught orthodox theology by both Paul and Timothy. So what had happened since Paul and Timothy’s ministry? Why does John go to great lengths in order to bring about a much more clear understanding of the Incarnation and just exactly who Jesus really was. Why so much elementary doctrine written to a city of Christians who should have had a strong handle on orthodoxy?