The Christian tradition has preserved and revered Orthodox writings for about 2000 years while, at the same time, denouncing and destroying all the Gnostic books found. Now, for the first time, the scholars have the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi to see what the Gnostics thought of the Orthodox Christians. For instance, the “Second Treatise of the Great Seth” denounces the Orthodox Christianity, and compares it to the “True Church” of the Gnostics whose “Sons of Light”, it says, were persecuted by the Pagans, but also by the Orthodox Christians. The “Apocalypse of Peter” declares that the Catholic Christians are known under the wrong name, that they are evil, an imitation of the “True Church”, and that they oppress their brothers. The Testimony of Truth” states that the Orthodox Christians do not know who the real Christ is. The Authoritative Teaching tries to destroy the Orthodox teaching as unauthoritative.
By the years 200 AD both churches pretended to be the true church and attacked bitterly the other. It was then very difficult for any believer to decide which one to follow. The Gnostics claimed to be “the few”, meaning by this that they were choosing their members, and that baptism did not make a Christian (“Gospel of Philip”). Even martyrdom or profession of the creed does not make a Christian. Demonstration of spiritual maturity was required to be accepted.
The Orthodox Christians, or “the many”, accepted everybody who had been baptised, confessed the creed, participated in worship, and obeyed the clergy. Qualitative criteria for church membership were eliminated by the bishops in order to unify all the community scattered all over the known world. Evaluating each candidate was not feasible, and would eliminate many who needed the church help. The Catholic Church, to become universal, rejected every form of elitism and tried to recruit as many members as possible making the doctrine, the ritual, and structure simple but efficient. The hierarchy of the clergy became the real basis of the Christian Church that proclaimed one God, creator and father of Christ who became incarnate, suffered, died, and rose bodily from the dead. Apart from this church there was no salvation, as the church is the community of the Believers.
The Gnostic Christians distinguished the false from the true church, not in its relationship with the clergy, but by the level of religious understanding of its members as well as by the quality of their relationship, as stated in the “Apocalypse of Peter” and the “Second Treaty of the Great Seth”. For the Gnostics the church is the community of those who have gnosis. Total obedience to the priests means that the believers are following blind guides, and limit themselves to an inferior ideology according to the Gnostic author of the “Testimony of Truth”. They believe that faith in sacraments alone, even baptism, does not guarantee salvation; only when man knows himself and God can he be saved. In other words, following law, ritual, and authority is not enough to be saved. Gnostics do not believe that Jesus’ teaching alone is enough but that, to be saved, a certain amount of searching for God is required from each of us.