Esoteric means “requiring special knowledge to understand; designed for only a select few.” Esoteric Christianity, then, would be a version of “Christianity” that can only be understood or practiced by those who have been properly initiated in secret knowledge. Esoteric Christianity teaches that Christianity is a mystery religion and that only a small minority of people ever achieve the enlightenment necessary to crack the arcane teachings of the Bible and truly know God.
Esotericism has more in common with Gnosticism, Theosophy, and Rosicrucianism than genuine biblical Christianity. Esoteric Christianity operates from the false premise that only a small group of people have access to the inner workings of the Christian faith. This is rather preposterous considering that the gospel of Christianity has and is spreading to even the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Esoteric Christianity views “salvation” as a stepping stone to greater truths. The Christian should not be satisfied with just being “saved” but with being “enlightened” and reaching “spiritual liberation.” Esoteric Christianity promotes introspection with the goal of attaining the knowledge of Self. Repentance, to an Esoteric Christian, is the “turning in” of one’s thoughts toward oneself and away from the world. Esoteric Christianity also embraces such falsehoods as astral projection and reincarnation. Promoters of Esoteric Christianity contrast themselves with those they call “Exoteric Christians”; the difference is that esotericists focus on inner religion and exotericists focus on outer religion.
Esoteric Christianity is ecumenical, having a desire to unite with esotericists of other faiths to establish a universal religion. The universal brotherhood of mankind will be realized, according to Esoteric Christianity, when people develop their minds and wills to the extent that “the Christ Within” is born in every individual. The teaching of Esoteric Christianity that everyone possesses divinity is blatant humanism.
Esoteric Christianity uses select verses from the Gospels for some of its teachings, but it also draws from the Apocrypha and various apocalyptic texts. Esoteric Christianity uses Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:11 and John 16:12 to make the point that divine wisdom was hidden from some and revealed to others. Undoubtedly, Jesus kept those who willfully rejected Him “in the dark”—that was one purpose of the parables (Matthew 13:10–13)—but the Bible’s basic command is to believe, not to chase hidden knowledge, mystical enlightenment, or self-actualization.
The Scriptures do speak of the church, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, as a “mystery,” but it’s a mystery that has been fully revealed by God through the preaching of the apostles. A “mystery” in the New Testament is not an esoteric bit of information restricted from all but a few Christians; it is something that was in times past hidden but is now revealed to everyone. Paul wrote, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25–27, NASB). See also Ephesians 3:3–11. That the Gentiles would be fellow heirs with Christ within His Body was indeed an amazing revelation to the early Jewish apostles and disciples of Jesus.
Are there doctrines in the Bible that unsaved people cannot understand? Yes, “the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “But,” Paul goes on to say, “we have the mind of Christ” (verse 16). One’s level of spiritual understanding depends on the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must grow in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1–2) and increase in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), but not, as Esoteric Christianity teaches, to attain special “premium membership” status. Jesus’ invitation is broad, not limited to a select few: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). The Word of God is our guide (Psalm 119:105), not human wisdom.