The Need for Colossians

I’ve already voiced my opinion about the Colossian ‘heresy’ and said that my take is that there wasn’t “one”. The issue Paul was addressing was the draw the Colossians, and other Christians, were feeling to return to their ways from before their conversion. This difference is subtle but significant. If there was a body of doctrine that Paul was opposing, then Colossians is most useful when confronting the same sorts of errors. 1Yes, you can draw out principles and apply them in other settings, but when you do that you’re actually applying the book the way I’m saying it was written. However, if I’m right, then the book of Colossians is globally applicable and timeless. Anytime Christians are faced with a draw to conform to their culture or their past, the book of Colossians stands as a warning and a guide, regardless of the practice or belief they’re attracted to.

Perhaps it is because I’m so deeply engrossed in Colossians right now but when I read in CT about an African pastor who was arrested for using human body parts in a ritual, the first thing I thought was “They need to understand Colossians!” According to the CT article:

“One out of 10 self-named Christians in this region practices only Christianity,” says Benjamin-Lee Hegeman, a former missionary in West Africa who now teaches at Houghton College. “Some people call it syncretism, but it may be more like dual religious allegiance, where Christianity is practiced in the daytime and occult [practice] is done at night. Many of the pastors will preach from the pulpit that this type of thing is wrong, but secretly take part in it at night. There is the mentality, especially in African Initiated Churches, where the prosperity gospel is preached, that you do what you’ve got to do to get ahead. You rely on the powers available to you. You are hopeful that Christ will help, but when he can’t come through on Sunday, you may take out a different insurance policy at night.”

Here’s why they need to understand Colossians. All of those powers that they are calling on, Christ defeated them. He marched them through the town making a mockery of them. They are nothing. I think the section of Colossians that nails that so forcefully is chapter 2 verses 8 through 22. If you accept the legitimacy of the chiasm as a literary device, that section literally and literarily makes the point that Jesus defeated all of that. Here’s how I put it together:

A Elementary Spirits (8)

B Deity / Head (9-10)

C Circumcision (11-14)

D Triumph Over Authorities (15)

C’ Diet / Days (16-17)

B’ Angel Worship / Head (18-19)

A’ Elementary Spirits (20-23)

With a chiasm, the point of the section is at the apex and what we find there is Christ’s triumph over powers and authorities. So when those African pastors are tempted to think that resorting to voodoo will help, Paul is telling them that those powers have been disarmed, defeated and exposed to ridicule. Those powers are powerless and appeal to them is not only foolish but dishonoring to Christ.

But we need to be careful here. I mean that’s Africa and this is the Enlightenment West, right? But brothers and sisters, we can feel that same draw they do. How many men have preached against the evils of adultery, p?rn?graphy and greed  from the pulpit during the day but fall prey to those sins in the night? We share the same weakness. We and the African pastors both profess Christ but then turn to other forces to get what we want, what we think will be good for us. We think that by resorting to those old powers we can get what Jesus is denying us and that that thing is good. As if in the weakness of sin and human depravity we know what is good better than the sinless Son of God! So don’t be too quick to tsk tsk those African pastors.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  – Paul, The Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 6

Go read Colossians beginning to end in one sitting. It takes me about 40 minutes and I’m a slow reader.

1 Yes, you can draw out principles and apply them in other settings, but when you do that you’re actually applying the book the way I’m saying it was written.
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