What was going on in Colossae?

This past Suday I mentioned that Paul wrote to the church at Colossae becasue he was concerned about a heresy that was developing in that region.  We will deal more specifically with this false teaching when we get into the later portions of chapters 1 and 2, but several of you asked me Sunday about what was going on and what this false teaching involved so I thought this would be a good topic for our blog this week. Most importantly, I would like for you to think about and comment on how we face the same kind of problems today.

First, let me describe a few of the characteristics of the false teaching in Colossae.

  1. It called into question the preeminency of Christ (Col 1.15-8).
  2. It said that Christians needed add something to their salvation in order to reach full maturity in their Spiritual life. (Col 1.19-23)
  3. It involved elements of philosophy and man-made tradition. (Col 1.8-9)
  4. It was legalistic, calling for people to be circumcised,to follow the OT law, and the oral traditions. (Col 2.11-17)
  5. It delighted in false humility and ecstatic experiences. (Col 2.18)

New Testament Scholars have made several suggestions about what this heresy may have been.  It has been common to suggest that it was some form of early Gnosticsm but that is unlikely since Gnosticism did not come about until the second century A.D. and several of the key elements of this system are not present in the book.  Most likely it was some kind of Judaizing group.  N.T. Wright suggests that all of the characterisitcs of this false teaching point towards a Jewish origin.  J. B. Lightfoot suggested, even before he discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the false teachers were Essenes.  Whatever their identification, it is clear that Paul was very concerned about this teaching and the devestating effect that it could have on the church.

For our purposes, I wonder what kind of things creep into the church today and have the same devestating effect.  I mentioned Sunday that anything that takes our focus off of Christ and that we think we need to add to our salvation fits into the general concern expressed by Paul.  I think about the church that I grew up in where legalism run out of control.  Don’t do this, don’t do that, it seemed like that is all that we ever heard.  Boys couldn’t be spiritual if they had long hair, girls couldn’t be spirtual if they wore short dresses.  The rules eventually became litmus tests by which we tested it others spirituality and ranked our importance in the church.  All of this turned into pride, division, and eventually discouragment on the part of those who didn’t quite fit the bill.  Later on, I remember being in a church where a particular Bible study became all the rage.  Spirutality in that church was determined by whether or not you had completed that class and could talk in that lingo.

Have any of you experienced this same kind of issue?  Do you see this as a potential problem in our day and age and in our church?

8 thoughts on “What was going on in Colossae?

  1. It seems our spirituality runs in cycles, where unfortunatley it takes a catastrophic event (such as 9/11) to bring people to the Lord. Or in some cases away from the Lord. At any rate, the need for spiritual help has seemed to fade at least until now that the economic crisis has reared its ugly head. How does this apply to the situation in Colossae, I don’t know, other than apparantly people are not convinced that the bible does not supply all the answers or even applies to our needs today. Nor do they (we) think that Christ is the only way. I heard an interesting comment made by one of our Presidential Candidates where he PROUDLY stated that we are no longer a Christian nation, but a Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Christian nation. There in lies the problem. Yes I think this type of heresy can creep into the (our) church.

  2. This is an interesting question. It’s easy to point out all the legalism that goes on in other places (or even our own) that we see as an obvious addition to Christianity. As I sat and thought about 21st Century Baptist church culture, I don’t think of those particular legalistic things being a predominant issue. What I think of is how much we turn “church” (and even Christianity) into a performance. We base church on how good the music sounded, what order we do things in, how long the preacher preached, how many programs we have running, and things like that. This even gets into our heads for our personal Christian lives. Holiness means reading “x” number of chapters of the Bible every day, praying before every meal, giving “x” number of dollars to missions.

    Don’t get me wrong. All of these things we do are good things, when done in the right mentality. I feel as if Christians in general do these as if we are “performing” for Christ. We gauge our holiness by standards that we set up ourselves…and if we don’t meet those standards, we are failing as Christians. I don’t think the struggle with 21st century church is getting back to the Bible in situations like long hair and short dresses; the issue is getting back to the Bible in areas of holiness and worship. Our standards of holiness should be from God’s greatest 2 commandments (matt 22:37-39): How much am I loving and delighting in God? How much am I loving and delighting in loving other people? Our standards of worship should be spirit and in truth, not “how I feel during the worship service.”

    I have and still do struggle with ALL of these things. It is important to see that Christ doesn’t NEED us to “perform” for him, but He delights in our love for him. So our legalism, though a little different from that of Collosae, is still legalism. Our additions to Christianity are our standards of performance in church, in worship, and especially in holiness.

  3. We, humans, always prefer making our own idols to worshiping the one, true, living God. Too often we trade the chains of blatant overt sins for the more religiously acceptable chains of man-made rules and self-righteousness, which are more covert. Any teaching which creeps into the church implying we can earn God’s favor by doing or not doing certain things stands in direct opposition to the Gospel of Christ.

  4. Great points. Bobby is hitting the nail on the head when he talks about performance based Christianity. That seems to be the problem facing the Colossian’s in Paul’s day and American Christians in our day. The false teachers in Colossae were basically saying, “if you don’t do what we do then your not spiritual.” This happens all of the time in churches and it betrays the fact that we are not really trusting in Christ alone. If we have to add to our salvation, then Christ did not really secure our justification, sanctification, and glorification on the cross. Paul’s point in this letter, is that Christ is sufficient for all that we need. We don’t need to look beyond Him.

  5. Hello brothers!

    Wow! What a great conversation! I’ve found we get so used to the “trappings” of religious tradition that these things can actually be a distraction from truly worshipping Christ in spirit and in truth. It shouldn’t matter where the offering is in the service, whether the choir wears robes or not, whether the ushers wear a tie or not . . . these things are periphreal and preferential issues. Oh how we should remember that worship is about Christ and not our own particular preferences.

    Bro. Joe . . . I’m so thankful for your godly leadership in FBC Metropolis. My prayers are with you all.

  6. Greg,

    Hey brother! It is good to have you here with us. Thanks for the comments. I agree, we get so caught up in preferences, and we all have them, that we get distracted away from really worshiping Jesus. Thanks for the encouragement. I hope that you will keep participating in our conversation.

  7. Joe,

    You know my love for the book of Colossians and the challenges we face as we teach these Truths. I heartily agree with all of the comments above and suggest that an addittional perspective on Colossians can be gained by reading The Letter to the Church at Laodicea (next door neighbor to Colossae) and then apply all to our walk individually, in our familys, our churches and our witness.

    Thanks again

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