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