How many rules do Christians need to follow? I’ve heard the critique that Christianity is a religion with lots of rules. “You can’t do this, and you can’t do that, and Christianity is so antiquated with all its super-restrictive rules!” When Michelle and I were students in Bible college, the student handbook certainly had a lot of rules. Take music for example. We were told what kinds of music we were and were not allowed to listen to. I once got a “white-slip,” for listening to the band U2. A white-slip was a paper saying you broke a rule, and if you got enough of them, you’d have to pay a fine. We couldn’t go to the movie theater, although we were allowed to rent movies from Blockbuster (remember those days!?!?). We couldn’t wear jeans to class. I once wore a pair of colored jeans to class, and I was spotted by a Resident Assistant who told me to turn around, go back to my dorm room and change. On and on the rules went. Maybe you grew up in a Christian environment that had certain rules. Where I live in Lancaster County, if you have any connection to the Mennonite or Amish world, well, you know about rules better than me.
As we continue studying the letter to church in the ancient Roman town of Colosse, this week we’re going to hear about rules. Baseball season is just around the corner, and that’s a sport with rules. Rules make for an orderly game, for fairness, or at least they’re supposed to. We all know that rules can get weird, though, can’t they? Have you ever heard, “That is a stupid rule!” So they’ll make a new rule to try to deal with the stupid rule. Last night I was watching a game in the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament, and the rules were called into question. The play under review was that the basketball was touched by a member of one team, directing it through the legs of a member of the opposing team, and out of bounds. In the process, the ball appeared to graze the uniform of that opposing team member. The question was, “Who touched the ball last, before it went out of bounds?” Do you know the answer? I’ll give you the answer at the bottom of this post. While we’re used to rules in sports, what about Christianity or church? Do we need rules? Turn to Colossians 2:16-23 and let’s see what Paul has to say about rules.
Just a reminder that as we read Colossians we are playing the role of detective. What are we detectives trying to uncover? Something called The Colossian Heresy. A heresy is false teaching, and that false teaching is why Paul is writing this letter. He has heard that the false teaching, whatever it was, has made its way into the church, into the hearts and minds of the people there in the Roman city of Colosse. Paul is concerned!
What this means is that there were actual people who were promoting this false teaching, a teaching that did not line up with the heart of God and who Jesus was, but it was being promoted as if it did. Of course those false teachers wouldn’t have called themselves false teachers or heretics. They thought they were telling the truth. They might have called Paul the heretic and false teacher. So there is a battle of ideas taking place, and this was the case all over the early church, and as we will see, it is still the case today.
Because the people and Paul all clearly knew the identity of the false teachers as well as the content of their false teaching, Paul doesn’t come right out and clearly label or describe the heresy. Instead he refers to it in the normal way we refer to things in letters or conversations when everyone already knows what we’re talking about, vaguely, because we don’t have to get specific about it.
So for those of us 2000 years later reading this ancient mail, we have to play the role of detective to try to uncover the content of the Colossian Heresy. Last week in Colossians 2:8-15, we uncovered our first two clues.
The first clue is in verse 8, where Paul writes that the heresy was hollow, deceptive philosophy based on human tradition and the basic principles of the world, rather than on Christ. Then in verses 11 and following Paul gave us the second clue when he referred to the idea of circumcision, which was the identifying mark of the Jewish people. When you put those two clues together it is possible that Paul was saying that the heresy was taught by people who believed that when a person became a Christian, they also needed to convert to Judaism by being circumcised, as in physical surgery. Paul, as we saw in verses 11-15, says that Christians do not need to convert to Judaism because we are placing our faith in Christ and the victory that he won on the cross and through his resurrection. In other words, as he says back in verse 10, we have fullness in Christ, and we need nothing else!
Now Paul gives us more clues. Paul is not done talking about this heresy. So we continue our investigation today in Colossians 2:16-23. Go ahead and read the passage, and then come back to this post.
Get all that? Does Colossians 2:16-23 make sense? I found it to be confusing. Almost like Paul is writing in code, even though last week I said that he wasn’t writing in code! I still don’t think Paul is trying to be mysterious or lead us into confusion. If we were there in that house in the town of Colosse, with our Christian church family gathered around us, excited to hear the reading of this letter from Paul, I believe we would have pretty much understood what Paul was writing about. You and I 2000 years later have a big cultural, language and history gap to cross as we try to understand this. Our investigation, looking for more clues, will help us close that gap.
So check back in to the next post, as we take a look for more clues, verse by verse.
And here’s the answer to the basketball rule I mentioned above: the officials determined, after viewing the replay, that the basketball had indeed brushed the shorts of the player, and that counted as touch. Therefore, possession went to the other team.