How would you fill in the blank in the title? Christians should never ____? What I’m getting at is rules and regulations that Christians have come up with over the years. Of course we could make a blanket statement like “Christians should never sin.” We all agree about that. But actually listing examples of sin is where this gets messy. I’m not talking about the clear examples of sin that the biblical writers give us, such as murder, lying, theft, rape, and many others. I am talking about the gray areas, or the actions that Christians might disagree about.
In my denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church, the primary example of what I’m getting at is the consumption of alcohol. The EC Church was strongly prohibitionist, to the point where members had to take an oath of public abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. In 2008 and 2016 revisions to our book of order, that changed, and now the church simply strongly encourages members to consider abstinence as a viable option, along with moderation.
What about your church or belief? Are there any rules you would add to the list? At issue is the question: “Can Christians make rules that are not in the Bible, and require people to follow them?”
As we continue our study through Colossians 2:16-23, Paul makes it very clear that the Christians in Colosse were making up rules and requiring people to follow them. Paul is not happy about it. In verse 20, after helping us understand the headless fake Christianity of the false teachers (which we talked about in the previous post), Paul turns his focus on the true Christians. He says, “Why are you following the false teaching of those headless fake Christians? Why are you following the rules and regulations these people are talking about?”
Paul is really concerned. You can see what motivated him to write this letter in the first place. The people in the church had actually been listening to the false teachers and following the rules the false teacher made up. How, then, does Paul respond to the people who have been listening to the false teachers? “You have died with Christ to the basic principles of the world.” What does he mean?
Paul is saying to the people, “You died with Christ to that old way of living,” what he calls the basic principles of the world. “You are free from that. Jesus’ death and resurrection has won you victory from the old way. What in the world are you doing still living the old way????” Paul is fired up here.
He is saying, “You don’t belong to that old way anymore. Why are you submitting to its rules?” Just as he wrote earlier in verse 16, “The false teachers want to judge you based on whether or not you are adhering to those old way rules, but you died to all that and are made alive in Christ, and yet here you are submitting to those rules?”
He is saying to the Colossians, “What in the world, people? That’s not Jesus.”
Paul even mentions a few of the false rules, giving us another clue about what the Colossian Heresy is. The rules Paul mentions are: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” What might that refer to? There could be any number of rules that relate to those three “do nots”. It might be the food and cleanliness laws in the OT. Or Paul might be referring to other rules the false teachers created. That should sound familiar to us. We evangelical Christians have a history of making rules, don’t we? Fill in the blank: Christians should never ____________. Over the years I’ve heard so many rules.
Christians should never read Harry Potter.
Christian women should not wear two-piece bathing suits.
Christians should not mow their lawns on Sundays.
What rules have you heard?
Hear me heart on this. I’m not saying that you can’t choose to do some of those things for yourself. I’m not saying someone can’t, on their own, decide that in their conscious they aren’t going to read Harry Potter or they don’t want to mow their lawn on Sundays. Before you think those specific two rules are ridiculous, consider that people might actually have good reasons for choosing not to do those things. A person might have some bad experiences with witchcraft and feel it is in their best interest to not read books about it. A person might have a neighbor who gets super-offended when people mow their grass on Sundays, and it would be a loving choice to abstain.
What I am saying is wrong is when one person believes that their view is the only right view, that it is a rule from God, and they are judgmental towards those who do not follow that same rule. That kind of legalism is what Jesus so often took the religious leaders in his day to task for.
Let’s keep reading what he says in verse 22, because there Paul says that the rules from the false teachers are destined to perish. They are temporary, because they are based on human teaching. Now that is interesting. That is different from the OT Law, right? The OT was not based on human teaching. It was given to Israel straight from God. So here we have a clue in verse 22 means that the Colossian Heresy might be talking about something else. Or maybe the Colossian heresy includes an improper view of the OT Law, but it also includes other man-made rules and regulations as well.
Check back in to the next post, as we’ll do more detective work to try to uncover what rules Paul is talking about.