What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

In comments on the last post Philip mentioned Milton Jones’ interpretation of the Colossian heresy as something comparable to post-modernism. I have a great level of respect for Milton Jones. I haven’t read his book (that Philip linked to in his comment) but I did think this would be an interesting point to respond to in a post rather than a comment. In January I started writing curriculum on the prison letters of Paul. I really believe it is important to understand the occasion of an epistle if we are going to spend time teaching it and discussing it. So I really wrestled with the Colossian heresy for a while. After sitting at the feet of everyone from N.T. Wright to Benny Three Sticks and Peter O’Brian via their excellent commentaries, here was my take on the Colossian heresy from my Prison Letters of Paul small group curriculum,

“The Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law (Gal 3:19 for instance). It seems false teachers had come in and said that it was necessary to please these angels, principalities and powers if God was to hear their prayers (see 2:16-23). In order to please them they were taught to follow strict dietary (2:21)and holiness guidelines as well as the observance of special days (2:16). Paul is teaching them that such teachings are false and that Christ is still supreme with full authority over everything in creation that they don’t need to lean on such hollow and deceptive teachings (1:15ff, 2:8).”

I can’t say with certainty that I have it all right but that is the best I can come up with thanks to borrowing from a few scholars I highly respect and trying to put these pieces together in my own mind. It seems more appropriate to me to read their Jewish worldview into the text rather than to read a 21st century worldview into it. It makes more sense that Paul would be referencing things from their culture and not ours. Application can certainly still be made and the parallels connected appropriately to teach us something today about our own world. But as for interpreting what the actual heresy was we have to be careful to read the text from the right direction and not interpret it in light of the first “hollow and deceptive” teaching that we can think of in the world we live in.

If this interpretation of the heresy is correct, how do we make application in our world today? First, we have to listen to what Paul did say about the truth concerning Christ because Paul believed that if we have the truth we won’t be led astray by false teachings (Col 2:8-15). Postmodernism in and of itself is not a false teaching, as some have claimed. It is a worldview. It can lead to false teaching but it can also lead to some very profound insights regarding our faith. We cannot let our worldview “kidnap” (Col 2:8) us by leading us away from Christ and to something claimed superior or more sufficient than Christ. If we allow any worldview to do that we are in grave danger. That can happen with postmodernism but it can happen with any worldview, even modernism. You can get so caught up in figuring everything else, from the modern perspective, that you fail to see a need for Christ in your life. That is Paul’s point in the next verses (Col 2:9-10). The Gospel doesn’t need anything more to make it sufficient to bring us life and godliness because Christ is head over all things. In Col 2:11-15 Paul lays out all that Christ has done for us. When we read through that great list we should realize that our worldview must draw us closer to God and not further away from Him.

PS – If you don’t read Philip’s blog you should have a look. He is a great friend and a very insightful guy.

Free e-book on Emerging Church by Mark Driscoll

Preaching and the Emerging Church by Mark Driscoll

[HT: Dan Kimball]

The Shortcut of Changing the Labels – Christian vs. Christ-follower

In John 10 Jesus has some tough words for the Pharisees in response to their poor reception of the man he healed from blindness in John 9. I wrote up quite a lengthy post detailing what was going on in John 10, Jesus as the good shepherd and the gate and all the rest…context, historical background, etc. But then I realized I wanted to say something that is really needs to be said. Instead of speaking to the Pharisees, I think there is a message for us as sheep today.

I am sure I am not the only who has noticed the trendiness of moving away from the terms Christian and Christianity. It is everywhere from youtube Mac vs. PC parodies like this one where Christians are made to look stuffy and “Christ-followers” as cool.

But it isn’t just on youtube in some clever spoof. It has been addressed in mainstream Christian websites like Out of Ur’s article by Jason Byassee, “Not a Christian, But a Christ Follower?” where Jason writes,

“Anyone can understand the desire for an alternative to the word “Christian.” There are plenty of “Christians” I’d rather not be associated with. I’d much prefer to maintain my relationship with Jesus while making clear to others I am not in relationship to Pat Robertson or Jack Spong.” This took me back a bit until I read the rest of his piece where he makes some excellent points about the absurdity of changing the labels as if it changes the contents in the container. He writes,

“More power to the people looking for alternative biblical descriptions of Christians. We can all use those—they awaken our imagination to fresh evocations of our faith. But the choice of one such term need not—can not—excise another.

Those who disagree are still members of this family. They can’t disown me anymore than I can them. Weekly we have family reunions in buildings, big and small, all over the world. And I sure hope they’ll join the rest of us at one of them from time to time. The rest of us aren’t complete without them.”

This brings us back to John 10 and what we find inside the sheep pen. What bothers me today is that it is somehow trendy to claim Christ but not the church or Christianity. This is the shortcut method for evangelizing and feeling relevant. Dan Kimball points out in his video and book They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations that many in mainstream culture connect with Jesus as a man and great moral teacher but think his followers are angry and abusive hypocrites. So why not just toss out the church and Christianity and just connect them with Jesus without all the baggage, right?

It is like saying we want to hang out with the shepherd but not be bothered by all these smelly sheep. Sorry but you can’t have both. What makes this more palatable is when we recognize that we, ourselves, are just as bad as those we are trying to distance ourselves from AND that they are just as redeemed and holy as we are! People point to all kinds of Christian evils from the crusades, the silence of Christians over slavery, and the lack of concern for global environmental matters today. But in the middle of it they fail to realize they are also a smelly, stinky, redeemed sheep as well!

The Great Sheep Meeting of 2009:
One day some of the sheep got together and had a meeting. They were worried about the lack of new sheep in the pen and figured out the primary reason for lack of the flock growing was all the old stuffy, stinky sheep they didn’t get along with. So they came to consensus. They deciding their terminology was out of date and needed an update. The first thing they decided was that the term “pen” sounded to much like a facility. So they decided to give their quarters a face lift by calling their assembly of sheep, “The Flock”. Next they agreed the term “sheep” was derogatory with all kinds of bad connotations. So their next resolution was to call themselves “shepherd-followers” because they all agreed the shepherd was way more hip than all the smelly sheep on the other side of the pen that they didn’t agree with. The sheep pen had never been so divided and yet still so very much the same. New labels, same sheep, same pen, same shepherd. The sheep across the pen kept using the words pen and sheep and the in-crowd sheep, I mean shepherd followers, thought they had found better alternatives. But in the end they were all still just sheep in a pen trying to follow the same shepherd.

A Couple Notes of Interest

  1. Jay Guin has a fabulous post on CENI with some great followup comments by Edward Fudge and John Mark Hicks. If you know what CENI is then you probably want to read it. If you don’t have a clue what CENI means then move on to the next link.
  2. Imonk, Michael Spenser, has highlighted Church of Christ minister Kirk Cowell as one of his seven “Evangelical Untouchables.” The topic of the post was how different evangelical church leaders view what membership is. I didn’t particularly agree with Kirk on his take on church membership as it was a little further than I would personally take things, it really surprised me to see Spenser highlight someone from the Church of Christ. I was also unfamiliar with Kirk and his blog, which is very well done and very insightful.
  3. Dan Kimball has a post about haircuts that is far more interesting that just talking about haircuts. See that post here.

Addressing Changing Ways Young Adults Envision a Biblical Model of Church

I think this quote from Dan Kimball’s Emerging Worship says it well,

More and more emerging generations who were raised in the church are saying that there must be something more to “church” than what they have experienced. The systems we use to teach them how to be disciples of Jesus are not connected with them like they did for generations past. Emerging generations say it just doesn’t “feel right” or “fit right” anymore. They want to be a disciple of Jesus, but how we approach disciple-making needs to shift right alongside their shifting values.

Emerging generations wonder if what they have been taught about “community” – and what they’ve seen promoted in their churches – is really biblical community at all.

They wonder if what they were taught about evangelism is really the right way to think about, and practice, sharing the gospel of Jesus. They are wondering if being a Christian and being “saved” is more than just saying a prayer to get to heaven. They are asking why the church doesn’t talk more often about the Kingdom of God and why most Christians don’t take interest in social justice.

They wonder why preaching has turned the beautiful and mysterious story of God and man into self-help guru Tony Robbins-like teaching with some Bible verses added. They wonder why their hunger to discover and wrestle with the deeper depths of Scripture is fed with neatly packaged versions of how-to messages and pat Bible answers…(Emerging Worship, xii)

I am refreshed to see this play out in real life as I have come to know many young adults who want to get more serious about their faith than being spoon fed the gospel in weekly doses. Many churches are going to run into serious cultural and generational backlash if they aren’t prepared to flex with younger generations in areas that can be flexed in all the while remaining firm in the areas that we must remain firm in. The problems arise in who decides what is flexible and what is firm. My prayer is that elders and ministers around the country will deal with young adults prayerfully and considerately as these young people grow into their own faith that may have many of the same core beliefs as their predecessors but may express itself in very different ways than previous generations.

Emerging Church and the Church of Christ – Links

I have had several people ask me for more information on people who are writing about Emerging Church from a Church of Christ perspective. Here are some links that might be helpful.

Fred Peatross’s book Tradition, Opinion, and Truth: The Emerging Church of Christ

Wade Hodges:

7 Part Series on Emerging Church (see also many of the comments)

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7

Wade’s’ list of emerging thinkers

Frank Bellizzi’s post from 2006 with a list of core beliefs and some leading voices in EC

Phil Sanders:

Fajita’s blog – emergingchurchofchrist.wordpress.com

Facebook groups:

From Kingdom Living:

Helpful links from a non-Church of Christ perspective:

Fascinating Emerging Church Discussion on Facebook

If you are on facebook, have a look at the discussion we are having regarding the Gospel Advocate’s recent issue on the Emerging Church. Feel free to comment there if that interests you. Here is the link.


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