In Paul’s letter to the Colossian church he places Christ front and center throughout the letter. We can learn a lot from this.
I really loved preaching this chapter and I’m really appreciating the Christ focus throughout the book. I find it so easy to get caught up in “emergencies” and “situations” and “discussions” that my natural human problem solving gene kicks in. Paul’s writing to a church that has problems, but he doesn’t problem-solve. He consistently points them back to Jesus.
The verse that really caught my attention as I read through this chapter was v23. Speaking of “human commands and teachings” this is how The Message renders v23:
Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.
What a lovely description of human “spiritual” rules.
At this point I’m going to completely take the verse out of it’s historical context of Judaism, paganism and dietary rules. Hopefully I can still remain faithful to the theological point Paul makes.
Our churches generally overflow with man-made “spiritual” rules. Here’s a few I can think of:
- Sunday dress code
- Bible version
- Church name
- Celebrating (or not) Christmas and Easter
- Song styles
- When the collection should be taken during a worship service
- Women are restricted from many roles within the church without a shred of Biblical support.
- Clapping during worship
- How church finances should be spent
- Whether or not a minister can also be an elder
- Who can perform a baptism
Here’s the rub. I actually think man made rules are a good thing.
I’m glad that our children get told to slow down when they run through the church building. I have no desire to visit Sister Perkins in hospital because my daughter crashed into her while traveling at high speed.
I think it’s wise that a church requires new members to attend a special class for new members that discusses the values of the church before they can lead a ministry.
Forbidding adults to be alone in a classroom with children is a good rule to prevent child sex abuse.
BUT we get off track when we start requiring particular man-made rules be observed in order that a person maintain good standing with God.
This brings us to the GREAT DILEMMA. It’s easy to sit back and take cheap shots at churches and their various rules. What’s difficult is to honestly examine our own lives and churches and to distinguish between God-required and man-made obligations. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with asking those serving communion not to wear shorts, as long as I recognise that it’s a local preference not a Divine ordinance. Then having acknowledge that this is a preference, we should willing set the rule aside if circumstances require that someone wearing shorts serve communion. It’s not a big deal… really.
Here are a couple of random thoughts that might help us keep things in perspective:
- Are we more concerned with how we do things or why we do them?
- Do we have a rule against something because it’s unscriptural or because it makes us uncomfortable?
Maybe you get a chuckle out of this post. That’s okay. We’re funny people sometimes. And I believe that all these “rules” are genuine attempts to help people live holy lives and honor God in our worship. But that’s what often makes it so hard to determine if they’re human or Godly. There’s usually a Bible verse to back up every rule! As The Message says, “They sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice.”
So Paul doesn’t get caught up in all this silliness. In the very next verse he lays down this “rule”….
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…