This morning as I read through the Book of Colossians, I was confronted with the reality of aging in Christ while within a religious body. Institutionalism is quite real, not only organizationally but individually.
Being a part of a Body is Biblical and not always bad. In fact, there are times when one needs body life to survive the complexities that often take hold of our hearts and minds. After all, we are given to the tendency of falling into behaviors that do less than glorify God. By the way, that is the generic definition of sin, quite less specific than the list of rules for sinners that we, in Body life, often come up with over time!
The flip side is that the longer we are within a body, all of which have their own “pickings and choos’ins of sin,” the more we tend to focus on the “law” of that body. Yet, our only objective should be to “make known the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”1
Though there is debate as to who wrote the epistle, the author (most believe to be Paul) was addressing what apparently had happened over time to this small town outside of Laodicea. It seems that “while on a visit to Ephesus, a young man from Colossae named Epaphras evidently heard the gospel from Paul and was converted. It appears that he was not only saved, but that he was trained and prepared by Paul to go back and plant a church in his hometown of Colossae (1:7; 4:12).2 Apparently, sometime later, as often seems the case, they had begun to act differently than in their early days, reverting back to the rules that evolved within that particular community.
Paul reminds them that “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”3
This was the point in my read that began my introspection and renewed desire to “think out loud” with my readers. I now have been a member of a local church and in fact, with one denomination for over 40 years. As well intended as we always are, our belief system can hardly avoid being skewed by the imbedded thoughts of broken men and women in leadership within any organization. I’m not throwing rocks at church leadership, but broken is all we got as humans!
This morning, as I lay my life experience up against the words of this epistle, it became markedly obvious that of late, less of my life has been about the celebration of freedom that I once knew in Christ. More it now seems is given to smoothing out the wrinkles of Church life; struggling to keep one foot in the institution, while truly making an impact for Christ within the real world. That can soon jade one’s joy.
The night of January 3, 1973 that I was “circumcised” in Christ, not some “harsh treatment of the body” (Col 2:23 NIV) but rather a glorious liberty from my then ultra-sinful nature, I could hardly wait to share my experience. In fact, my first phone call to a friend resulted in an inquiry as to “what I might be smoking!”
That experience in Christ led to a new framing of my life with a “joy unspeakable,” out of which would flow a more natural love than I had ever known; bringing with it an apparently contagious desire for a similar life among many of my friends. I must also add that most had been raised in church, my wife for one, yet had not known such love. Sure there was some rejection by those who loved sin more than life! Yet even so, I recall a heart of understanding rather than a mutual discord.
I can remember the early days, when we might do something that to the religious would appear stupid, but to us it was an easy repentance and a fast rebound. We had few to impress, as we were still unchurched; yet among those few there was an intimacy and transparency. We were walking into an unknown; in fact, music meant far more to us than scripture, though at that time, the Living Bible was a welcome translation to the KJV!
The mystery that I write about is very similar to the common jargon in Paul’s letters, this time from the KJV: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”4 How does one, once so gloriously set apart to Christ, over time revert to religion, which is such a poor substitute for intimacy with Christ?
Many of the Millennials now in my life have made this even more evident and their declining numbers in the institutional church may indicate that they see this much more clearly than we old folk!
1 Colossians 1:27b (NIV).
3 Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV).
4 Galatians 3:1 (KJV).