Saturday, August 16, 2008

Colossians 2.8-23 - Significance

I have been (and still am) working through Col. 2.8-23 for a writing project. I am convinced that this section shows fairly convincingly that Paul is countering a form of Jewish Mysticism. It is certainly the most theological and polemical section of the entire letter, which has led me to reflect on its significance for the contemporary church. Here's my thoughts so far:

The new covenant community has always been a creedal community confessing its faith as to what God has done in creation, in the history of Israel, in Jesus, and in the life of the church. The triune God has made himself known in his acts of reconciliation and renewal and this fills the content of sermons, Bible studies, liturgies, songs, prayers, and statements of belief from ancient times until even now. For this reason, the early church developed creeds as short programmatic summaries of its faith. These creeds enabled the church to know its own mind and to state how it distinguished itself from Judaism and paganism and from unwholesome derivations of its own beliefs. While no one likes people who are doctrinaire and unduly infatuated with doctrinal precision over every minor issue, nonetheless, we cannot help but notice that the content of faith matters immensely. A common faith is what ultimately defines the centre and boundaries of the church and even forms the fulcrum of our common fellowship.

It is vitally important, then, that the church in all ages guard its theological vision of the nature of God, Christ, and salvation without being pointlessly puritanical or vacuously broad. Even though it might seem unpopular, we should maintain the language of ‘heresy’ and warnings against it, as perversions of our distinct theological vision can endanger the integrity of our message, the focus of our worship, detract from our mission, and even risk shipwrecking our faith upon the jagged rocks of cultural conformity. Heretics never intend to distort the biblical and ancient faith, rather, they intend to make it more palatable and pliable to the spirit of the age, and so remove barriers to belief. For the second century gnostics this meant marrying Christianity to platonic cosmology and for the old liberals of the early twentieth century it required revizing Christian doctrines in light of rationalistic critiques of revealed religion. We should embody the virtue of tolerance, especially in matters that are adiaphora or ‘indifferent’, but at the same time we should think carefully of what we tolerate and not allow anyone to bring sin or false teaching into the church and expect it to be baptized and blessed in Jesus’ name.

We live in an age where, in some circles, inclusiveness has become the new orthodoxy and where exclusiveness has become the new heresy. This is where Col. 2.8-23 is so important. It informs us that some things are not for negotiation, such as the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, and that nothing can supplement or detract from God’s actions in his annointed Son. Colossians demands no compromise to the creed of solus Christus or ‘Christ alone’. To capitulate this point will result in a theology that is at first imprecise, then wishy-washy, then populalist, then worldly, and finally trivial. Paul calls on Christian communities to confess their faith with courage and fidelity against the philosophies of this world, be they within the church or external to it, and to singularly propound without reservation the absolute finality and ultimacy of Jesus Christ in all things. From this faithful confession emerges a unity rooted in one faith, one Lord, and one baptism, it unites believers from all over the world, it brings them together in a common mission, it entreats them to recline at a common table, and forges their shared identity as those who are in the Messiah.

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