Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Colossians 2B: Turning Christianity into a Religion

Col 2:16-23 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,  puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. 

According to Martin Luther, religion is the default mode of the human heart. Not just for those outside of Christianity, but also those inside. Here Paul has to deal with the religious default mode among the Colossians. They have substituted relationship with God through Christ with their religion comprising rules and regulations about eating and drinking, about festivals, special days (new moon or Sabbath) and asceticism (fasting & self-denial), including even the more esoteric worship angels and strange visions. 

One can make religion out of the mundane (what to eat and drink, when to celebrate "holy" days, spiritual disciplines, etc) or out of the supernatural (angels and visions). I've heard of churches making a religion out of strange supernatural phenomena (gold dust, angelic visitations, etc). While these may be divine manifestations, we have to be careful not to build a religion around these manifestations and miss the real purpose of these manifestations--to draw us into God's presence.

Paul admits that "these have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion" (very appealing to the spiritually-minded) but they are of "no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh", which is the goal of Christianity. We miss the point if we chase after these supernatural manifestations rather than after the Spirit to attain Christlike character. 

I must also add that we can also make  a religion out of "anointed speakers" or churches or special doctrines or denominational practices. We can begin to worship these things rather than God. Martin Luther is indeed correct--religion is the default mode of our human heart. If we are not careful, we can substitute  self-made religion for Spirit-empowered relationship with Christ.

Father, deliver us from this carnal religious spirit so that we might not miss out Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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