by Wayne BarberThe Purpose of the Church-Part 3
The Purpose of the Church-Part 3
We have looked at the People and the Place that Paul wrote to in his epistle to the Colossians, and begun to look at the Problem that he was dealing with. The problem was an unusual variety of Gnosticsm-one that combined both Jewish and Greek thought. We noted last month that there were three traps in this heresy which were extremely appealing to the flesh. The first was the Religious Trap. In this article we want to look first at the Emotional Trap.
An interesting addition to their humanistic doctrine included angel-worship. Since man was totally unworthy to approach God, he needed a mediator between himself and God-an angel. Angels, therefore, must be submitted to and worshiped. Angels were considered to be the agents through whom the world of matter came into being, and therefore the means whereby man might be redeemed from the bondage of material conditions and made free.
Another name for that was aeon. In fact, the Gnostics viewed Christ simply as one of these aeons. Paul says in Col. 2:18,19: "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God."
These false teachers were saying that one could achieve perfection while here on earth. But to do so, he would have to progress through a number of initiations and levels of wisdom in spiritual mysteries. This "salvation" of imperfect man had nothing to do with Christ and His atoning death on the cross. It took Him completely out of the equation. The emotional journey that this offered to the people of Colosse was as appealing then as it is today.
There was also an Intellectual Trap built into this heresy. The great promise to those overcoming their flesh, who entered into angelic visions and encounters was a knowledge which was reserved for the very few. Only certain ones were allowed into this sphere of knowledge, through rituals and ceremonies in which this knowledge would be revealed. Paul counters this heresy by showing that Christ is the essence of all wisdom and knowledge: "…attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:2,3).
So, the problem in Colosse was just another diversion to get man away from the sufficiency of Christ. To summarize: the Gnostics maintained that we can overcome sin by consistently punishing our body (the religious trap); we can experience angels and have visions, and each time we have these experiences we are moved to a higher spiritual plane (the emotional trap); and we can have a knowledge that no one else has (the intellectual trap).
So far we have looked at the People, the Place, and the Problem. Next let's see if we can apply this to what is happening in the church today. I submit to you that many have fallen into the same traps that the Colossians fell into centuries ago. In traveling the country for many years, I've seen the same three very profound traps that were inherent in the Gnostic heresy of Colosse.
I believe the Religious Trap is rampant in Christianity today. The same trap the Galatians fell into when the Judaizers came around-the old "performance mentality," the "I've-got-to-do-something-in order-to-be-spiritual" mentality. Then there is the Emotional Trap: "I've seen an angel! I've had a vision!" This leads people to all kinds of mystical experiences that lend themselves to "spiritual pride" in their life. And the Intellectual Trap is just as rampant. We see the arrogance of those who pretend to be more spiritual than anyone else, the "higher knowledge" they seem to possess. I call it the "twilight zone syndrome."
Solomon said well in Ecc. 1:9: "…there is nothing new under the sun." The false teachers that plagued Colosse sought to take the people's minds captive with their false doctrine. Instead of Christ conquering the flesh; instead of finding full satisfaction in Him; instead of His Word enlightening our hearts; these teachers offered just another counterfeit. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Even their methods are the same! Oh, how we need to be on guard at all times that we don't fall into these traps!
Wayne Barber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.toliveischrist.org.