Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Synthetic Study on Colossians

Synthetic Study on Colossians

General Impact on Me
Paul starts out his letter by drawing attention to the connection of the Colossian believers and other believers, to include himself. (Col. 13-8) This emphasis on commonality and union paves the way to begin dialog and explain why he should care anything about things happening in a river valley in Asia minor. He explains that they have a common friend, Epaphras, who may be the cause of the letter. (Col. 18) It may be that Epaphras explained to Paul the difficulties that he was having as a pastor in Colossia. Paul addresses the issue of the supremacy of Christ in contrast to the dominion of darkness. (Col. 113) Christ is not to be mistaken as another spiritual being among many others. He is above all authorities, whether earthly or heavenly. (Col. 115-20) He emphasizes the ColossianÕs union with Christ, and the mystery associated with the wonder of Christ, the hope of glory, being in the believer. (Col. 124-27) PaulÕs concern is for more than those whom he has met personally, or congregations he has established. He is understands the true connection between believers, between congregations. (Col. 21,5) Paul points out that faith in Christ for daily life, just as for salvation, is the source of that blessing. (Col. 26,7) This is in contrast to man made traditions, circumcision, following the law, ceremonies, venerating angels, or ascetic practices. (Col. 2 8-23) That is not to say that we donÕt live holy lives, but holiness flows from virtue empowered by an abiding walk with Christ. (Col. 31-17) These virtues have practical application in our basic roles in life such as a wife, husband, child, father, worker or employer. (Col. 318-41) Prayer is the means of practicing this faith. (Col. 42-6) The last chapter goes over the relation ship with outsiders (Col. 45,6), and the relationship with insiders. (Col. 47-17)

Atmosphere as a Whole
While there are many references to Jewish religious things, Paul does not give the usual dose of quotations from the Old Testament. (Col. 211, 14, 16, 18) The explanations center around the superiority of Christ and a faith which flows from the heart. This is a departure from PaulÕs normal mode of making many quotes of and allusions to the Jewish scriptures. Paul does this to make his letter better communicate to the audience. The Colossians were probably exposed to a form of Judaism which mixed animism with Jewish elements. Rather than chiding them for their immaturity, Paul encourages them to understand the supremacy of Christ over the animistic powers they fear. He also explains the true spiritual growth for the Christian does not involve ecstatic visions, ceremonial righteousness or asceticism but rather a walk with God that flows from the heart.

HIGHLIGHTS key passages, key words and phrases
dominion of darkness (Col. 113; 29; 215)
Divinity of Christ and his exalted state; fullness (Col. 115ff; 29; 31)

Personal application

Christ is supreme over all other spiritual powers that a person may experience. For those coming out of animistic backgrounds, such as folk Islam, the focus should not be to ward off evil spirits but to trust in Christ. Other spirits are not his peer, he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Col. 115) Rather than attempting to ward off evil through asceticism or ceremonial acts, the Christian should focus on a humble walk with Christ, grounded in prayer and shown through virtue flowing from the work of the Spirit. (Col. 220-23; 42-6; 315-17; 31-14)

Contemporary Situation
Much of the thought in our current American Christian culture comes from a modernist world view. A modernist world view says that we can understand our world through scientific study of things and phenomena. It says our world can be understood by understanding the natural causes of each thing and phenomena. There is a recognition that there are limits to human perception capabilities and challenges in attempting to rightly correlate a cause to its effect. But all in all, there is a trust in perception, scientific method and an unwavering faith that everything can be explained by its natural cause. This precludes any explanation that something has a supernatural cause.
Christians, pastors in particular, have had different approaches to explaining the supernatural flavor of the events in scripture and the tension that has with a modernist world view. The church as a whole has take the lead from the various approaches of its pastors. While the approaches truly are as a varied as the individuals, I will attempt to categorize some general approaches to this problem.
The explanations may seem to be exaggerated or overly simple but this is not intended to mock particular parties. Simplicity is used as a means of starting point to deal with the problem. An particular group may be mentioned as using an approach but individuals within that group may choose to explain the tension in a different way. The tension between the two world views is the proverbial elephant in the room (church) no one wants to mention.

Looking At Scripture Through Naturalistic Glasses,
Seeing The World Through Naturalistic Glasses

Many of the liberal or neo-orthodox pastors take this view, that scripture makes supernatural explanations of events caused by natural causes. They de-mythologize the scripture. When some poor soul comes their way that really believes in the feeding of the five thousand as a supernatural event, they quietly dismiss his or her belief as uneducated. In response to someone believing that a particular blessing or misfortune being caused by God, they would look for natural cause explanations. Criticisms of the supernatural are often circumspect, so as to not put jobs and positions at risk.

Looking At Scripture Through Supernatural Glasses,
Seeing The World Through Naturalistic Glasses

Many in evangelical pastors could be described as believing the supernatural events in scripture but would distance themselves from such realities existing here in the 21st century. Demon possessions were real in the days of Jesus but all derangements today are caused by biochemical or psychological causes. The supernatural existed for a period of time in the past, but we can distance ourselves from those events in the present. The factor of this approach which allows the two points of view to coexist is the death of the last apostle. This allows the believers to distance their own experience from what they see in scripture. As far as I can tell, this view is relatively new in the church. Perhaps it is a reaction to Pentecostal extremism and is a way to embrace Modernism while maintaining belief in scripture.

Looking At Scripture Through Supernatural Glasses,
Seeing The World Through Supernatural-naturalistic Bifocals

Some evangelical pastors are not systematic in their theology. In some seminaries, the training even avoids systematic thought as a misdirection of energy. Based on personal bent, the evangelical pastor many choose to allow from some supernatural events but at other times not think it is appropriate. The mysterious is allowed, but not tested or verified. Decisions on direction for ministry are based on some leadings or feelings and the mechanism for that decision is never discussed. To summarize this approach is that the supernatural is allowed as long as we donÕt get carried away.

Looking At Scripture Through Supernatural Glasses,
Seeing The World Through Supernatural Glasses

The Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors often explain the world in terms of the supernatural. An addiction is caused by a demon. Safety in a car wreck is caused by God or an angel. (I donÕt have a lot of contact with people from this particular train of thought so I must be brief in my analysis.)

The middle two views are the ones which are held by the Christian communities with which I associate. The total disbelief in the supernatural is a part of the church I distance myself from and I want to avoid excesses of the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. The two middle views are less direct in dealing with supernatural beliefs and are the ones I will attempt to address.

I have attempted to do evangelist work with Arab Muslim and one of my future ministry goals is to spend more time evangelizing Arab Muslims. Many Arab Muslims come from an intellectual background and are very philosophical. This segment of the Arab Islamic community may embrace western Modernist thought. However another segment, that of a folk Islamic background, embraces the supernatural. Dreams are particularly important to some from this background. Contact with Jinn (evil spirits) is talked about and believed to be the cause of trouble.
As a westerner who has been influenced by Modernist thought, how do I deal with these supernatural events taking place in Arab Islamic communities? One of my fellow beleiverÕs approach is to dismiss present supernatural realities and as Arabs are converted to Christianity, see to it that they also adopt a modernist world view. The adoption of a Modernist world view is not explicit but is the expectation. This may be comforting for the Westerner working in a foreign environment, but do we really want to export Modernism while we evangelize for Christ? But at the same time, we have a problem that we are not explicit in our beliefs concerning the supernatural. Most of our evangelical thought side steps the issue. The evangelical system of thought is developed in reaction to Pentecostalism, Modernism and evolution; not directly addressing the issue of the supernatural in the modern world.


It may have been easier for Paul to dismiss the folk Judaism beliefs of the Colossians. But this was not his approach, instead he pointed to what was good. He explained the preeminence of Christ above the other spiritual powers. He directs the beleiver away from ceremonies and ascetic acts, both of which are common in folk Islam, to a virtuous life filled with prayer. As a Christian evangelizing in this environment, I must teach the doctrine of Trinity at every opportunity so that the elevated status of Christ is understood completely.
The evangelical Christian community must address the supernatural in a more straight forward manner. So much of our thought is shaped by the American experience that we fail to address issues found in the Arab world or other parts of the 10/40 Window. Paul took on a difficult issue of his day and so must we.
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