See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. – Colossians 2:6-23
The past few years have been especially challenging for my relationship with Christianity. I must admit that I often fail to see the Jesus referenced in Colossians in the churches of North America (where I live). I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard some variation of “Do not handle; Do not taste; Do not touch” under the guise of “protection from sin.” I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Plato’s philosophical musings indirectly referenced by Christian leaders as being essential elements of the faith, instead of – as Paul uses them here – as a familiar, contemporary way of speaking that helps us understand the difference between Jesus and the “world” (world=religion/belief-based living).
And I wonder if what we call the “church” in North America is actually preaching Jesus, or the ‘elemental spirits of this world.’
Consider this: Much of our time as Christians seems to be spent determining who exactly is “in” and who exactly is “out.” We assume that those ‘elemental spirits of this world (church)’ are the opposite of our belief-based understanding, and therefore we can accurately determine who is “in” and “out” based on ourselves; if you disagree with me you’re out.
But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did as recorded in the Gospels.
In fact, he made an explicit point to refute the attempts of his disciples and opponents who tried to determine that very thing. The out was in and the in was – out? Was it? Jesus never actually says that. Interestingly enough, he said that he was the “in,” and anybody was in if they went in by/with/through/over/in him.
Church seems to be the opposite of that – while saying exactly that.
This is because we (church) still see the world as some sort of dualistic binary. There is in and out, good and evil, rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, us and them. And so we think we need some sort of filter to determine who gets to be “us” and not “them.”
And this makes me mad. It makes me want to quit this whole church thing.
Because I am less and less convinced that church in North America is effectively doing what Jesus said to do and did himself. Each day I see a starker and starker contrast between the good news of God’s cosmic and ongoing work of creation and healing and the organization that claims to be the gatekeeper of participation with that work.
And I find it harder and harder to love the church.
And this is where I, too, fail to follow Jesus. I want the church to be wrong. I want Jesus to tell them – those who tell others – to “depart from me for I never knew you.” I don’t want to love them anymore. I see all the pain and all the hatred and all the destruction and I, like Pilate, want to wash my hands of it.
And I see how I am them.
I am the same as those who I do not want to love. I want “them” to be on the outside. I am still a part of it. Can I love like I think Jesus loves – without condition, without condemnation? Without wanting there to be a “them?”