A Rose by Any Other Name - Col 1:1-2 05/31/20

A Rose by Any Other Name – Colossians 1:1-2 05/31/20

This week we’re starting a series in the letter to the Colossians. This letter addresses the importance of right doctrine. How many of us could quote all or part of the Church Creeds, or even our church’s Affirmation of Faith? I couldn’t. These are examples of Christian doctrine, and the letter to the Colossian Church was written to address problems in doctrine. When we have major doctrinal problems, these are called heresy. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, heresy is destructive and leads us away from God.

What were the problems with the doctrine taught in the Colossian church? We don’t actually know, precisely. All that we know about the church in Colossae is found in this letter labeled as “Colossians” in our Bibles, along with some minor references in the letter to Philemon.[1] The Epistle to the Colossians is one of Paul’s letters that were written from prison. It was “probably” written while Paul was incarcerated in Rome the first time.[2] Other locations have been proposed, although the exact location doesn’t change the message of the letter.

Sometime in the early A.D. 60’s Paul sent messengers with letters to three different churches, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossi, and then a separate letter was sent to Philemon, the host of the home church in Colossi.[3] The letter to the church in Colossae had/has a very specific focus, it directs our attention to the head of the body of Christ, which is, of course, Jesus.[4] Paul received information from Epaphras, apparently the pastor in Colossi, that heretical teachings we beginning to be assimilated into what members of the church believed.[5] As a result, Paul writes his letter emphasizing the fullness of God expressed in Christ Jesus.[6]

So what do we know about this church? We know that Colossi was located in what is now a part of inland southwest Turkey.[7] Its ruins still stand in the gates of Phrygia,[8] some 90 miles east of Ephesus.[9] The city itself was located in the upper valley of the Lycus River,[10] resting on the south bank[11] surrounded by high mountains.[12] This placed the city on the main trade route through the Phrygian mountains from Ephesus on the western coast of Asia Minor to Iconium in the southeast.[13]

Initially Colossi was a fortress-city intended to provide a defense against invasion from the east, but by the time of Paul this danger had been eliminated.[14] The area was populated primarily by indigenous Phrygians alongside a large population of Greek settlers.[15] Greek culture was thriving in the region[16] although the native Phrygians proved to be resistant to many aspects of Hellenistic practice. The native Phrygian religion involved the worship of Agdistis, a multi-gendered deity, along with a variety of other secondary gods/demons.[17] As it turns out, the Phrygians were particularly receptive to the message of Christianity.[18]

We know that Paul never, personally, reached the upper valley of the Lycus.[19] Epaphras, a native of Colossi, [20] was the one who seems to have evangelized the area.[21] These details would place the probable founding of the Church in Colossae at around the mid-50s.[22] The church met in the home of Philemon, the same person Onesimus returned to under the direction of Paul.[23]

There were two dangers that needed to be avoided by the Colossian Christians.[24] On the one hand, Christianity could devolve into rigid ritualism[25] and lose the power of the Spirit moving in their midst. At the other extreme the church could lose all doctrinal integrity and “evaporate into a steam of philosophies”[26] ultimately leading to a denial of the full sufficiency of Christ for salvation.[27] There has always been the danger of either adding or subtracting from the message of Christianity.[28] In doing so we lose the central message of the Gospel which is, only and always, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.[29] If we teach anything else, we can expect to be found in error. That is exactly what was happening in the Colossian church, and Paul soundly refutes that.

Paul was addressing heresy. We toss around this word “heresy,” but do we know what it refers to? It originally referred to a belief or action that could be chosen from among several options.[30] For example, I can choose to wear a short sleeve or long sleeve shirt when the weather is like it has been this past week. However, over time “heresy” came to have a more specific meaning, it came to refer to unorthodox opinions.[31] The concept of heresy is grounded in the belief that God has revealed the truth, and opinions deviating from that truth are heresy, that is, distortions or denials of truth.[32] In short, they are lies.

Protestantism has recognized three kinds of doctrinal error.[33] First is a teaching that directly contradicts accepted orthodox teaching.[34] Clearly, this is heresy. An example of this is the belief that Jesus did not really die and then rise from the dead. This belief makes salvation impossible since Jesus did not really serve as our sin-sacrifice.

Second would be a teaching that indirectly contradicts a fundamental belief. This is often a little less black and white. An example would be a teaching such as the idea that the existence of suffering requires the conclusion that God is not good.[35] Most of the time this category, too, would be considered heresy.

Finally, there is an error that goes beyond what the Scriptures can reasonably be understood to teach, but does not contradict or refute orthodox doctrine. This would include the debate over communion and baptism. This brings us to the distinction between heresy and a word we don’t hear every day; heterodoxy. Heresy denies orthodox doctrine.[36] Heterodoxy diverges from commonly accepted doctrine without contradicting or denying orthodox doctrine.[37] The line between the two can sometimes blur, but we have to remember what we should believe to be saved, and what we must believe to be saved, are not always the same thing.[38] We can be wrong about a lot of things, but if we get Jesus right salvation is ours.

This brings us to the topic of “doctrine.” In contrast to heresy, we have doctrine. The root of the word means to teach or instruct.[39] Orthodox doctrine is defined as “correct” belief;[40] and that correct belief has been hammered out through centuries of faithful followers of Jesus Christ struggling with various ideas regarding the nature of God, the nature of mankind, and the nature of the world. The ideas and principles presented in the Scriptures are evaluated, compared, and systematized.[41] Their conclusions were tested, tried, and ultimately stood the test of time. This is orthodox doctrine.

Doctrine is more than dusty definitions. It is through our doctrine that we identify the God we worship and describe His saving work on our behalf.[42] The simple fact is that how we live reflects what we really believe. It matters. At the core of the Christian faith is the Gospel.[43] Jesus Christ died for our sin so that we can be accepted by God by grace through faith. It is God who initiates the relationship, it is God who makes it possible. It is all based on the nature of God, which is fundamentally a loving nature.

Many evangelical organizations use statements of faith to delineate their theological convictions.[44] These serve as a kind of handy shorthand to the Bible. When prepared rightly, these statements of faith boil down what the Bible teaches into concise and orderly statements. Our church has one, and I think it’s a really good one. For an independent interdenominational church these statements are particularly important. We can have people from virtually every background, and we need to have an overarching statement that defines what is crucial for belief and agreement, and what is not.

Our statement of faith can be found on our website, bccharstine.org, it’s a part of our bylaws, and is available any time you’re interested. I encourage you to read it through. If a particular doctrinal statement is not found in our statement of faith, and yet does not contradict it, we would view most others issues as heterodoxy, something that goes beyond what’s clear and universally accepted. It may be right, it may be wrong, but we can agree to disagree. If a view is held in contradiction to our statement of faith, we would view that as heresy.

So I suppose the question each of us should ask is this, “Am I prepared to submit my beliefs to what the Scriptures actually say?” We all tend to read the Bible through the lenses of what we already believe. It can be really hard to let the Scriptures speak and submit to what they say rather than twisting them to say what we already think.

Are you willing to do that?

[1] Curtis Vaughn, Colossians, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 11, Ephesians – Philemon, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI.: 1978), 163. [2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [3] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [4] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [5] Curtis Vaughn, Colossians, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 11, Ephesians – Philemon, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI.: 1978), 166. [6] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [7] Ralph P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. James Luther Mays (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), 81. [8] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [9] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [10] Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 44, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), xxvi. [11] Curtis Vaughn, Colossians, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 11, Ephesians – Philemon, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI.: 1978), 163. [12] Eduard Lohse, trans. by William R. Poehlmann and Robert J. Karris, Colossians and Philemon, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Helmut Koester (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1971), 8. [13] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 599. [14] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [15] Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 44, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), xxvii. [16] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [17] J.A. Harrill, Asia Minor, Dictionary of New Testament Background, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Craig A Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 134. [18] J.A. Harrill, Asia Minor, Dictionary of New Testament Background, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Craig A Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 134. [19] Eduard Lohse, trans. by William R. Poehlmann and Robert J. Karris, Colossians and Philemon, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Helmut Koester (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1971), 2. [20] Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 44, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), xxviii. [21] Eduard Lohse, trans. by William R. Poehlmann and Robert J. Karris, Colossians and Philemon, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Helmut Koester (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1971), 2. [22] James Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds., I. Howard marshal, W. Ward Gasque, and Donald Hagner, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI.: 1996), 23. [23] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [24] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [25] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [26] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [27] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 331. [28] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [29] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 332. [30] K.W. Rick, Heresy, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, ed., Walter Elwell, (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids MI.: 2001), 550. [31] K.W. Rick, Heresy, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, ed., Walter Elwell, (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids MI.: 2001), 550. [32] K.W. Rick, Heresy, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, ed., Walter Elwell, (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids MI.: 2001), 550. [33] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [34] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [35] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [36] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [37] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [38] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 4. [39] The People’s Bible Encyclopedia: Biographical, Geographical, Historical, and Doctrinal, ed., Charles Barnes, (The People’s Publications Society, Chicago, IL.: 1924), 277. [40] Howard Stone and James Duke, How to Think Theologically, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.: 1996), 9. [41] Howard Stone and James Duke, How to Think Theologically, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.: 1996), 47. [42] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 2. [43] Howard Stone and James Duke, How to Think Theologically, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.: 1996), 66. [44] Justin Holcomb, Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy, periodical, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today, Boone, IA, October 6, 2015), 7.

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