Christ: Ritual or Reality?
In Samuel Andrew’s perceptive book, Christianity and Anti-Christianity, published in 1898, he states that the main reason for the continuing corruption of the Church is the departure from the headship of Christ. The first reaction to this is perhaps disbelief since statements concerning the headship of Christ over the Church are included in almost all credal statements and most Christians are at least aware of the doctrine. And that is the fatal flaw—it has become simply a credal statement or a cherished doctrine, with the reality missing. Any resemblance to an actual functioning Head seems purely coincidental. The doctrine may be good enough for stained glass windows, but seems strangely irrelevant for the real temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3). But this lack of reality is nothing new. The flesh has not changed, even “religious” flesh. The early church in Colosse also had its substitutes for the real headship of the Lord Jesus. Providentially for the present-day Church, so bound up in men and systems, we have a record of how the Lord tries to bring His wayward people back to Himself.
The Error of Pseudo-intellectualism
Paul, in Colossians, after praying for the believer’s inward spiritual growth, presents Christ as the Head of all things, including the Church in verse 18. He then shows that this was made possible by Christ the Reconciler, but then speaks of a blessed mystery, a mystery the Church has often lost. That is, Christ the In-dweller. Christ, not only transcendent, but immanent. He is the maker not only of heaven and earth but of the New Man. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
But shoddy substitutes for an indwelling Person were already on their way. False teaching was already slithering into the Church. With the advent of this trichinosis the joints and ligaments which were meant to function at the direction of the Head went askew like some legendary Frankenstein. And with the encrustments of the years the early simplicity would be more and more lost in the glorifying of the creature rather than the Creator. Paul says that they were lead away by “enticing words.” Perhaps a supposed new doctrine, or the pleasing personality of a man, or some beautiful religious practices that feed our self-righteousness. There have been myriads of enticements. The Colossians were functioning with joy and order (2:5), symptoms of a healthy body. Paul warns that the way to continue this is to continue functioning in Christ.
But that sweet functioning is beginning to sour. The mind of man, such a great gift of God, is trying to usurp the Creator’s place. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ are left behind or joined with a search for a “new wisdom.” Paul sees clearly that this springs not from noble motives, but from man’s inherent vanity and is pointed not Godward but Manward. It is basically man trying to arrange his own religious system, and though it may have many elements of Christianity it is not “after Christ” (2:8).
The early error that Paul was corn-batting was a form of Gnosticism which said that matter was evil and that realizing this led to a superior “wisdom.” Since matter was evil there were many ascetic practices and to bolster their supposed “wisdom” special mystery rites were used with the initiates. Paul knows that all these are “spoilers.”
The Church still is in deadly combat with such “spoilers.” The last two centuries have seen the pernicious effects of the superior “wisdom” of religious “liberalism” on the Church and the world. With its acceptance of only the “ethical content” of Christianity and its rejection of the supernatural, there was certainly no room for the actual headship of Christ. In fact, to the “liberal,” Christ is not a functioning Head but merely an example. Thus Christianity, devoid of the supernatural, is put on the idol shelf with all the other religions of the world. It is interesting to note the malfunctioning of this “ethical” Christianity in Germany where the rationalists’ destruction of German Christianity created a spiritual vacuum and opened the floodgates for the egomaniacal Hitler. In America we are now also beginning to feel its effects with the “end justifying the means” philosophy, a fruit of religious liberalism pervading our society. A Church without a head turns out to be a ghastly specter.
Along this same line the other day we had a Mormon come to our door (our neighbourhood is besieged by religious workers). To the clean-cut young man, Joseph Smith had imparted a special, new “wisdom” that, if I knew what was good for me, I’d follow. When I pointed out that there was a great deal of difference between morality (Joseph Smith?) and reality, he seemed puzzled. In fact, if one wants to see all kinds of quests for new “wisdom” just come to sunny Southern California.
Tragically, the inroads of a false intellectualism also seem to be making their way in among God’s people. Most of our youth seem to be more familiar with the secular than the spiritual. And even our Bible knowledge seems to be taking on a sort of “intellectualism.” I remember Tozer warned in one of his books that if evangelical Christianity continued on its present path we’d have all kinds of scholars that could win every arguement with the world, but they’d be like a bush without any fire in it. Unfortunately, Tozer seems to have been too good a prophet.
The Error of Law Observances
Another manifestation of the turning away from Christ in the Colossian church was a trust in Old Testament observances. Paul says in verse 14 that Christ did away with these, “nailing it to his cross.” This was especially graphic to the Colossian mind because in those days bonds were cancelled by having a nail struck through them. With this vivid illustration Paul hoped to stop their pursuit of special dietary laws, special days and other ceremonial observances as the road to spirituality. It is interesting to note too in verse 16 that their attempts at following different forms and ceremonies lead to their judging one another, and I’m sure each one felt his form was superior.
I think it is enlightening to see that Paul ties in these forms with principalities and powers in verse 15, and says that Christ triumphed over them. The reason I say this is enlightening is that there is a tendency in all of us, especially with present trends, to think that people acting religiously or worshipping “in the church of their choice” is something inherently good. Paul says just the opposite, and gives the Biblical view of religion without Christ, that is, that religion is tied in with lower powers and Christ triumphed over them. Observances of Lent, the setting aside of meatless Fridays, or the observing of the Sabbath lead only to bondage and are not after Christ.
In fact, too often even believers have made the Lord’s Day into such a solemnity that it becomes a burden. One becomes so concerned with what he can’t do on this day that it loses its joyous quality. This usually arises because of an identification of the Lord’s Day with the Old Testament Sabbath. Those who make such identification also better start gathering a big pile of stones (see Numbers 15:32-36). This writer also agrees with Dr. Chafer, first president of Dallas Seminary, who felt that the Church should be careful about trying to force the Lord’s Day on the world. There is a blessed provision of one day a week rest for man in God’s commands, but to try and make the world feel that to close their stores on Sunday is somehow Christian can only lead to their increasing self-righteousness and more difficulty in reaching them with the true gospel. Even the assemblies’ “morning meeting” on Sunday can become a mere religious fetish without the liberty of the Spirit. It is interesting to note that the early Christians in Acts may have even made it a daily thing, and Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 about “as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup…’ allow a wider range for the Lord’s table than just ten o’clock Sunday mornings.
Continued Next Issue