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Colossians—a Christian anarchist Bible study

[With this first installment, we begin a series of Bible studies of Books and passages of Scripture with special interest to the Christian anarchist. Neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, these provide a starting place for study and discussion. They will appear in no particular order and at no set time. NL]

Two passages in Paul’s book of Colossians have our attention in this study: 1:9-23; 2:8-15.

Kingdom transference

First, Colossians 1:9-23 ESV:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.

Delivered from the power of darkness

In verse 13 we see that Jesus has delivered the believer from the exousia—the authority— of the domain of darkness. There is a domain of darkness. All who do not belong to the domain of light belong to the domain of darkness. The ruler of the domain of darkness is Satan. Before choosing Christ, one had been subject to that domain, but no longer. With the choice of Christ, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt, the believer is delivered from the domain of darkness. In Egypt, pharaoh had sway over the slaving Hebrews. When delivered, they were made free. Still, it remained for them to depart Egypt. God did not whisk them away and deposit them in Canaan; A journey lay ahead.

While enslaved in Egypt they had not been free to undertake the journey; having been delivered, they stood at the edge of the city. They must put one footstep in front of another, step by step, and make their departure. God changed their situation. Now they were free. That is, now their freedom could be wrought out.

Our passage in Colossians makes no particular reference to the Exodus, yet still offers a helpful illustration. As the road to Canaan beckoned, so in the believer’s case. He is not delivered to inactivity or passivity; he is delivered in that he is no longer imprisoned in the domain of darkness. Now he may walk out. The door is opened, the pathway stands before him. Freedom is there for the taking.

Translated into the kingdom of Jesus

Verse 13 says that we are delivered from the power of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus. The underlying Greek means a change in where we are standing, a change in our place. The new Christian may still be standing on the edge of “Egypt” but he is a new Christian nonetheless. He is free. He is part of a different, non-coercive kingdom now. He has changed countries, situations, and lords. He has become an ambassador from a different land (we’ll explore the ambassador aspect in a different study).

In real life terms, what does this mean? I was born in a nation called the United States of America (today very much a single, centralized state). When I became a Christian, I was translated to the kingdom of Jesus. I remain physically present here, but I am now under a different lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my King.

Here in the United State, the theory is that the people are sovereign, the citizens themselves are actually lord. Even if this were true, it is not right for us to be under the lordship of other created beings; this was Satan’s schema. The Creator is to be Lord, none else.

Jesus created all thrones, dominions, principalities, powers?

Our text says that Jesus created all thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, and that these all were created by Him and for Him (1:16). Is it intended that we understand by this that Jesus created all the nations? That Babylon was made by Him and for Him? Nazi Germany? Were the gas chambers of Auschwitz in which Jews were slaughtered Jesus’ gas chambers, made by Him and for Him?

There is a sense in which He created all kingdoms, for He made humankind in the beginning, and humankind chose to bind itself up into city-states and nations. At Babylon God scrambled a rebellion and human language, scattering men who went out to found the many nations.

If we are not careful, we will abuse this text and take it to mean that even Satan’s dominion, throne, kingdom, nation, were made by Jesus and for Him. God and Satan do nothing in partnership. A main point in this passage is that Jesus is first; He is before all things. As Eller has put it so well,

Precisely because Jesus is THE ARKY, the Prime of Creation, the Principle of All Good, the Prince of Peace and Everything Else, Christians dare never grant a human arky the primacy it claims for itself (Vernard Eller, Christian anarchy, p. 2, emphasis Eller).

The flavor, the very ideas in Eller, are the same as this passage in Colossians. If the Colossian believers were predisposed to see the universe as ruled under a hierarchy of angelic beings or echelons of greater and lesser gods, Paul wanted them to know that Jesus was before all else; nothing exists without His consent. Even Satan’s existence is only possible because God has delayed the final execution of his judgment upon him. Satan and his rebel angels are reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:9; 3:7; Jude 6; Matthew 25:41).

God works via earthly kingdoms, but he does not endorse them. He will use an Assyria or a Babylon to judge, but when they exceed His wishes, He will punish those who have voided His purpose (e.g. Isaiah 13:3-5; 10:5-7, 12, 13; 41:2-4, 45:1, 4, 13). God used Babylon to execute judgment upon the Hebrew people, but He never endorsed Bel or any of the Babylonian gods. He brings good out of evil, and the actions of men and their kingdoms are overturned to the victory of the divine purpose—all unforeseen, no doubt, by the earthly rulers!

God created a setting in which men would be free to choose good or evil. The rebellion of the inhabitants of planet earth was an unavoidable risk God took. Robots would have been easy pets to keep; but men granted their own wills might rebel out of malice or even the exercise of a mere superficial choice. Surely that describes Adam’s rebellion: superficial, minimally thought-through, but sufficiently thought-through to be open rebellion.

The result? A weakened race, and men now degenerated so that a perverse will would have its way. And still, man in all his corrupt designs, his madness even (Ecclesiastes 9:3; Jeremiah 51:7), is still within reach of God’s redemption. There is still that in him which can be corrected, restored, bought back, repaired.

In any case, Adam’s rebellion threw the earth into a complicated state. Given dominion over earth, Adam and Eve now had forsaken it. Earth remained God’s planet, but now the manager had hired himself out to Satan (Romans 6:16). As such, Adam forsook his dominion, but Satan could not legitimately acquire it. He is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), not by right, but rather by being a squatter. He is a philosophical punk whom God has not yet forced off of His land. And Satan has gone on to set up kingdoms, dominions, thrones. Each one under his sway.

This may seem hard to buy into. After all, there are “good” nations, like the United States, right? We’ll return to that assertion at another time. For now, it helps us to remember Psalm 2 and Acts 4:25, 26. There we find that the nations of earth gathered themselves together to fight God; they opposed Jesus. Revelation 12-14, 17-18 shows the same (more on that in a future study!).

Indirectly then, Jesus created all thrones, if we want to push it that far. He is above all creation, including all governments and spiritual forces. He is superior, indeed, He is the sole agency that keeps them going, even temporarily. All things are made by Jesus and for Him. All thrones, kingdoms, etc., are intended to serve Him. After Adam’s sin, however, as seen in Psalm 2 and Acts 4:25, 26, the kingdoms rather are gathered against Him. They are in rebellion. And yet, God will, ultimately, bring good out of their evil.

He gives life to rabbit and fox, prey and predator, not to endorse predation, but incidental to the great controversy, the great conflict between good and evil. God is using this once-for-all-time occasion to grant us an under-the-microscope look, not only at good, but also at evil.

Through Jesus’ cross, all things reconciled to Him

These persistent rebellions will not be permitted to continue. Daniel shows us that in the end, God gathers all power back to Himself. Every human kingdom is destroyed, and God’s kingdom fills the earth (Daniel 2:31-45). This reconciliation is accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross, but will see its full consummation only at the very end of time. Every power in rebellion against God will be brought down.

Rulers disarmed

Here, we consider 2:8-15 ESV:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The rudiments of the world

The rudiments of the world include the basic societal expectations that we have all been persuaded are intrinsically the way that things are supposed to work. Today, that means the way of living as popularized in a world of “representative democracies.” But the way the structures of our world have been set up is not neutral. Things have been arranged in favor of expropriation, Church and state are closely united in exploitative structures (Revelation 18:3, 15, 19, 23). Through these arrangements, all are subject to a sort of structural evil, a built-in distortion in the world used to exploit.

Another rudiment of our world is coercion. Representative democracy says that if enough people choose to exploit others, that is morally right. What you need to “legitimize” the matter is a majority vote. After you have that, the state may proceed to expropriate and redistribute wealth. Voting is a satisfactory means of making decisions in a voluntary setting, but in one with no recourse, a setting of force, it is coercion.

These are two examples among others of the rudiments of our world in 2009. Paul’s warning is not to beware lest another person spoil, that is, ruin us, but the meaning of spoil here is as in “make captive.” The warning is not to permit yourself to be made captive by philosophy or empty deceptions. When the Christian lends his assent to a system that is socially unjust, he functions as an enabler, a facilitator of his own and of other people’s bondage.

Complete in Christ

We are not made complete by being conventional, but by trusting in Christ. Jesus makes the Christian complete. Therefore we need not trust in experts and exploitative social conventions. We should feel secure enough in Christ that we are ready, when we come to understand things differently, to throw off old wineskins and move to fresh understandings if they are in harmony with God’s Word.

Jesus is the head of the body, the head of the church. But He is not the head of Satan; Satan has chosen to be “headless.” Satan refuses Christ’s headship. Thus Satan’s developed “self” nature is not subdued, and is neither buried with Christ nor resurrected with Him. Satan refuses Christ’s life. In contrast, the believer chooses to follow Christ, to die with Him and to be raised with Him. He is our ARCHE and our head. Remember, Christian anarchists are so with reference to human arkys, not God. We do have a head, an ARCHE, and that is our Creator.

Jesus’ triumph over the powers

All this brings us at last to this final statement in our study, and it is a significant one. Colossians asserts that Jesus spoiled—took captive—and triumphed over principalities and powers. Neither Satan nor the powers under his control are transformed by Jesus. Rather, they are conquered, spoiled, made captive, defeated.

Satan offered Jesus all the kingdom of the world but Jesus refused to take him up on the terms. There is no room for compromise between coercion and selfless love. The solution to the war between good and evil is not found in harmonization, but, when the timing is right, in Jesus’ triumph over and destruction of those powers which oppose Him.

He came to bring a sword, and to cut down every plant that His heavenly Father had not planted. And principalities and powers not subdued to CHrist are destined to be replaced with God’s kingdom.

Conclusion

The Christian is delivered from the authority of the domain of darkness. God places him where he is enabled to be free. The Auschwitz gas chambers did not belong to Jesus. God reverses all. Although He set up the situation in which rebellion was possible, He is not responsible for it. Principalities and powers that are in rebellion against God’s kingdom are not on JEsus’ side; rather, the kingdoms of earth have arrayed themselves in opposition to God. The Christian is freed from the rudiments of the world. JEsus has conquered and spoiled principalities and powers, and the Christian is under the authority of an altogether different kind of governance.

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