Colossians 2:16–17 ESV
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Near the end of his life, John Wesley once famously said of the movement he helped to found:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
Form without power . . . ritual without reality . . . motions without movement. . . these signify the kiss of death for the work of God in a community of people. Forms and rituals and motions can be good things until they become the main things, denying the dynamics they were created to cultivate.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16–17 ESV)
It seems like some people from First Methodist on Main Street visited the Colossians Community Church across town and told them they weren’t doing it right. They must have been mortified at the absence of a bulletin announcing the “New Moon celebration” and upcoming Sabbath non-activities.
Paul will not have it. He knows the difference between the Tradition and the traditions and how well-meaning people will sometimes unwittingly and other times knowingly trade in the former for the latter. Hear him clearly when he says, “but the substance belongs to Christ.”
You know the difference. Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. How does this happen? It all begins with this great mystery of our faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The reality is found in Christ, and Christ must be found in us.
The mystery gets translated into a message which begets messengers. Movement is born. A way of working with the mystery emerges in the form of shared movements (e.g., the Lord’s Supper, etc.). These movements help us remember together and, done well, they lead us to experience the great mystery together. Over time, however, the movements that helped us to move with the Movement slowly become the motions. Before long, entire communities and even denominations become focused on the motions. Somewhere along the way, the motions get passed on without their meanings, and they get disconnected from the movement, at which point we find ourselves simply “going through the motions.” We find ourselves with a form of religion without the power, rituals without the reality, and motions without the movement.
In response, some leaders will advocate for throwing out the motions. It’s another post, but often leaders will reach for e-motions instead (which are not bad but can unwittingly counterfeit the reality we seek). I think the best leaders work to reconnect the motions to the movement again, which must begin with the core mystery—Christ in us.
There are many pitfalls on the path to real Christianity. We must develop a dogged determination to settle for nothing less.
Domino #2/16 posts another warning for us to beware of motions that aren’t connected to movement.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is both the form and the power, in whose death and resurrection are both the ritual and the reality, and in whose body are both the mystery and the movement. I want the reality, Lord. Lead me into the reality. I must have the reality. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
- How do you relate to this notion of form without power, ritual without reality, and motion without movement?
- How do people become so loyal to the motions at the cost of the movement and the loss of the mystery? Has this ever happened to you?
- Have you come to a dogged determination to live in “the reality” at whatever cost and come what may? Maybe time to look up Jeremiah 29:13 again.
For the Awakening,