Why We Trade in the Movement for the Motions


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.


  1. How do you relate to this notion of form without power, ritual without reality, and motion without movement?
  2. 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?
  3. 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,
J.D. Walt

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Comments and Discussion

4 Responses

  1. I fear “the church” is moving into a phase where some denominations attempt to change Christ into a cultural movement. It reminds me of my “self-help” stage, where I learned to have a positive attitude toward my sinful desires through the justification of rightness. Because of my messed up childhood (who didn’t have one. Little sinners being raised by adult sinners), I had the right to feel good, and if sin made me feel good, it must be good. Ironically, only if I could keep them secret. Dumb. Only only one happy was satan.
    Christ lived, died, rose, and so we could change into the spiritual being God created us to be, not so we could mold Jesus to who we want Him to be.

  2. 1) When systematized, institutionalized, and formalized Christianity is substituted for direct interaction with and obedience to the living, resurrected Jesus, Christians become a passive weekly audience instead of a powerful spiritual army that seeks to follow Him with all their heart. Perhaps it’s time to de-systematize, de-institutionalize, and de-formalize and be led by the Spirit instead!

    2) It takes much less time to sit through a weekly religious routine than it does to daily interact with and obey Jesus who is unseen.

    3) I’ve been swept away by inner rivers of living water that continually invigorate my soul with passion and love for the living Jesus and with the fruit and gifts of His Spirit.

  3. J D, how ironic that today’s Daily Text is so relevant to where I’m at in my relationship with my local congregation. With the launch of the GMC, it now seems that a door has been opened for me to actually unite with a movement I could openly identify with. There is only one big problem, and it’s a big one. I fear that most of the members while not happy with the current situation with the UMC, are not ready to embrace “ could be” for “what is”. Many are still soundly sleeping, totally uninformed as to the circumstances that have led up to this point. Plus there is a real possibility that if they do decide to make the switch, that they could find themselves without a pastor. I’m sure this will not be an isolated situation. With that as a backdrop here is my response to the questions.
    #1) I believe that Wesley’s biggest concerns about the movement he birthed have come true, and not only his but most of Western Christianity as well.
    #2) I have researched how movements eventually evolve into institutions and somewhere along the way the original vision and motivations become routine with inertia becoming the driving force. I believe that’s where we are now. Most churches are now in survival mode in an attempt to preserve the institution.
    #3) I’m personally in deep prayer over what my role should be. I’m willing to to pay the cost of discipleship. At this time I’m just not sure where or who I’ll be in fellowship with. Here I am Lord, melt me, change me, fill me, use me!

  4. For me, changes were made to worship that made it less mystery and more pragmatic. It was no longer something that I could sink into and know without a doubt that there was something bigger going on that had been going on for a long time. Wandering off and learning what that something bigger is and always has been made church feel like a box that I needed to break out of.

    Church should have never been something we “go to”. Church should be something that energizes us to go out and live our lives centered in God; confident, comfortable and conversant in our understanding of who God is and who we are!

    ‘I do not presume to come before You trusting in my own righteousness; but in your manifold and great mercies. I am not worthy to so much as gather up the crumbs from under your table; but You are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.”

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