23 February 2010

Colossians studies 2: the church's founding, and its foundering

by Dan Phillips

From the opening words of the epistle, we learn that the church in Colosse had its inception in sound doctrine.

This is a necessity for any Christian church. The church at large is built on good doctrine. When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said He would build His (yet-future) church on that foundation: on the confessed truth of His deity (Matthew 16:13-18). As He predicted, so it happened. The inaugural sermon of the Christian church was the preaching of Christ, leading to a mass confession of Christ as Lord (Acts 2).

As it is with the universal church, so it is with any local church. A church of Christ must be build on the foundation of the preached truth of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Paul says categorically that no other foundation can be laid than Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to lay a foundation of Jesus Christ? Clearly Paul does not mean that he is pulling Jesus down from the Father's right hand, and constructing an edifice on Him. Obviously what Paul must mean in-context is Jesus Christ as preached and believed. It is the true doctrine of Jesus Christ that is laid as a foundation by preaching; it is the confession of Christ as preached by the apostles that is the foundation of the church, of any Christian church. Without that, there can be no church of Christ.

The church of Christ, then, is founded on doctrine, on theology, specifically on Christology.

This was the start that the Colossians got. See 1:4-7, where Paul speaks of
having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones, 5on account of the hope which is laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth, the good news, 6which has come to you, just as also in all the world it is bearing fruit of itself and growing just as also among you, from the day in which you heard it and came to know fully the grace of God in truth; 7just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-slave, who is a faithful servant of Christ for your sake... (DPUV)
So far, so good.

However, the little church had run into a problem. As it had begun by sound doctrine, so now it was being threatened by sick doctrine.

Who or what was behind it? It is difficult to say, impossible to be absolutely certain. Paul doesn't name some aberrant cult or sect. He doesn't talk about Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists, Gnostics, or any other identifiable false sect. We are left to piece things together from the indications within the letter, both the subtle and the obvious.

Commentators tend to assume that a group of false teachers were exerting a baleful influence. It is common to read of “the false teachers” in Colosse, and of "the Colossean heresy." Even more, it is very common for writers and preachers to identify them positively as Gnostics, a movement visible in the second century and beyond.

Here's where I strike out on my own, with a position I haven't seen anyone else take. This probably means I'm wrong. But I'll tell you what I think, and why I think it, leaving you to make your own judgment.

Next time, Lord willing.

Dan Phillips's signature


Gov98 said...


(By the most annoying comment ever.)

Suffice it so say my appetite is sufficiently wetted but the plate has just been taken away. Wah!


DJP said...

Mission Accomplished.


donsands said...

"The church of Christ, then, is founded on doctrine, on theology, specifically on Christology."


"...you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."

Looking forward to your next lesson.

Rob Bailey said...

So... if you read the Colossian church's website, you would agree with the doctrinal statement. But, watch out for Matthew 13:22.

Stefan Ewing said...


I trust that after providing the historical context—including the "Colossian heresy"—you will move on to provide some exegesis and application: that this is only the appetizer and not the main dish?

DJP said...

This is one case where introductory matters matter. You'll see, DV.

David Regier said...

I have a guess. Do I dare venture? Something tells me that it's transparently applicable to the church today.

Chris Gilliam said...

I am most pleased concerning "christology" as the sound doctrine. Perhaps it is in your sight, or perhaps not, but as I read the post I wondered to myself is the whole emphasis and debate concerning soteriology perhaps missing, or limiting a full ored Christology. I realize you can't have one without the other, but could the ocus on soteriology alone be an issue? I ask because I am interested in the further lessons.

Chris Gilliam said...

excuse the typos- orbed and focus

Work in Progress said...


DJP said...

Fishformen, very good point. As you'll see, DV, I approach it as subsumed under Christology. That should begin to become clear, I hope, by around the fourth or fifth in the series.

olan strickland said...

The church of Christ, then, is founded on doctrine, on theology, specifically on Christology.

Amen and amen! If one goes wrong on his Christology he will go wrong on his soteriology and will end up wrong on his ecclesiology.

Stefan Ewing said...


I take your point. I have to remember that none of Paul's letters were written in a vacuum, or "just because," but were all written for one reason or another.

Therefore, it makes sense that his response to the Colossian heresy should undergird much of the letter—and that reconstructing the substance of the heresy from his arguments in the letter should give us a clearer idea of the overall structure of the letter, and his overall point...?

And yes, absolutely, it all comes down to doctrine: Christology, the Gospel. That's our foundation, and whenever we stray from that—either as a church, or in our personal lives; and either for a day or for a year—is when we run into trouble.

Rachael Starke said...

We're studying Colossians too, in our Wednesday womens' Bible study. I'm looking forward to going back over my notes and erasing all my egregious errors...

I was rereading chapter 1 this morning, pondering over what your take on the whole not Gnosticism but [x] might be, and and now I'm wondering if I had the same thought David did.

I'm looking forward to finding out... we have a church that's growing into what the Colossians were before they stumbled, which we've taken as hugely instructive. We are blessed with sound teaching, solid Christology and people who are growing and strong in the faith,

which makes us equally or more qualified to be distracted and turned aside in the same way they were. Sobering thought.

Anonymous said...

In a culture of "Christless Christianity" I am happy to be into a discussion of Solus Christus or Solo Christo!

"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)