One of the most common comments I have heard from those investigating a relationship with Christ is that they believe in God but not in church. For these folks the church has come to represent something less than God. When you dig a little deeper, you will often find that their objections come are a result of experiences from youth or adulthood with a specific congregation or with the beliefs and practices of a particular sect of Christianity.
Regardless of the source, these objections are important to address because they are keeping people from reaching the fullness of their potential in Christ. To sort through the objections and gain proper focus it is helpful to recall the words of Paul to the people of Colossae. Paul cautions Christ’s followers not to get caught up with things that are destined to perish, by idle notions, self imposed worship or false humility. What is Paul saying? Surely Paul is not saying that we should ignore church, picking a branch of Christianity or following rules?
Paul was likely talking about religious sects other than early Christianity, yet his words are as applicable today within the church. Paul is reminding us that real power and authority comes through Christ. While the church is a representative of Christ, it is run by man (in many cases literally). As such, humans will inevitably put structure around worship. These structures or rules are put in place to govern the way the church operates. Order of service, how many hymns are sung, how often communion is taken, who can do the scripture readings or who can serve as deacons are all examples of human rules.
Paul cautions us that sometimes such regulations can have the appearance of wisdom but in fact are human additions to the body of Christ’s work. Over the years, I have witnessed congregations split over these regulations and sadly people stray from their walk with Christ. Paul tells us not to get caught up in what he calls human commands and teaching, but rather stay focused on what comes from Christ.
That is not to say we should avoid organized religion because it has rules and structures. On the contrary we should cultivate our relationship with Christ both inside and outside the setting of church so that it is strong enough to guide us past such disagreements over human structures. Our ongoing, active relationship with Christ is too important to focus on the smallness of human structures. Think of the body of Christ in terms of a beautiful forest and these human rules as individual trees. Paul is telling is not to lose sight of the forest by focusing on a single tree.
Rather, Paul continues, we must build our relationship with Christ and mould our behavior to that of Christ. This important shift toward focusing toward Christ will give us the perspective we need to set aside disagreements on human structures, thus preserving the forest and furthering our relationship with Christ!