Introduction to Colossians: Church is Not a Buffet

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The city of Colossae was located within a few miles of the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col. 4:13) in the west-central part of Asia Minor, which is now modern Turkey.  At one time all three cities were growing and prosperous, during which Colossae served as an important stop along the trade route between East and West.  Gradually, Colossae slipped in importance when the trade highway was rerouted about 10 miles to the west through the city of Laodicea.  Without the draw of the trade route, Colossae became what we would call a small town.  The city was deserted around A.D. 700 and remains in ruins today.  In the Apostle Paul’s day, the city was still thriving and the Colossian church was important enough to merit his attention.
Over the next year, the Berean Bible Institute will present insight from the book of Colossians.  This first article will serve to set the stage for future articles by highlighting some background information regarding the letter to the Colossians.  Much of the information appearing in this article is derived from Dr. Edward Bedore’s notes on Colossians assigned to Berean Bible Institute students enrolled in the course “Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.”
Who started this Colossian church?  It sounds like Paul may have never personally visited the Colossian church (Col. 2:1). We know Paul did have an extensive ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) and seemed to know, or have heard of, several individuals in this church (Col. 4:12, 15, 17), so it is logical to assume that the church started as an outgrowth of that time. One option is that it was founded by Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12-13) and/or Philemon (Philemon 2).  Another possibility is that Timothy went to Colossae and ministered there while Paul was in Ephesus (this may be implied in Col. 1:1).  Then again, maybe Paul did start it before (Acts 18:22-23) or during his three years at Ephesus when "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:10. See also verse 26 and 20:31).  While it can be beneficial to consider such matters, it is not important to our understanding of the Colossian letter.  Regardless of exactly who started it, this church was made up primarily of Gentile believers (Col. 2:13-14).
Where was Paul when he wrote the Colossian letter?  Colossians is one of the three epistles Paul wrote to churches while he was imprisoned at Rome, the other two being Ephesians and Philippians.  Philemon, a personal letter, and Colossians were probably written and delivered at the same time (Col. 4:7-9 cf. Phile. 10-12) as well as a letter to the church at Laodicea (Col. 4:15-16).  Apparently, Epaphras had visited Paul in prison (Col. 4:12-13) and had given him an update on the church in Colossae.  Paul wrote the Colossian letter – as well as Philemon and Ephesians - after receiving the update. He then sent written responses with Onesimus and Tychicus to their destinations (Eph 6:21; Col. 4:7-9; Philemon).  Paul let those in Colossae know that he planned to visit the church when he was released from prison (Phile. 22).
Why was Paul writing to them? Visitors using the trade route through Colossae brought all kinds of philosophies into the city, which made it fertile ground for religious speculations and heresies.  Religious leaders had begun to take the popular parts of the religions of the East, borrowed from the Jewish colony in Colossae, and merged them with Christianity.  False teachers in Colossae were preaching a buffet gospel, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  They were mixing Oriental Mysticism/paganism (Col. 2:8), Greek Philosophy (Col. 2:18), and Jewish ceremonialism (Col. 2:20) with Jesus Christ.  Some label what was going on in Colossae as a form of “Gnosticism,” which means “to know.”  This form of Gnosticism teaches you to deny the pleasures of life, perform enough religious acts and philosophize the doctrines of Scripture in order to reach a higher level of knowledge thereby putting the individual in touch with spiritual things. Christ was only a part of their belief system, much like the Emergent Church of our day. Paul did not want the Colossians to be swayed from the truth of Jesus Christ by this false teaching.
Christianity today would do well to heed the message of Colossians.  The church is not a buffet of popular practices from all kinds of religions.  In our day of religious toleration, we tend to consider one religion just as good as the other (aka pluralism); after all, it is taught that we all worship the same God. This had led some church leaders to try to take the best from various religious systems and manufacture a church experience that appeals to the fallen nature of man in the interests of keeping the pews full. Christ may be thought to play a prominent part in these buffet beliefs, but He is certainly not preeminent. We don’t need a better Christianity.  The one revealed in God’s Word is the only Gospel that is effective.
It is “the Gospel of Christ” that is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16).  Let us not be ashamed of it or try to dilute it in order to get more people in the pews. For this issue of Wisconsin Christian News, I want you to remember the theme of Colossians: Christ is sufficient or Christ is preeminent.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul stated his fear that the church was going to put up with a wrongly preached Jesus from a deceiving spirit who had corrupted the Gospel. He feared that the Corinthians were going to be “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (See 2 Cor. 11:3-4).  May we never be found guilty of making Christ only a part of our faith by adding other things that take away from the singleness that is Christ. The church is not to be offering a buffet gospel; it should be serving a generous portion of the truth of Jesus Christ. 
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