I returned to Sri Lanka in February 1999 to revisit churches and lecture at a Bible college. Once more, the main teaching centred on the Bible college lectures covering the four prison epistles of Paul.
Lecturing on Colossians made me realise how so many had been taken ‘captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’ (Colossians 2).
I met ‘Christians’ who knew more about ‘spiritual warfare’ than about Christ, whose main concerns were health and wealth, and whose demonology was more akin to animism than biblical Christianity. Their Christianity seemed no more than pagan animism with a veneer of Christian words.
One story illustrates the misery of those taken captive by such ideas. In one church I was asked to dedicate a baby called Spurgeon. The mother’s story was that this was her fifth pregnancy and her only living child. The previous four pregnancies had ended in two miscarriages and two live births where the babies had only lived a short time.
Each time her ‘Christian’ leaders had told her she had a devil in her womb, and they prayed and pushed on her stomach to drive it out. Eventually they said it was her fault; she did not have enough faith. By this time physically, spiritually and mentally, she was at a low ebb and had even started to eat soil (which was interesting to me as a former medic).
Her husband took her to my Reformed Baptist pastor friend, he looks powerful! Perhaps he would have the power to drive out the demon. He said he would pray for her but then take her to get medical help. The medical help corrected her severe anaemia and other problems, and Spurgeon, a bouncing healthy baby, was the result. My pastor friend also instructed them in the gospel, found work for the husband, and accommodation for the family.
That simple Christian folk should meet with such darkness and abuse from their ‘leaders’ left me very angry. How can a Christian, united to the risen triumphant Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit, have a devil in them or in one of their organs? Did not Christ disarm ‘the powers and authorities’? Did he not make a ‘public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15)? Does not the apostle John write, ‘we know that anyone born of God does not continue in sin ‘and the evil one cannot harm him’ (1 John 5:18).
Hidden with Christ
This episode reminded me of how Paul dealt with problems of false belief troubling the Colossian church. He preached Christ to them! Read Colossians for yourself. Look out for the person and work of Christ. See that in Christ there is redemption and forgiveness. Christ is the image of the invisible God, supreme over all creation and its sustainer, supreme over the church and the reconciler of his people to God. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (so why look elsewhere?). In Christ all the fulness of the deity lives in bodily form and, incredibly, the Christian has been given fulness in Christ.
The Christian has been made alive with Christ, has had every sin cancelled by the cross of Christ, has been raised with Christ, and his life is now hidden with Christ in God. What are such people, so blessed with Christ, to do?
They are to get rid of all sin and be clothed with love and compassion. They are to let the peace and word of Christ dwell in them as individuals and as a church, giving thanks to God the Father through Christ. They are to serve Christ in the home and at work, devoting themselves to prayer.
What was Paul’s aim as he sought to do his work? Did he major on ‘power’, ‘healing’ and ‘spiritual spectaculars’? He had power; he did heal and drive out evil spirits; he was an apostle. But, writing to a church tempted by error, he describes his aim like this.
He said he was the church’s servant ‘by the commission God gave me to present the word of God in its fulness’, to present the mystery that is ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’. So what does he do with his commission? ‘We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me’ (Colossians 1:28-29). At the end of the epistle he asked them to pray ‘so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ’ (Colossians 4:3).
Don’t look elsewhere
This article has been written, firstly, to remind all fellow preachers that the best way of combating false teaching is to preach Christ in all his fulness and, secondly, to urge Christians to pray that their preachers will proclaim Christ!
Preachers, how much of your time is taken up with the trendy issues of the day, and how much proclaiming Christ?
Christian, where do you look for spiritual fulness? Do you seek it in the latest gift, gimmick or technique? Or are you full of Christ, and is your mind set on Christ in his risen, triumphant glory? Don’t look elsewhere. Don’t be taken captive. ‘You have been given fulness in Christ’. Remember ‘Christ is all’.