Home > Brandenburg, Separation, Standards, The Church, The Lord Jesus Christ > Massively Exaggerated to the Point of Dishonest Applications of Colossians 2:20-23

Massively Exaggerated to the Point of Dishonest Applications of Colossians 2:20-23

February 9, 2010

Are separatists or fundamentalists, those who practice personal and ecclesiastical separation according to Scripture, the ascetics of Colossians 2:20-23?  Evangelicals want you to believe so.  They make this almost the entire application of Colossians 2:20-23.  Churches will get a lot bigger when they allow their members or attendees to live just like or very close to the world.  The evangelicals, like no other time in history, have stuck this kind of passage on separatists, to take away any guilt they might have for living lascivious lifestyles.  Now their congregations and evangelicalism, and Christianity really, are paying for it.  They read separatists and fundamentalists into this kind of passage to justify their manner of operation.

Ascetics added lists of rules to Scripture as an inclusion in their plan of salvation.  They add works to grace and not just scriptural works, but extra scriptural works, works not found in the Bible anywhere.   They also added extra requirements not found in God’s Word to real restrictions that were in Scripture.  We’re talking about what is mainly monk or nun like behavior.

Paul hits the ascetics with his words in Colossians 2:20-23, and warns the church not to go back to works salvation after union with Christ had removed the believers from such human religion (v. 20).  The ascetics were a kind of Gnosticism that believed flesh was evil, so their lifestyle became Pharisaical.  They kept “spiritual” by refraining from certain activities like bathing.  Someone might slip up and see your naked body.  And then as we move forward to v. 21, they wouldn’t touch people, afraid that their sin could rub off, and wouldn’t even taste certain foods that were too good to eat and might result in some pleasure.  If an ascetic were to do any of that, it would affect his spirituality.

Asceticism contradicted the sufficiency in Christ that Paul taught they had.  They had all fulness in Him, were complete in Him.  The ascetics’ regulations were made up, fake humility, phoniness, and ironically did not deny their flesh, but indulge it, what v. 23 says is ‘satisfying the flesh.’  What was supposed to be spiritual was actually flesh.  It was all about man and nothing about Jesus, which is where all of salvation dwelt.

Evangelicals label separatists or fundamentalists as these ascetics.  Do you understand what they are doing?  They are judging the motives of separatists.  It is true that some professing Christians, fundamentalists, will judge spirituality too much by external criteria.  I dealt with that in my lost post on Colossians 2:16-17.   Sometimes movements within fundamentalism have issues with this.  In many cases, the problems of these segments of fundamentalism relates to their wrong view of the gospel, but it isn’t an asceticism issue.

These evangelicals, which include John MacArthur, John Piper, Charles Swindoll, Rick Warren, and others, make absurd overstatement, like this one by MacArthur:

[The] whole orientation was that spirituality is determined by external behavior. And you get into an environment like that and I can promise you some, it’ll intimidate you. You begin to feel that if you do the wrong things or if you say the wrong things or you happen to be for some organization or for some individual in the ministry and this whole outfit is against them, boy you are really on the out.

By smearing separatists with this asceticism charge, those part of evangelicalism feel in a superior spiritual position because of their woeful under-emphasis on externals.  The Bible doesn’t shuck externals.  They come out of internals, true, but externals are all over the place, and these evangelicals have greatly abused the grace of God by sending their people this direction.   It has become a kind of left-wing legalism.  True spirituality comes from an almost complete lack of emphasis on externals, resulting in a great dearth of holiness and spiritual discernment.

Now you’re seeing some of the conservative evangelicals backtracking to keep things from sliding over the precipice—books on personal separation and against worldliness.  Those books are still anemic, and I think, because they’ve got a people who can’t handle something strong about it.  However, they see that God’s grace has been cheapened to the extent that their own gospel has been affected with eternal consequences.

The ascetics are those who did bully the Colossians church members into reappraising their own salvation experience, because they were not following extra scriptural regulations.  So let’s not do that.  However, it isn’t talking about true spirituality manifesting itself in true self-denial and holy living—men having a short hair cut in obedience to 1 Corinthians 11:14, women wearing skirts and dresses in submission to Deuteronomy 22:5, not drinking alcohol because of Proverbs 23:31, faithful church attendance because of Hebrews 10:24-25, and not listening to or using worldly music because of a host of verses which teach about abstaining from worldly and fleshly lusts.  All of that is setting your affections on things above (Col 3:1-3).

I think these lascivious ones are the biggest bullies in our culture today.  They want to live like they want and they don’t want you to say anything to them about it.  They don’t want you to judge their church as worldly. If you do, well, they’ll shoot an eisegesis of scripture at you.

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