Colossians 2:20-23 Free Indeed!

12 03 2013

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“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations,  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Colossians 2:20-23 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

In what ways are you letting yourself be tied up by regulations?  How would Christ free you?

I’m not one to blindly accept the status quo.  Even as a child I questioned everything, which made me even more highly unpopular with teachers than I was to begin with.  I didn’t fit into any ready-made category, and nobody really knew what to do with me.  I still remember my third grade teacher telling me to “stay behind with the rest of the class” because I was so bored out of my skull while she had the class read the day’s chapter out loud, each student reading a paragraph (painfully awkwardly and slowly, may I add,) and I was already 4 chapters ahead of them.

My grandmother was a Regular Baptist.  Her church had specific dress codes, including (at that time) that women were to wear only dresses or skirts (NO slacks) as well as they were required to wear a hat.  I don’t have a problem with either dresses or hats, (I wish hats would come back in vogue, actually) but what is the significance?  Knowing my wisenheimer self I would be tempted to show up with a bed sheet around my waist and a ball cap on my head.

In some churches the “hats-n-dresses” rule became an excuse for women to go out and buy the latest and greatest fashions so they could appear more ornate (and therefore more pious) than their frumpier counterparts- which could become just another excuse for competition and for gossip and class distinctions in the church.  (See James 2)

I understand the idea behind the original rule.  When the apostle Paul addressed the church in Corinth, he was dealing with the Las Vegas of his day.  The reason why women were instructed to cover their heads in church was because in Corinthian society only prostitutes went around with their heads uncovered.  Women and men were instructed to dress gender-appropriately (women weren’t to dress like men and vice versa) because cross-dressing was seen as an invitation to inappropriate sexual behavior.  Women covered their heads so they were not mistaken for prostitutes, and both women and men were expected to dress appropriately for their gender.  In that light it makes sense, but to take a letter addressed to a particular congregation in a particular circumstance as The Law for everyone for all time, is a little short sighted.

In Christ we are free to be who He created us to be.  If I were to try to come up with a dress code for church, the bare minimum would be, “Make sure the important stuff is covered.”  Beyond that, dress really should be a matter of conscience and of what the individual has to wear.  No one should be shut out of the church because she can’t buy a fancy hat or he can’t afford a hair cut.

I still find it difficult to get beyond some man-made regulations, though.  As Mom was very strict old-school Catholic, there were a lot of protocols one had to follow.  Stand, sit and kneel at the proper times in Mass.  Observe all of the Holy Days of Obligation.  Go to Confession once a month, and more.  Those can be positive things when they are viewed in the context of spiritual disciplines, but when they start falling into the “have-to or else” category, their meaning and purpose can be rather blurry.

I try to look at some man-made observations as optional spiritual disciplines that are useful for some people some of the time and not useful for others, but I still find myself feeling guilty when I fail to participate in some observations.

I pray for the discernment to know which observations and practices will be edifying for me and bring me closer to Christ, and which ones I would be better off to forgo.

Help me to remember, and teach my heart and mind to practice: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. “ Deuteronomy 6:5 (NRSV)  The peripherals will follow.

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