25 March 2012
Have you ever met anyone who was brainwashed? What were they like? What happened?
John had served in the Western Pacific as a US Marine in WWII. And as you know, things happen during wars which if you survive, shake you to the core for the rest of your life. He had participated in some officially sanctioned atrocities which had haunted him 65+ years.
For the rest of his life he really struggled to explain to himself how he had done things which were totally contrary to his upbringing -- his faith -- and his personality. It was a total mystery to him. I’m sure that there was not a day when he didn’t think about it.
The only explanation that he could come up with, when he was telling me about it all, was that the Marines has brainwashed him.
Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether the military brainwashes people -- at least not right now. But I do think that John’s story illustrates that even the best of people are susceptible to manipulation. That’s what Paul is concerned about here in his letter to the Colossians. Good people are vulnerable.
It can happen with individuals or with whole societies -- as evidenced by the rise of Nazi Germany. Germany had been one of the greatest nations in the world and very much under the influence of the Christian message.
- There were great German theologians and church leaders like Martin Luther -- Philip Melanchton, Albert Schweitzer, Helmut Thielcke... St Ansgar who brought the gospel to Scandinavia was German.
- The greatest composer in Western civilization -- Johann Sebastian Bach wrote church music.
- A German Lutheran pastor Philipp Jakob Spener started the Pietistic movement which ultimately formed the ethos of what we now call evangelicalism -- with the emphasis on personal conversion of ordinary people and spiritual vitality. The Methodists, Calvary Chapel, the Covenant, Salvation Army -- even the Baptists were formed under either direct or indirect influence of Spener.
- The father of the modern missionary movement was a German -- Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.
But in the 1930's there has been wars and economic turmoil. And in a depleted and vulnerable historical moment Germany was enslaved -- not by a foreign army but by a homegrown sociopath who rose to power as he played to the German sense of nationalism and its latent xenophobia (fear of people who are different).
If we didn’t learn anything else from that war we learned that we’re all vulnerable to brainwashing -- to embracing the unimaginable evil -- even the best of people.
It is very possible for good people to become enslaved by weird -- even outright EVIL ideas. And as we look at Colossians 2 this morning this is the first observation I want to make about Paul’s message.
It is very possible for good people to become enslaved by weird ideas.
vs. 8 --
“See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”Paul is not saying that the study of philosophy per se is bad. But philosophy can at times generate some pretty weird ideas that are contrary to God ideas. Don’t be deceived. Caveat emptor.
In Dave Ramsey’s financial peace class a few weeks ago we talked about that Latin phrase -- Caveat emptor. It means “buyer beware.” And while Paul is not using it here -- he is implying it about the marketplace of ideas.
Watch out. Make sure that the batteries on your poop detector are fully charged. This was a problem in the Colossian church. There were some people there who were absolutely full of it.
And it is a problem in the American church. People are still being enslaved by weird ideas that are inconsistent with God ideas -- if you stop, take a deep breath, and really think about it. There are ideas that have to do with wealth, happiness, suffering -- and other ideas that de-emphasize Jesus.
Freedom is a choice. That’s the second observation -- Freedom is a choice.
The beginning of vs 8 -- “See to it that no one enslaves you...”
In StarTrek the Borg always said, “Resistence is futile...”
But Paul is saying -- resistence is possible. "See to it..." Brainwashing isn’t absolute. And by the grace of God you can “see to it that no one enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”
I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet by Eric Metaxas and Tim Keller. It’s a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer a German pastor and theologian who was involved in the resistance movement in WWII.
In the 1930’s there were about 18,000 Protestant pastors in Germany. About 3,000 of them resisted the Nazi takeover of the church -- and the mandatory pledges of allegiance to the Third Reich. They formed what came to be known as the Confessing Church.
The established church, in contrast, including 15,000 SPINLESS pastors, had acquiesced to the Nazis. That involved:
- removing all pastors who were unsympathetic with National Socialism
- expelling all church members of Jewish descent
- officially removing the Old Testament from the Bible -- because it was too Jewish.
- and redefining Jesus as a "heroic" and "positive" proto-Aryan who was battling against the corruption of Jewish influences.
Bonhoeffer was executed just weeks before the war ended. But even when he was in prison his mind was free from the Nazi deception.
Freedom is a choice. Caveat emptor. Paul is saying to the Colossians -- and to us -- you have a responsibility to look at the small print -- the details -- and to resist the captivity of your mind. You can’t just say, "Resistance is futile -- it’s fate. I’ve got to swim in the water in which I live."
This, of course, then begs the HOW question. Practically speaking how are we supposed to avoid enslavement by shallow systems of thinking. How do we protect ourselves against spiritual brainwashing?
First of all, we need to jump back to verses 6 and 7, where Paul is reiterating what he said in chapter 1 about the importance of roots or foundations.
"So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith..."
- Some of us live for the weekend.
- Some of us live to party.
- Some of us live to eat.
- Some of us live for football. Some of us live to sleep.
- Some of us live for family.
- Some of us live to work.
- Some of us live to _____________. You fill in the blank.
You know, parties aren’t bad. Weekends are good. Football is fine. And I like to eat. But if my life is defined by those things -- even partially -- my tap root is in shallow soil.
But to be rooted in Jesus means that we live for Jesus. We live in him. He is what it’s all about. Not just some add on or app to make your life better -- but living for him means that he is the ongoing focal point of your life.
And if he is the focal point -- the point where you drop deep roots to suck in water and nourishment -- your source of life will be rich and healthy. Aim for depth.
Thus, says Paul, the first way that we resist enslavement is to SINK ROOTS DEEPLY INTO CHRIST.
Secondly, PRACTICE THANKSGIVING
“and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught.”
This isn’t as strange as it sounds at first. The people who are most vulnerable are those who are disgruntled.
The glass half-empty people are more likely to be open to shallow solutions than those who are grateful for the half full glass. When we are thankful it changes the way that we approach problems and solutions. Thankfulness helps us to think more clearly.
People who actively and daily practice thanksgiving are not only pleasing to God but they have a better perspective on the big picture and are better able to deal with the challenges.
Thirdly, we avoid brainwashing enslavement when we GET CHRIST RIGHT.
That is, if someone comes along and tells you that they have a fresh new insight into Christ -- that should immediately trigger your poop detector.
If someone says that Jesus wasn’t really God in the flesh but a lesser being only called “the son of God” -- that should set off the whistles and sirens.
If someone tells you that their church has “more information regarding Christ than any other church on earth.” (direct quote off a church's website) -- that should make you suspicious.
Our second son, who is one smart cookie, got involved with a Skype-based Bible study through some people he met at one of the solid churches in South Korea.
But when the teachers of the group started talking about faith in alone Christ NOT being enough -- and that people would be left behind if they failed to understand prophecies about the second coming of Christ -- and that only they really understand the prophecies about Christ -- his poop detector starting screaming. (I told you that he’s smart.)
And he started doing research on the group. Based on what they were saying and how they operate and figured out that the Bible study was run by a group called “Shinchonji” -- although these Shinchonji groups don’t ever seem to publicly admit that their association.
Apparently, this group has a history of infiltrating established Korean churches -- developing relationships with people -- a lot of the hip young Koreans -- and starting these Skype-based Bible studies -- ultimately to spread their message that Christ has been revealed through their leader, Man Hui Lee.
Of course, they don’t seem to tell anyone that upfront. At first it’s all solid sounding stuff but as people gain confidence in them and the further they get into it all, they start to spin things in some pretty wacko ways.
But this kind of thing is more common than you might suspect -- especially among the younger churches in Asia and Africa -- and Colossae. And this is why Paul wanted to make sure that the Colossians had a good grasp of Christ -- who he is, what he is about, what he did, and what he is doing -- as a means of countering these guys who had shown up in Colossae with a new Jesus story.
Reading between the lines, it appears that in their Jesus story, Christ was one of many spiritual rulers and that he wanted people to practice the rite of circumcision for some reason or another.
So Paul says in vs. 10 --
“And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised by him. This wasn’t performed by human hands—the whole body was removed through this circumcision by Christ.”Super circumcision!
See how Paul takes the language of his opponents and redirects it.
He wants to keep the focus on Christ and what Christ Jesus accomplished.
- Thus: vs. 9 -- “All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body."
- That is, he is God in the flesh.
- Vs. 12 -- “You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
- Through baptism -- that is, when you first came to him -- you, by faith became a participant in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus has been raised. Death is defeated for him -- and thus it will be so for you and me -- because of him. Nothing more -- nothing less than Jesus.
- Vs. 13 -- “When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong.”
- That is, through his resurrection you’ve been made alive, too. And, your sins are all forgiven -- everything you’ve done wrong -- forgiven in the sight of God -- because of Christ. Don’t let anyone dangle your past mistakes in front of you -- they’re powerless because they’re forgiven through Christ. Nothing else is needed. Jesus Christ wasn’t just a good model for good living -- but his life, death, and resurrection changes everything about us -- and how we relate to God and each other.
- Vs. 14 -- “He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.”
In other words, in Christ you can yell, “I’m debt free!”
You hear all these people calling in to the Dave Ramsey radio show to yell into the phone that they’re now debt-free -- that they have no bills -- no debt -- maybe even no mortgage. And that’s great. They’ve worked hard to get there.
But in Christ we yell, “By the grace of God, I’m debt free” -- ultimately speaking -- and that’s the debt that really counts.
Vs. 15 --
“When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade.”He is the victor -- the top dog -- marching his defeated enemies through town in a victor’s parade.
All those spirits and powers and authorities that these so-called enlightened teachers are pitching as the greatest thing since sliced bread -- they’re all little insignificant POWs in the victor’s parade.
So, why then would you want to become captive to a bunch of losers?
Why would you let a bunch of prisoners of war from a defeated army brainwash you into thinking that they’ve got something going for them -- and you?
No one in 2012 in their right mind joins the Third Reich and the Nazi propaganda machine.
So keep your mind in good shape -- guard it -- “See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”
And if you find yourself in a spot where you’ve been brainwashed -- whether by the Marines, your ex, the American dream, some off-the-wall cult, or your own self-driven agenda -- YOU CAN BE FREE.
Turn and look in a new direction for a new start. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve blown it and given in to the brainwashing. From this point forth -- from here on -- “live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him” -- as people free in Christ.
And that is the good news for all the captives.