Colossians: Chiastic Structure of 1:3- 2:5

Paul arranges the introduction to his epistle to the Colossians chiastically:

A: Thanksgiving for good report – Paul absent yet represented through Epaphras (1:3-8)

B: Prayer for Colossian’s growth in Christ (1:9-14)

C: Creation and new creation in Christ (1:15-20)

C’: New Creation in Colassae (1:21-23)

B’: Paul ministering for Colossian’s maturity in Christ (1:24- 2:3)

A’: Warning against deception – Paul absent in body yet present in spirit (2:4-5)

Bookending the section is the fact that, though Paul is not physically present with them and has not met them, he longs to be with them, and his co-laborer, Epaphras, is representing him. He begins (A) by giving thanks for the good report from Epaphras, and ends (A’) warning about dangers that could lead them away from their good beginning. He does not want his absence from them to discourage the young church or to take away from his apostolic authority.

Paul prays (B) that they will grow in their knowledge of God, and then shows (B’) how his ministry is for the goal of their maturity in Christ. The Colossian’s growth into full maturity forms the driving goal of the epistle (see also 2:8-10.)

And, central to the section is Paul’s Christ hymn (C) exalting Jesus as captain of creation and new creation, and (C’) Jesus’ new creation in Colossae. This is the basis and center for Paul’s argument throughout the letter: The world has died and been reborn in Christ, and the Colossians likewise have been made new in him. Paul’s goal of their maturity finds its basis here explicitly in 1:22 when he states that they were reconciled in order that Christ might present them “holy and blameless and above reproach,” if they persevere.

New Egypt

Matthew concludes his genealogy numbering the generations from Abraham to David, David to the deportation, and the deportation to Christ. But, of course, this seems to leave out an important detail: the people of the exile returned to the land. Why doesn’t Matthew include the return here?

Matthew is telling us what many Jews of the day knew to be true: although they had returned from their physical exile, they were in a very real sense still in a spiritual, theological exile. And Matthew’s point is that that exile is the one that really matters, the exile that Jesus is born into, and the one that he is sent to redeem his people from. In fact, it’s what the first Exodus was always about.

This makes sense of Matthew’s quotation and placement of Hosea 11:1. The Egypt out of which God’s Son is being called is, physically, Israel. The roles have reversed: Israel is the new Egypt, Herod is the new Pharaoh. And this is what Egypt, Pharaoh, and the Exodus always pointed toward, the New and Greater Exodus.

Creation and Analogy

Peter Leithart writes about creation and analogy on the Trinity House website:

God created everything to communicate of Himself. That is the nature and purpose of everything created. If that is what created things are, and if God is the Creator who knows and governs His universe, then created things are designed to speak of Him.


[…] When we begin from the Bible’s own assumptions about creation, and the implicit view of language that follows from creation, we expect to discover analogies between uncreated and created relations. Of course, they are not the same, and we need to specify the disanalogies along the way. But if we follow the lead of a Bible that speaks of God anthropomorphically, we should should not let the disanalogies frighten us into silence. Because human relations – king and people, father and child, husband and wife, brother and brother, friend and friend – do not reveal the Trinity exhaustively. But they are designed to reveal the communion of the Triune Persons, and to reveal them truthfully.

Read the rest here.

Baptism and Union with Christ

In Pauline thought, baptism is closely linked with union with Christ. We are baptized into union with the Lord. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6.3; Col. 2.12). As we are baptized into union with Christ, we are adopted as “sons of God through faith,” and we become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according the the promise.” (Gal. 3.26-29)

In fact, the way Paul speaks of baptism does not leave much room for suggesting that baptism is a “mere symbol” of union with Christ; rather, baptism actually effects that which it symbolizes. In Paul, the sign and the thing signified are not to be pulled apart. So, how do we make sense of this? How does baptism bring us into union with the risen Christ?

Paul’s answer is that baptism into Christ is baptism into the whole Christ, both head and body, what St. Augustine called the Totus Christus. Baptism is the doorway into the Church, the body of Christ:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12.12-13)

To be in the Church, the body of Christ, is to be in Christ. Thus baptism into the Church is baptism into union with Christ.

The Totus Christus Hermeneutic of St. Augustine

Central to the hermeneutic of St. Augustine is what is known as the totus Christus hermeneutic, the hermeneutical principle that understands Sacred Scripture to be speaking of the whole Christ, head and body, Jesus and the Church. Thus, the Bible is both Christocentric and ecclesiocentric. He summarizes here:

… knowing as we do that the head and the body- that is, Christ and His Church- are sometimes indicated to us under one person (for it is not in vain that it is said to believers, You then are Abraham’s seed [Gal. 3:29], when there is but one seed of Abraham, and that is Christ), we need be in a difficulty when a transition is made from the head to the body or from the body to the head, and yet no change made in the person spoken of. For a single person is represented as saying, He has decked me as a bridegroom with ornaments, and adorned me as a bride with jewels and yet it is, of course, a matter for interpretation which of these two refers to the head and which to the body, that is, which to Christ and which to the Church.

-St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 3.31.44 (as quoted in Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis)

Saint Augustine in His Study, Sandro Boticelli

Saint Augustine in His Study, Sandro Boticelli

So, when you read of Yahweh’s chosen servant in Isaiah, you are definitely reading about Jesus of Nazareth. Yet Paul, preaching in Antioch of Pisidia, can quote Isaiah 49:6 where Yahweh tells his servant Jesus “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” and say “…so the Lord has commanded us.” (Acts. 13:47) The Christ spoken of by Isaiah and Paul is the whole Christ, head and body. The Church is brought through baptism into union with Jesus, and thus becomes members of Christ. In his death, we die; in his resurrection, we are raised (Rom. 6.) We are called as disciples, then, to live cross-shaped lives of self-giving, and to bring the reality of the resurrection to bear on the world.

In Peter J. Leithart’s important work, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripturehe suggests that the “breakdown of this Augustinian hermeneutical principle has been one of the main sources of interpretive confusion among Protestants.” (p.174.) Some only see Jesus in the text, and thus allow no direct application to the Christian life. Others only find moral lessons and rule out any possibility of christological typology. A recovery of the totus Christus, however, will lead us to find our practical tropology flowing out of the christological typology. Indeed, when we see the whole Christ in the text, we learn to read like St. Paul and like Jesus.

On Liturgical Worship

My household and I are members of a liturgical church in the CREC. Being liturgical, we follow a biblical and historical pattern of worship that changes very little week-by-week. Liturgical worship is the Church’s way of worshiping in spirit and in truth, decently and in good order, that both glorifies God as well as disciples the Church.

The pattern of worship used by our church has been described as “Covenant Renewal” worship. It follows the layout of offerings and covenant renewals in the Old Covenant (see Leviticus 9), and is the basic liturgical structure that the Church catholic has followed and built upon for centuries. In Covenant Renewal worship, God calls His people into His heavenly presence; we confess our sins and receive assurance of pardon through Christ; God reorders and consecrates us through preaching and reading of Sacred Scripture; we commune with Him at the Lord’s Table; and He commissions us to make disciples of all peoples.

Historic biblical liturgy functions as a guide for the Church as we enter the throne room of God. To come before the Almighty, we have to come on His terms; we can’t worship Him however we want. God has outlined for us in His Word the acceptable way to come before Him, and the tradition of the Church guides us in how God’s people have appropriated that biblical pattern throughout history and gives us direction for the future. However, in modern evangelical Christianity, liturgy is often seen as being lifeless, rigid, and restricting. Real worship, many might think, happens when the worshipper is ‘free’ to express themselves to God their own way. Besides, it’s hard to learn how to follow the liturgy.

I want to show that, rather than being lifeless and restricting, robust liturgy gives life and freedom to the worship and the Church; and, though learning the liturgy is not very difficult, it does take time. But then, anything that is worth doing well takes time, like dancing.


Liturgical Discipleship

Biblical liturgy is one of God’s means of discipling His Church. Through the liturgy, we are shone the proper way to come before God, being cleansed from sin and called up into the heavenlies to worship God “with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, and all the Church on earth.” More than that, the worshippers are taught who they are and what our purpose is. We are children of God by grace, cleansed of our sin through Jesus’ blood; we are ordered by His Word through Scripture read and expounded in the Consecration and fed at His table in Eucharist; we are blessed and sent by Him on mission to bring to rights the fallen world through the gospel in the benediction and commissioning. The Church’s liturgy communicates the answers to the ultimate question of life, and in fact sets the worshipper in their proper place within God’s story.

One of the ways God’s people are discipled through the liturgy is the shaping effect it has on our character affections. Not only does the liturgy tell us what to say and do in worship, but also how to think and feel towards God worshipfully and reverently. Liturgy creates holy people.

The liturgy gives form to the worship and affection of God’s people, and in fact gives direction for obedient worship when those affections may not be there. In our ritualized lives, we know better than to only show love to our family and neighbors when we feel like it; we demonstrate love through actions whether or not we feel the right emotions because we know it is right. In the same way, in the Lord’s Service, we might come in not feeling worshipful, but we step into the liturgy nonetheless, praying that God will grant proper affections of worship; we sing the psalms, we confess our sin, we give our thanks to God, we sing the Sanctus, and our hearts are directed toward proper God-pleasing feeling. And, in fact, God is pleased when we come to Him in this kind of faith that His Spirit will fill up what is lacking in our hearts.

In liturgical worship, we are discipled to reflect the God in whose image we were made. God is a god of ritual and liturgy. Look at the creation week; look at how He interacts with His people and with the nations; look at how He has arranged the universe, the stars, the seasons, even day and night. He is a God who does not tire of repetition but delights in it. When we worship Him liturgically, we do so not only because He has laid the pattern out for us, but because we are learning to reflect Him.

Learning to Dance

C.S. Lewis once compared worship to dancing: with both worship and dancing, learning the steps takes time and effort, but once the proper motions are learned, the dance becomes second nature. If you are trying to learn a dance, only to find that the steps change every time you come to practice, you will likely never become an apt dancer. Similarly, in worship that is characterized by “spontaneity” or elements that change every week, worshippers will always be awkwardly trying to figure out what’s next. These churches may boast of worship that is “free,” but there is little freedom to truly worship when one is constantly worried about the changing steps. When we are a part of a set form of worship that changes little week-by-week, though, we don’t have to be distracted by what is coming next and instead we may freely focus on the content and Object of our worship.

In liturgical worship, when someone comes in from a non-liturgical background (really, every church has a liturgy of some kind), the liturgical “steps” may seem foreign or awkward, but following and learning the liturgy is rather simple. In fact, the common liturgy of the Church is one of the most accessible “worship-forms” there is. For centuries, all classes of people have been able to follow the liturgy, chant the psalms, memorize calls and responses as well as canticles, and find their place in worship. Whether literate or illiterate, rich or poor, young or old, the liturgy of the Church can be learned and followed.

Ideally, however, learning the liturgy is done as a child. Christian children learn and become accustomed to the rituals of worship from their earliest days. A child who has not yet learned to read or write can yet learn the Nunc Dimittis and Gloria Patri, or know to kneel to confess their sins and declare “Thanks be to God!” after the reading of His Word.

Ritualized, liturgical worship is worship that is accessible to the common man (and child!) The steps of the liturgy can easily be learned and memorized. And at that point, God’s people are able to engage with Him in the beautiful dance of worship.

So, in conclusion, we worship liturgically because God’s Word has laid out for us the Covenant Renewal pattern. We worship liturgically because through the liturgy we are shaped and discipled. We worship liturgically because we worship a liturgical God. The liturgy of the Church creates Christian culture. It shapes us into a people ready to obey Jesus’ commission. It anchors us in God’s Word and gives us our battle songs as we spread the Kingdom around the globe.


Murray on Unity

But while spurious unity is to be condemned, the lack of unity among churches of Christ which profess the faith in its purity is a patent violation of the unity of the body of Christ, and of that unity which the prayer of our Lord requires us to promote. We cannot escape from the implications for us by resorting to the notion of the invisible church. The body of Christ is not an invisible entity, and the prayer of Jesus was directed to the end that the world might believe. The unity prayed for was one that would bear witness to the world, and therefore belonged to the realm of the observable. The implications for visible confession and witness are unavoidable.

– John Murray, “The Nature and Unity of the Church”

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