I am currently writing a book on organizational spirituality. The central scripture of my book comes from Colossians. Colossians is a first-century letter to a house church in Colossae.
In an attempt to be somewhat rigorous in my writing, I decided that I should learn about the cultural, historical and literary background of Colossians. So, I got a couple of commentaries from the library and have started working my way through one of them.
So far, I’ve been disappointed. It seems to me that the religious assumptions of the commentator and her colleagues are keeping them from a clearer understanding of the early Christian community.
For example, the author spends a lot of time discussing Timothy. Because Timothy was involved in writing this letter and others and making Paul’s travel arrangements, some scholars argue that he was Paul’s secretary. Others believe that Timothy was much more than a secretary. The main role that scholars seem to agree upon is that he was a colleague.
I was surprised by the lack of agreement and depth of understanding. From my Quaker lens, it seems clear. If Timothy was both Paul’s secretary and much more, Timothy is the equivalent of Paul’s elder. A Quaker elder prepares the way for ministry by making travel arrangements and corresponding with the receiving Friends. In addition, the elder helps ensure the faithfulness and well-being of the minister.
Then, there was a discussion about Epaphras being called a minister. They contend that he founded the community in Colossae because the letter states that the recipients of the letter learned about the gospel from him. Some scholars believe he was like a deacon (a lay minister). While they recognize that he is similar to Paul, who described himself as a minister of Christ and a minister of the gospel, they seem hesitant to ascribe much authority to him.
Again from my Quaker lens, it seems more clear. I believe Epaphras was called a minister because he had been recognized as having something akin to what Quakers call a gift of vocal ministry! I don’t believe he founded the community. I believe he was named in the letter because he was loved. He had played a key role in unveiling the gospel to them.
Even knowing that I’m coloring this interpretation through the use of a Quaker lens, I believe that a Quaker perspective can help the meaning of the Bible become more clear.
Early Friends were so keen to know the root of the gospel, that they rejected any aspect of the institutional church that seemed to be an impediment to truth and the power of God. Even now, I believe that a Quaker lens can help people come to a better understanding of the earliest Christian communities, because we aren’t as embedded in the doctrines and inclinations of an institutional church that is beholden to maintaining its own power structures.