Why We Trade in the Movement for the Motions


October 25, 2017

Colossians 2:16-17

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.


Near the end of his life John Wesley once famously said of the movement he helped to found:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

Form without power . . . ritual without reality . . . motions without movement. . . these signify the kiss of death for the work of God in a community of people. Forms and rituals and motions can be good things until they become the main things, denying the dynamics they were created to cultivate.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come;

It seems like some people from First Methodist on Main Street visited the Colossians Community Church across town and told them they weren’t doing it right. They must have been mortified at the absence of a bulletin announcing the “New Moon celebration” and upcoming Sabbath non-activities.

Paul will not have it. He knows the difference between the Tradition and the traditions and how well meaning people will sometimes unwittingly and other times knowingly trade in the former for the latter. Hear him clearly when he says,  “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” 

You know the difference. Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. How does this happen? It all begins with this great mystery of our faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The reality is found in Christ and Christ must be found in us.

The mystery gets translated into a message which begets messengers. Movement is born. A way of working with the mystery emerges in the form of shared movements (i.e. the Lord’s Supper, etc.). These movements help us remember together, and done well, they lead us to experience the great mystery together. Over time, however, the movements that helped us to move with the Movement slowly become the motions. Before long, entire communities and even denominations become focused on the motions. Somewhere along the way the motions get passed on without their meanings and they get disconnected from the movement, at which point we find ourselves simply “going through the motions.” We find ourselves with a form of religion without the power, rituals without the reality and motions without the movement.

In response some leaders will advocate for throwing out the motions. It’s another post, but often leaders will reach for e-motions instead (which are not bad but can unwittingly counterfeit the reality we seek). I think the best leaders work to reconnect the motions to the movement again which must begin with the core mystery– Christ in us.

There are many pitfalls on the path to real Christianity. We must develop a dogged determination to settle for nothing less.


Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who is both the form and the power, in whose death and resurrection is both the ritual and the reality, and in whose body is both the mystery and the movement. I want the reality, Lord. Lead me into the reality. I must have the reality. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.


  1. How do you relate to this notion of form without power, ritual without reality and motion without movement?
  2. How do people become so loyal to the motions at the cost of the movement and the loss of the mystery? Has this ever happened to you?
  3. Have you come to a dogged determination to live in “the reality” at whatever cost and come what may? Maybe time to look up Jeremiah 29:13 again. ;0)

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.


  1. My problem was and is that what I did on Sunday never got adequately translated to Monday morning. My problem was never that worship was too liturgical or “inaccessible”–worship was worship–it was what I was trained to do on Sundays and ultimately it was my best source of developing a strong sense of the existence of a creator God. Church became a train wreck for me because when I was all primed and ready for a clearer understanding, all I got was a new and improved way to “to do church”, including worship. The only spiritual ground I had to stand on–worship–was suddenly and unexpectedly eradicated and a new more “accessible” worship appeared.

    The problem with the American UMC is not the worship. it is a failure to provide the rank and file person sitting in the pew with a clear and robust understanding of who God is and who we are. My understanding began with the Heidelberg Catechism and three very modern books about it. My encounter with the Heidelberg produced three reactions: First, compared to the random drivel I had been exposed to, I was stunned at the rich theology that was available to rank and file German Christians living in the 1600’s. Then I found myself wishing that such an understanding had been instilled in me a very long time ago. Lastly, I realized that all the random “sound bytes” I had been accumulating finally had a place in a much larger understanding that was absolutely amazing–who would not want to worship this triune God of holy love!

    The great irony is that for the bulk of my life, I participated in a theologically rich worship with no clear understanding of who God really is; now that I have a deeper, richer, clearer understanding of God, I participate in worship that promotes a diluted understanding of God–at times it becomes so dilute, the opening statement is “God is not dead”–something I have known all my life and never doubted.