“The Elementary Principles of the World”: The Sacralization of the Spiritual


“The Elementary Principles of the World”: Sacralization of the Spiritual is the 6th essay in a series of essays entitled

“A New & Living Way”: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth

© 2018

W.D. Furioso

Edited by Frances Furioso

ACT publications

At Christ’s Table


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A New & Living Way

List of Essays

  1. “Now you are the Body of Christ”
  2. Elemental Principles of Worship
  3. Another Look at Worship
  4. Jewish Roots in Christianity
  5. Led by the Spirit
  6. Elementary Principles of the World – Sacralization of the Spiritual
  7. Elementary Principles of the World – Sacralization of the Secular
  8. The New Covenant
  9. Bodily Functions In Spirit
  10. Bodily Functions In Truth

“Elementary Principles of the World”: Sacralization of the Spiritual


  • Introduction                                                              
  • Galatians 4:1-11                                                        
  • Colossians 2:8-23                                                      
  • “Of the World”                                                          
  • Stoicheia                                                                     
  • “The Elementary Principles of the World”      
  • Sacralization of the Spiritual                               
  • Sacralization of Christianity                                
  • Postscript                                                                   


In the last essay, we traced Paul’s spiritual transformation from his Jewish Roots under the shadow of the Old Covenant, beyond“the elementary principles of the world”, and into “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” of the New Covenant. Before we continue on intoPaul’s thoughts on the nature of New Covenant worship in spirit and truth, I would like to devotethisessay to dealing more completely with the nature of “the elementary principles of the world”(ta stoicheia tou kosmou). We will look into the meaning of the Greek word, stoicheia;review the passages of scriptures in which Paul uses the term “elementary principles of the world”; reference the major interpretations of the term; state what seems to be the most consistently accurate meaning of the term; and discuss sacralization of Christianity which has given rise to the various manifestations these “elementary principles of the world” in the worship of the Church throughout its history and into the present.


Galatians 4:1-11

1Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

Colossians 2:8-23

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,21“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

“Of the World”

The Greek word, “stroicheia” has been translated using various English words such as “elementary principles” (NASB), “basic principles” (NKJV), “rudiments” (KJV), “elemental spirits” (EVS & NRSV), “elemental forces” (HCSB), “elemental spiritual forces” (NIV), et al. Personally, I prefer the term “elementary principles”. But before we delve into exactly what these “principles” are, it would be beneficial to take note of their context, or better, their nature: they are “of the world”, not of the Holy Spirit, but “of the world”. Jesus specified that the world is evil by nature, and therefore the world hates Him and His disciples.[1]He also noted that the world is beset with spiritual snares for God’s children.[2]The apostle James explains that the world is a hostile enemy of God[3]; and that the “wisdom” it offers is “earthly, natural and demonic”.[4]The apostle Paul teaches that “the course of this world operates according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience”[5]; and that through these “elemental principles” the world holds people in bondage[6]; therefore we “wrestle”[7]and are at “war”[8]with these things.[9]

To correctly understand the apostolic perspective, particularly Paul’s, one must be aware that there are “tools” employed by powers and principalities “behind” the idea of “sacred” times, places and things. These are the spiritual forces which Paul identified as adversaries in apostolic warfare. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, he refers to them as “speculations” (NASB) or “imaginations” (KJV)[10]and “proud obstacles (RSV) or “pretentions” (NIV)[11]. It bears repeating: There are “tools” employed by powers and principalities “behind” the idea of “sacred” times, places and things. Of course, it is quite likely the reader is hesitant to accept that as being true. It is the purpose of this essay to demonstrate the veracity of this statement.

I am proposing that “the elementary principles of the world” are “tools’ used by the “principalities”, “powers”, “world-forces of darkness”, and “spiritual forces of wickedness” referred to in Ephesians 6:12. Perhaps by their association with these entities we can learn a little more about the nature of these “elementary principles” which they use as their “tools”. So, let’s take a closer look at:

  • “principalities”:The Greek word translated “principalities” is arche[12], meaning “the first in command” in the world system.
  • “powers”:The Greek word translated as “powers” is exousia[13], meaning “controlling forces” or “forces of control”.
  • “the world-forces of this darkness”: The Greek word translated “world-forces” is kosmo-krator[14]. This is the only mention of it in the New Testament. It means the “mighty ones” or “strong ones” in the world system.
  • “the spiritual forces of wickedness”:The Greek word translated “wickedness” is poneria[15], meaning the “iniquity” or “depravity” inherent in the world system.

Various theological works have attempted to identify exactly what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote of the “powers”.  The various views run the gamut of interpreting these “powers” to be solely spiritual, to “demythologizing” them to be solely human. I personally hold a median view, and understand these “powers” to be spiritual entities which influence and work through human entities – specifically the ideologies and cultures of the world, including the political leaders and governments of the nations, as well as, religious leaders and organizations. Colossians 1:16 illustrates this view by explicitly combining the categories of “in the heavens” and “on the earth” and “visible” and “invisible”.[16]

Another aspect we must consider regarding “the elementary principles of the world” is that they are “sinful” (even though they may pose as religious). They are related to the sin principle in the world. The apostle Paul wrote of the principle of sin or “law of sin and death” entering the world.[17]Being “sinful”, by definition, they “fall short of the glory of God”.[18]

David Smith of South Africa[19], offers the following insights:

“The earth was without form ….”[20]In the original creation, God gave the earth His heavenly organization. When Humanity fell, Satan replaced this with his counterfeit organizationby which the world now operates. The apostle John gives us an analysis of the world which seems to coincide with what Satan offered to Eve in the garden: What seemed “good for food” equates to “the lust of the flesh”. What was “pleasant to the eyes” equates to “the lust of the eyes”. And what promised “to make one wise” equates with ‘the pride of life”.[21]In any case, the organization of the world system (“the elementary principles of the world”) is diametrically opposed to the organism of the Holy Spirit.


The Greek word, stroicheia[22],basically means “any first thing, from which the others, belonging to some series or composite whole, take their rise; an element, a first principle”.[23]It can refer to both material and non-material things. In 2 Peter 3:10 & 12, it clearly refers to the material elements of the universe. In Hebrews 5:12-13 and 6:1-2, the writer is referring to basic or elementary religious teachings. This is more akin to the usage Paul makes of the term in his letters to the Galatians and Colossians, which are the scripture passages we are dealing with in this essay.

Thayer’s Greek Lexiconstates that these “elementary principles” are “the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles of any art, science, or discipline.” Thayer goes on to say: “In the N. T. we have (in Hebrews 5:12 & 13) the rudiments with which mankind were indoctrinated before the time of Christ, i. e. the elements of religions training, or the ceremonial precepts common alike to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles, (and) Galatians 4:3 & 9, specifically, the ceremonial requirements especially of Jewish tradition, minutely set forth by theosophists and false teachers, and fortified by specious argument (Colossians 2: 8 & 20).”[24]

“The Elementary Principles of the World”

Reviewing the major commentaries, one encounters three classical interpretations of “the elementary principles of the world”:

The Law of Israel[25]:

The strength of this view is that it stresses the fact that Paul connects being “under the law”[26]with being “under the elementary principles of the world”.[27]It also stresses the fact that the false teachers Paul refers to are prescribing Old Testament laws.[28]

The weakness of this view is that Paul also uses the term “elementary principles of the world” in reference to false teaching from non-Jewish sources as well.[29]

Spirits Beings which Govern the Planets[30]:

Support for this view comes mainly from extra-biblical literature citing astral deities associated with various heavenly bodies, the movements of which supposedly affect humankind’s life on earth.[31]Paul speaks of the “worship of angels” and of “beings that by nature are not gods” and associates these with “the elementary principles of the world”.[32]Associating “the elementary principles of the world” with spirit beings is not the same as saying they ARE spirit beings. In fact, I believe the “principles” are tools of spirit beings, but not the beings themselves.

One weakness with this view is that it is most difficult to imagine that the Judaizers were advocating the worship of these spirit beings and astrological observances as part of the Law of Israel.[33]And, the dietary and calendar injunctions in Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10 are obviously based in Old Testament ritual and not in pagan Greek practices. Also: George E. Ladd states that the word, stroicheia, was not associated with astral deities until the 3rdcentury;[34]and Gerhard Delling claims that stroicheiawas not used to refer to spirit beings until the 4thcentury[35]– centuries after Paul wrote Galatians and Colossians.

Religious Principles[36]:

According to this view, “the elementary principles of the world” refer to religious principles before Christ and apart from Christ.Paul places ALL other religions – including Old Testament Judaism – in a negative category compared to The Way in Christ. To turn away Christ and return to Old Covenant Judaism, as the Galatians, Hebrews and others were tempted to do, was to place oneself in the shadow of a “weak and worthless”[37]spiritual system similar in some way to pagan religions and philosophies.

This view allows for the Jewish meaning of the prescriptions on Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 & 21. And it explains why Paul can refer to the Law of Israel as “weak and worthless.”[38] Paul can speak negatively about the Law of Israel even though it was originated by God – namely, that He meant it to be only a shadowof Christ[39], and now that Christ has come, it is a “weak and worthless” system which leads to bondage[40], and therefore He has made it obsolete and abolished it.[41]

This view also explains why Paul can link the Law of Israel with the various pagan religions and philosophies into the one category of “elementary principles of the world”. To receive the Spirit of God, become a son and an heir of God, to know and be known by God in an intimate relationship,[42]only to return to some impersonal religious system is, with regards to spiritual reality, no better than paganism, and therefore, “of the world”, in that sense. While the Law may not be false with regards to doctrine, if one were to analyze the choice of an external religious system over the fellowship of the Spirit, one will surely find idolatry at its base. This self-same analysis and idolatry is the subject matter of this essay.

The one thing questionable about this view is that it would have Paul designating the Old Covenant Law as “of the world”.[43]But this is not so problematic, if one understands that God’s purpose for the Law was to foreshadow Christ. God accomplished that purpose and “moved on” to His next purpose which was to establish the New Covenant – in a manner of speaking, God “moved on” from shadow to substance. The Old Covenant rituals, customs and traditions indeed had material substance, but did not have spiritual substance or spiritual reality– that came only with Christ. These material things were “in the world” casting shadows pointing to Christ, but the spiritual reality is only in Christ.[44]George E. Ladd offers this explanation: “’World’is used as the whole complex of human earthly relationships, which though not evil in itself can stand between man and God.”[45]That really is the point – namely, the phenomenon and tendency of humankind to put the material religious thing before the God who is Spirit. As we will discuss later in this essay, how this is, in fact, idolatry.

As we’ve said, the establishment of the New Covenant abolished the Old Covenant Law and made it obsolete. Therefore, to be operating under the Old Covenant Law now would be like operating under a pagan religion or philosophy of man – that is, “of the world”. The reason this is so is because all law outside of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”operates in an outward material context, whereas the “Law of Christ” operates in an inward spiritual context.As I’ve said elsewhere, that is not a Gnostic statement. Jesus Himself said: “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”[46]If one cannot embrace that statement, one cannot understand nor enter into the New Covenant – one cannot understand nor enter into Eternal Life – one cannot understand nor enter into the Kingdom of God – nor can one understand nor be part of the Church which Jesus is building. “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing.”[47]“A new covenant not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”[48]“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.… you must be born of the Spirit.”[49]“ For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”[50]“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”[51]“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.”[52]“(You) are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[53]

Investigating all the possible interpretations of the term, “elementary principles of the world”, while insisting on no contradiction in interpretation between both the Colossian passage and the Galatian passage, the only sound conclusion one can come to is the one which Gary DeLashmutt puts forth:

“In conclusion, the view that explains “the elementary principles of the world”as pertaining to all religion (including the Old Testament Law and especially its ritual system) before and outside of Christ is the most tenable position.

Paul’s usage of “the elementary principles of the world”obviously warns against syncretism of the gospel with any other human philosophic or religious system. This is the application most commonly pursued by preachers and expositors today. But another important application of this phrase lies in the way Paul views Old Testament ritual and the role of ritual in general.

Imposition of Old Testament Ritual

Clearly, these two passages warn against the imposition of Old Testament rituals on Christians. It is not just looking to those rituals as a means of justification before God that is condemned; the observance of them as a sign “spirituality” is inappropriate for the Christianbecause those rituals merely foreshadowed the “substance,” or reality, which Christians now enjoy in the person and work of Jesus…. Both direct and indirect implementation of this ritual law pervades much of the church.

New Testament Ritualism

These two passages also warn in principle against the danger of ritualism even when the rituals involved are prescribed by the New Testament. “Ritualism” is being used here in the sense of making ritual observance a primary focus of the Christian life and means of its expression. Water baptism and communion are the two rituals most often employed in such “New Testament” ritualism, although foot-washing and other practices are sometimes also included.

The Galatian passage in particular pits the religion of ritual observance against the great privilege of personally relating to God through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Ritualism was legitimate (even necessary) during the Old Testament economy because this kind of personal relationship with God was not possible. But now God has made it possible to relate to him as Abba. The work of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit have made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family. To go back to relating to God primarily through ritual observance is to reject God’s assessment of this gift. This is spiritual regression which is reprehensible enough to make Paul fear that he had labored in vain (Galatians 4:11)! …. ritualism as the means to relating to God has been ‘outgrown’ and rejected. This is also the argument of the Book of Hebrews (especially chapters 7-10).”[54]

Hopefully, the direct connection between “the elementary principles of the world” and “ritualism” has been clearly established. This “ritualism” is by no means limited to that of the so-called “liturgical” churches. No, I hope to convince the reader that such “ritualism”, as just one way of labeling “the elementary principles of the world, was operational in the “New Testament Church” of the first century, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches throughout their history, the Reformed Protestant churches throughout their history, as well as in Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical and so-called Organic and house churches of today. For evidence of the theological promotion and applied practice of “ritualism” in the churches of our day I refer you to the writings of Robert E. Webber[55], Thomas Howard[56]and Mark Galli[57], along with a number of important articles which were published in opposition to this negative spiritual phenomenon.[58]

I think it would be beneficial at this point to once again clarify what I mean when I use certain terms in these essays:

When I use the term, “heavenly organized”, or “Holy Spirit organized”, I am referring to the Holy Spirit’s organization of the spiritual organism, the Body of Christ, and its life of worship.When I use the term, “humanly organized”, I am referring to various ways we human beings attempt to organize the Body of Christ and its life of worship. The means employed to “humanly organize” the Body of Christ and its life of worship are scripturally identified as “the elementary principles of the world”.[59]And as we’ve just discussed, the term, “elementary principles of the world”, can be understood to mean any religious principles before Christ and apart from Christ.That is the theme of this essay stated in very broad terms. I have and will continue to point to more specific meanings of this term, “the elementary principles of the world”.

Sacralization of the Spiritual


I have spoken of “the elementary principles of the world” in terms of “ritualism”. There are other terms we can discuss which may help us to more fully understand this negative spiritual phenomenon. One such term is “sacralization”.Sacralization” in religion is attributing a sacred quality and character to certain people, places and things. In a previous essay, “Led by the Spirit”, I defined “sacralization” in this way: The setting apart, dedicating and consecrating of places, times and activities by separating them from the believer’s everyday life and placing them in a special religious category.

A related term is “objectification”.[60]Dennis McCallum has written an interesting anthropological study entitled “The Objectification of Religion”.[61]His opening statements are pertinent to our discussion: “’Objectification’ is the religious tendency to reduce abstract principles to tangible, visceral objects and rituals. This tendency, found in all religious complexes, has also been prominent in Christianity, despite explicit prohibitions in the New Testament.”

The author (Dennis McCallum) believes objectification (also known as formalism) remains as one of the greatest stumbling blocks to people considering Christianity today: “The student of history of religion must wonder why this is such a universal tendency. Any phenomenon that appears everywhere on earth, during every period of history, and in every known religious complex, must have some underlying explanations that are fairly common or general.”[62]

McCallum’s article is an excellent overview of various studies and theories in the fields of Anthropology and Comparative Religion to which he adds his own Christian perspective. I agree with him when he suggest that the concept of “sacred space”, while only one example, is representative of other aspects of the objectification of religion. And, I believe that what he says about sacred spacecan be accurately applied to the sacralization of other aspects like times, and activities: “’Sacred space’ refers to the universal tendency of religious man to identify space that is sacred, and to carefully delimit that space from profanespace. This space, once marked off, usually also plays a key role in the ongoing worship and religious practice of the faithful in that system.”[63]Later in the article, he states: “There is absolutely no provision in the New Testament Era (which I take to have begun at Pentecost) for any form of sacred space[64]…. Likewise, there is no claim made in the area of sacred time, or religious calendar.”[65]

While I think that there is much in the New Testament scriptures which McCallum does not take the opportunity to include in his article regarding Christianity and objectification, I do totally agree with his stated conclusion: “I find myself unable to avoid the conclusion that humankind’s craving for control and regularization of the sacred has played a major role in the objectification of religion.”[66]And as McCallum points out, anthropologist, Edward Norbeck, speaking from an entirely secular perspective astutely discerns: “… religious acts tend to become goals in themselves. Histories of religions provide many examples of rituals rendered meaningless by passage of time but which are nevertheless tenaciously retained. Empty of their original significance, the rites themselves have become goalswhich the members of society are under compulsion to reach by faithful performance.”[67]“Objectivism” is certainly another term which can be used to label what the scriptures refer to as “the elementary principles of the world”.


“Sacramentalism” in theology is the belief that the performance of certain external rites confers the grace of God. A “sacrament” has been defined as “an outward physical sign of an inward spiritual grace”. An integral part of sacramentalism is “symbolism” –  that is, the use of religious symbols or icons to identify particular religious concepts. Symbols and sacraments have obviously played a major role in all religions, including orthodox Judaism and conventional Christianity. The efficacy of symbols and sacraments to produce creative, imaginative, artistic, even spiritual inspiration has proven itself for many centuries. And there has been much written on the nature and benefits of symbol and sacrament.[68]Yet, there have also been significant writings on the corruption of Christianity, specifically through the incorporation of symbol and sacrament in worship practices.[69]The problem with using external physical things to represent internal spiritual things is this: Much too often the physical thing, rather than the spiritual thing, becomes the focus; and the rite becomes the substitute for the reality.Again, an explanation of this negative religious phenomenon is that the external physical things are but a mere “shadow” – a representation of spiritual things – drawn from and based upon human understanding. This is mistaken for spiritual reality. But true spirituality is drawn from and based upon the Person of Christ alone. Authentic spiritual reality or substance belongs only to Christ – that is, “is derived from Christ, and can be realized only through union with Him.”[70]This reality is prerequisite to worship in spirit and truth. As Jesus made clear: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him MUST worship in spirit and truth.”[71]Again, like “ritualism” and “objectification”, “sacramentalism” and “symbolism” are other labels which can be used to identify what the scripture refers to as “the elementary principles of the world”.

The Sacralization of Christianity


To continue with a definition, I established earlier in this essay: “Sacralization” in religion is attributing a sacred quality and character to certain people, places and things. In a previous essay, “Led by the Spirit”, I defined “sacralization” in this way: The setting apart, dedicating and consecrating of places, times and activities by separating them from the believer’s everyday life and placing them in a special religious category.

During the Old Covenant, God assigned the Hebrew prophets to prophesy to His people in an effort to desacralize, in the hearts and minds of the Hebrew people, the religions of Canaan and Assyria, and other pagan nations. Yet, as we know, the Hebrew people continually succumbed to the influences of pagan idolatry. And, as we’ve seen, the early Christians continued in many of the Jewish rituals and regulations of the Old Covenant even after the New Covenant was established by Christ’s death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[72]During apostolic times, the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods were also associated with natural objects, carried associated rites and regulations, and even had guilds formed in the name of these deities to celebrate these rites and enforce these regulations. But the early Christians did generally manage to separate themselves from this particular pagan idolatry. Yet, we must consider the fact that the apostle Paul felt it necessary to warn Christians against these pagan rites and regulations when he wrote to the Colossians:

15 ”He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through it (i.e. the cross). 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels,takinghis stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”[73]

Do you see that Paul refers to these “elementary principles of the world”– these various special activities, separated to special times and places, and structured with rites and regulations– as “shadows”and not the reality of Christ. He is exhorting Christians to stop this Old Covenant approach to worship, and to embrace God’s New Covenant alternative instead. And that is: “Holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

But, unfortunately, Paul’s words were not sufficiently heeded – not during the first century, nor in subsequent times. What, in fact, transpired throughout the history of Christendom – through the “Patristic” period, the Catholic and Greek Orthodox further development of ritual & liturgy, and on into Protestant sacramentalism – was a RE-SACRALIZATION of that which the New Covenant had de-sacralized.

This sacralization in religion – this ritualism, objectification, sacramentalism, and symbolism – obviously has been extremely pervasive. But how are we to explain its pervasiveness? Is it something in human nature? I believe so. But I believe it also goes beyond the human dimension. In his book, “Subversion of Christianity”, Jacques Ellul spends seven chapters explaining that Christianity has become something TOTALLY DIFFERENT IN EVERY ASPECT from the revelation of God in Christ. He then gives his explanation of WHY this could possibly happen given in light of the establishment of the New Covenant and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. His explanation is: human aggrandizement– that is, the deliberate ignoring of the Spirit of God in favor of glorifying the human self. BUT, having concluded this he then offers in chapter 9, “Dominions and Powers”, to further explain the incredible power of this corrupting force.[74]

It is my assertion that Powers and Principalities are intentionally at work in and through fallen humanity’s tendencies in an effort to hinder the purpose of God. And their tools, “the elemental principles of the world”,[75]are that which the apostle Paul also referred to as “strongholds (consisting of) sophisticated arguments and exalted opinions raised up in disobedience against the true knowledge of God.”[76]. So, while we have tried to gain insight into these things through discussion of various human concepts and practices like “sacralization”, “ritualism”, “objectification”, “sacramentalism”, and “symbolism”, the scriptural identification of “the elementary principles of the world” is the apostle Paul phrase “strongholds (consisting of) sophisticated arguments and exalted opinions raised up in disobedience against the true knowledge of God.”[77]


In this essay, I have endeavored to discuss what can be called the “Sacralization of the Spiritual”. In these essays, I’ve also endeavored to discuss specifically the sacralization of Christianity – specifically its concept and practice of worship[78].

There has also been a “Sacralization of the Secular” which has led to Idolatry. This idolatry has also invaded the professing Church. I am suggesting that the phenomena of the sacralization of both the spiritual and secular is excellently delineated in the various writings of Jacques Ellul, specifically in his concept of “technique”. I am also proposing that his concept of “technique” equates with “the elementary principles of the world”. So, to investigate Ellul’s concept of “technique” is to further investigate “the elementary principles of the world”.

I believe we will see that the practice and pursuit of “technique” has resulted in the secularization of the secular and idolatry. And, the adoption of “technique” by the Church has resulted in the secularization of the spiritual – the worship of the Church, coming under the trance of “the elementary principles of the world”.

All of this has resulted in the unfortunate “re-veiling” of the New Covenant. The New Covenant was established over 2000 years ago by Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. But while some Christians have appropriated this for personal salvation, by and large, the “powers and principalities” have succeeded in blinding and binding the Church as a collective in appropriating the New Covenant in worship – that is, living a life of surrender and service according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. This is the subject matter of the next essay.

[1]John 7:7

[2]Matthew 18:7. Greek:skandalon,Strong’s # 4625, scandal, offense, stumbling block

[3]James 4:4

[4]James 3:15

[5]Ephesians 2:2

[6]Galatians 4:3

[7]Cf. Ephesians 6:12, Greek: palle,Strong’s # 3823

[8]Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, Greek: strateuomai,Strong’s # 4754

[9]Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

[10]Greek: logismos, Strong’s # 3053.

[11]Greek: hupsoma, Strong’s # 5313.

[12]Strong’s # 746

[13]Strong’s # 1849

[14]Strong’s # 2888

[15]Strong’s # 4189

[16]This view is widely held by many others including Marva Dawn, Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, William Stringfellow, and Robert E. Webber. On this subject, I highly recommend the writings of Michael S. Heiser, specifically The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Chapter 37, “This Means War”, deals with some of these very terms. 

[17]Romans 5:12, 8:2

[18]Romans 6:23

[19]David Smith, Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, davendale001@gmail.com

[20]Genesis 1:2

[21]1 John 2:15-17 / Genesis  3:6

[22]Plural of stroicheion – Strong’s # 4747.

[23]Thayer’s Greek Lexicon


[25]This view is held by J.B. Lightfoot, John Stott and Merrill C. Tenney.

[26]Galatians 3:23 & 4:5

[27]Galatians 4:3

[28]Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16 & 21

[29]Colossians 2:8; Cf. Galatians 4:8-9

[30]This view is held by James Boice, F.F. Bruce, and Donald Guthrie, among others.

[31]Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strong’s # 4747: “#3. the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens, or (as others think) because in them the elements of man’s life and destiny were supposed to reside…. Hence, some interpreters infelicitously understand Paul’s phrase τάστοιχεῖ α τοῦ κόσμου, Galatians 4:3, 9Colossians 2:8, 20, of the heavenly bodies, because times and seasons, and so sacred seasons, were regulated by the course of the sun and moon; yet in unfolding the meaning of the passage on the basis of this sense they differ widely.”

[32]Colossians 2:18; Galatians 4:8-9.

[33]Cf. Exodus 20:3-5

[34]George E. Ladd, “A Theology of the New Testament”, p. 402.

[35]Gerhard Friedrich, Editor, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”, Volume 7, pp. 682-683.

[36]This view is held by Colin Brown, Gerhard Delling, George E. Ladd, and Herman Ridderbos.

[37]Galatians 4:9-10

[38]Cf. Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:13.

[39]Colossians 2:17

[40]Galatians 3:22-23, 4:9

[41]Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:13; Ephesians 2:15

[42]Cf. Galatians 4:6-8; Romans 8:14-17

[43]Cf. Galatians 4:3-5

[44]On the issue of Old Covenant rituals being “of the world”, Gary DeLashmutt offers this in a footnote to his article “Paul’s Usage of ta stroicheis tou kosmou”:“Both Colossians 2:22 and Mark 7:18 draw attention to the ‘this-worldliness’ temporality of the dietary laws. Colossians 2:17 implies the same ‘this-worldly’ status of the Old Testament religious calendar; it was only an earthly ‘shadow’ of the spiritual ‘substance’ of Jesus.”

[45]George E. Ladd, “A Theology of the New Testament”,  p. 399

[46]John 4:24

[47]John 6:63

[48]2 Corinthians 3:6

[49]John 3:6-7

[50]Romans 8:14

[51]Romans 15:50

[52]Romans 14:17

[53]1 Peter 2:5

[54]From “Paul’s Usage of ta Stoicheis tou Kosmou” by Gary DeLashmutt  https://www.xenos.org/essays/pauls-usage-ta-stoicheia-tou-kosmou   I highly recommend a reading of this paper. It is the most complete treatment and sound interpretation of Paul’s meaning of “the elementary principles of the world” I have come across to date.

[55]“Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church”, “Common Roots”, as well as the whole of his “Ancient-Future” series of books.

[56]“Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament”.

[57]“Beyond Bells and Smells”, and “Ancient-Future People”, an article in Christianity Today (February 2008).

[58]“Ancient-Future Heresies” by T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call(February 28, 2008); “ Why We Should be Wary of Adding Extrabiblical Rituals to our Worship” by Philippe Sterling, originally published as “Return to Ritual, Part 2”,Grace in Focus (Jan/Feb 2010); “From Ritualism to a Personal Relationship with God” by Gary DeLashmutt (www.Xenos.org)

[59]Galatians 4:3, 9-10 & Colossians 2:8, 20-21

[60]In my understanding, the two terms “sacralization” and “objectification” are essentially synonymous.




[64]Ibid.; Cf. Acts 7:48-50; Hebrews 8:13, 13:10-14.

[65]Ibid.; Cf. Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-10.


[67]Edward Norbeck, “Religion in Primitive Society”, p. 74

[68]Just one example is “Evangelical Is Not Enough” by Thomas Howard; but also, the many writings of Robert E. Webber.

[69]Fine examples are “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin, especially Chapter 4: “Sacramentschwarmer!”; and “Humiliation of the Word” by Jacques Ellul.

[70]Vincent’s Word Studies

[71]John 4:24

[72]Cf. Previous essays in this series, “New & Living Way: Investigating New Covenant Worship in Spirit & Truth” viz. Essay # 4: “Jewish Roots in Christianity”, Essay # 5: “Led By the Spirit”.

[73]Colossians 2:15-23, Cf. 8.

[74]Various scholars have various views with regards to the identification of “the powers”. Some, like Ellul, see them as impersonal systemic forces for good or evil existing in the realm of human society, yet having a kind of spiritual existence given to them by fallen humanity – not beings, per se, but in some way, socio-politico forces. Others, like myself, understand them to be distinct spiritual beings over human society, fallen from their original estate of serving the purpose of God, now both adversarial towards God and oppressive towards humanity – spiritual forces are work in and through human socio-politico systems.

[75]Galatians 4:1-11; Colossians 2:8-23.

[76]Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

[77]This is my translation of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 drawn from James Strong’s Dictionary of Greek Words. The Greek word, logismos (Strong’s # 3053), can also be translated “imaginations”; but, “reasonings” would be more accurate. Both are figurative. The more literal translation of the word would be “computations”, as the root word, logizomai (Strong’s # 3049), means “to take an account of” or “to take an inventory of”.

[78]My working definition of “worship” is living a life of surrender and service to God.