Yet even before delving into an appraisal of the institutional church, it is important to recognize the common ground on which we stand. By any biblical definition, all believers in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) are part of one body, the ecclesia of God. All who have made Yeshua their master are subjects of one kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.
I believe the term “Messianic” is an easy-to-understand descriptor that helps Christians who understand their Jewish roots to find a concrete identity and definition. Yet to be a “Messianic Gentile” does not make one something other than “Christian.”
“Chapter One: The Church is Good,” pg 36
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile
I started my somewhat unique review of Boaz’s book in yesterday’s extra meditation so you may want to go back and read it before continuing here. I’m only “sort of” reviewing the book, as I’m not presenting my assessment in a single chunk, nor am I trying to look at it with an objective eye. The book is primarily intended to impact the Christian already in the church who has become somewhat “Judaically-aware.” That doesn’t describe me, since I left the church for many years and have only recently returned, and I am writing my response to Tent of David from the viewpoint of my personal experience as a church “returnee.”
Boaz continues to talk about the definition of a Christian in relation to being a “Messianic Gentile,” which he began in the Introduction of his book. I think identity is very important because so many people have left behind the church and the identity of “Christian” out of a sense of disillusionment, seeking something more authentic in other realms, particularly that venue we tend to call Messianic Judaism.
I’ve received quite a bit of encouragement to return to the church recently, both from a friend and from my Mom (hi, Mom). I’ve concluded that God must want me in the church, regardless how I may feel about it and that there is some intended good in my returning there, and perhaps even in the particular church I currently attend. Of course it’s important, as Boaz points out in the first chapter of his book, to remember that there is much good in the Christian church, even if you’ve been told otherwise.
The first good mentioned is community, but the nature and scope of that community may not be what you expect. In the quote above, Boaz mentioned that everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is a member of the ecclesia of God. But just who is that exactly?
As a Messianic Jew, I am a Jewish follower of the Jewish Messiah; Gentile believers have also attached themselves to the same Messiah. So we are all Christians according to the word’s original, lexical meaning – Christ-followers. God forbid, that the term “Messianic” should foster an “us vs. them” mentality toward Christians who do not accept the Messianic viewpoint; this attitude is counterproductive, unbiblical, and unnecessary.
-Michael, pg 37
Boaz means to communicate that those Christians who consider themselves (ourselves) “Messianic” should not allow their (our) identity to separate them (us) from Christians who do not necessarily see themselves in the same light, relative to the Torah, the mitzvot, and Jewish practice. However he uses himself as a Messianic Jew in the example and that might not fit the metaphor, at least not according to Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman in his blog post Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah.
Messianic Judaism affirms that the Jewish people, believing in Yeshua or not, have been, are, and will always be the chosen people of God. The only nation God ever linked His name to in Scripture is Israel, calling Himself, the God of Israel. Scripture tells us His promises to Israel are eternal, and extend to the sons of Jacob, the House of Israel, known today as the Jewish People. Those leaders of the church did not affirm this. To them, 2000 years of post-Yeshua Jewish history, a history of spirituality and suffering for being Jewish, was worthless. In their view, 2000 years of Jewish unbelief in Yeshua means Twenty centuries of Jews went to hell. I have to confess that the concept doesn’t sit well with me. For Yeshua to be the Messiah of Israel, he would have to be good for the Jews. If his coming resulted in twenty centuries of Jewish people going to hell, the bottom line is, he wasn’t very good for the Jews. Either he wasn’t the Messiah, or the doctrinal understanding is wrong. I believe the latter. Yeshua brings salvation, but is that the only reason to believe in Him; for something we get? I think we should believe in Him because he is the Messiah, and being in relationship to Him brings us closer to God, and increases our kavvanah, or spiritual connection with God.
What they don’t grasp, is the idea put forth by R. Kendall Soulen in his book, The God Of Israel In Christian Theology, that after the first century, the Jewish Yeshua was virtually unrecognizable as a Jew, and therefore, as the Messiah. Jewish rejection of Yeshua was not an act of infidelity towards Yeshua, as much as it was an act of fidelity towards His Father.
While Rabbi Dr. Schiffman has assured me that his writings were not intended to be anti-Gentile, they do draw a sharp distinction between what Jews do and who Jews are within a Messianic Jewish context, and what Gentile Christians do and who we are (Messianic Gentiles or otherwise) within a church or other primarily Gentile believing context. One God, One Messiah, two religions.
If I were to return to Boaz’s definition, then I’d have to believe that at some “meta-religious” level, both the Jewish and Gentile believers of the Jewish Messiah King must belong to the “Kingdom of God,” however you want to define it (In a recent conversation with Boaz, he talked about devoting a great deal of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) resources to address the nature of the Kingdom of God in the coming year. You can get a preview of what he’s talking about at tv.ffoz.org).
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
-Ephesians 2:13-22 (ESV)
Is this where Paul tries to describe that “meta-level” where both the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master exist in some sort of common framework? If so, then I have to conclude, going back to Rabbi Dr. Schiffman, that said-framework is virtual, spiritual, supernatural, or even mystical, since a united platform of Jews and Gentiles as believers cannot exist and yet maintain two separate and distinct religious identities.
In any event, that meta-level can’t really help me right now if I must adopt a specific Christian persona within a traditional church context. And yet the concept of identity gets complicated even if we just stick to Christians.
It is not anyone’s place to pass judgment on those who are infants in their faith, who have not taken on this or that mitzvah. James wrote in his epistle (4:11-12), “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
In essence, this passage communicates to us that the pace of someone else’s spiritual development is God’s concern alone…God has not appointed us to judge someone else based on his or her level of observance; to do so is tantamount to judging the law itself. James even goes so far as to say that one who judges another’s level of observance has ceased to observe the Torah himself.
-Michael, pg 38
I know Boaz intended to address the “Messianic Gentile” in the church or returning to the church, but that person isn’t me. In the past several weeks, Christians have shown me where I am immature in my faith. I have no judgment to offer anyone in the church, who have been performing the “weightier matters of the law” for much longer than I’ve even been considering them. Heck, on Christmas, I found out that one of the local Boise restaurants volunteered free meals to the hundreds and even thousands of homeless. My wife told me someone she works with volunteers for this project every year. Imagine that. I didn’t even know about it. Organizations such as the Boise Rescue Mission, Lighthouse Rescue Mission, City Light Home for Women and Children and Interfaith Sanctuary Housing Service, the CraftWorks Foundation, and others in the local Boise community regularly perform these “mitzvot,” so I along with many others, should be careful who we judge. I certainly have no room to say that who I am and what I do is better than any of these people and agencies.
That’s a rather humbling realization (I’ve been having a lot of them lately) when facing the daunting task of returning to God’s ecclesia and trying to find a place among them.
But “levels of spiritual development” aren’t always a simple set of stairs. For me, the different spiritual paths of the people around me and my own path look like a set of divergent vectors, different not only in level, but in character, trajectory, and “texture.”
In his book, Boaz says that some people who become “Judaically-aware” modify their trajectory to adapt their new experiences within the church context, but others allow it to drive their entire course, altering it so drastically, that it carries them completely out of the church and out of Christian fellowship. Of the former group, Boaz has this to say.
I know a number of Christian pastors who have seen the merit in Messianic theology and practice, and have embraced the feasts and even the dietary law on some level, but have no desire to leave their denominations, or their particular theological and cultural distinctiveness, behind. One, an Independent Fundamental Baptist, restricts himself to clean meat and attends Erev Shabbat dinners, yet still puts on his suit and tie for church every Sunday morning and evening, and goes door-to-door every Saturday. Another, a Methodist, erected a sukkah in his backyard last year, yet proudly supports his denomination at the state and national level.
-Michael pp 46-7
These people are the opposite of me. Instead of being in the church as my “home” and extending myself outward toward some modest Judaic awareness, I’m trying to reinsert my Judaically-aware self back into the church and discovering, much to my shock, that I’ve been terribly wrong about a good many things. It isn’t the church that has been resisting me, but rather me resisting the church, and from what I’ve been able to tell so far, they know a great deal more about the “weightier matters of Torah” than I do.
The Christians who, throughout the ages, have propagated this message and tried to soothe the hurting, feed the hungry, and speak to social injustice have been keeping the weightier matters of the Torah. Both Yeshua (Mark 12:31) and the Sages (Rabbi Hillel in b.Shabbat 31a and Rabbi Akiva in Sifra, Kedoshim 4:12) taught that love of neighbor is the essence of Torah. These are non-trivial accomplishments which speak to the robust, biblical ethical system which many devout Christians have embraced.
-Michael, pg 49
The one thing Boaz doesn’t do, and this is where I will have to watch my balance, is he doesn’t “chase the Gentiles back into church” with no inherit connection to the origins of our faith as it was born in ancient Judaism.
One thing Messianic Gentiles must learn is that they do not have a direct, unmediated relationship with God. Jews have many covenants with God by virtue of their very existence as descendants of the Patriarchs. In contrast, Ephesians 2:12-13 describes the state of Gentiles as “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope with out God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brough near by the blood of Christ.”
-Michael, pg 50
I know I quoted from Ephesians 2 earlier but Boaz uses it in a different manner. He’s talking about what links the Gentile to Messiah and God and that link only exists through the covenants God established with Israel and the Jewish people. Without them, we Gentiles would have no connection to Jesus and to God. I’ve tried to explore this in my own covenants series, but it’s a very complex and elusive topic of investigation. Even trying to isolate and examine Ephesians 2 led to a divisive “discussion.”
Nevertheless, Boaz tells us that going back to the basis of our faith, the Jewish Messiah King, and his Jewish apostles, we see that we owe a debt of gratitude to them and their inheritors.
Pirkei Avot 6:3 contains a profound teaching that is particularly relevant here:
One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his “master,” his “guide” and his “intimate,” as is stated, “And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend.” [Psalm 55:13] Surely we can infer a fortiori: if David, king of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitofel except for two things alone, nevertheless referred to him as his master, guide and intimate, it certainly goes without saying that one who learns from his fellow a single chapter, a law, a verse, a saying, or even a single letter, is obligated to revere him. And there is no reverence but Torah, as is stated “The sages shall inherit honor” [Proverbs 3:35] “and the integral shall inherit good” [Proverbs 28:10]; and there is no good but Torah, as is stated, “I have given you a good purchase; My Torah, do not forsake it.” [Proverbs 4:2]
Messianic Gentiles would do well to heed the teaching of this mishnah. Showing reverence towards one’s teacher, even if what they learned was small – a single letter or verse – is showing reverence toward God and the Torah. Conversely, dishonoring one’s teacher is in fact dishonoring God’s work in one’s life.
Michael, pp 51-2
For me, the door swings both ways. Not only must I maintain a sense of honoring my ancient and modern Jewish teachers (since I often quote from modern Jewish teachers and scholars), but I must also sustain my respect and honor for the Pastors and Bible teachers at the church I’m attending. That can extend to Christian friends with whom I meet and from whom I learn a great deal.
I suppose in addition to this being a commentary on one of the chapters in the Tent of David book, it could also be part of my “Days” series (though I haven’t titled it as such), but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point that I’ll be going back to church next Sunday and continuing to go in coming year. But while Tent of David may be a guide for Pastors who build a sukkah or who have decided to eat kosher meat, I don’t know if is particularly aimed at me. Boaz told me that between the preliminary drafts, which I previously reviewed, and the current, final publication, the intended audience shifted from people like me who left and are now returning (or considering returning) to church, to those Christians who are currently in the church and part of its culture, and who have also recently become aware of the Jewish origins of Christianity and the significance of Torah as the foundation of Christian faith.
It’s not like I’m without a guide and in fact, I may even have found a mentor of sorts, but I am unlikely to be able to use Boaz’s book as a direct mapping to my own, personal experience. As I continue to read what he’s written, attend services at church, and record my experiences a chapter at a time, I will share that with you and we will see together how accurate my prediction is…and where I go from here.