Following the Footsteps of Messiah

It seems like every discussion on every Messianic blog, every “innovative” (I use the term somewhat pejoratively) theology in the Messianic movement, every controversy that I come into contact with currently boils down to the idea of Jewish and Gentile identity.

One Law/Divine Invitation isn’t really about Torah observance. Everyone on both sides of the argument is saying that Torah observance is good and it’s for everyone. People who characterize the argument along the lines of whether or not Gentiles are “supposed to” or “allowed to” observe Torah are completely missing the point (or, in some cases, deliberately and maliciously mischaracterizing the DI position).

Torah observance is not the issue. The only issue is whether or not God has a special covenant relationship with the Jewish people, and whether they continue to have the responsibility to guard that covenant (including the responsibility to admit or refuse proselytes to Judaism).

-Jacob Fronczak
“Getting Past Jewish and Gentile Identity”
Hope Abbey

In my opinion, Jacob’s blog post is spot on. There’s been this ongoing debate on the Messianic blogosphere for years now on the “One Law” topic and I think that Jacob’s correct when he says we’re focused on the totally wrong thing.

I was on the phone yesterday with a guy who lives in Tacoma. Our conversation was all over the map, but we eventually settled on discussing Gentile obligation to the Torah. We were talking about how non-Jewish people who have attached themselves to the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement can become incredibly obsessed with “Gentile obligation to the Torah” to the exclusion of virtually all other considerations. What other considerations?

“You have a job. You can provide for your family.”

“You have a lovely wife and a wonderful little boy. Learn to love them and enjoy your time with them.”

“You not only are aware of God but you know Him and you love Him, thanks be to the Messiah whose Good News brought us into such a relationship and sustained us to see this time.”

“You may not know all of the answers to your questions, but you know what’s important. You can spend the rest of your life studying the Bible, but no matter what you end up knowing and not knowing, God is with you all of the time.”

I could go on. Frankly, the Messiah told us what’s important:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. –Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

Really. Did anyone get “saved” or “lost” because of Gentile/Jewish identity confusion?

Becoming truly aware of God and His wonders and His graciousness is like entering a world of endless possibilities. You want to sample them all and in fact, you want to just jump into the “ocean” of God and “drown” in Him. However, sooner or later, you realize you still need to breathe and so you come to the surface. That’s the point where you start to ask yourself, “who am I now as a person of God?” Answers vary, but at some point you realize you can’t hog the whole ocean to yourself. Too much of anything can be overwhelming and even harmful:

Doctors tell us that it is better to eat food in small increments more frequently than to eat less frequently, but in larger amounts. It is a delight for those who manage this to find that they can manage on much less food than they had previously assumed that they required. But of course, one difficulty is how to manage with those very tasty foods that seem to compel some of us to eat more and more of them. What is one to do with such foods? One way is to simply abstain from such foods. Others do enjoy them, but still manage to eat a very small amount, “just to taste.”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Question of Moderation”
Siman 168 Seif 9

If I posted the entire missive, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to most Christians and it certainly would seem irrelevant to a life lived under grace, but there’s an important lesson hidden here. At some point, someone told a lot of non-Jewish people in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement that “One Law fits all.” It’s a compelling thought that we who are Gentile Christians might have access to the wonders of the Torah just by believing so and for many, it’s almost magical the first time you don a tallit and look down at the tzitzit. It’s also kind of intoxicating in a way and many of us (including me at one point) get swept up in the “coolness factor.” In fact, we can be so swept away by the waves of “Jewishness” that we forget all about the “weightier matters of the Torah,” such as those the Master taught in the scriptures I cited above.

The Torah is like a room filled with an infinite selection of delectable morsels and the temptation is to eat them all in unlimited quantities. But has all of the food at the banquet been laid out for us and is eating every bit of everything we see really a good idea?

A wind from the Lord started up, swept quail from the sea and strewed them over the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on that side, all around the camp, and some two cubits deep on the ground. The people set to gathering quail all that day and night and all the next day — even he who gathered least had ten homers — and they spread them out all around the camp. The meat was still between their teeth, nor yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. –Numbers 11:31-33 (JPS Tanakh)

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)

The two sets of verses I quoted above really do go together. Both have to do with desiring something that is unmerited, unnecessary, and not particularly good for us. They both also have to do with what we want for us, that is, me, me, me. What are my rights? What do I get?

Is that what the Master taught? To put ourselves and our rights and what we want before all other considerations? Sure, you may say, but what about my “obligations?” Fine! What about your obligations to feed the hungry, visit the sick and the prisoner, welcome the stranger? Are you fulfilling those obligations to God? Are you as concerned about helping other people as you are about how your tzitzit are tied?

And what about this as quoted from Fronczak’s blog post?

Messianic Jews can work with Judaism to portray to them a Jesus who is fully Jewish, dealing with theological and cultural objections. This will only happen when Messianic Jews become well versed in their own literary heritage, and when they begin to take halacha seriously, and when someone can walk into a Messianic synagogue and actually reasonably expect a traditional synagogue service.

Messianic Gentiles can work with Christians on the traditional Christian misinterpretations of the Scripture. They can restore the image of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, the importance and centrality of Israel, and the continuing relevance and binding authority of the Torah (not coincidentally, three of First Fruits of Zion’s core values).

That is the big picture; it is what really matters. We need to get on with it so we can make that happen. We need to become who we are, and get on with our mission.

I suppose I’m not really saying anything different from Jacob is and I don’t know if my blog post adds anything to his already excellent statement, but I can’t help but want to support what he’s saying and to emphasize the fact that we do really need to “get on with it.” Continually arguing among ourselves about who is obligated to this and that doesn’t do jack, so to speak.

If you really want to know what your obligations to God are and then perform them, look around you, discover a need someone has, and then fulfill it. If you meet just one person’s need everyday, you will be doing the will of God and walking in the footsteps of the Messiah. Torah will take care of itself.

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (the age just before the Messiah comes) It is therefore imperative for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare – whether old or young – to inspire the other to teshuva (return), so that he will not fall out – G-d forbid – of the community of Israel who will shortly be privileged, with G-d’s help, to experience complete redemption.

-from “Today’s Day”
Monday, Sivan 18, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

13 thoughts on “Following the Footsteps of Messiah”

  1. It’s true so many of the divisions are over gentile-Jewish obligation. You guys tend to focus on the ones you don’t like — One Law and Two House — but the same goes for the other side, where Bilateral Ecclesiology seeks to create two churches, or two distinct peoples of God, separated by whether or not you’re Jewish.

    One Law = God’s commandments apply equally to Jews and gentiles.
    Two House = Gentiles are part of the commonwealth of Israel
    Bilateral Ecclesiology = God has two churches/assemblies: Messianic Jews and Jesus-following gentiles.

    I think the best way forward is to recognize that God has different callings for us, and that God is at work across our niches, even if we are in error in our theology or lives. I have no problem admitting God is at work in Messianic Judaism, but I think many in Messianic Judaism have a problem admitting God is at work in Hebrew Roots, One Law, and Two House assemblies.

  2. Wow! That was incredibly fast, Judah.

    I’m OK with that for the most part. I tend to err on the side of caution (except when I’m writing, of course) as far as my personal religious practice, but as you’ve said yourself in the past, doing the will of God trumps just writing about it.

    I hope you clicked the link I provided to Jacob’s blog post. It’s really worth the read and is a lot shorter than mine.

  3. “Bilateral Ecclesiology seeks to create two churches, or two distinct peoples of God, separated by whether or not you’re Jewish”

    Judah… neither Messianic Judaism nor BE seek to “create” anything. BE is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that there are Jews and there are Gentiles (and “Gentile churches”, see Romans 16:4). Both groups are part of G-d created sub-groups of humanity (among many other groups). Man didn’t set this up this way – G-d did. Both communities, while distinct in calling (as you noted) and way of life, overlap in in many great respects and are part of the Body of Messiah (which has many parts, which are connected, but are not in the same place or serve the same function), as Paul wrote:

    “G-d has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. ” (1 Corinthians 12-18)

    Human attempts to make an arm out of a leg will not work out.

  4. Re: “Messianic Jews can work with Judaism to portray to them a Jesus who is fully Jewish, dealing with theological and cultural objections. This will only happen when Messianic Jews become well versed in their own literary heritage, and when they begin to take halacha seriously, and when someone can walk into a Messianic synagogue and actually reasonably expect a traditional synagogue service.”

    (I’m going to cross-comment on Jacob’s blog.) You know I will agree about MJs being “versed in our our literary heritage [and] begin to take halakhah seriously.” However, isn’t it is part of the distinctly MJ calling to daven in a way that is not only traditional but also “Messianic?” Shouldn’t our services highlight the role of Yeshua and invite and experience the immediate Presence of Hashem? If so, no one will confuse our services with a traditional ones, even if when we (rightly) employ traditional liturgy.

    If we are supposed to fashion our services for the sake of visitors, it also should be noted that the vast majority of Jews (at least in the U.S.) find a purely traditional service entirely alien and alienating.

  5. Carl, while I can’t speak for Jacob, the way I interpreted that statement was that Messianic Jewish services should be more traditionally Jewish. I don’t think that’s inconsistent with such services also being Messianic. You know better than I do that many, if not most, Messianic Jewish congregations struggle to worship in a manner that anywhere approaches a Jewish service.

  6. I find myself agreeing with Rabbi Kinbar: Messianic Judaism should be uniquely Messianic. We don’t have to look like everyone else. We can be distinctly Messianic. It’s OK.

    Messianic Jewish music is a great example. 20th century MJ pioneers like Chernoff, Dauermann, Cohen, and others created this distinctly Messianic form of worship when God’s spirit was moving during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. But all that is ignored or discarded as evangelical flag-waving by those who desire a traditional synagogue service over God-given, distinctly Messianic forms of worship.

    For those that advocate a purely traditional service, I ask: to what end? Imagine tomorrow that our services removed all distinctly Messianic elements and we perfectly emulated Judaism. Then what? Will we be more respected? Will our testimony hold more weight? Unlikely. What is likely is that we will be seen, more than ever, as great imposters. Yad L’achim will issue warnings: “Missionaries now hold services that are indistinguishable from Chabad! BEWARE!”

    It was Rabbi Kinbar who said before that we should not try to hide who we are as Yeshua’s disciples. Even though the traditionalists aren’t intending to hide who we are, by their works they accomplish it precisely in removing distinctly Messianic elements from our services.

  7. “removing distinctly Messianic elements from our services.”

    Judah, correction: “removing distinctly American Evangelical elements”. Relabeling Evangelism into Messianic-ism and signing it in a minor key doesn’t create anything either distinct or Jewish.

    1. To be clear, Gene is implying that the 20th century Messianic Jewish pioneers were just practicing Evangelical flag-waving — no move of God, nothing Messianic about it, and certainly not Jewish, is the Messianic music of Joel Chernoff, Stuart Dauermann, Paul Wilbur, Bruce Cohen, and other pioneers who, out of the move of God’s Spirit in the 1970s, created beautiful music — many of them psalms — for Messiah to the glory of God.

      Gene discards it all as “Evangelicalism in a minor key.”

      What a shame.

      Clarity over agreement.

  8. Judah, no doubt, a lot of music produced by the names you mentioned is quite beautiful and it was right for the times. However, much of the stuff that Messianic Jews did in the 20th Century, was still solidly in the Christian Evangelical and Charismatic camps. Time for Messianic Jews to move on to the next level, just as the great pioneers you mentioned moved on from Hebrew Christianity that preceded them. Yes, just as the stalwarts of Hebrew Christianity denounced even the MJAA’s including of the word “Jewish” in their new name, I fully expect that that the stalwarts of 70’s – 90’s Messianic Movement will resist the move toward the Jewish people and Judaism. That too shall be overcome.

  9. You are arguing that because the music of Messianic Jewish pioneers is “solidly in the Christian camp”, it has no place in a Gene Shlomovich-envisioned future where Messianic Judaism services are indistinguishable from that of other Judaisms; entirely devoid of distinctly Messianic elements.

    Here’s where we differ: I believe many things birthed from the Christian world — including Messianic Jewish music — are good and righteous and holy and have come to fruition at the move of God’s own spirit. But you believe this good work from God, and the good work these pioneers are even doing today, are just obsolete holdover junk from the gentile world, “Evangelicalism in a minor key.”

    Man. What a shame.

    Guys, I’m bowing out of this discussion. I want my shabbat to be full of joy and praising (to Messiah’s music!) and psalms and resting. I’ll leave all this negativity to you old farts.

    Signing out. Shabbat shalom.

  10. Judah, I am not talking just about “music”, but rather about the overall Messianic Jewish direction. Messianic Jews are way more than just what songs we play and sing. I understand that as someone who was raised in “independent” One-Law / Two-House environment you are naturally against moves toward Judaism. You’ve made your position clear many times in the past. So, leave MJ to MJs. Good Shabbos.

  11. I’ve reviewed Jacob’s original blog and the various comments made in response at Hope Abbey (boy, Jacob is a much calmer guy than I am) and as far as I can see, this side of the Messiah (and maybe even afterwards), we’re going to have at least two different basic approaches to worship/identity in the MJ/HR world: Christian and Messianic Jewish. I like that basic division Jacob presents (but didn’t invent) about the roles Gentiles and Jews can play in the Messianic world.

    From my perspective, the goal of we “Messianic Gentiles” (for lack of a better term) isn’t to recreate the church into our image. I really have no motivation to change the music, order of worship, and “style” of my local neighborhood Baptist church. If I desire any change in the church, it’s in the elimination of supersessionist and anti-Jewish rhetoric, theology, and doctrine. I think that there are many associated with the movement who are already connected to a church and can be effective agents of change with the church as their community.

    Jacob wisely wrote that since he’s not Jewish, he’s not focused on any particular mechanism of change relative to Messianic Jewish congregations and frankly, I wouldn’t know where to begin, either, except to allow the leaders of MJ congregations to be in control of their own development and process (as if I had any ability to change that, anyway). I don’t think any attempt to impose a “Christian” worship template onto a Messianic Jewish congregation would be effective. That said, a Messianic Jewish synagogue is both “Jewish” and “Messianic” so I’d expect to encounter the Messiah within its walls, even as a Gentile participant sitting in the back pew.

    I suppose I should add that Gentiles will choose to worship in either a traditional church setting or in a more “Hebraically-oriented” (again, for lack of a better term) congregation, which more overtly acknowledges the Jewish Jesus. It doesn’t matter which one a non-Jewish person chooses. The main thing for me, as I said above, is that the Gentile congregations, no matter how they’re organized, need to be purged of anti-Jewish and supersessionist theologies.

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