Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians.
–Exodus 6:6-7 (JPS Tanakh)
G‑d reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the “four expressions of redemption,” He promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them, and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.
I had coffee with a friend after work on Wednesday. We see each other irregularly these days, but our conversations are always good. The main reason we met was because he wanted to borrow my copy of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile. This, of course, was also one of the primary topics of our talk as I sipped my coffee and he sampled his tea.
One of the things I value about our relationship is that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. We never argue and conversations never become heated, but we do see things from different points of view. I think he’s interested if not intrigued about my return to church (although this could be projection on my part) and he struggles with the implications of going back into the church after having been “redeemed” from it. It’s an interesting metaphor.
In our discussion, he likened leaving the church to the Children of Israel leaving Egypt. It’s not a complementary picture of the church that he’s painting, but it’s one that I’ve encountered on numerous occasions during my sojourn in the Hebrew Roots movement. Egypt represents nothing good spiritually and morally and leaving Egypt is always seen as a positive action on the part of God toward the Israelites. But can non-Jewish believers leaving the church be seen in the same way? If the church equals Egypt, torment, and slavery, and being released from all that means coming closer to God, then when a Christian leaves church, where do they (we) go that is better and what do they (we) do when they get there?
Let’s back up a minute. In Judaism the process of God rescuing the ancient Hebrews from their slave status in Egypt and bringing them to Himself at Sinai involves what is called the “four expressions of redemption” based on the above-quoted Exodus 6:6-7. But what are these four expressions and what do they mean?
According to the Ask the Rabbi column at Ohr Somayach, they are:
- “I will take you out from under Egypt’s burdens – Vehotzeiti“
- “And I will save you from their servitude – Vehitzalti“
- “And I will redeem you – Vega’alti“
- “And I will take you as My nation – Velakachti“
This is actually a commentary on the four cups we see during a traditional Passover seder. The Ohr Somayach Rabbi further states:
We didn’t go from a slave nation to being the Chosen People at Mount Sinai overnight. There were different stages of redemption. The above phrases described these different stages. Each cup of wine represents one of these levels.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but to me, it’s not very revealing, especially if we are trying to compare these four expressions to how we might view a non-Jewish Christian leaving the church (which is being equated to Egypt).
OU.org expands on the meaning of the four expressions thus:
According to R. Bachya (Spain, 1263-1340), the explanations of the Four Expressions are as follows:
- “I will take you out” – Hashem would remove the slavery even before the Jews left Egypt, from all the Tribes of Israel, because of the growing perception by Egypt of Hashem, the G-d of Israel, as the One Almighty G-d.
- “I shall save you” – Hashem would take the Jews out of Egypt with plagues visited upon the Egyptians, their Pharaoh and their gods, “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”
- “I shall redeem you” – Hashem would perform the miracle of “Kriat Yam Suf,” the Splitting of the waters of the “Yam Suf,” and the creation of a dry path for the Children of Israel to walk upon as they crossed the Sea of Reeds. Then Hashem caused the piled-high waters to descend in a tidal wave upon the Egyptian Army, to permanently crush the World-dominating power of Egypt.
- “I shall take you” – Hashem took the Jewish People to Himself as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. This was the spiritual component of the Redemption from Egypt. In fact, the spiritual Redemption was the Reason for the Physical Redemption.
The fifth expression, “I shall bring you to the land,” refers, of course, to the Land of Israel…
I must admit, I’m having a tough time mapping what I’ve been quoting from above to any image of why Christians should leave the church and where they are supposed to go. On the other hand, I’m kind of biased and truth be told, it wasn’t that many years ago that I might have accepted my friend’s metaphor relative to the Hebrew Roots movement.
But consider this. If Hebrew Roots is supposed to be the “Sinai” for Christians leaving the church, is it an attainable goal and is it right and accurate to say the church is Egypt in a spiritual (or any other) sense?
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.
“Chapter One: The Church is Good,” pg 49
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile
You’ll have to read all of Boaz’s book to get the full flavor of why the church is good, but I believe he paints a very convincing picture of the modern “body of Christ” as it lives and breathes within the multitude of churches in our communities and around the world. Even today in the lives of people I know, Christians are doing wonderful acts of kindness in the name and spirit of Messiah.
We are seriously getting love aimed at us by a little church nearby. Out of the blue, the pastor had contacted me wanting to know if some of their members could do anything for us and he wouldn’t take no for an answer unless it really was no.
Today some amazingly nice folks showed up and hauled off to the dump our junk too big for our own vehicle, in one of the guy’s large truck.
Meanwhile, the ladies scoot in to do some cleaning while visiting with Heidi.
And meanwhile another great guy is walking me around our deck, explaining to me how he is going to prep the bannister and then paint it for us.
And they’re coming back tomorrow!
I originally quoted Joe in a blog I published last June. Sadly, since that time, Joe’s wife Heidi passed on, but the church he mentions continues to be a support in his life as he grieves and as he yet looks to the future by the grace of Christ.
The church isn’t perfect. In fact, It’s taken quite awhile for me to overcome my own misgivings about going back to church (which can be reviewed in all their glorious details in my recent “Days” series, which culminated at Day Zero). In fact, I still periodically have to review Pastor Jacob Fronczak’s blog post Why I Go to Church to remind myself that a community can be imperfect and still be the will of God for the good.
So if the church isn’t Egypt, then do we have to be delivered from it? Is there someplace better to go to and what do we call it?
I can’t answer for every person out there who has once been in the church and, for whatever reasons, left it, either for some other religious organization or to pursue God as a solidary individual or family. I can only speak for myself and how I express my evolving understanding of God’s will for my life.
I don’t think we can get back to the “root” of our faith. I know that’s disappointing and maybe some of you disagree with me, but hear me out. At some point about 2,000 years ago, a sect called “the Way” rose among the other movements in Judaism in the late Second Temple period. The Jewish disciples were devoted to a “dead Rebbe” rather than a living teacher, one who they said not only died, but rose again. He is the Mashiach, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), who sits at the right hand of the Father (Psalm 16:8, Psalm 110:1, Acts 2:33), and who is the High Priest in the Court of Heaven (Hebrews 4:14).
The “Christianity” of that moment in history was a wholly Jewish religious movement and it co-existed with numerous other Jewish movements in Roman occupied “Palestine” in those days. Acts 10 shows the first non-Jew who came into discipleship under Messiah within this sect without converting to Judaism, and the “ministry” of Paul, who as an emissary to the Gentiles, preached a Gospel not given by men but by Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). As more and more Gentiles in the diaspora began to hear the “good news” of the Jewish Messiah and apply it to their lives, slowly the Gentiles and Jews within the “Jesus movement” began to trace somewhat divergent trajectories. Those slight deviations in trajectory would later lead them on completely different paths through the progression of history, and for centuries now, they have both identified themselves as two completely different religions that once shared a common point.
Should Christians seek to leave the church and travel backward across the timeline, trying to recapture whatever idealized or “perfected” Christianity that may (or may not) have existed somewhere around the mid 40s CE? Is it even possible?
Or does the path that God has set before us lead forward into the future…a future that will summon the risen Messiah to come out of the sky in the clouds (Revelation 1:7), who will redeem his people Israel, and who will also gather his disciples from the nations? If this future-oriented path is the true one, then perhaps there is no “perfect Christianity” to go back into upon “leaving the church.” Regardless of whatever Christian or Jewish worship venue to which you are attached (including any form of Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism), chances are, you don’t belong to a perfect community. Chances are people in your congregation make mistakes. Chances are, when scrutinized by the King of All Glory, your theology may not be absolutely and totally 100% “kosher.”
Chances are, there is no perfect church, synagogue, community, or congregation for you or for any of us to join upon leaving “church.” Face it. All congregations that involve human beings and human relationships are “messy.” We have to start with where we are, not where we’d like to be.
Yes, the church could be improved. That’s the other very valuable (to me) chapter in Boaz’s book, “Chapter 2: The Church Needs to Change.” Frankly, we could also probably say, relative to God’s perfect understanding, that the synagogue needs to change as well. A better way to say it is that we all need to change, to be better, to draw nearer to God, to refine our understanding of who He is and who we are in Him, Jew and Christian alike. We travel upon our divergent trajectories but we have one Shepherd and one King, and God is One. Not that our ultimate unity under Him as His “peoples” means uniformity, but it does mean unity of devotion and fealty.
The Messiah will come. He will return Israel to its place as the head of all the nations, rebuild the Temple, defeat evil, and establish a reign of peace and tranquility for all peoples of the earth. All the Jewish people will be gathered unto him in their nation Israel, and we believers who reside across the four corners of the Earth will bow our knees to him and call him Lord over all (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). That is our future.
But we’re not there yet.
We have to start where we are. If we are non-Jewish Christians in church, we should stay in church. We should bring our understanding of the Jewish Messiah King to where we are, not remove it from our fellow believers and hoard it for ourselves. If we are Gentiles in a Messianic community, then we should stay there (though there may be exceptions who will also attend a church) and use other platforms for communicating our understanding to the Christians we know or will come to know (compare to 1 Corinthians 7:18). For myself, I go to church not to change anything but to encounter God and His purpose for me, whatever it may be.
We may not always see the good in the church but it’s there. We may not see it because when we were introduced to the Hebrew Roots movement (for those of you reading this who are or were involved in Hebrew Roots), we were told the “church is Egypt.” However, if it’s been awhile since you’ve taken a look at the church, at the Christians in your community, at the believers you work with, live near, and consider friends, maybe it’s time you took another look. There are indeed two paths involved, but they’re not the two you have been imagining.
There are two paths:
One: Everything is for the good. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually good will come out from it.
The other: Everything is truly good—because there is nothing else but He who is Good. It’s just a matter of holding firm a little longer, unperturbed by the phantoms of our limited vision, unimpressed by the paper tiger that calls itself a world, and eventually we will be granted a heart to understand and eyes to see.
Eventually, it will become obvious good in our world as well.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Believing in G-d”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
To modify Rabbi Freeman’s commentary slightly, everything we encounter is for the good, and eventually good will be demonstrated by the church. We must be patient and help as we can. Also, everything in church is truly good because nothing else exists in our world but God who is Good (Mark 10:18). It’s just a matter of us holding on a little longer where we are, not allowing our limited vision of how we see Christianity to limit God’s work in the church.
Eventually, the good of God and of the body of Christ in our world will become obvious to us as the time for the return of our Master draws near.