Paul writing

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Initiation

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

On the subject of Baptism and Instructions regarding Immersions in Hebrews 6, we look at the evidence from early Christian documents. Find out how the second-century Christians welcomed new converts into the body of Messiah. This teaching contains quotations from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, from the Didache, and from the Apostolic Constitutions. The quotations are available in the PDF document below titled “Initiation Texts.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-three: Laying on of Hands
Originally presented on July 7, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This is one of the shorter sermons in the series (barely thirty minutes long) as well as a short chapter in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles. In this sermon, Lancaster proposes to show how the basic foundational principles he has covered in previous sermons, particularly as mapped to the Didache, were carried forward in time to the second and even the third century CE, using classic Christian documents.

To review these first four principles covered so far:

  1. Repentance from dead works (sin)
  2. Faith toward God (through Messiah)
  3. Instruction about washings (elemental instructions of the faith prior to immersion in the name of Messiah)
  4. Laying on of hands (to confer discipleship and possibly the Holy Spirit)

Lancaster outlines the challenge in what he’s trying to do, since the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews felt the six principles were so basic that he didn’t bother to write them down. Neither did any of the other New Testament writers. Lancaster states that he believes Paul taught these principles orally, and that by the time the Hebrews writer was composing his letter, it was just assumed everyone knew all about this “milk”.

But we know nothing about them today since they weren’t written down in much detail, if at all.

Lancaster turns to three Christian documents to prove his point that these elemental principles were indeed carried forward in time with Christianity:

  1. Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”
  2. The Didache
  3. The Apostolic Constitutions

first apologyI’ve posted the link above to the relevant document, but here it is again. Click the link to open the PDF and you’ll find the list of documents and specific quotes Lancaster uses.

He uses these quotes to map back to the specific phrases in Hebrews 6:1-3 that list the six elementary principles.

Justin Martyr was writing around 150 CE and Lancaster paints a brief portrait of Martyr’s environment. The Bar Kochba rebellion ended in failure. Jerusalem has been destroyed, Herod’s Temple razed, and a pagan temple built on its ruins. The Jewish people have been exiled and in the midst of all that, the new religion Gentile Christianity and the original Jewish Messianic movement of “the Way” have just gone through a nasty divorce.

Martyr wrote his document, which we call “The First Apology” to the Roman Emperor as an appeal that the Empire stop persecuting Christians.

It’s Lancaster’s contention that these later Christian documents, especially the Didache, were based on much earlier writings and oral traditions going back to the second and even the first century, and perhaps even reflecting the teachings of the apostles.

Lancaster’s handout is organized as follows:

  1. Instructions before Immersion (Apostolic Constitutions 7.39.2-4)
  2. Preparing for Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61)
  3. Fasting Before Immersion (Didache 7:1-4)
  4. The Immersion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61, Didache 7:1-3)
  5. The Investiture (Laying on of Hands) (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)
  6. Prayer for the New Disciple (Apostolic Constitutions 8.6.5-8)
  7. Breaking the Fast (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65)

I won’t go into all of the details. You can read the PDF and listen to Lancaster’s sermon (only half an hour) for the details, but there are some questions.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster has a talent for pulling together information and documents from (sometimes) widely disparate sources and then attempts to make them work together. To the degree that he’s comparing ancient Christian documents, I can see where he’s going, but Lancaster admits that these are documents originating in different time periods, so care should be taken in making very close comparisons.

messianic judaism for the nationsAlso, he states that the “nasty divorce” between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentile Christians had already occurred, and except for arguably the Didache, the other two documents Lancaster is using are from the Gentile side of the equation. Why is that important? Because Lancaster’s purpose in this investigation is to uncover the practices of ancient Messianic Judaism so we can practice this way, too.

But a lot of what he introduces isn’t from, strictly speaking, Jewish sources. These are interpretations made by Christian Gentiles who, after the aforementioned “nasty divorce,” have no reason to spread any sort of love for their Jesus-believing Jewish counterparts.

In fact, quoting Paul Meier from his recent Messiah Journal article which I reviewed:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-Meier, pg 81

I’m not saying Lancaster is wrong, and he’s certainly more studied and better educated in these matters than I am, but I don’t want to get too excited about drawing firm conclusions from a little bit of documentation and a lot of supposition.

That said, I don’t know if it would hurt to add some or a lot of this structure to modern Christian practice. Think about it. As you follow the train of Lancaster’s logic and observe the linear fashion by which an ancient novice disciple of the Master is initiated, educated, and baptized into the faith, becoming a Christian in the first and second centuries was a much more formal affair than it is in Evangelical Christianity today.

The initiate had to give a great deal of serious consideration to their decision to become a disciple, study quite a bit, deeply repent of their sins, dedicate themselves to a life-long pattern of righteousness, and be willing to take a solemn vow before God prior to baptism.

Can you say that all or even most professing Christians today take their faith that seriously and were that prepared even before baptism? How many Christians today came to faith simply by raising their hand at a Christian camp meeting or answering an altar call at church? Even after years or even decades, many Christians still may just be “going with the flow” and have never come to the realization of what they’ve committed to.

This is where I see Lancaster making his point very strongly. Today, we don’t even know much about what the writer of the Book of Hebrews took for granted to be the “milk”, the “baby food”, the six elemental principles of the faith. They were so basic and so well-known, that they were never documented, at least not in any text we have with us today.

Orthodox JewsLancaster’s point, as I understand it, is that we should return to the formal seriousness and dedicated preparedness of inducting novices into true discipleship, taking time to make sure that the person is ready to enter this tremendously august relationship, and only after all that, actually proceed forward, pressing “on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

Lancaster is quite serious about rediscovering the ancient teachings and practices of Messianic Judaism as it existed in the first century and into the second, and that desire has merit, but is it do-able? All of the other ancient streams of Judaism from that era either were extinguished or progressed forward, morphing and evolving across the long centuries. What was Pharisaic Judaism in the days of Jesus and Paul is now called “Rabbinic Judaism,” although there are indeed multiple Judaisms in our day and age.

I guess I could say that Orthodox Judaism (although there is no single expression of Orthodox Judaism in modern times) is the most direct inheritor of ancient Pharisaic Judaism, but you many not be able to directly compare the two. So much has happened, the definition of practicing Judaism in Orthodox thought is quite different from how the Pharisees saw themselves.

Should we contrast modern Messianic Judaism with the ancient Jewish practice of “the Way” in the same manner? If “the Way” was most closely compared to the Pharisees in the first century, what does that say about the relationship between modern Orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism or what should it say?

I don’t know that Lancaster has set a completely achievable goal for himself and particularly for his (mostly Gentile) congregation. If he’s been lobbying for a mikvah to be built for the past several years but support hasn’t been overwhelming among his constituency, is that indicative of how difficult it is for we modern Gentiles coming out of our church experiences to fully embrace a strongly observant Jewish lifestyle?

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but even most of the Messianic Gentiles in Messianic Judaism may not be ready to take on board the full yoke of Torah, either as it was expressed in the days of Paul, or as we understand it in Orthodox Judaism today, assuming that is the model to be followed.

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8 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Initiation”

  1. *Lancaster’s point, as I understand it, is that we should return to the formal seriousness and dedicated preparedness of inducting novices into true discipleship, taking time to make sure that the person is ready to enter this tremendously august relationship, and only after all that, actually proceed forward, pressing “on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

    Lancaster is quite serious about rediscovering the ancient teachings and practices of Messianic Judaism as it existed in the first century and into the second, and that desire has merit, but is it do-able? All of the other ancient streams of Judaism from that era either were extinguished or progressed forward, morphing and evolving across the long centuries.*

    Interesting coming back and reading this again (as it was interesting the first time as well) after the discussion under your previous post. I’m reading a book I wouldn’t have been attracted to, am only reading because someone in my life has been influenced by it and I want to know what’s in there. The authors of this book also want to get back to first century… well, what they’re talking about or aiming at most is worship. But I have the same sense; that they can want to and they can think they know. But really? And then, in their case, given a lot of the things they put in this book that are ridiculous, the answer apparent to me would be not at all. And in the process, I don’t know what kind of damage they do or have done with the book even while a tidbit of interesting history is here and another there within the writing (but I have to not take anything too seriously because I’m not finding them credible in a reliable sense). The book is PAGAN CHRISTIANITY/EXPLORING THE ROOTS OF OUR CHURCH PRACTICES. I have been interested in the general topic in the past [like from say thirty years ago on for some time until I realized the more important aspect of what happened was a tragic break in community, and displacement theology]. At that time, I was interested in reading some material that I would think of as more… hmm… I can’t think of how to describe the things I did read right now. At least, I’d say, less biased… but more than that. I don’t like this book.

    Interestingly, in comparison, the thrust of what these authors say is pretty much opposite of Lancaster’s interest in “formal” seriousness. I, personally, am not attached to formal or informal but honesty and truth.

    But I happen to have come across portions talking about volunteering. My curiosity was piqued a bit at this coming up in two unrelated places I was reading at the same time (in the book slightly after our talking about it in earlier comments): *For Moody, “the church was a voluntary association of the saved.” So staggering was his influence that by 1874 the church was not seen as a grand corporate body but as a gathering of individuals. This emphasis was picked up by every revivalist who followed him. And it eventually entered into the marrow and bones of evangelical Christianity.*

    It goes on to talk about Moody and “pretribulational dispensationalism” and then the founding of the Student Volunteer Movement by John Mott in 1888 and the start of the “in one generation” obsession. This is part of a survey of protestant changes to worship and viewpoint, and it proceeds (as I’m skipping a bunch) to *In the end, then, the Reformers reformed the Catholic liturgy only slightly. Their main contribution was in changing the central focus. In the words of one scholar, “Catholicism increasingly followed the path of the [pagan] cults in making a rite the center of its activities, and Protestantism followed the path of the synagogue in placing the book at the center of its services.”*
    [The authors see this as a bad thing.]

    One thing I DO like is the indication of a hankering for more of a sense of community among believers. Still, I don’t know what to make of this tied in with presenting the fact that individuals decide what to believe.

    AND these authors seem to be against leadership, sooo… (???)

    But what I am most troubled by is a near-constant disdain for Judaism (including claims that Jesus made many negative statements about the Temple and that first-century believers rejected the Temple, etc.). And the following is what led into the survey of what needed to be corrected by the Reformation but wasn’t: *The meetings of the early church were…..not patterned after the Jewish synagogue services as some recent authors have suggested. ….
    So…the Protestant order of worship….has its basic roots in the medieval Catholic Mass. Significantly, the Mass did not originate with the New testament; it grew out of ancient Judaism and paganism. ….
    Gregory the Great (540-604)…the man responsible for shaping the medieval Mass…is recognized as an extremely generous man and an able administrator and diplomat…was also an incredibly superstitious man whose thinking was influenced by magical paganistic concepts. He embodied the medieval mind, which was influenced by heathenism, magic, and Christianity.* Somehow, that goes together for these authors with *The medieval Mass reflected the mind of its originator. It was a blending of pagan and Judaistic ritual sprinkled with Catholic theology and Christian vocablulary.*
    [The authors also call this person the first Pope, but I think it’s pretty clear Constantine was first in that capacity. And he had accomplices, in a sense, leading to and helping establish his reign. Justin Martyr, at about 150, ehhh, what I’ve read about him is concerning. Another Messianic teacher has said he wasn’t quite a replacement theologian, but the example given of some of his writing made me uneasy.]

    My perspective is like yours, including my having less to (I’m sorry to say) almost no identification with the authors of this other book and more identification with Lancaster: “I’m not saying Lancaster is wrong… but I don’t want to get too excited about drawing firm conclusions from a little bit of documentation and a lot of supposition.”

  2. Many years ago I purchased the book, “The Two Babylons” by Hislop. Yes, IMO, gentile Christianity is Babylon renamed. But wait, IMO, mystical Kabbalah has a mixing, too, magic. Let us get back to the ancient path ways. Let us return to Torah But how? I think that is Elijah’s purpose. Does this mean we should not try? No, let us seek Him with our whole heart, mind, and soul…Shema. Blessings, Marleen and James, surely this is HaShem drawing us to the same path. Surely these are the days of restoration.

  3. To say that the Church, that is all Christians everywhere and all Christians who have lived and died over the past nearly two-thousand years is all “Babylon” is to condemn every single Gentile believer…all of them, to the role of being totally evil and corrupt, and I can’t accept that. I know many good Christians who are doing God’s work, feeding the hungry, clothing the unclothed, and many other things, all in the name of the Messiah and for the greater glory of God. Sure, you could say that there are also “bad” people in the Church too, but there’s no organization that is made up of people that’s perfect.

    People focus on Kabbalah or some other form of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah isn’t the only kind) and forget that Christianity also has a rich mystic tradition. Also, mysticism isn’t simply defined as magic or the occult. Granted, I don’t think it’s necessary to be involved in mystic pursuits, but a careful investigation of mystic traditions reveals some surprising insights. For instance, just about the only way to even approach understanding the divinity of Yeshua is through understanding mystic thought.

    First Fruits of Zion published (re-published) a book by a late 19th/early 20th century Messianic Jew named Paul Philip Levertoff called Love and the Messianic Age, which I found to be quite an eye opener. It comes with a companion commentary which helps a great deal. Levertoff was raised and educated in the 19th century Chasidic Jewish tradition which included certain aspects of mysticism. For the longest time, I avoided anything mystic but the Levertoff book helps speak of Messiah in a way that isn’t possible to comprehend through any other viewpoint or tradition. I guess I’ll have people criticize me for saying so, but often as believers, we tend to form opinions on certain things without thoroughly investigating them first.

    Something to ponder, anyway.

  4. Do not misunderstand and think I am attacking the people. No, it is the carefully camouflaged teachings that mascuerade as G-d’s truth. Satan knows how to counterfeit the truth. Not all Catholicism is bad, nor Kabbalist. ( I have my doubts about Madonna.) We were warned of the false teachers that would ‘worm’ their way to subvert the Truth. Do you not think that happened before Yeshua as well? Read Ezekiel 8, even then, among the priesthood there was departure from G-d’s Torah.

  5. No worries, Cynthia. I’m hardly saying that we should all embrace mysticism, and the school of Kabbalah that Madonna attends is “fluff” for the celebrity set. One does not study Kabbalah without decades of training in Torah and Talmud.

    The whole goal of studying is to know God and to know His will for us. I agree that God chose us to partner with Him in the repair of the world and to herald the return of Messiah.

  6. I’m not sure what you’re meaning, Ms. Dunaway. I don’t think you mean lying, or great delusion (or being poorly read on a topic while writing a book on it) is the kind of trying that will improve things. Right? Nor do I think some of the habits and attitudes displayed are benign, helpful either. Then, the thought to just plow ahead with any kind of trying (without correcting course or being somewhat cautious) even with high hopes isn’t something I can do. I can go on and finish reading this book. In fact, I’m getting a better understanding of what the authors are aiming for, and there is some merit to be pulled out of it (but not because they have presented it well or don’t have a set of pet issues they themselves need to put behind). I’m not saying I know they wouldn’t care or listen if addressed with such matters (I don’t know the authors), but something so “out” in the public eye is fair and necessary for such critique. I do agree with you (I think, if I’m gleaning your sentiment right) though, that both of these examples (the book I’m evaluating and the pursuit James here wrote on) show the desire a lot of people have to be more successful as light from the Ancient of Days.

  7. That was a response to Cynthia’s first post. I hadn’t seen her second and James’ after it (and still haven’t gone through them).

  8. A bit of follow-up for clarity: There is a difference between making negative statements against the Temple as a concept and against the “Old Testament” — such systemic invective, versus statements calling out the corruption of the people running the situation at a particular point in history. It is certainly the case there was corruption. In the n[ewer] t[estimonies], we see this for sure. But we don’t see what the book I mentioned had indicated.

    On the other note or original topic, I should add that when saying Justin Martyr (at 150ish CE) wrote in a way that concerns me, I, yet, DO see why “[a]nother Messianic teacher has said he wasn’t quite a replacement theologian.” What came later in other writers was often (and increasingly with huge consequence) of a different nature, even disingenuous (that or so out-of-touch with reality and into theory as to seem so)… or worse. Definitely ruinous.

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