I’m not going to lie. It was difficult for me to transition from the church to the synagogue. While my father worked out his theology concerning the Torah, it struck me that perhaps the Christian church was wrong. To be honest, I felt a little lied to. I felt like the church was wrong, and had been feeding me a string of lies my entire life. I felt like they were leading people astray, and it made me mad! By the time I left for Israel in 1999 (I was eighteen), I wanted nothing to do with the church. I had gone to the other end of the spectrum, wearing mostly black and white, growing out peyot, and desperately longing to study Torah at a hasidic yeshiva (at that time I was unaware of how off base the hasidic faith is). Needless to say, the church had left a bad taste in my mouth, and I openly and abrasively stood in opposition to it.
“I don’t hold to ‘Christian’ doctrine, I’m a ‘Messianic’!”
If you know any of the names I’m about to mention, then you’ll realize that Caleb Hegg and I, along with his father Tim Hegg, don’t have a lot in common theologically, at least on certain specific matters. However, when I saw a mutual friend had posted this to Facebook, I decided to give it a read. I must admit, Caleb says some interesting things (Note that I’ve copied the text from Hegg’s blog “as is,” so any spelling, capitalization, or other errors are his…just sayin’).
I suppose I should mention that once upon a time, I met Tim Hegg. In fact, I met him more than once when he was still associated with First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). Some years ago, when I was still with my former Hebrew Roots congregation, a number of us visited his group in Tacoma, Washington, and I even spent Erev Shabbat in the Hegg home. As I recall, I was treated very well and the Hegg family was gracious and charming.
So there’s nothing personal in any disagreement or differences of opinion that are between the Heggs and me, it’s just that we’ve taken different paths.
But speaking of path’s, Caleb’s description of his path in the above-quoted paragraph seemed so familiar to me. Not that I exactly felt like he did, but I can’t think of hardly anyone I met when I was involved in Hebrew Roots that didn’t have those same feelings of being betrayed by the Church and becoming somewhat to excessively enamored with all things Jewish.
I think it’s a developmental stage most non-Jews go through when they become involved in either the Hebrew Roots (including One Law/One Torah and Two-House) or the Messianic Jewish movements. They/we become convinced that the Bible has been at least somewhat erroneously interpreted by the Gentile Church, starting with the early Church fathers, as an attempt to separate from their Jewish teachers and mentors, and we come to believe that only a “Judaic” or “Hebraic” interpretation yields the true message of the Bible.
That’s not entirely a wrong idea, but as Hegg points out, what is wrong is any effort on our part to “demonize” Christians and Christianity, portraying them as bad, wrong, apostate, “Babylon,” and anti-Bible (or at least anti-Torah).
Has the Messianic faith come to an enlightened understanding of theology that the Christian church has missed for two thousand years? To be blunt, absolutely not! Is it true that those who uphold the Torah in the life of all believers are reading the Scriptures as they are written, and that those pushing against Torah are holding to church doctrine that goes back to the second century? Yes. But what I see happening is Messianics believing that since “the church” is wrong on SOME laws of Torah, they must be wrong on everything else too. I say SOME laws of Torah, because quite often we as Messianics tend to forget that our Christian brothers and sisters keep a whole lot of Torah, even if they don’t like calling it that. While kosher laws, festivals and the Sabbath are a important part of the Torah, other things such as loving your neighbor as yourself, taking care of widows and orphans, not gossiping and other such torah commands are practiced every day by Christians.
I think Hegg is including any congregation to which he is affiliated and his personal theological identification as “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” and it gets kind of “messy,” actually.
I tend to separate Hebrew Roots from Messianic Judaism since, in my opinion, they actually describe two different group identities. I realize that many/most/all Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism,” but while the “Messianic” part is more or less correct, I can’t say that they are a “Judaism” if for no other reason than few if any actual Jewish people are involved. Beyond that, although the ritual practices resemble a “Judaism,” the underlying collective history and group identity does not.
A little over three months ago, I wrote a two-part blog post called Acting Jewishly but not Jewish (the link goes to part one) based on a paper by Mark D. Nanos called ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus’ (free PDF download) which drew a bit of attention centered around Judaism and Jewish identity in the Messianic realm. It becomes somewhat ambiguous as to who or what one encounters when you enter a prayer service and the majority of people davening with siddurim, wearing kippot and tallitot (the men, anyway) are not Jewish. Is that a “Judaism” or Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah acting “Jewishly”?
I’m not writing all this to start another online argument. Frankly, I’d like to avoid it. I know how they go and they never end well. But I do want to point out something I think Hegg was saying. We non-Jews in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism sometimes lose our focus. In this sense, I think traditional Christians may have the upper hand. They know who the center of their faith is and that center is not a “movement”. It’s not putting on a kippah before prayer, and it’s not saying prayers in Hebrew, and it’s not even wearing tzitzit. It’s Jesus, that is Yeshua HaMashiach.
In that, Hegg sounded more like a Christian than a Hebrew Roots follower and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although he also admitted that at one point in his history, he even denied being a Christian, though he didn’t mean to deny his faith in Christ.
We are used to defining ourselves in terms of being different or distinct from other people and groups and unfortunately, we can easily slide into an “us vs. them” mindset. It’s one of the reasons I was hesitant to even write this blog post, because even if Caleb Hegg or his father don’t take offense (and I hope they don’t because none is intended), probably someone who follows their teachings will.
The one thing that Hegg’s pro-Church commentary reminded me of was the tone expressed in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile.
Now I know I just offended one-hundred percent of my regular readers by making that comparison, and probably “ticked off” almost everyone else involved in any part of Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism. However, hear me out.
Boaz also made a very pro-Church statement in his book and focused at different points on the commonalities between the traditional Christian and the “Messianic Gentile”. He even mentioned, as did Hegg, that Christians observe many of the Torah mitzvot, even though they don’t call it “Torah”. Much righteous and holy behavior can be learned in Church.
Granted, there still are distinctions of course, and I don’t doubt that there are differences between how Caleb Hegg sees himself and how he sees most mainstream Christians. That isn’t a bad thing, but if the differences are all we see, then we don’t allow ourselves any common ground with our Christian brothers and sisters.
For two years, I participated in a self-assigned “project” or “experiment” in attending a local Baptist church. I hadn’t regularly attended a church in years and frankly, the prospect was intimidating.
But I learned a great many things, was befriended by the head Pastor, and met a number of very devout, kind, knowledgable, and generous people. If things had worked out differently, I’d probably still be going there. Unfortunately, the dynamic tension between the Pastor’s views and mine came to a head and I had to make a hard decision about whether I was an asset or a nuisance, and sadly it turned out to be the latter.
I can’t pretend there aren’t differences, important ones, that separate me from the viewpoint of most Christians, but that shouldn’t lead to enmity of any kind. There are differences within the Messianic Jewish movement and I don’t agree with everything all of the sub-groups believe or teach. The same goes for the different branches of mainstream Judaism. None of that means I experience any hostility toward them. We don’t have to personalize disagreements and turn them into conflicts.
Hegg’s blog post focused on differences between how some Messianic (or Hebrew Roots) groups see the Divinity of Messiah vs. more traditional Christian doctrine, but I’m not going to speak to that. If you want a Messianic Jewish opinion on the subject, it can be found on Derek Leman’s blog, and it’s possible that Hegg and Leman have more in common, at least on that particular topic, than either of them realize.
That’s the point of reading each other’s stuff. Yeah, we disagree and if we want to, we can get into some sort of spitting contest over it. On the other hand, we all have experiences in common, we’re all human beings, we are all disciples of the Master, and we are all children of God. Let’s start with that.
15 thoughts on “Christians, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Gentiles: Commentary on Caleb Hegg’s Blog”
RE: “I can’t pretend there aren’t differences, important ones, that separate me from the viewpoint of most Christians…”
I think you handled Caleb’s comments and thoughts with a lot of class James. Back in 1993 when I started attending a local Messianic Congregation which had a very influential leader synthetic time, I saw the transition of many people go from non-Jewish Christian, to finger pointing, Church judging “Jewish” zealots. It seems to be a phase most go through. Some even going so far as to start wearing payos, black Borsalino fedoras, and beards that would give the Duck Dynasty men a run for thirty money. Over time some mellowed out, and others moved on to more fringe groups after no one could tolerate them, anymore. Or they were called on thier bluff by actual Orthodox counter missionaries. I get increasingly frustrated with Church, but it’s with the Pastor (who frankly is just teaching what he was taught) not the Church as an institution. My wife is now very interested in my own Jewishness, so we are going to try a simple against dinner on Friday and I’m going to walk my family through what I used to do and hopefully they get excited about it. Nice article my friend.
I’ve worked through Hayesod with several Christians, and they all had that same feeling of being lied to (except one gentleman who thought the teaching was blasphemous and left). I never felt that way, probably because I was involved or witnessed a lot of nonsense within the church – several churches.
I was raised a Catholic and when I grew in faith I realized the errors they were teaching. But it was in a Catholic church that I came to accept Jesus as my Savior.
I then became part of the Episcopal church and was discipled by the priest and his wife. But a church fight erupted and they were forced out. Eventually I moved on to two different non- denominational churches, the last believing in replacement theology (though they had no clue there was a term for it.)
When I discovered Messianic Judaism, I was thrilled. However, here too, we have differences. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own 42 year roller coaster faith walk is that we are all fallible human beings. One day, Messiah will come and clear up all the confusion. Until then, we should offer the same grace that was extended to us while we were yet sinners.
Ain’t none of us got it right. 🙂
Great post, James. Good applicable truth.
James, my brother in Messiah! May I recommend someone I’ve just been introduced to that you may or may not know. His name is Joe Armaral. Just go to his sight and let me know what you think.
A fellow disciple and follower of our Lord Yeshua! Barbara Hanner
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Hey, Jim. I truly appreciate your grace and kindness. As you know, we host a Messianic home fellowship. About a year and a half ago, we went through a split. One member of our group followed the “One Law” teaching perhaps to an extreme. He claimed that “All Jews are going to Hell” because they reject Jesus.” On the other hand, we had another gent who claimed, “All the church is going to Hell because they follow a false Gentile Jesus!” It just reminds me of the old saying, “Everyone is going to Hell except for me and thee and there are times when I wonder about thee.” Blessings on you and your family, brother!
My dear Cliff — Some 50 or so years ago I read of an old saying (late 1700s) by a Welsh writer named Robert Owen that presumably is the origin of the one you cited. It read: “All the world old is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.” Now at the time I read of it, and certainly back in the 18th century, the term “queer” meant nothing more or less than “strange” or “odd”. This was not, in and of itself, considered sufficient reason to be sent to Hell [:)], though it was not uncommon in that era for non-conformists to be persecuted or even killed [:(].
@Tony and Ro: Sometimes I think we (the generic “we”) misunderstand “Christianity” and “Judaism” and mix institutions, theologies, and practices up for an encounter with God. Unhappy Christians see something in Judaism they think is lacking in their own religious framework, but often I think what is lacking is the individual’s spiritual connection to Hashem. If we first seek God sincerely and with all our resources, the rest will follow.
@Cliff and PL: At least between Christianity, Judaism, and the various flavors of Hebrew Roots, our “religious wars” don’t actually kill people anymore, but some folks seek to do the same job by consigning their detractors to Hell. I suspect God is more forgiving than most or all human beings are.
My blog had nothing to do with “pro-church commentary.” I was simply saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t believe I sound like Michael since I am in no way telling gentiles to go back to the church, but believe that we should all keep Torah. Something I believe Michael would never say.
Didn’t mean to touch a nerve, Caleb. Then again, as much as I tried not to offend anyone including you, I did say in the body of my blog post that making the comparison I did was likely to ruffle a few feathers.
Touch a nerve? You didn’t touch a nerve. I was simply pointing out an error in what you said. I’m not offended, nor is one of my nerves touched. I was simply pointing out the fact that Boaz Michael preaches gentiles going back to the church, and therefore paints the church in a light that will make it look appealing to said gentiles. I, on the other hand, am saying nothing of the sort. I am simply making the point that when we look at “The Church” (I’m using very wide paint strokes here) and all its faults, we should not throw out foundational theologies such as the dual nature of Yeshua, that is clearly spelled out in the Scriptures. While the church as a whole is wrong on the Torah, there are, in fact, evangelical Christians who are correct on their soteriology.
OK, Caleb. It’s difficult to determine the “tone” in a person’s “voice” in a text-only communications environment. I was actually trying to complement you in my write up because you seemed willing to not throw “the Church” or Christianity under a bus. I was also impressed with this:
I study within my current theological framework because it’s the one that makes the most sense to me in terms of presenting the Bible as a single, unified document rather than something carved into two or more pieces, but I’m under no illusion that I or any other individual, religious group, or movement has it all dialed in. As you yourself said, a lot of Christians do a lot of “Torah,” they just don’t call it such.
As for my comparison of you and Boaz in his TOD book, I meant it in a limited sense, not that you two agreed on everything. I saw you as both combatting the misconception within both the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots movements that “the Church” is bad, wrong, “Babylon,” and so on. I am all too aware of the divergent trajectories described by MJ and HR, so please don’t feel I’ve attempted to misrepresent you and Torah Resource.
@James & Caleb — I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue this question, but I did wonder exactly whom was the object of the reference to “the Messianic faith” in the above quote. Some would say that virtually all Christians have “messianic faith”. (I say “virtually” because Christianity has so many varieties that hold very widely ranging views, some of which could well be challenged regarding any perception of Rav Yeshua upon which faith could be focused.) Others might narrow the field to whatever they perceive to be the boundaries of something called “Messianic Judaism”. However, as has been discussed before in this blog and related ones, there exist many who are not Jews who use or misuse the term or who drop the Judaism aspect of it that was the origin of the term and the essence of its definition. Some of these would actually exclude genuinely Jewish messianists from their definition. Hence it would be difficult to address such an aggregate that cannot be said to be developing any common theology let alone come to a unified enlightened one that traditional Christianity has been missing. There is one element of enlightenment, nonetheless, which has been missing and which characterizes MJ and HR, which is that the Jewish messiah and his teachings can only be comprehended within his Jewish context. Hence for non-Jews to affiliate with this Jewish messiah they must maintain friendly relations with Jews and the knowledge embodied in traditional Judaism. This element in particular is one that was rather deliberately excluded from the entire post-Nicene Christian context, and (rumor has it) is somewhat lacking also in HR. Indeed, some segments that claim an MJ or generic “Messianic” label seem also to have missed aspects of this. Thus I could not identify clearly the intended object of the reference to “the Messianic faith”, nor its perceived boundaries. Perhaps Caleb would care to elaborate?
Thanks for your response James. It is always hard to feel out how someone “sounds” through print. Not to mention that I can sound quite abrasive at times.
I was quite flattered to see you write about me on your blog.
@Caleb: I guess there’s hope if we can “cross-connect” between our blogs and have civil and brotherly dialog.
@PL: “Messianic faith” was Caleb’s term so he’s the best one to define it. That said, my understanding is that it is being used to distinguish between the theology and doctrine of the mainstream Christian denominations and, from Caleb’s point of view, Hebrew Roots. As you know, I differentiate between MJ and HR and see them as separate movements with a certain amount of overlap. However, there’s as much diversity within each of those movements as there is in the Christian Church as a whole, so as you’ve suggested, there’s no one viewpoint being represented.