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 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.