sheep in the fold

The Lone Wolf and the Elders

Just listened to a little of David Rudolph’s sermon entitled “Why Zakenim??” About 13 minutes into it, he mentions that there are some One Law interlopers at Tikvat causing trouble. What kind of trouble?

They’re talking about One Law (which is sin enough apparently) but they’re also trying to get people to sign a petition to remove David Rudolph from office.

These One Law interlopers apparently feel that there is enough grass roots support for this to occur.

Interesting.

For the record, I had nothing to do with this…but naturally I support it. The ironic thing is this: the message is about Zekenim at Tikvat. But Rudolph recently caused virtually all of the elders to leave. They’re now meeting at Grove Ave. Baptist Church on Saturday mornings. Why Grove? I have no idea except that I think it’s odd OUT OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN RICHMOND they chose the one where my family visits.

-Peter Vest
from “One Law Revolt at Tikvat Israel”
Orthodox Messianic Judaism blogspot

I periodically engage Peter, both in the comments section of his blog and in this one, about topics of mutual interest. Most of the time, we disagree, which is fine, but occasionally, he comes up with an opinion to which I must respond with a more detailed message. His commentary regarding Rabbi David Rudolph and the Tikvat Israel Synagogue is one of them.

In his blog post and subsequent comments, Peter makes it seem as if Rabbi David is running a “one-man show” as sole leader of the synagogue, and that a significant minority among the members of the synagogue are circulating a petition to have him removed because he opposes what has been called a One Law theology, which this group apparently wants to see put in place as Tikvat Israel’s official theological position.

Except that when I actually listened to Rabbi David’s sermon Why Zakenim or “Why Elders,” I got a completely different impression.

The link I just posted leads to a podcast of the sermon. It’s about twenty-five minutes long, so if you’ve got that amount of time, you might want to listen to the entire presentation for context.

This sermon is part of what Rabbi David calls the “Messianic Jewish Discipleship 101” series, which seems a compelling subject in and of itself. In this sermon, Rabbi David presents his view in support of congregational elders with passages taken primarily (but not exclusively) from the Apostolic Scriptures or what most Christians call the New Testament.

I won’t break down each and every part of the sermon for you. Like I said, you can listen to it for yourself, but in brief, R’ David presents a definition of the role of congregational elders in three parts:

  1. Shepherds to guide the flock
  2. Shepherds to guard the flock
  3. Shepherds to judge matters related to the flock

I was on the board of elders for a small congregation for several years and I can attest that we were called upon to fulfill all of those roles. When I attended a local Baptist church, the head pastor and the board of elders also fulfilled these functions. In listening to R’ David’s sermon, I discovered that he is part of a three-person board and additionally has another person acting as a Rabbi-in-training, so R’ David isn’t acting as a “one-man show,” in spite of what Peter intimated on his blog as I quoted above.

the shepherdThe portion of the sermon relevant to Peter’s blog post has to do with elders as guards (and probably as guides). It seems there were two incidents that had recently occurred at Tikvat Israel. The first had to do with a single individual who was visiting the synagogue for Shabbat services and handing out religious materials, apparently in contradiction to the official position of the congregation. R’ David was away that day, and his Rabbi-in-training, also named David, saw what was going on and gently (according to the sermon) redirected this individual to the congregation’s bookstore and some materials more in keeping with Tikvat Israel’s theology and doctrine.

The second incident had to do with another visitor who had the chutzpah to pass around a petition among the members calling for Rabbi David’s removal from leadership, apparently because R’ David does not support a “One Law” theology, and this individual wanted to see the Rabbi replaced with someone who supported One Law.

It’s important to note here that R’ David in his sermon clearly differentiated between visitors and members in the synagogue. In both of these cases, it seems that lone visitors were coming in from the outside and “disturbing” (my word, not David’s) the members of the congregation, rather than a minority group among the members calling for Rabbi David to step down.

The sermon didn’t give any details as to the reaction of synagogue members to the petition in question, but R’ David did encourage the members to speak up when they encounter someone from the outside (or apparently inside) who is making statements or actions that are in opposition to the formal standards of the congregation. R’ David was careful to say that differences in opinion aren’t really the problem. The problem is with individuals who attempt to cause division and disunity in the congregation. This is part of the function of elders in the synagogue (or church), to guard the flock from “disturbing” theologies or doctrines coming in from the outside.

If you go to the Tikvat Israel website’s About page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see items labeled “What We Believe” and “Position Papers”, and R’ David encouraged the members listening to his sermon to redirect anyone promoting “strange doctrines” to those materials so they could become familiar with the standards upon which the congregation is based.

I had a similar experience at the small Baptist church I mentioned before, where I attended services for about two years. The Pastor and I became well acquainted and we spoke regularly about our different theological and doctrinal views. At one point, I took our differences a step too far and criticized one of his sermons on my blog. He didn’t take kindly to that, nor the fact that I had leant someone at his church my copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series (on audio CD) What About the New Covenant.

Although, I could have remained at the church, I would have had to censor myself both in congregation and on my blog and I made a decision not to do that. I ultimately chose to leave the congregation, not because I thought poorly of anyone (quite the opposite, there are many good and kind people in that church who are authentically serving God) but because their doctrine and mine were pretty far apart in a number of key areas. I wouldn’t be serving God by remaining as a disruptive influence, regardless of my motives.

Please notice that while I admit to lending teaching material that stands in opposition to local church doctrine to one of the church’s members, I didn’t start passing around a petition to get anyone removed or otherwise oppose the head pastor or any of the church elders in authority. That would have been at least improper and at worst insane (though not in the clinical sense).

In retrospect and particularly after listening to Rabbi David’s sermon, I can see how the church’s pastoral staff and board of elders were fulfilling their function in relation to me since I represented a doctrinal position that was in conflict with their official position. If they were willing to listen to my ideas and perspectives and volunteer to consume any resources I was able to provide, that’s one thing. But if I was deemed to be an element that might contribute to disunity and discord, then the elders had a responsibility to draw my attention to that behavior and expect some changes on my part.

Which is exactly what happened.

David Rudolph
Rabbi David Rudolph

The result was that I decided to leave church and seek other avenues for community or association. Given all that, those two individuals who entered Tikvat Israel for the purpose of introducing doctrines contrary to the synagogue’s official position should expect the elders to address this issue and said-individuals could either decide to stay without trying to “rock the boat” significantly, or they could decide to do what I did and leave the congregation.

The only difference is that I attended that church for two years and, from what I got out of R’ David’s sermon, the two individuals involved were not regular attenders and certainly not formal members.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to think exactly in the same way as the worship community you attend, but remember that the congregation has a group of elders who are responsible to guide and guard the sheep. Although I don’t see myself in such a light, I very well could have been perceived by some to be a “wolf in the fold”. If I find myself in a “fold” where I am incompatible with the rest of the “sheep,” it’s the job of the elders to inform me of that and it’s my job to decide how to respond as a person of good conscience and as a disciple of the Master.

I think the individuals cited in Rabbi David’s sermon needed to do the same.

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10 thoughts on “The Lone Wolf and the Elders”

  1. James,

    The divisions at Tikvat have nothing to do with One Law proponents. In 2005, one or more elders left along with half of the congregation. The former Rabbi Jamie Cowan references this event in his last sermon (which is probably available somewhere online or through Tikvat’s website). In 2014, 3 or more elders (over half) left Tikvat along with a number of congregants and, quite publicly, meet at Grove Ave. Baptist Church on Saturday mornings. The Grove leadership extends this hospitality based on its “Israel initiative”–to use one of the pastor’s expressions in a conversation we had.

    If you ask me, the problem there is not One Law but rather having the wrong structure in place.

    You see, the rabbis at Tikvat see themselves–in their capacity as the office-holder of “rabbi”–as the “voice of G-d” for the community. That latter expression was used by former rabbi Jamie Cowan to refer to himself as we were meeting in his office one day.

    Having elders is great…as long as you don’t ruin it by having a “lone wolf” rabbi who views himself as the “voice of G-d.” That’s not how the elder system was supposed to work. It’s not meant to be a dictatorship. The elder institution is part of a collective of institutions designed to act as a representative leadership with internal checks on power to ensure that power is distributed uniformly.

    Having the proper elder system in place unlocks the full power of the Ruach. G-d blesses governance systems that allow human leaders to be totally subject to the desires of the Ruach.

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and background with us.

    Shalom and Blessings,

    Peter

  2. Peter, at first blush, I was going to accuse you of lashon hara and I have to admit, I’m still a little undecided about your comment. After all, the internal workings of Tikvat Israel aren’t really any of your business or mine since neither of us attend that synagogue or otherwise are affiliated with them.

    Let me tell you a story.

    When I first became involved in Hebrew Roots/One Law many years ago, I was aware of only one congregation (surprisingly, there are any number of Hebrew Roots small groups, gatherings, and families in my little corner of Idaho). My family and I started attending and once I got used to it, I really enjoyed the service and the people involved.

    But while the “Rabbi” (he was neither Jewish nor educated as a Rabbi but he eventually became associated with a little-known organization that conferred the title upon him) was a really nice guy and very service oriented toward the community, he had some personality defects that resulted in him really needing to have control. He did have a board and long story short, things came to a head and there was a split. The original board left and he invited other members of the congregation, including me, to join.

    I was flattered at first but then realized that something was horribly wrong since I hadn’t been attending congregation for all that long and was still a new believer. Then as more questions came up, there was a split again, my family and I left, and the congregation nearly folded.

    It went through numerous iterations but survived and was lead by the “Rabbi” and his family exclusively. My family attended a very compelling Torah study for awhile but then it had “personality problems” too, based on some of the “needs” of the students, and eventually it disbanded.

    Then we started attending our local Reform/Conservative synagogue for awhile but for various reasons I don’t quite recall, that eventually stopped, at least for me and my sons. My wife and daughter maintained ties there but my wife eventually returned to the One Law group. Here’s why.

    The original “Rabbi” died in a tragic accident. His wife and children were devastated but she felt the need to keep the congregation going as her husband’s legacy. Later on she told me that she was running on “automatic pilot” after her husband’s death and other people in the congregation basically took over and remade it in their own image. My wife attended the congregation to support this woman but she had to leave again over “personality problems” with some of the more caustic and controlling members.

    A rather linguistically gifted friend of mine and I were encouraged to return to help out, and once the original “Rabbi’s” wife recovered enough from her grief, she realized the congregation had morphed into something pretty unreasonable. My friend and I were successfully nominated to the board after a period of time and slowly, slowly, we got the congregation back in shape in what we thought at the time was a solid theological and doctrinal platform. The trouble makers dropped out one by one, and we attracted and retained people who were interested in worshiping God within a Hebrew Roots context, not people who wanted control and who had a theological ax to grind.

    I was absolutely insistent that there not be any one person who had total or even the majority of power or control over the congregation (it was really little more than a fellowship and never got to be particularly big). I believe in the distributed authority model of leadership. That way, if one person (Heaven forbid) dies or just goes crazy, the rest of the board can keep the congregation intact. Since we all had talents in a wide variety of areas, this model worked out pretty well.

    We did have to exercise our “guard” function periodically since, as Rabbi David says in his sermon, Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots really does attract a lot of “unusual” people from time to time including predators of various kinds.

    There’s more to the story but my point is that congregations are like living organisms. They change and grow and make mistakes and recover. Some close up shop and some expand and thrive. I think it’s unreasonable to expect Tikvat Israel or any other group to not go through changes.

    I’ve never met David Rudolph but have exchanged emails with him. I’ve also contributed a bunch of content to his website MessianicGentiles.com. My experiences with him have all been positive so from my perspective, I have no reason to believe he is not a good person. Of course, all of us are not exactly perfect, including me and thee, so I don’t doubt that David is as human as the rest of us.

    I don’t want to go back and forth with you about the history of Tikvat Israel or your opinion of David Rudolph. I don’t really know him and I’ve never been to his synagogue. I have no basis to discuss the workings of that congregation or the people in it, and it’s really none of my business anyway.

    I know suggesting that you just let go of the past and move on probably won’t do any good, but I think you’d experience more peace of mind if you did just that.

    I built the current website for the little Baptist church I used to attend. I left on reasonably good terms but I don’t visit the site and I especially don’t listen to the Pastor’s recorded sermons. I know I’d just disagree with him and I know if I listened to his sermons, I’d be very tempted to comment about them on my blog. Since “shooting my big mouth off” online is what caused problems in the first place (as I said in the body of this blog post), I’m choosing to avoid temptation and move on myself.

    You might feel better about things if you did the same.

    Peace.

  3. James,

    As a Southern Baptist for over 40 years & as one who takes no exception to FFOZ materials, I am really curious what issues your former pastor would have with Lancaster’s series on the new covenant.

    Excellent blog, by the way.

  4. Thanks, Jim.

    Pastor had a very traditional fundamentalist view of scripture. I remember we spent some time studying Lancaster’s Galatians book together and the study finally crashed and burned because Pastor disagreed with pretty much every point Lancaster had to make. Boaz Michael had graciously mailed the Galatians book along with one of the Torah Club series to him and Pastor had a very difficult time with the material. I purchased a copy of Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism because I considered it quite good and very informative, and sadly, Pastor disagreed with most of that content as well.

    Pastor lived in Israel for fifteen years and loves the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but he doesn’t consider religious Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, to be viable or valid. He doesn’t consider himself to be a replacement theologist, but does subscribe to progressive revelation and believes the Torah, which he equates to the Sinai Covenant, was temporary and gave way to the later revelation of Christ as Savior. This sermon was the beginning of the end along with my critical review of it which you previously read and commented on, along with the consequences.

  5. James,

    I’ve always hoped to return to Tikvat one day. I still think of it as home base even though I haven’t been for years. What I’d like for you to understand is that I love Tikvat–the people, the Judaism. I got along so well with the people there. There was only one problem: the leadership structure. When an issue arose and the leadership acted unfairly I had no recourse. It was an instance of “my way or the highway.” It came down to the opinion of one man–the rabbi.

    I need for you to understand: my wife had been going to that congregation since before she was a teenager. Can you imagine? She’s gone there longer than almost anyone! Don’t forget it was my home for years.

    Here’s something else: G-d called us there.

    And would you be surprised to believe that we have a photo taken a hundred years ago with family members who attended a congregation in that same building long before it was ever Tikvat?

    I feel connected to Tikvat in my soul. Yes, my family is in a sort of exile from Tikvat. But we haven’t forgotten Tikvat. Italians have a very long memory. We’ll return when all this Bilateral silliness comes to an end–in other words, when the leadership shifts to One Law.

    I’m prepared to wait a lifetime. To wait ten years for a rabbi to leave means nothing to me. That “rabbi in training” Rudolph mentioned? I know that guy. We were almost roommates back in the day. He’s a good guy. If the next Rabbi is him then we’ll probably return to Tikvat.

    And if the community at Tikvat decide to reject the rabbinic office altogether then that would be ideal. Either way, we’ll return one day.

    So for those reasons what happens at Tikvat is my business.

    But there’s another reason why it’s my business:

    We belong to the same Body.

    I don’t buy this idea that whatever happens in a congregation stays in a congregation. Congregations are not Las Vegas. : )

  6. Part of the issue for me is that I’ve already explained what I do and don’t know about the congregation, so it’s really none of my business and I’d be speaking out of turn to take it any further. However, I’d like to suggest a different approach, but you’ll have to wait to see what it is until tomorrow’s morning meditation.

  7. Well, I do attend Tikvat Israel and I can personally attest to you that it’s a great place to worship and Rabbi David Rudolph is a great rabbi. The guy is incredibly nice, like a “Mr. Rogers” level of nice to people, and by not means “authoritarian” since it usually me having to ask him if something is halakhically or doctrinally okay (and it usually is). And since he’s settled in, there’s a new sense of peace there now. Lately I’ve been out of the loop (thankfully!) in most of the politics there, but from what I can gather, the place was getting crowded and different people with different priorities were led by Hashem to go different directions and do different things for God’s Kingdom. There isn’t really any right/wrong side about it. People come and go and currently there’s been an slow-but-steady influx into Tikvat of wonderful, godly people. There’s growth there–not just in numbers or finances or programs–but in wisdom and closeness to Hashem. The place is bearing good fruit, and so is Rabbi David.

  8. James,
    I also attend Tikvat and was there three years prior to Jamie Cowan leaving. No question, it’s a complicated issue, but I have found that Rabbi David and the current elders are faithful men of excellent character. It’s difficult to understand others motivations for their involvement.

  9. Greetings Louis and Susan. Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog and share your perspectives.

    In the comments section of today’s morning meditation, Peter shared some of his past experience at Tikvat Israel.

    I want to be clear that it is not my intention to create a situation where I’m pitting one person’s word against another’s or otherwise sowing dissension. I only know that one person says he had an unpleasant set of circumstances related to Rabbi Cowan and Rabbi Rudolph. Whatever happened, I’m hoping that it can be put in the past because I can’t see any other resolution (not that I’m in a position to resolve anything).

    While I’ve never met Rabbi David, our email conversations have always been pleasant and he strikes me as a competent and caring person. I hope that whatever “complicated situation” has occurred at Tikvat Israel, that the Spirit of God will be among the congregation at your synagogue and with the Rabbis and elders and bring the body of Messiah together in peace.

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