I didn’t think I’d be writing another blog post about Passover this year. After all, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve addressed that theme, particularly relative to being intermarried and being a “Messianic Gentile.” But I had a dream last night that made me look at it from a different direction. Actually, I’ve had this idea running around in my brain for a while now but chose not to express it before.
No, I don’t think my dream was a “prophetic dream” or any such thing. It was probably just my mind processing information.
In my dream, I saw a blog post written by someone whose name many of my readers would recognize (which is why I’m not going to use it) who was criticizing me for being “stuck” in my spiritual development. This person said he wanted to like me but that I needed to move on.
It’s true that I’ve plateaued, but that’s not why I’m writing this.
I’m writing this to ask (and then answer) why there’s such a thing as Christianity in the first place?
To the vast majority of church-going Christians, the answer might seem obvious. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) tells his Jewish disciples to go make disciples of all the nations, that is the Goyim; the Gentiles.
Then in Acts 9, Rav Yeshua creates a vision for Paul (Saul or Rav Shaul if you prefer) specifically commissioning him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, a mission he would pursue diligently for the rest of his life.
I suppose we could even give a lot of the credit to Constantine for manufacturing the Roman Catholic Church and making them a dominant religious structure that continues to affect the entire Christian Church and all of its denominations to this day (the Reformation didn’t change as much as people think and in fact continued to support the many crimes the Church has committed against the Jewish people).
Almost four years ago, largely citing New Testament scholar Magnus Zetterholm, I wrote Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want A Divorce” describing the cultural and sociological dynamics that likely drove a really big wedge between the ancient Jewish and non-Jewish devotees of Rav Yeshua, effectively sending them on two divergent paths, Judaism and Christianity.
But while normative Jewish devotion to Yeshua waned in the subsequent decades and centuries until it was finally (but not permanently) extinguished, the Gentile Christian Church blossomed or, from some points of view, “grew like a weed.” However, Gentile Christianity, in order to form its own identity, had to totally reinterpret the Bible so that not only were Israel and the Jewish people minimized as the focus of God’s attention, but all of the covenant promises the Almighty made to Israel were “spiritually transferred” to the Christian Church.
However, for those few of us who are “Hebraically aware” Gentile believers, an honest reading of scripture reveals that God didn’t change His mind, lie to Israel about His ultimate intent, or go from plan A to plan B somewhere in the first part of the book of Acts.
Christianity as it has existed for nearly 2,000 years including its modern incarnations, is not the logical and natural expression of the Bible. It’s an invention that was required by the ancient Gentile believers in order to form their own identity and praxis completely separate from the Jewish origins of the faith.
So what? A lot of us know that. It’s old news.
Here’s the deal. It’s happening again today. Well, that’s not exactly true. Let’s say an echo of the original schism is happening again today.
I remain a big supporter of Messianic Jewish community, the active and lived experience of Messianic Jews within normative Judaism. While in Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox Jewish synagogues, you might find the occasional Gentile (a Jewish member’s spouse for instance or perhaps a non-Jew considering conversation), by and large, the people there are almost all Jews and even if a few goys are present, it’s still a wholly Jewish community. No one questions that for a second.
In a Messianic Jewish synagogue, you are likely to find the majority of members are not Jewish since modern Messianic Judaism has its origins in the Church. However over the last few decades, the movement has evolved such that Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua desire to not have to choose between Jewish identity and praxis and their devotion to their Rav.
That all makes sense. The Jews in Paul’s day who were devoted to Yeshua were pretty much indistinguishable from the Pharisees (that may come as a shock to some people). Paul himself was an observant Jew in the Pharisaic tradition as were Peter, John, Matthew, and all of the other Jewish disciples. Devotion to Rav Yeshua, even after the crucifixion and resurrection, and even after the Acts 15 decree which applied only to the Gentile believers, did not change that fact on any level.
So why should it be any different today?
One argument is that Judaism then isn’t the same thing as Judaism today and that’s very true. However, if you accept, as many Messianic Jews do, the idea that Rabbinic authority allows for the evolution of interpretation of Torah such that Judaism today is the natural and logical extention of true Jewish faith and praxis, then there is some basis for Messianic Jewish praxis closely mirroring Orthodox Jewish praxis.
That statement if full of trap doors for a lot of Gentile Messianic believers and probably some Jewish ones, but let’s roll with it for the time being.
Where does that leave Hebraically aware Gentiles?
If Messianic Judaism necessitates exclusive Messianic Jewish community, we Gentiles are right back where we were before. Trying to find community that best fits our identity and doesn’t tromp all over our Messianic Jewish mentors.
The normative Church isn’t the answer. I tried that and my personal experience ended up being pretty frustrating. Hebraically aware Gentile believers for the most part, are a poor fit in that environment.
Acts 13 famously describes what happens when Gentile presence overwhelms Jewish community. Initially, the Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch welcomed Paul’s message of the Good News of Messiah, but the following Shabbat when scores of Gentiles (and not just the usual crew of God Fearers) showed up at the door, they were shocked and outraged. The Gentiles had invaded Jewish community in force, and while not having malicious intent, still threatened a wholly Jewish space by perhaps rewriting Jewish community and praxis to fit their own requirements.
So Paul, his companions, and probably most of the Gentiles were kicked out and the Apostle to the Gentiles fought an uphill battle for Gentile acceptance from that point on until his death.
Sort of the reverse happened in modern times. Historically over the past several decades, Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces were largely composed of Gentiles, often badly imitating Jewish praxis, praying using Hebrew transliteration, reading the Torah portion in English (or in the primary language of their nation), and believing they were “Torah observant” or “Torah compliant” or whatever. Oh, and they absolutely drew a distinction between the written Torah, which they adored (as they understood it), and the oral Torah (Talmud) which they despised as “Man-made.”
Of course, there were always Jews present, but many/most of them had not been raised in observant Jewish families, many/most had been raised in intermarried families, and many/most had been raised in normative Christian families, the Jewish parent being more correctly identified as a “Hebrew Christian”.
But that’s been changing slowly and steadily, at least to the best of my knowledge. Now Messianic Jews (some of them anyway) are embracing what it is to be a Jew on all experiential levels and strongly desire to be among normative, observant, Jewish community.
That’s led some Messianic Jews to make the choice to abandon Rav Yeshua and join the Orthodox community in order to realize their desires. It’s also seen a number of “Messianic Gentiles” also abandon their Rav and convert to Orthodox Judaism. For them, it was either Rav Yeshua (and the Christians) or lived Jewish community.
Yes, Messianic Jews can have their cake and eat it too, and it’s not like they won’t let Gentile Messianic believers visit and worship with them or even grant them some sort of “associate membership.” However, in order to be Jewish community, it has to be primarily or exclusively Jewish, just like a normative Orthodox synagogue.
I think this is why we have the (Gentile) Hebrew Roots and Two-House movements today. Oh, they’ve existed for decades and in fact it could be said that modern Messianic Judaism (for Jews) emerged from them. However, that returns us to the question of what to do with these pesky Hebraically aware Gentiles, and the answer (which is uncomfortable to some) is something you’d have to call “bilateral.” That is separate but equal. Yeah, that’s really uncomfortable and I’m (hopefully) exaggerating to make a point.
In other words, Hebraically aware Gentiles are in the position of having to invent their own communities for the sake of Messianic Jewish exclusivity.
What does any of this have to do with Passover?
I observe Passover (well, without the Temple and Levitical Priesthood, no one really observes Passover) in the traditional manner for one primary reason; my wife is Jewish. If she plans a seder in our home, then I lead the seder as head of household.
Last year, my wife spent Passover with our daughter in California and thus, I did not observe Passover in any way.
If, Heaven forbid, something were to happen to my wife and I were alone, I would not continue to observe Passover.
While there are Gentile applications for the festival, truly the Passover feast is wholly Jewish and describes a uniquely Jewish relationship with the Almighty, even relative to Rav Yeshua. In Messianic Days, when the Temple is rebuilt, the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua will not be able to eat of the Pascal lamb. We can eat anything else, but not the lamb. Torah is clear on this matter and there is no example whatsoever of a Gentile eating of the lamb (If you think you can point one out, let me know).
But will Gentiles be in Jerusalem at all for Passover?
I’m guessing “yes” (and I’ve been wrong before) but only for one reason.
When Rav Yeshua returns, he is going to straighten out all of our communal and identity conflicts. First of all I think the church is in for a really big shock. Secondly, Yeshua will definitively (I hope) describe the roles and communities fitting for both Jewish and Gentile disciples and then hopefully all of this angst will just go away. If not, then we’ll still have to figure out for ourselves what it is to be servants of the King and so these pain points will continue.
What do to until then?
Some people think that Messianic Judaism as it currently exists is the forerunner of the Messianic Age as it will be.
Maybe and maybe not. I wouldn’t count on it for the simple reason that too many human egos are involved.
I’ve long since decided to withdraw from anything that even remotely resembles Jewish praxis, well, for the most part. It is true that every Saturday morning, I read the Torah and Haftarah portions along with a reading from the Gospels. There are no prayers or ceremony around this act, I simply read them.
Every morning when I wake up, I recite the Modeh Ani in English. That is the extent of my “Jewish” prayers.
No, it’s not that I believe the “Halachah police” are going to kick down my door and bust me for “cultural appropriation.” I just don’t believe it’s right for me to adopt Jewish praxis, especially since my wife, who is Jewish, is pretty sensitive of me, a Christian, doing “Jewish stuff.”
So what to do until Messiah returns? Wait.
That’s all I can do. I can’t see a solution to the conflicts I’ve raised. If Messianic Judaism is Jewish then it is best left to the Jews. Paul had a vision about how to integrate the Gentiles, but his innovation died with him and Yeshua did not assign him a successor, which I find highly interesting. No one, absolutely no one followed Paul’s work. If the Almighty intended for the Gentiles to be integrated into a Jewish faith in our Rav, why did Paul’s work cease? At that point, it absolutely necessitated the Gentiles reinventing their identity into something completely different and new (and scripturally inaccurate).
Perhaps it’s because only Messiah can accomplish so great and difficult a thing.
So I’m waiting for him to do it because I don’t think we can accomplish it on our own.