Tag Archives: apostasy

Faithfulness in the Next Generation

Judaism and ChristianityDisclaimer: The following is nowhere near a comprehensive inventory, but it’s a place to start.

I came across an article at Aish.com called Too Many Young Jews Think Judaism is Irrelevant written by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff and began to ponder. First though, a relevant portion from Ms. Jungreis-Wolff’s essay:

Concluding a talk on Jewish pride, I offered to take questions. A hand shot up in the front.

“You speak about our heritage and what it means to be a Jew. So many around us are clueless when it comes to Judaism. How can we share with others and teach more?”

Another hand shot up in the back. The young boy stood up and said loudly, “To speak up and think that you have what to teach the world about your Judaism means that you think you are better. That’s racist!”

In any high school in America I suspect, if the topic were “Black Pride” or “Gay Pride” or “Feminist Pride” or even “Muslim Pride,” the speaker would be welcomed by the students with enthusiasm and high praise. The audience would have left the presentation fired up for social justice and the desire to support the underrepresented by protesting and convincing their parents to give to worthy charities and political action groups.

Just about the only subject that would receive a worst reception would be a talk on “White Pride,” which probably would be racist. So is “Jewish Pride” racist?

Probably not, and I don’t think it’s really possible that “Jewish Pride” to be racist. You have people from Sweden and Ethiopia who are equally Jewish, so how can it be racist to be a Jew? Judaism is something that transcends race as it does religion. It’s a deeply uniquely-lived experience and identity (and I only know this second-hand from being married to a Jew).

What does this mean for Messianic Judaism and that generation being raised by members of the movement (or whatever you want to call MJ)?

I know that both Judaism and Christianity have programs in their houses of worship and communities aimed at fostering the faith in their children.

However, sources such as Cold Case Christianity, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com confirm the trend that a large population of teens and young adults are leaving the church for a variety of reasons, “relevancy” being key among them, even though there are numerous programs designed to speak to their youth population.

A similar tale is told of young Jews and Judaism by NYC Religions and the Pew Research Center, although an added factor is that some Jews who have left religious Judaism converted to Christianity (which the church would see as good, while Judaism and even Messianic Judaism would definitely have concerns).

Messianic Judaism, however you conceive of it, has, in my opinion (though I could be wrong since I haven’t been part of a religious community in years) an even bigger problem. Based on my experiences, kids in that movement also tend to leave, either for secularism, more traditional Christianity or more traditional Judaism. Add to that the size and relative rarity of MJ communities in any part of the US and Canada. A family may adhere to an MJ view of the Bible, but the nearest congregation could be hundreds of miles away, so when kids grow up and leave home, they very well will leave their faith behind, too.

The only group I know of attempting to slow or halt the trend is First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which produces products such as Children’s Torah Club and other resources. Also, apparently, their 2016 Shavuot conference was on the topic of youth outreach. Of course, I have no way to gauge the effectiveness of those methods or even to know the population size of MJ in general or by age group, but at least somebody is doing something.

However, based on the other information I’ve cited, it seems like secularization has firmly taken hold of youth, both inside the body of faith and beyond. In modern, western society it seems, Christianity and Judaism are blamed for a variety of ills, and it’s not just the faithful who are under assault.  Although many deny it, an attack on national Israel is an attack on the Jewish people because it denies the Jews the right to their own sovereign nation. We even have a few freshman U.S. Representatives who have been making headlines lately because of that, questioning the existence of our nation’s closest ally in the Middle East.

I’ve also noted a lot of push back against the landmark and popular (in spite of its topic) film Unplanned starring Ashley Bratcher, including the movie’s twitter account mysteriously losing thousands of followers (though this seems to have stopped after many complains were registered). Additionally, actress Alyssa Milano has been leading Hollywood’s charge against Georgia’s recent “heartbeat” pro-life law, though Bratcher has responded to Milano’s boycott.

Wait! What’s abortion got to do with young people leaving the church and the synagogue?

It’s one of the values of secularization, and perhaps one of the most important ones, a sort of “Holy Grail” of the secular. Any potential threat against free access to abortions, in some cases up until birth, is thought of as a heinous affront and must be combated with every resources available especially by the Hollywood public opinion machine.

So many of our young people take this “right” for granted. If Christianity and Judaism threatens this and many other “rights” by touting how human life is sacred, then young people in houses of faith are more likely to struggle with choosing between the “relevancy” of their faith vs. the “relevancy” of secular cultural norms, and thus is the problem.

Racism, climate change denial, anti-choice, the list of pejoratives goes on and vulnerable young people, many of them it seems, don’t want to be associated with those highly emotionally charged labels. So what secular post-modern civilization considers “relevant” makes many of the values of Christianity and Judaism “irrelevant.” The exodus of young people from the faith continues.

What to do? Besides what’s been suggested at the various links I’ve posted, I don’t know.

I have three adult children who were young at the time when my family was transitioning through Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism (and in my wife’s case, out the other side to more traditional Judaism), and I think they became so confused that eventually, they departed from all of it. Ethnically, they all identify as Jews, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure one, maybe two keep a sort of Leviticus 11 “kosher,” but I was at the third’s house yesterday, and he was cooking up bacon for his kids for dinner.

I’ve heard of this “culture war” for decades and didn’t think too much about it, but now it seems that I was wrong. This “war” is real and it’s taking our children and grandchildren from us.

The fastest growing form of religious Judaism is Orthodox, though the category “other” is outstripping them hand over fist. According to the Christian Broadcast Network:

While Congress has yet to decide the future of the country’s illegal immigrants, some say they are critical to the survival of Christianity in America.

“Every denomination is experiencing explosive growth within the Latino church and the immigrant church at large. It’s been this way now for several decades,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CBN News. “This is a perpetual revival, if you will, and it’s not going to cease and it’s growing and we thank God for it.”

Rodriguez says Americans can fulfill the great commission by ministering to their immigrant neighbors next door.

Maybe the key to understanding how to preserve and grow future generations in Messianic Judaism is to understand what dynamics drive the two groups I’ve listed above.

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Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles

I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.

-Toby Janicki
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree forbidding all social contact between Christians and Jews. The Church sought to stop Christian converts to Judaism; throughout Europe, those who did so were liable to the death penalty.

This Day in Jewish History
For 24 Adar 5774 – March 26, 2014

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading Toby’s article because the title just didn’t “resonate” with me, but now I’m glad I did. Lately, I’ve been writing about the nature of Messianic Judaism for Jewish people and just how Jewish should Jews in Messianic Judaism be. However, as I’m always reminded, there’s the other side of the coin; Gentiles who remain devoted disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and yet who are also attracted to the practice and/or perspective of Judaism on their (our) faith.

But I included the quote about Pope Nicholas V for a reason. When I first read it a day or so ago, I found myself wondering why this Pope found it necessary to forbid contact between Christians and Jews and why there was such a “problem” with Christians converting to Judaism in 15th century Europe? How many Christians were converting anyway, and why? What was the allure?

I suppose the story of the 18th century Subbotniks might contain part of the answer. It seems that periodically in the history of the Church, some sub-group of Gentile believers breaks off from their local, normative expression of Christianity and either converts to Judaism or, without abandoning their faith in Jesus, begins to take on more “Jewish” practices and perspectives.

Luther’s open letter of 1538 condemning Sabbatarian tendencies among Christians in Silesia and Moravia after 1527 is a key work marking the transition toward the anti-Judaic attitudes of the late Luther. Marked by a new severity toward the Jews on Luther’s part, the letter had its origin in Luther’s response to a new Sabbatarianism arising among radical Protestants, which Luther saw as a victory for Jewish legalism over sound evangelical teachings.

-Dr. Lowell H. Zuck
“Luther’s Writing Against Emerging Sabbatarianism”
ConcordiaTheology.org

Apparently, the Reformation didn’t end of the problem of Christian Sabbatarians anymore than Pope Nicholas did.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

I’ve often thought that the authors of the Reformation didn’t take things far enough. Sure, they stood up against the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic church as it existed in the 16th century, but they didn’t change as much as you might imagine. They still kept the Sunday worship day and continued to adhere to and enforce theologies and doctrines that were anti-Semitic and anti-Judaism, even accusing “the Jews” of attempting to mislead Christians (probably relative to the Shabbat):

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-quoted from “The Jews & Their Lies” (1543) by
JewishVirtualLibrary.org

I’ve been accused in the past of bashing Luther a little too hard, so I’ll try to be a little less aggressive here, but the history of Christians being attracted to aspects of Judaism doesn’t seem to be an isolated one.

Why? What’s the attraction?

Initially, these former members of the Christian Church continued to view both the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired, but they believed that nothing in the New Testament abolished the commandments of the Torah, including the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). While still considering themselves disciples of the Master, the Subbotniks wrestled with the traditional Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Trinity, and they developed some of their own thoughts regarding Christology and Yeshua’s role as a prophet and miracle worker. They also squarely rejected icons and frescoes of the Orthodox Church as idolatrous.

-Janicki, pg 50

shabbos1My guess is when my traditionally Christian readers hit the word “Trinity” in the quote above, you may have decided that the Subbotniks were heretics and wrote them off, but hang in there. Also, for the Protestants out there, you may be thinking that the Subbotnik reaction to the “icons and frescoes” of the Orthodox Church may have been appropriate, but they certainly wouldn’t have that sort of issue with Protestant Christianity today. They certainly wouldn’t have left a (for example) Baptist church to take up Sabbath-keeping, would they?

Having spent some number of years in the Hebrew Roots movement (which meant I also exited traditional Church worship and thought), I’ve interacted with many, many people who “left the Church”. They (we) have a lot of reasons for doing so. For me, it was that the Christian Pastors and church members (Sunday School teachers, rank-and-file in the pews) weren’t able to answer all of my questions about the Bible and why Christians do and teach certain things (a Sunday Sabbath, replacement theology). But some people felt much, much worse about Christianity than I ever imagined.

Some people were actually angry at their former churches and their former Pastors. Some people felt lied to. They had discovered, through various processes, that the New Covenant didn’t say what many churches teach, it isn’t a recipe for replacing Israel with the Church in God’s covenant promises, and it isn’t the “swan song” for the Jewish people and Judaism. Many of these people, and some expressions of Hebrew Roots, attempted to follow a path similar to those of the Subbotniks, remaining believers in Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will), but adopting many of the practices of modern Judaism to varying degrees of observance. The logic is that if the fundamental theology and doctrines of Christianity are wrong because they are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and misrepresent the “Jewishness” of the foundations of “Christian” faith, the true answer to how we Gentiles are to be devoted disciples of Jesus can only be found by seriously revisiting the first century Judaism of “the Way” and building a worship practice and teaching from there. That point of view also accuses the Reformation of not going far enough or perhaps not going far enough back in time as I previously mentioned.

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

As I quoted Toby saying, the example of the Subbotniks and of all the various non-Jewish groups across history who have devoted themselves to Jesus by devoting themselves to Jewish study and practice is inspiring for modern-day Messianic Gentiles like me, but he also said their story is a cautionary tale.

Toby relates that the Subbotniks were persecuted by the Orthodox Church and the government, but it’s fairly unlikely Messianic Gentiles in the western nations would face the same treatment today. The separation of church and state means the U.S. government has no vested interest in enforcing a state religion as such, and how exactly is a Catholic or Evangelical (or any other kind of) church going to persecute us? No, we won’t be persecuted. Some Christians and some Churches are actually curious about Messianics. Up to a certain point, they find it interesting or even a little fascinating to be just a little more “Jewish” as Gentile Christians and to even “allow” a certain level of Jewish practice among Jewish believers.

But when they finally grasp just how people like me think Jewish believers should be completely Jewish, these Christians back off while rapidly raising their “you’re under the Law” shields. Even Christians like me, who don’t have a significant “Jewish” practice but who utilize a Messianic Jewish informational and educational platform in interpreting the Bible, are at best thought of as intelligent but mistaken and at worst as a member of a cult or even a heretic (what do you mean “the Law” wasn’t nailed to the cross with Jesus?).

But Toby’s right. Messianic Gentiles walk a fine line, at least potentially. We must never mistake Jewish perspective or Jewish practice as the object of our faith. The true focus must be Messiah as the “doorway” by which we may approach the Throne of God.

At the same time, the story of the Subbotniks cautions us about potential pitfalls. What began as a life-giving revelation ended in causing the people to deny Yeshua as Messiah — the very one who had brought them to the truth. This story is not just an interesting footnote for the history of religion. Both Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement face the same issues today that the Subbotniks did.

-Janicki, pg 57

I don’t have any numbers to draw from, but anecdotal information suggests more than a few Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have “swung to the other side,” so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism. One of the best arguments “the Church” has to dissuade Gentiles from becoming involved in Jewish practices and studies is the danger of apostasy and conversion. This is as big a problem now as it was five-hundred years ago. The understanding that the Church labors under a set of misunderstandings, some of which go back to the very foundations of (Gentile) Christianity, creates the false impression that Christianity is bad and Judaism is good.

jewish-traditionI’m not denigrating Judaism, but I am saying that, for my part, it is a lens through which I gain a clearer (in my opinion) focus on what the Bible is actually trying to say, and a better view of the original intent of the Bible writers including the ever controversial Apostle Paul. One of the reasons I limit my “Jewish” practice is to avoid falling into the trap that captured the Subbotniks and that pulls many believers out of Yeshua-faith and into conversion to normative Judaism every year (I should say though, that it’s not my only reason).

In my opinion, Messianic Gentiles will continue to struggle with our own “identity” issues, regardless of whether we find ourselves in a Messianic Jewish synagogue or a traditional church. I’ve participated in adding some resources to a website called MessianicGentiles.com, created by Rabbi David Rudolph, in order to assist in building a positive identity for people like me. While I believe that it is vital for Jews in Messianic Judaism to have authentic Jewish community in the movement so as to not be cut off from larger Jewry, just like Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles must never forget that the central focus of our faith is not our practice but the Messiah.

If Judaism were the focus, then Jews in Messianic Judaism could find community in any synagogue of any of the other branches of Judaism. And if Judaism were the focus for Gentiles, then our answer would be to convert to some branch of normative Judaism and that would be that.

But then we end up denying the Master, Yeshua…Jesus. Having come this far under difficult circumstances, being dismissed by other Christians, trying to help our families understand why we do what we do, being accused of being “wannabe Jews,” are we to fail now in our faith and apostatize by becoming Jewish proselytes and casting Messiah aside like an old love affair?

What Makes You Think Your Church Is Better?

It’s funny. We still live in a celebrity culture. Even Christians have chewed hard on it.

Whenever a celebrity Christian author or blogger talks about “leaving church,” all of a sudden masses of Christians think a new conversation has suddenly began, and people left and right start firing off opinions.

(Cough.)

A few words about “leaving church.”

Virtually every time I catch wind of the phrase—leaving church—almost always the person using the phrase never explains what he/she means by church.

Frank Viola
“10 Reasons Why I Left the Institutional Church in Search of the Ekklesia”
CharismaNews.com

No, I’m not talking about me doing any leaving, but in considering my recent writing on the role of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish worship space and how some Hebrew Roots proponents believe that the Torah of Moses is somehow owed to them, I pondered other applications of Viola’s article which I quoted above.

I first found the article several days ago in Facebook and read it, but Viola’s issues don’t really resonate with me. In re-reading his missive though, I started clicking links to find out more about him getting to his personal blog and figuring out that he writes these articles, in part, to market his books and ideas. That’s not a bad thing. If you produce something you want someone to buy, you have to market it. I’m an author in my spare time and I work for the marketing department of my “day job,” so I know how it goes.

But when Viola talks about “leaving church,” he isn’t saying what you might imagine. He separates out what he calls the “institutional church” from something more “organic” and what he calls “the Deeper Christian Life” (which he’s written a number of books about, and all of them seem to do well on Amazon).

In reading his ten reasons for leaving the institutional church and his ten (eleven, really) reasons for becoming part “of the organic expression of the church (the ekklesia)…”, I started thinking of my own current church experience and of the aforementioned Hebrew Roots movement, (I used to belong to a Hebrew Roots congregation) and the common statement one often finds in Hebrew Roots about leaving “church” AKA “Babylon.”

On a fundamental level, unless you leave the faith altogether and become an atheist or a member of a religion other than Christianity (and I include Hebrew Roots and even, to a degree, Messianic faith as part of “Christianity” … faith in and worship of Christ/Messiah), you never really leave “the Church,” the community of believers in Jesus. As Viola points out, you really have to define what you mean by “church,” especially if you think you’re leaving it. Even if wherever you worship isn’t called a “church,” you probably still worship with other people in a somewhat organized fashion and have a theology and doctrine that is more or less recognized as “Christian.”

So what are people leaving and what are they looking for? Having done no research at all and having no data to back up my personal opinion, people are leaving congregations and organizations where they do not feel connected and are joining or at least searching for congregations where they feel they belong.

Seems pretty obvious, huh?

That probably is one of the reasons why there are so many denominations and so many different types of worship venues, styles, and whatnot. Identify a disenfranchised Christian population and cater to them. Churches split periodically for a wide variety of reasons and create new churches that satisfy the desires of those who were previously not satisfied.

Church splitBut to split, you have to possess a sufficient population of dissatisfied people to gather around and create a new church. They all have to also be dissatisfied in the same or very similar way so that you don’t gather together a group of individuals with each of them wanting something completely different out of the new church.

I have no statistics about how many people leave traditional, institutional churches each year specifically to enter into an entity called “Hebrew Roots”. It gets more complicated in that within the umbrella term Hebrew Roots is a plethora of different sorts of congregations, with overlapping but differing beliefs, practices, theologies, and so on. Often, these different subgroups don’t get along with each other for a number of reasons. Some believe in praying only in Hebrew, others prefer English, some pronounce the Sacred Name of God one way, some do so a different way, some believe it should never be pronounced at all, and on it goes.

Another confusing factor is that many Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism” when in fact, their definition of the term flies in the face of what I consider Messianic Judaism to actually be.

Be that as it may, a non-trivial number of Gentile Christians are leaving various institutional churches each year (again, I have no specific numbers) and joining some variation of a Hebrew Roots or sometimes authentic Messianic Jewish congregation, small group, home group, or study group.

What are they looking for?

Like I said above, they’re looking for other people who think, act, and believe just like they do, or enough like they do that any differences don’t really matter.

So what’s the attraction?

Both Hebrew Roots in all of its variations and Messianic Judaism in all of its variations have one thing in common. They believe institutional Christianity in all of its variations has the Bible all wrong. They believe that “the Church” (big C) made a big mistake in “establishing” that the Law was nailed to the cross with Jesus, that grace replaced the Law, that Jewish people need to convert to Christianity and functionally (though not genetically or in name) stop being Jewish, and that Judaism as a faith and worship form is a dead-end made up of “dead works” and no spiritual life.

I believe “the Church” made its big mistake early on and through nearly two-thousand years of reformations, revivals, and any other course change you could possibly imagine, the Church never, ever corrected that mistake. In fact, the mistake has become so ingrained in the Church, that it never even occurs to any of the institutional and local expressions of Christianity to even question the initial interpretive error that is now driving some individuals and groups away from “church” and into something that is attempting to behave as a corrective effort.

How many Christian denominations exist today? Somewhere in the thousands? Tens of thousands? Heck, how many translations are there of the Bible just in English? Almost as many it seems. So many expressions of “the Christian faith” and “the Word of God,” apparently created to satisfy the perspectives, opinions, wants, and needs of various human beings who don’t want to leave God but who want God and Christ on their/our own terms. There’s even a brand new Bible translation called The Gay Bible.

Do I sound cynical?

No wonder Jesus asked poignantly, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Human beings are a pain in the…

Frank Viola
Frank Viola

I wonder how God puts up with us?

Frank Viola’s answer to all this is in a book he wrote called Reimagining Church. No, I’m not going to rush out and buy it or any of his other books. My current wish list of books is already long and getting longer all the time. It’s also crafted to suit my current perspective on God, Messiah, and everything and I suspect based on what I’ve read of Viola’s writing so far, that we probably don’t share a lot of opinions.

Viola (Pagan Christianity), a leader in the house church movement, believes the church as we know it today is nothing like what God intended it to be. According to Viola, the first-century church, which should be our pattern, met in homes without any official pastor. All members of the church were involved in worship, spontaneously breaking out with teaching or song as they were moved. Decisions were not made until everyone reached consensus. There were no official leaders or elders, but there were men who served and taught and helped others, thus leading by example. Viola believes that to bring the church back on track, both clergy and denominations must be completely abolished. Churches should not have buildings nor should they worry about doctrinal statements. Such radical ideas will best be received by Emergent and postmodern readers. Skeptics will cringe at Viola’s strident tone and all-or-nothing approach. More concrete examples of what Viola has seen work well in his 20 years of house church work would have greatly strengthened the book.

-from Publishers Weekly
as found at Amazon.com.

If I had to pick a “reimagining of church,” it would probably look more like Beth Immanuel and less like the so-called first-century home churches that Viola seems to hold up as an ideal. But then Viola is doing what I said we all do, finding a congregation (or making one) that reflects his own desires and ideals. We all want to have it our way, as the old Burger King commercial goes.

So what’s the real answer? Underneath our vain attempts to assuage our own discomfort in the world of religion and to make ourselves feel better in a body of faith, I’m going to trust that at least some people are actually searching for something authentic, something real, something that will allow them to actually encounter God on God’s terms.

Is there more than one way to do that? Can you encounter God in a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, and dare I say it, in a Jewish synagogue? My personal opinion is yes, since I’ve encountered God in all three communities (and I don’t mean just a Messianic Jewish synagogue, I mean a synagogue where they don’t believe in Jesus).

One of the things Viola writes that I can agree with is that we all need to worship in community rather than as “lone wolves” (my words, not his) or just as an individual family or a few families who come together.

I wanted to know Christ deeply, and I discovered that we can only comprehend “the breadth, depth, height, and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” when we are “together with all saints.” It’s not an individualistic pursuit, but an intensely corporate (collective) one.

BabelAll that said, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be incredibly difficult sometimes to find a group that meets your needs. For some, they have to build it, if at all possible and within the will of God (and make no mistake, like Babel, it’s possible to build something outside the will of God, it just won’t last past the return of Messiah).

I don’t have an answer for you. I know that may be disappointing, but I’m caught in the same trap as everyone else. If you’re human, you can only see everything from ground level, so to speak. No one has the perspective of God. We’re all down here wallowing in the mud, struggling to climb to even slightly higher ground so we can get a better look at what we think is better.

Problem is, we all think we’ve got the inside track on “better,” that by “coincidence,” just happens to map perfectly to our personal wants, needs, and desires. Imagine that.

I can only imagine that God looks down at all of us, covered in mud, dead leaves, and our own grandiose arrogance and just shakes His head, the way we would at some teenage kid who thought he or she had the whole world figured out. “Yeah,” He says. “Just you wait. You’ll find out what’s really going on one day and aren’t you going to be shocked out of your socks.”

So people leave “church,” however they define it, because it’s “Babylon,” because it’s “pagan,” because it’s “apostasized” from the true faith of Messiah and has thrown away the Torah like a used diaper and the Jewish people along with it.

But are any of those folks doing any better? I guess it depends. At the center of all this isn’t the institution, and it isn’t the rituals, and to some degree, it isn’t even some of the interpretations and doctrines, it’s the authentic, true, real, and valid desire to serve the living God of the Bible. We may get a lot of things wrong, all of us (yes, you too and yes, me too). But somewhere in there, we probably manage to do a few things right as well.

I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t grade on a curve, but I prefer (here I go with what I prefer) to think of God as a forgiving Father. No, not forgiving of an endless list of willful sins, but forgiving as the Father is of a toddler who throws tantrums, falls down all the time, says incredibly silly stuff, but who is continually struggling and working hard in a two or three-year old’s best effort, to growing older, growing better, and growing up.

But we all grow up in different families, and in different neighborhoods, and in different towns or cities, counties, states, provinces, and countries. The people aren’t the same, the cultures aren’t the same, the languages aren’t the same, but God is the same. I guess that’s how we can look at our churches, our “ekklesias,” our communities in Christ/Messiah, however large or small they may be.

There’s a difference between thumbing your nose at God and just making goofy mistakes because as human beings, we don’t know any better. The waters are cloudy and we don’t see what’s in the pond too clearly. We complain at each other for being in the “wrong church” or even being in “church” at all instead of where we think all the “cool kids” in Christ are supposed to hang out. We keep forgetting God has an “opinion” too and that it’s not an opinion at all but the final truth.

We just don’t have unfiltered access to that truth, we only think we do. Hence thousands or tens of thousands of different Christian religious organizations which we say, depending on which one we belong to, that ours is the one, and it’s the best, and God loves us because we aren’t part of that other one down the street.

Oh brother (rolls eyes).

Leave the church? You can leave anything you want to, but as long as you are a believer, you don’t leave the body of Messiah, which is a good thing. Even if you leave religion, you don’t leave the universe and so you don’t escape God by becoming an atheist (you only think you do).

dad-and-babyThe only thing we can do is our best and believe me, it’ll never be as good as we think it is, but that’s OK. Fortunately, God is forgiving and He does understand that we all are as dumb as a box of rocks (as compared to God) and He doesn’t really expect that we will ever get to a point where we get most things right.

Our biggest “silliness” is thinking that we can and that we do get most things right and that we somehow are better than other churches, synagogues, congregations, whatever.

Think about all of the arguments we all have about our religions. Now think about how all that sounds to God. No, really. If that’s difficult to picture, recall any argument you’ve seen between two pre-schoolers fighting over a toy and how they each had a really, really good reason why they should have the thing instead of the other kid.

Now do you get it?

Being Jewish is a Gift

jewish-t-shirtMy great grandparents were born in New York. At the end of a high school Holocaust memorial assembly, students were asked to file out quietly in the following order: those who had parents who were Holocaust survivors, those who had grandparents who were survivors, and finally those who had great grandparents who were survivors. I remained sitting with three other students in the empty auditorium. We looked at each other across rows of empty seats, and I felt shock ripple through me. I didn’t know that most of my classmates’ grandparents were survivors.

On the stage the American flag rippled in the dim spotlights alongside the Israeli flag, and I thought about the refuge that this country has been for so many Jews. My grandmother used to tell the Santa Claus who offered us candy canes at the mall: “No thank you. We’re Jewish so we celebrate Hanukkah. But happy holidays!” I’ll never forget the way her green eyes lit up with her fiery pride for Judaism. As her granddaughter, I grew up believing that being Jewish was a gift…

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“Swastikas in New York”
Aish.com

“…being Jewish was a gift.”

I never really thought of it that way before. Being Jewish is precious. There aren’t that many Jewish people relative to the world-wide population, and usually when something is rare, it’s valuable.

Jewish people are survivors, not just of the Holocaust, but of the world. Look at Jewish history going back thousands of years and you’ll almost always find that someone is trying to kill them. Look at ancient, Biblical history. Israelites co-existed in a world with Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, and a lot of other “ties.” Are any of those other nations or people groups still around?

No. Only the descendants of the Israelites, the Jewish people.

They even continued to exist when they were evicted from their national homeland nearly two-thousand years ago. Who’d have thought that when the Roman empire crushed ancient Israel under its boot, that homeland would be resurrected again in 1948? Who knew that after over six decades, this tiny nation in the middle east would not only continue, but thrive and be an innovator in technology and other industries? Who knew?

Being Jewish is a gift.

Which brings me to Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism, all movements that are loosely connected by a mutual worship of the God of Israel and discipleship under the King of Israel and Messiah.

The vast majority of Jews would disagree with the last part of my statement. I understand that. But there are a very tiny minority of halachically Jewish people who have recognized that the man called “Jesus Christ” in the Church is also Yeshua HaMoshiach, Son of David, Anointed One of Hashem.

Of those Jewish people, probably most of them are assimilated into the traditional Christian church and live mostly or completely like their Gentile counterparts, foregoing most or all of the mitzvot that would otherwise identify them as observant Jews.

The “gift” of Judaism is recognized by some Gentile Christians in the Church, prompting them to leave their usual world of pulpits and pews and to join some variation on a Hebrew Roots or Jewish Roots congregation. These groups typically attempt to incorporate some form of modern, Jewish synagogue worship into their Sabbath meetings, spend more time in the Tanakh (Old Testament) than the Apostolic Scriptures, and some even tend to elevate the Torah or the Five Books of Moses, above their former devotion to Christ. They see Judaism as a gift too, tempting some of them to convert.

It’s a confusing world.

churchesAlmost all the Jewish people I know in Messianic Judaism have a previous experience in a traditional Church. Almost all of them are intermarried to a non-Jew. Many of these families live observant Jewish lives, but a few are split, with the Jewish spouse (and perhaps kids) attending a Shabbat service at a Messianic or traditional synagogue and the Christian spouse going to church.

It’s a confusing world.

Does attraction to or involvement in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and/or Messianic Judaism lead to apostasy? Or, for that matter, does such involvement increase the risk of apostasy?

I have no data to draw from. I don’t know if as many, more, or fewer people in the Church (big “C”) leave the faith altogether than people in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism. I only have anecdotal information only. Whispers in the dark. Rumors of this family and that who left the worship of Yeshua and converted to Judaism or, if halachically Jewish, returned to an observant Jewish life.

I can say that the temptation is there. I remember my own involvement in Hebrew Roots back in the day. It’s easy to be persuaded that the ritual, the prayer service, the Torah service, donning a tallit, laying tefillin, relating to the Judaism of our ancient faith leads to a closer walk with God. It can generate an enormous pull. Of course, with my wife being Jewish, the thought of conversion was additionally fueled, but that was many years ago. I even toyed with the idea of suggesting to my wife that we make aliyah.

But that seems like another life.

Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an authentic encounter with God.

That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received and it cuts to the heart of the problem. Who the heck are we anyway, Jew and Gentile, in the body of Messiah?

There are a lot of writers in the Messianic Jewish space who write about distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles in the faith, about the obligations to the Torah and how they are applied differently, radically differently to Jewish members and Gentile members. Men like Mark Kinzer, Stuart Dauermann, and David Rudolph write periodically or even regularly about the drive, the need, the absolute requirement for Jews in Messianic Judaism to see all other Jewish people and national Israel as not them, but us.

In other words, Messianic Jews are Jews first and Messianics second. I think that’s what Dr. Dauermann’s statement means. But that statement, while it repairs many an old wound, creates other problems.

How do you balance Jewishness and Judaism against a faith that in any real sense, hasn’t been Jewish (for the most part) in nearly twenty centuries? The very word “Christian” immediately screams “GOY!” in the ears of any Jewish person.

jewish-repentanceBeing Jewish is a gift.

Yeah, I get it. And if a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus…excuse me, Yeshua, then do they throw away that gift?

I know a few Jewish people in my church. At least one of them has a passing relationship with the larger Jewish community in my little corner of Southwest Idaho, but she’s actually Christian through and through. Did these Jewish Christians throw away that gift?

I know that Kinzer, Dauermann, Rudolph, and other Jewish scholars and writers are choosing to see being Jewish as a gift that being Messianic does not require to be returned to sender. The apostle Paul was Jewish, proud of his heritage as a Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day, zealous for the Torah. He worked closely with many Gentile disciples, established Gentile congregations among Romans and Greeks in the Diaspora, was aided, shielded, and supported by the Goyishe believers for decades.

If any man had the opportunity to leave Judaism, assimilate into Gentile “Christianity,” and “go native” among the Greeks, it’s Paul.

And he didn’t (I’ll get a lot of pushback from both Christians and Jews on that one).

I’ve gotten just tons and tons of advice since the most recent apostasy scandal hit the Hebrew Roots and Messianic section of the blogosphere. Most of it basically says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”

I sometimes wonder where God went, that is, God the Father, the one Jesus could do nothing without, the one who Jesus watched and imitated perfectly, the one Jesus told his disciples to pray to. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except through me,” but he didn’t say the Father was replaced by the Son. Shouldn’t I be looking at the Son because opening his door, reveals the Father?

Being Jewish is a gift.

jewish-christianAnd there’s a terrible crisis in the Jewish world today. Jews are turning their back on being Jewish and practicing any form of Judaism in droves. Jews in this country are assimilating into Christianity, other religions, or secular atheism at a tremendous rate.

Jewish children are no longer receiving even the most basic Jewish education. They grow up in communities that do not have children knowing that their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents are Holocaust survivors.

I’m not Jewish so I can only imagine this. If you are passionately, religiously, ethically Jewish and also passionately and religiously a devoted disciple of the Messiah who the Church calls “Christ,” then you must feel powerfully torn in two directions.

Except…

…except if devotion to Moshiach was originally Jewish and considered a valid Jewish religious stream in the days right before and then after the destruction of the Second Temple, why can’t it be just as Jewish today? Why do there have to be two opposing directions for a Messianic Jew? Why isn’t it the same direction, another stream of Judaism among many streams of Judaism?

I know…two thousand years of anti-Semitic Christian church history has severely tainted those waters.

For a Messianic Jew, faith is an unavoidable tightrope walk. For non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, the draw is there, but it’s different. We weren’t born into the covenant that every Jew who ever existed was born into. We don’t have the same spiritual connection that is infused into our blood, our flesh, our bones, our very DNA. For Jews who turn their back on the covenant of Sinai, I believe there will be an accounting one day.

We from among the nations are not called to that covenant, but we are called to God through the Messiah, through a faith that righteous Abraham demonstrated. Yeshua is the doorway but we must remember that Messiah, not Judaism, not Jewish practice, not Jewish identity, is the key to being reconciled to God. That was Paul’s entire point when he wrote his famous letter to the Galatians.

Being Jewish or not being Jewish doesn’t justify one before God. Faith justifies. However faith and justification doesn’t erase who we are. Men are still men, women are still women, Jews are still Jews, Gentiles are still Gentiles.

Being Jewish is a gift and most of us don’t receive that gift. A few Gentiles become Jewish by choice under the authority of the proper Rabbinic court, but born-Jewish, conversion to Jewish, or born something else, if we turn away from our sins and turn toward God, we must do so as who we are, knowing that our identity doesn’t justify, only faith in God through Messiah does.

prophetic_return1Being Jewish is a gift and I defend those Jews who believe their gift and their identity is being threatened by Christianity, by Gentiles who suffer from identity confusion, or by anything else linked to our religious streams and even how we search for God. I’m not Jewish but I understand that God chose the Jewish people from all of humanity for a special purpose, and as a Christian, I have a unique responsibility to cherish and uphold their purpose and their role, because only through the blessings of the covenants God made with the Jewish people do I have access to God at all.

But…

…but, that purpose and that role isn’t the end of all things. Being Jewish does not grant exclusive rights to enter the presence of God or a place in the world to come. God will do what God will do, but it is only the faith of Abraham that grants anyone righteousness before a righteous God. In that, Messiah is the gift, and he is a gift everyone may receive, to the Jew first and even to the Gentile.

Apostasy, Pentecostalism, and Other Things That Go “Bump” in the Night

Witch huntApostasy is not new or shocking to me; years ago, my younger brother Aaron gave up faith in Yeshua and converted to Orthodox Judaism. My cousin Anthony went from Christianity to Messianic Judaism to atheism. A family friend, Alice, got involved in Karaite Judaism and lost faith in Messiah. There was a time in my own life where I considered agnosticism.

I grok doubt and sympathize with people going through it.

And in my 10 years writing this blog, I’ve seen several other Messianic bloggers lose faith…

-Judah Gabriel Himango
“The 3 signs of apostasy, and how to deal with doubt in your life”
Kineti L’Tziyon

And despite this, Evangelicalism has thrown open its arms and welcomed this Trojan Horse, allowing an idol in the city of God. This idol has fast taken over.

MacArthur then contrasted Reformed theology with the charismatic movement and said that Reformed theology is not a haven for false teachers. It is not where false teachers reside or where greedy deceivers and liars end up.

-Pastor John MacArthur
as quoted by Tim Challies
Challies.com

I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to enter into this conversation. I see some good points made by these men, but I wonder if it’s really worth the cost.

Let me explain.

As you probably know, I’ve already expressed some criticism of Pastor John MacArthur and his recent Strange Fire conference, which strongly addressed problems with the Pentecostal church and the Charismatic movement in Christianity. I’m planning on using the record of the conference presentations on the blog of Pastor and well-known Christian blogger Tim Challies to do a more detailed (and hopefully fair) examination of MacArthur, his information, and most importantly his intentions, in holding his conference and publicly “calling out” the Charismatic movement and its followers.

However, well-known Messianic/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango seemed to mirror MacArthur in drawing attention to another six ton elephant in the room, apostasy from Christianity (or in this case, the Messianic Jewish and/or Hebrew Roots movement, which could be considered a form of Christianity).

Pentecostalism and Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots are different in that the Pentecostal church has hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, while Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots are (so far) rather minimally attended (I don’t have any specific figures on the population of either group). Other than that though, from a traditional, fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, both movements can be considered the same “strange fire,” that is, both are outside of what might be considered acceptable and “normative” Christianity relative to how Reformed theologians such as MacArthur might see them.

I’m not going to address the actual content presented by MacArthur and Himango. Both have a good deal to say about their relative subjects and in sampling both, they also have a great deal of good information to present, information that should be considered, information that is very likely useful and beneficial.

But at what cost?

In order for both of these gentlemen to do what they’ve done, make public significant difficulties among specific movements and specific individuals, they have to objectify those movements and particularly the individuals involved. To one degree or another, they have to set aside any concern for how the subjects of their criticism will be impacted by what they are saying and publishing.

After the Strange Fire conference (or actually even before it), there was a power surge of criticism against MacArthur for being insensitive, for being hurtful, for being damaging to millions upon millions of fellow Christian brothers of sisters. Being right was more important than how MacArthur’s being right would injure all these people, many, perhaps most of whom, sincerely believe they are serving God and following Christ.

Judah Gabriel HimangoTo read Himango’s blog post on apostasy, as well as another Messianic blogger’s kudos to Himango, you’d think that this young man wrote the most beneficial religious commentary in the past century.

I won’t deny that Himango had a number of good points and I don’t doubt his intensions are sincere, but in order to make them, he had to…no, let me change that, he chose to name names. He started with his family and moved on to others, some that I am familiar with and at least one who I’ve known quite well.

Did Himango or anyone else ask them if they wanted to be “outed” like this?

When you have been a member of the Christian faith and you leave, that usually provokes a lot of strong feelings in those believers you’ve left behind. Those strong feelings are almost never pleasant, and it’s never pleasant to be on the receiving end when they are expressed.

I recently had to create a comments policy on my blog in order to contain some otherwise negative statements being made. As part of my policy, I issued the following statement:

In Jewish religious tradition, Leviticus 25:17 which states “You will not wrong one another,” is interpreted as wronging someone in speech. This includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceive a person or cause that person emotional pain and distress. Even statements believed to be true and factual but that cause another harm are considered wrongful speech.

Of course, there’s a problem. Sometimes it really is the right thing to discuss problems in the faith, difficult issues, and even “difficult people,” so how to you balance that against the principle of harmful speech, and avoid damaging any other human being by what you say, even if what you’re saying is factual and truthful?

I wish I knew. I only know that in order for good people to hurt other good people, you have to do something to your “target” in your head. You have to objectify them. You have to make them, in some way, less than human. Otherwise, if you have even the tiniest bit of compassion and pity in your soul, you couldn’t bear to put someone you love or once loved through pain and torture by putting them in the spotlight and pointing a harsh finger at them, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.

So how do you do it?

I’m going to present a couple of really extreme examples.

Look at how we convinced American military personal to kill Nazis and Japanese during World War II. Look at how we convinced the American public to support a World War, condone the bombing of millions, endure severe shortages of goods and services so they could be diverted to the war effort. How did we do it? By making Germans and Japanese less than human. That’s also how we herded masses of Japanese living in America into prison camps, men, women, and children, even as the Nazis were herding millions of Jews and other “undesirables” into prison camps, men, women, and children.

World War 2 posterHow have we aborted untold millions of unborn children in our nation since 1973? How have we made abortion a wildly successful financial effort? How have we sold abortion as “women’s reproductive services” to an entire nation, and completely ignored the fact that the only difference between a fetus being aborted and an unborn baby who is already loved by mother and father is that one is unwanted and the other is wanted?

By turning an unborn human being into a “fetus,” a “thing.” Yes, the term “fetus” is technically accurate, but shifting the emotional context from baby to thing is what’s required to eliminate a thing. Then it’s not killing a baby. Then we can live with ourselves and get to sleep at night…most of us.

That’s also how to kill an enemy in war. To one degree or another, it’s how you attack another human being in speech, a person who was created just as much in the image of God as you were. By “objectifying” them.

I told you these were extreme examples. Imagine though, that we can still do others some measure of harm, even when we’re not being “extreme.”

If we remember that someone who worships God in a Pentecostal church is a person, just like we are, someone who is a parent, a child, someone who goes to work, who goes to the movies, someone who loves, cries, becomes afraid, is capable of compassion, just like we are, then it’s not quite as easy to say that everything they experience in their worship of God is really a product of the Adversary and grieves the heart of God.

Maybe all that is true, but it’s how we say it and with what intent that makes the difference.

We can also “out” and disdain people, human beings just like us, if we don’t think of them as people just like us but rather as “apostates.” An apostate is a special class of being who has done the unthinkable, he has, in the context of my message as well as Himango’s blog post, rejected Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Or in more Judaic terms, rejected Yeshua HaHashiach, the Son of David, King of Yisra’el.

Regardless of how apostasy within the Church affects you, can you say that because a person leaves the faith, all bets are off and you can treat them anyway you want?

Maybe. After all, the Master said this:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)

If someone continually refuses to repent of their sin, Jesus says they are to be treated as a Gentile and a tax collector,” not really desirable companions in that place and time. But notice that Jesus began by saying “show him his fault in private” and continues with “if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Talk to him in private avoids embarrassing him unnecessarily. Your goal is to win your brother, and in this context, the converse must be true. It must be possible to “lose” your brother, with the understanding that on some level, this person is still your brother, though you may have to ask him to be removed from the community of faith until he repents.

When MacArthur accused Charismatic people of offering “strange fire” to God, he was massively criticized on the web. There was and is a lot of debate about whether MacArthur was right in his message and right in his method. I don’t really need to speak of MacArthur or defend Charismatics, since that’s already been done in abundance. But in our little corner of the Messianic and Hebrew Roots blogosphere, who takes a hard look at the methods by which some writers are addressing those who have left our ranks, either to become atheists or to pursue more traditional (non-believing) Judaism as converts or people who are halachically Jewish?

nadab-abihu-fireI’m not defending leaving the faith, but is the only response to that act to revile and assault those who have? I have very personal reasons for not dragging Jewish non-believers through the mud, but I won’t “name names” or specifics on my blog so I can avoid creating “targets.” Can’t we instead respond to this tragedy with compassion, mercy, and even pity? Can’t we leave the door to friendship open? Is there no room for Christians and Jews to associate and even be friends, or does that constitute a “yoking” problem?

What is God’s point of view on all this? I can only infer it from the Bible. Certainly, God has been capable of more than a little wrath. MacArthur’s invocation of “strange fire” is a prime example of that, relative to Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu and their horrible, fiery end.

But God is also a God of compassion, mercy, pity, and love.

The thirteen attributes of God are captured for us in the following:

Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses.

Exodus 34:6-7

The Master’s own compassion for an unrepentant Jerusalem is the echo of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem:

Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I have desired to gather your sons like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Listen: your house will be abandoned for you, desolate. For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Hashem!”

Matthew 23:37-39 (DHE Gospels)

Compassion, even in the face of a very hard truth.

In his blog post, Himango says that Heresy hunting is a problem. What about Apostate hunting? We don’t burn “witches” anymore, we just embarrass them on the Internet. I must say that Himango was rather measured and even considerate in his write up, in spite of the fact that he listed names and biographies for those on his “apostate list,” but the person who started the ball rolling, so to speak, was much less merciful, and all the more harsh, and in fact, betrayed a personal trust based on friendship in “exposing” another person’s very difficult choice to leave the body of Yeshua.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:19-21

Jesus showed pity and regret to Jerusalem and even asked the Father to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34). Paul quotes the Torah in imploring the Romans (and us) to not respond to hurt with revenge, but to only show compassion, charity, and mercy.

13 Attributes of MercyAre we to answer someone else’s “strange fire” by incinerating them in speech or in writing, or can we emulate, Jesus, Paul, and God, by being “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness?”

Is the fault in any problem always in someone else? Is it never in who we are and what we do, even in the name of Christ?

A final note. I’m less than pond scum algae to men like John MacArthur, so I doubt he’ll ever be aware of my existence, let alone my blog, but Judah Himango and I have exchanged a number of comments over the past few years, so I don’t doubt that when he finds out I wrote this (and to be fair, I’ll let him know before I click the “Publish” button), he’ll have something to say about it, probably something not very complementary. Unfortunately, you can’t write something like this without becoming a target.

Again, I don’t doubt that Judah had good intensions in writing his blog post and he did make many good points. I believe he sincerely wants to support and encourage people, especially those associated with the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, in staying the course and continuing in the faith.

But there’s a price to be paid, a cost to be exacted from those people we put under our microscope. Is it worth it?

I didn’t want to write this. But I had to write it.