Tag Archives: bilateral ecclesiology

Why Christianity Was Invented and What It Means To Me Today

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.

JewishI 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.

The Jewish PaulNo, 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.

When Christians Aren’t Israel

In writing the review, I mentioned that I had gone back to J.K.McKee‘s A Part of Israel? as a resource for scholarly exposition of Scripture related to the place of non-Jews who come to Messiah. You’ll remember I lamented not having reviewed the book… Well, I started reading it again and couldn’t put it down! ‘Nuff said?

He is gracious in doing so, but is clear to demonstrate where there is error in various understandings of what the Kingdom of Israel looks like and who is in it! Example passages would be 30 pages dedicated to the predictably selected Ephesians 2:11-13 passage. He specifically addresses politeia, a Greek word we have looked at before, however, he understandably takes a much more coy approach as to whether non-Jews will have an inheritance in the land.

-Pete Rambo
from portions of his review of
JK McKee’s ‘Are Non-Jewish Believers Really A Part Of Israel?

I normally ignore these sorts of topics since historically in the blogosphere, debating the issues involved in Jewish/Gentile relationships in modern Messianic Judaism and/or the ancient ekklesia of “the Way” have, at best, proven unfruitful, and at worst, hostile and abusive.

But I’ve always had good, civil, and friendly conversations with Pete, including in the comments section on another of his blog posts,. So when I read his review, I was prompted to consider responding. After all, the legal and community status of the ancient Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah King relative to the synagogue, Jewish co-participants, and ultimately national Israel not only have applications in modern Christianity, but ultimately will be realized in the Messianic Kingdom when the New Covenant Age comes toward completion.

I requested a review copy of McKee’s book from the publisher and received a very nice and prompt reply stating that they do not honor such requests. Fair enough, since self-publication does not usually allow for such an option.

When I read Pete’s review last night, I got stuck on a single word: politeia. My commentary rather narrowly focuses on this word and how it is used since I can’t comment more generally on what McKee has written.

The word “politeia” is used in the following passages of scripture:

Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

Acts 22:28 (NASB)

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:12 (NASB)

I’ve bolded the English word corresponding to the Greek word “politeia” which is rendered as “citizenship” in both cases in the NASB translation.

However, this creates a number of questions.

  • Is Paul telling us (or his readers) that non-Jewish members of the Messianic ekklesia are now legally citizens of national Israel by faith in Messiah?
  • If so, then does such citizenship automatically require that the Gentile disciples adhere to, by obligation, the same Torah mitzvot in the same manner as the Jewish disciples/citizens?
  • Can “politeia” be translated in any other way besides “citizenship” and if so, what are the implications for the relationship of Gentiles and Jews belonging to Messiah in relationship to national Israel?

politeiaAs you can see from my source material, depending on the translation and in which part of scripture the word occurs, it can be translated differently. In Acts 22:28 using the KJV translation, it is rendered “freedom,” while in Ephesians 2:12, the NAS, KJV, and INT translations all present the word as “commonwealth”.

In fact, “citizenship” is only one of three major ways to translate”politeia”:

  1. the administration of civil affairs (Xenophon, mem. 3, 9, 15; Aristophanes, Aeschines, Demosthenes (others)).
  2. a state, commonwealth (2 Macc. 4:11 2Macc. 8:17 2Macc. 13:14; Xenophon, Plato, Thucydides (others)): with a genitive of the possessor, τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, spoken of the theocratic or divine commonwealth, Ephesians 2:12.
  3. citizenship, the rights of a citizen (some make this sense the primary one): Acts 22:28 (3Macc. 3:21, 23; Herodotus 9, 34; Xenophon, Hell. 1, 1, 26; 1, 2, 10; (4, 4, 6, etc.); Demosthenes, Polybius, Diodorus, Josephus, others).

I’m not a linguistic scholar, but I’ve known enough of them to understand that any sort of translation from one language to another is much more complicated than saying a particular word in language A always means another particular word in language B, especially when those languages are separated by nearly two-thousand years of history.

I am absolutely not saying McKee is making such a “rookie error,” but I will say that we all read and translate the Bible from a particular perspective, usually one that supports our own biases (everyone has biases, it’s not a dirty word). And yes, it’s easy to read those two verses in the New Testament and conclude that Paul must be making Israeli citizens out of Gentile believers in Jesus.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

A lot of Evangelical Christians believe we’re “spiritual” citizens of Israel too, and expect to take over physical, national Israel when Jesus comes back. Naturally, Jewish people object to being kicked out of their own Land (even by allegory) and those teachers in Messianic Judaism who I follow do not believe we Gentiles will be moving to Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Haifa once Messiah ascends the Davidic throne.

So where does that leave us? What’s the “differential diagnoses?”

If indeed it is the case that in Christ these Gentiles have a portion in [Israel’s covenant membership and national eschatology], i.e. that they are saved as Gentiles, then it suffices to apply to them the same ethical principles that would in any case apply to righteous Gentiles living with the people of Israel, i.e. resident aliens.

-Markus Bockmuehl
“Jewish Law in Gentile Churches:
Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics”
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 165

While the gerim in the days of Moses were not Israelites as such and did not obtain full membership status in the nation due to lack of tribal affiliation, they did observe a large number (majority? nearly-full obligation?) of the Torah mitzvot in the days of Moses and beyond. The argument of some branches of the Hebrew Roots movement is that the gerim status can be wholly transferred to the Gentile disciples of Jesus and be used to justify Gentile Christian obligation to the full yoke of Torah. Lancaster has spent considerable effort in his commentary to illustrate how James and the Council exempted the Gentiles from the full yoke of Torah because they were not born Jews or converts. Now, he apparently brings in an element in explaining the four prohibitions that could reverse his argument.

-from my blog post Return to Jerusalem, Part 6
based on my reviews of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Torah Club series Chronicles of the Apostles

Up to JerusalemThe key to all this is in understanding what sort of decision the Council of Apostles and Elders made in Jerusalem about the legal status of Gentiles in “the Way”. The question was brought up (Acts 15:1-2) and after much debate, Paul and his detractors couldn’t make any headway toward a solution, so they took it to a higher authority in Jerusalem. After much deliberation, the Council rendered what amounts to a binding legal decision and issued halachah specific to the communal role and responsibilities of Gentile disciples of the Master. Did they have to undergo the proselyte rite and become wholly obligated to the Torah mitzvot? If not, how could they be included as equal co-participants in Jewish worship and community and yet not be Jewish? How could they be included in covenant?

How do we resolve the matter of the ancient Ger as applied to the late Second Temple Gentile God-fearing disciple? Lancaster doesn’t make that clear, but based on my own reading, particularly of Cohen, the full role of a Ger as it existed in the days of Moses was to allow a non-Israelite to live among the people of God as permanent resident aliens without being able to formally become national citizens due to lack of tribal affiliation. After the Babylonian exile, a tribal basis for Israelite society was lost and affiliation by clan was emphasized. By the time of Jesus, this clan affiliation basis was too lost, and thus the rationale for the status of Ger as it was originally applied no longer was valid. A Gentile in the days of Jesus or later, who wanted to join the community of Israel, in most cases, would convert to Judaism, since becoming a Ger was not an option.

-from my aforementioned blog post

To further cite Shaye J.D. Cohen:

Biblical law frequently refers to the “resident alien” (ger in Hebrew) who is grouped with the widow, the orphan, and the Levite. All of these are landless and powerless, and all are the potential victims of abuse. (An American analogy to the ger is the Chicano (specifically, undocumented alien) farmworker; a European analogy is the Turkish laborer in Germany.) The Bible nowhere states how a ger might ameliorate his status and become equal to the native born, because there was no legal institution by which a foreigner could be absorbed by a tribal society living on its ancestral land. Resident aliens in the cities of pre-Hellenistic Greece fared no better.

But there’s another authoritative source that should be considered:

and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Romans 15:9-12 (NASB)

To which Nanos responds:

Christian gentiles worshiping the One God in the midst of the congregation of Israel — my point exactly! (emph. mine)

-Mark D. Nanos
Chapter 6: Romans 13:1-7: Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority, pg 326
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

Paul is urging the Gentile believers to take note of their position, their role, and their halachic status as “resident aliens” within the midst of corporate Israel, which here is the synagogue context in Rome.

-from my review of Nanos’s book

The Mystery of RomansThe alternative explanation, based Bockmuehl, Cohen, Lancaster, and Nanos, is that the Gentiles were included in the commonwealth of Israel but not as equal national citizens. It would be as if my wife, as a Jew, decided to make aliyah, become an Israeli citizen and live in Israel. As her husband, even though I’m not Jewish, I would be allowed a permanent status as a resident in Israel as well, but I do not have an automatic right to become a citizen, as does my wife, because I am not Jewish.

I would still have most or all of the same rights as Jewish Israelis and I would have most or all of the same obligations as Jewish Israelis, but none of that would make me Jewish, nor would the Chief Rabbis of Israel or any other Jewish religious authority expect me to observe Torah as they proscribe because I’m not Jewish.

I know you’re going to say that’s all secular law (with the exception of the authority of the Chief Rabbis) and has little or nothing to do with how God sees things, but I’m using the above example by way of analogy. When James and the Council issued their decision, it wasn’t some magical, spiritual event, it was a legal ruling on the same order as the authorities among the Pharisees made, and was binding halachah upon the community.

However, there is another citizenship I have and one in which I’m looking forward to living out in the age to come. It’s a status I currently possess since according to at least one interpretation of the New Covenant, I need to start living my life as if the world were already fully under the rule of Messiah, Son of David, as he is seated on his Throne in Jerusalem.

I consider myself a citizen of the worldwide Messianic Kingdom to come and many wonderful blessings come from this status. I will be resurrected from dead flesh and made immortal (assuming I die before Messiah’s return). I will have my sins fully, permanently cleansed from me. I will have the Holy Spirit poured into me to such fullness that I will have an apprehension of God in the same or even greater manner than the prophets of old. I will have my heart of stone turned to a heart of flesh and God will write His Word upon it so that it will be my natural inclination to always obey Him and not return to sin.

And as a Gentile of the nations, I will reside in a country that is a vassal state to national Israel, subservient to Israel which will be the head of all nations, and ultimately I and my nation of residence will be accountable to the King of Israel, Moshiach. I expect that I and everyone else like me will be planning our vacations around the festivals and making regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem to spend time with family and friends and pay homage and honor to our King.

The goyishness of Christianity is a sign of its success, not its failure!

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy”

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann

R. Dauermann makes a compelling argument that Gentiles who attach themselves to the God of Israel are intended by God to remain Gentiles. The prophets of the Tanakh who spoke of the Messianic Age all seemed to share that belief. I’ll only quote two of them:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah 56:6-7 (NASB)

“In that day

“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,”
declares the Lord, who will do these things. (emph. mine)

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

And to quote verse 14:

and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. (emph. mine)

which can also be interpreted as:

will restore the fortunes of my people Israel. (emph. mine)

In both of these prophetic examples describing Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Age, it is clear that Gentiles will become attached to the God of Jacob as Gentiles and as citizens of the nations. While Isaiah paints for us a portrait of Gentiles offering sacrifices at the Temple of God (something which was allowed during the time of Herod’s Temple), Amos 9:14 makes a clear distinction between the Gentiles of the nations who “bear my name” and Israel!

It is true that Isaiah describes Gentiles keeping to the covenant, but after all, we will receive blessings because of our Abrahamic faith under the New Covenant, and in Messianic Days, I expect it will be more common for even the citizens of vassal nations to have laws and observances that more closely mirror national Israel’s including Sabbath keeping.

I’m not even saying (with apologies to R. Dauermann) that Gentiles in Messiah shouldn’t observe Sabbath in the present age. I’ve met many who do.

What I am saying is that none of what I see in the Bible, particularly the use of a single Greek word, absolutely mandates that all non-Jewish people who are disciples of Jesus be made into citizens of Israel, either in the present age or in the Messianic future.

God made a covenant with Abraham that was specifically and narrowly passed down to Abraham’s son Isaac (but not to Ishmael or any of Abraham’s subsequent children) and then to Isaac’s son Jacob (but not to Esau) and then to Jacob’s twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes, who became the nation of Israel (but not to any other people group or nations).

That Abraham would also become the father of many nations and that through his seed (singular) Messiah, the nations would be blessed, does not abrogate the part of the covenant that specifically promises Israel only to the direct biological offspring of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.

Having not read his book, I can’t say for sure, but if  McKee comes to a different conclusion in his writing, then in spite of his stated education and scholarship, I’m forced to disagree with him.

I don’t write this against Pete or anyone else who holds to his views of scripture, but rather to illustrate that there are other valid and educated views of the Bible that come to other valid and educated conclusions.

I considered just making a few comments on Pete’s blog but as you see, the response requires a lot of words and it’s easier to write out my thoughts here and then just to share a link to my blog with him (and anyone else who is interested).

Beth Immanuel ShavuotConsidering all of the different viewpoints involved in this sort of discussion, I see the position of One Law/One Torah (OL/OT) as existing at one end of a continuum and what’s been called Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE) positioned at the opposite end. While I obviously am leaning closer to the BE end of the scale, I’m not sitting right on top of it.

Of those congregations I am aware of that I consider authentic Messianic Jewish synagogues, including Beth Immanuel, Tikvat Israel, and Ahavat Zion, they all have a majority membership/attendance of non-Jewish people worshiping the God of Israel and giving honor and glory to Yeshua HaMoshiach (Jesus Christ), with a smaller membership and usually leadership of Jews. In fact, the primary teacher at Beth Immanuel is a Gentile: D. Thomas Lancaster. And yet Beth Immanuel is a Jewish community and worship venue that adheres to specific standards of established halachah.

From my perspective, that’s the current state of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions I know about in my little corner of the world.

That I don’t consider non-Jewish disciples to be literally citizens of national Israel does not exclude us from many incredible blessings or from association with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah. I am quite comfortable inside of my own skin, so to speak, being a person among the nations who is called by His Name. Being married to a Jewish wife, I am content to recognize that she is among her people Israel and I’m dedicated to supporting her, and all other Jewish people I’m associated with, being and becoming closer to the God of Jacob as HIs people Israel through the mitzvot and within their unique community and nation which was established forever by Hashem.

Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles

In spite of this disheartening picture of the relations between Jews and Gentiles in Antioch there is, rather surprisingly, evidence of Gentiles who felt drawn to Judaism.

More relevant for the present discussion is whether there was a group of Gentiles with a clear interest in Judaism who may even have adopted several Jewish customs and who participated in the activities in the synagogue without having converted to Judaism.

-Magnus Zetterholm
Chapter 4: “Evidence of Interaction,” pp 121-2
The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity

This is both what Judaism has to offer and teach our confused and self-indulgent age. In the words of the psalmist, “Blessed are they who dwell in Your house.” (Psalm 145:1) The circuitous path away from the constricted focus on the self through the expansive world of the other. When we find renewal in the synagogue, we will have gained access to Judaism’s greatest boon: this-worldly salvation.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Holiness is a Communal Experience,” pp 431-2 (May 17, 1997)
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

[This is a long “meditation.” Pour yourself a cup of coffee and give yourself the time to take it all in.]

This is something of a counterpoint to my previous blog post Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and Today’s Messianic Judaism. The prior write up was a look at the Judaisms operating in Antioch, including the “synagogue of the Way,” as they existed in the first century CE, through the lens of Zetterholm’s book and research. Today, we use the same lens to see how Gentiles were brought into this wholly Jewish religious stream, what the Jewish disciples understood about the social role of Gentiles, and how unconverted (to Judaism) Gentiles could participate in the New Covenant blessings.

It seems (and I’ve said this before) it wasn’t all that clear how to bring Gentile disciples into fellowship, and even among the Jews in the Way, opinions differed.

I’m going to focus on only part of this chapter, which is Zetterholm addressing “the Antioch incident” (Galatians 2:11-21) because the thirty some odd pages this author spends interpreting the conflict between Paul and Peter contains a great deal of commentary on the struggle to understand how Gentiles could be co-participants socially and benefit from Jewish covenant blessings without undergoing the proselyte rite and without being considered mere God-fearers (though God-fearers could not apprehend the covenant blessings).

Citing New Testament scholar J.D.G Dunn in his article The Incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-18), Zetterholm wrote:

Having evaluate[d] different exegetical alternatives, Dunn suggested that table-fellowship in Antioch involved observance of at least the basic dietary laws, since the Jesus-believing Gentiles were originally god-fearers. The men from James, shocked at what they regarded as too casual an attitude, demanded a higher degree of observance, especially with regard to ritual purity and tithing. According to Dunn, they referred to the earlier agreement made in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10), where Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was agreed upon but where the specific issue of table-fellowship was never considered.

Zetterholm, pp 130-1

You’ll notice here that Dunn (apparently) believes in a “common Judaism” (see my previous article on Zetterholm) shared by all Jewish factions but variability in how to observe the mitzvot or at least to what degree to observe ritual purity customs within different synagogues of the Way. Zetterholm referencing Dunn states that it is likely the Jerusalem contingent, the home of James the Just, brother of the Master, and the core group of apostles and elders, held to a more strict observance of ritual purity than the Jews of the Way in Antioch.

Peter, as one of the original apostles of Jesus (Yeshua), may have originally held to the Jerusalem point of view, but his experiences with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:28-29) modified that opinion. However, confronted with the more strictly observant emissaries from James, Peter gave in to peer pressure.

Notice, this doesn’t mean that Jews were eating non-kosher food, so the issue was about the competing halachot of the two Jewish communities relative to eating with Gentiles:

Dunn argued that this agreement in no way changed the obligation to torah observance for the Jesus-believing Jew.

According to Dunn, the reason why Peter suddenly withdrew from the table-fellowship was that “[h]e could not deny the logic of Jerusalem’s demand, that a Jew live like a Jew.” Continued table-fellowship could therefore lead to a severe loss of authority in relation to Jewish-Christian communities of Palestine.

-ibid, pg 131

J.D.G Dunn
J.D.G Dunn

I don’t know if I completely agree with Dunn’s and Zetterholm’s conclusion here regarding the compromise of authority, and it seems that Paul certainly didn’t think his halachah of table-fellowship with Gentiles was a problem based on his criticism of Peter. I do think this brings into sharp relief the potential differences between Paul and James, especially prior to the Acts 15 halachic ruling regarding the legal status of Gentiles in (Messianic) Judaism.

Of course Dunn isn’t the only New Testament (NT) scholar to have an opinion on this “incident.” P.F. Esler, according to Zetterholm, didn’t think it was a matter of the degree of observance but an outright halachic ban across the board on Jews eating with Gentiles, with perhaps only a few exceptions. From Esler’s perspective, this was a matter of the preservation of Jewish identity, which could only be maintained by a strict separation of Gentile and Jew with no table-fellowship between the two groups, period.

E.P. Sanders didn’t agree with either Dunn or Esler, and Zetterholm tends to favor Sanders’ viewpoint most of the time. Sanders didn’t think the issue had anything to do with ritual impurity, since most Jews are in a state of impurity (which has nothing to do with sin) most of the time, and must only be pure when participating in a Temple ritual. He also didn’t think it had much to do with social interactions, particularly in Antioch which, like other diaspora communities, required fairly free transactions between Jewish and Gentile inhabitants.

Sanders really did think it was the food, not that the Gentiles were insisting on eating ham, but the Gentile origin of the food itself was an issue. How could the Jews be sure that at least some of the meat hadn’t been sacrificed to idols?

I tend to think Dunn may have the most accurate perspective on the matter, especially given B. Holmberg’s opinion:

Holmberg suggested that James demanded a higher degree of observance not on the part of the Jesus-believing Gentiles but on that of the Jesus-believing Jews, and furthermore, a virtual separation of the Christian community into two commensary groups.

-ibid, pg 134

According to Holmberg, both Paul and James believed that the Gentiles benefited from the covenant blessings that issued from being grafted into the Jewish root, but their perspectives were different. While Paul advocated for Jewish and Gentile interaction and fellowship within the community of Messiah, James advocated for separate communities of Gentiles and Jews operating side-by-side rather than intermingled. This was to preserve the integrity of Jewish identity. Paul (according to Holmberg) disagreed.

To James and Peter, the Jerusalem agreement made no difference in how the Jesus-believing Jews related to torah, while Paul requested that the demands of a Jewish identity should cede to those necessary for maintaining a common Christian identity.


This isn’t to say that Paul was advocating for a Torah-free practice for the Jewish believers, but rather for a more lenient halchah relative to Jewish/Gentile fellowship and co-participation in worship and social interactions.

Rabbi Mark Kinzer
Rabbi Mark Kinzer

It’s interesting that Holmberg’s perspective on James, Peter, and the Jerusalem community maps at least somewhat to that of modern Messianic Jewish author and scholar, Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer who wrote the rather controversial book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.  R. Kinzer advocates for a position called “bilateral ecclesiology,” which essentially establishes two communities within the body of Messiah, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles.

While many in the Church and in Gentile Hebrew Roots feel R. Kinzer’s position is a recent development, we see now that at least one NT scholar, Holmberg, suggests that it (or something very much like it) existed within the early Jerusalem Messianic ekklesia at the highest levels of leadership. What would this have said for Yeshua’s perspective on the matter?

We can’t know the answer to that one with any certainty, but it’s a compelling question. Yeshua rarely had dealings with Gentiles and stressed that he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He only issued the directive to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28-19-20) after the resurrection and (shortly) before the ascension.

Just to summarize, the explanation behind the “Antioch incident” was the degree of ritual observance for Dunn, food for Sanders, social intercourse for Esler, and Jewish vs. Gentile identity (related to observance issues) for Holmberg. Depending on your theological preferences, you can choose the scholar that fits your perspective. I think we all tend to do that and I’m just as guilty of the practice as the next person. Hopefully, I can cut through some of that and present a reasonable case for my conclusions, such as they are.

Zetterholm said that the problem is…

…that the text contains several gaps that must be filled in through an act of interpretation. The fact that scholars put forward different and sometimes even contradicting suggestions to solve a given historical problem often emanates from the character of the text: what we want to know is simply not in the text but must be supplemented from outside the text world.


Not a very comforting thought, especially if you are a proponent of Biblical sufficiency.

I presented, in my previous blog post on Zetterholm, the nature of Jewish communities in Antioch and their implications for modern Judaism including Messianic Judaism. Now, I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how or if Gentiles could have been reasonably integrated into a Jewish community without compromising the Jewish nature and identity of that community. I think it’s clear Paul was convinced this was possible, but as history shows, it didn’t work out so well. I can only believe all this has profound implications for modern Messianic Judaism and the role of Messianic Gentiles within that Jewish context.

The issue for Paul in his letter to the Galatians was the Gentiles and encouraging them to maintain a Gentile identity within the Jewish Messianic movement, which did not require them to undergo the proselyte rite, become circumcised (males), and take on the full yoke of Torah observance. This is the same issue (Gentile role and status) within the Antioch synagogue (Acts 15:1), which most Christians would call “Paul’s home church.”

The challenge though, wasn’t just how to smooth over the wrinkles added by including Gentiles in a Jewish religious and social space, but how to understand the covenantal relationship (if any) Gentiles apprehended when they became disciples of the Master. I know in my own studies of the covenants, it is very clear how Jewish people and Judaism are in covenant with God, but Genesis 9 and Noah aside, when a Gentile comes into relationship with God through Messiah, just how does it work? There’s no clear and easy path in the text explaining it.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

I came to my own peace with Gentile inclusion in the New Covenant about a year ago and more recently, in my multi-part review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s What About the New Covenant lecture series, I affirmed some of my convictions and discovered new information.

But what did this look like to the various groups inside of the Jewish Messianic movement in first century Antioch, or for that matter, from the perspective of James and the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem?

Based on various scriptures in the Tanakh (Old Testament) you could conclude that either Gentiles were cursed and would ultimately be wiped from the face of the Earth (for instance, Micah 5:9-15, Zephaniah 2:4-15), or that Gentiles had an eschatological future wherein at least some members of the nations and perhaps all nations would come into relationship with God and worship Him and Him alone (Isaiah 19, Isaiah 56:7, Zechariah 14:16).

From my point of view, I reconcile the opposing viewpoints in these texts by believing any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) which goes against Israel will ultimately be defeated by God and be cursed for cursing Israel, and any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) that joins with Israel in supporting her and her precious, chosen people, the Jewish people, will one day be called up to Jerusalem along with the returning Jewish exiles to worship God and to pay homage to the Jewish King.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “on the wrong side of history” in the news or social media recently, but applied to the Gentile nations and their relationship with Israel (for or against), those words take on a whole new meaning.

Believe it or not, I’m still talking about the Antioch incident, since how the Jews in the Way saw the Gentiles in relationship to the Jews, including socially and in the nature of their eschatology, was at the heart of the conflict.

If, however, we assume that he (Jesus) confirmed that Gentiles were to be embraced by the final salvation, it is not strange that within the early Jesus movement different concepts developed of how to relate to Gentiles and of how the actions of the god of Israel, through Christ, would also relate to the nations of the world.

-ibid, pg 140

Zetterholm, citing Sanders, said that the Jewish believers had no issue with Israel’s relationship with God since the Torah provides the means of atonement and…

…everyone living within the boundaries of the covenant and remaining in the covenant through obedience and atonement will be saved.



The soteriological system was, of course, for Jews only. Exactly how the Gentiles would be saved is less clear.


The Church today takes its status of being saved rather for granted, although I doubt most Christians have ever seriously studied the New Covenant and encountered the challenge of finding themselves anywhere in the text. If they did, they might have some small idea of what the Jewish believers were facing when trying to insert Gentiles into the Jewish community, short of formal conversion to Judaism.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

Zetterholm is convinced, citing T.L Donaldson and others, that what was not required ultimately, was the need to circumcise Gentiles and have them brought under the Torah in the manner of the Jews. But since circumcision was tied directly into the covenant relationship, it remained a mystery (apparently) to the first Jesus-believing Jews, exactly what status and role uncircumcised Gentiles played in Judaism and in covenant (if any). Salvation comes from the Jews, but how?

The Acts 15 decision was designed to settle all of this and render “halakhic clarification”, since, as Zetterholm says (pg 144) it was believed that the end of the present age was at hand and Gentile status had to be settled quickly before the Messianic Era arrived.

Zetterholm puts Luke’s Acts and Paul’s epistles in tension with each other, believing that Luke may have represented Paul differently than Paul actually saw himself. Zetterholm believes that Paul’s epistles are a more valid representation of Paul and how he saw Gentiles in covenant with God, but that view, given the complexity of Paul’s letters, isn’t all that clear.

We do know that Paul did support the continuation of Torah observance for Jesus-believing Jews as a given while at the same time, did not impose said-Torah observance along with circumcision upon the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

It is clear that under no circumstances would Paul accept that the torah be imposed on the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

If Paul accepted the apostolic decree (Acts 15) was applicable to Jesus-believing Gentiles, this would not mean that he imposed torah on them, since, strictly speaking, the halakhah for righteous Gentiles or god-fearers was not the torah but something to be observed by Gentiles not having been blessed with the gift of the torah.

-ibid, pg 148

This doesn’t answer the question of how Gentiles are included in the covenant blessings, but makes clear that Paul, as Zetterholm understands him and agreeing with Mark Nanos, believed the Sinai covenant and its conditions outlined in the Torah, was not the covenant operating that provides salvation for the Gentiles and brings them into relationship with God.

I do want to say that Zetterholm seems to more strongly relate the Noahide Covenant (which Zetterholm says was fully documented in the Tannaitic period [10-220 CE]) with the status of Jesus-believing Gentiles than I would. The Noahide covenant defines a very basic relationship between God and all humanity (all flesh, really) but if that were it, then Gentiles wouldn’t need an additional covenantal connection to God that required faith in the Messiah. The New Covenant, though made only with Israel and Judah, I believe is also apprehended by Gentiles who are Jesus-believers (see Lancaster’s New Covenant lecture series for details).

Finally, through his very long and winding narrative, Zetterholm came to the same place where I have also arrived.

The inclusion of the Gentiles meant for Paul the inclusion in the covenant, since it was the covenant that provided the ultimate means of salvation. By connecting the inclusion of the Gentiles with the promise given to Abraham in Galatians 3:7-29, Paul interprets the salvation of the Gentiles in covenantal terms, since the promise given to Abraham is a covenantaly promise as stated in Genesis 15:18: “[o]n that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

-ibid, pg 157

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This allowed Gentiles to remain Gentiles, remain uncircumcised, and to be accountable to a different set of conditions of covenant than the Torah (or conditions with some overlap), and yet be able to enjoy the blessings of a covenantal relationship with God. It was and is that Abrahamic faith in Messiah that opens the door to our drawing near to God in a way denied to the ancient God-fearers and the modern Noahides.

Zetterholm concludes that both James and Paul agreed the Gentiles enjoyed covenant blessings, but James…

…demanded a separation of the community into two commensality groups, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles, since too close social intercourse would have confused the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles.

-ibid, pg 166

Paul, on the other hand, declared:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (NASB)

Zetterholm explains:

Paul, however, stressed that, “in Christ,” all distinctions between men become, on one level, superfluous. But here comes the paradox: this unity “in Christ” is arrived at only when the social distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained. It is as “Jew” and “Gentile” that mankind becomes “one in Christ,” since the god of Israel is the god not only of the Jews, but of all humanity.

-ibid, pg 164

How does this speak to the relationship between Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles in community today?

If it seems like there’s been a lot of bickering, confusion, and debate over the status of non-Jews in the Jewish religious space called Messianic Judaism, but this is actually revisiting very old territory. It is, in some sense, a replay of what Paul went through in advocating for a Gentile presence as co-participants in Jewish community and fellowship, and in the covenant blessings of God. That the Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, as difficult as that can be to trace down in the scriptures, isn’t the big problem, though.

The big problem is how to integrate Jews and Gentiles in Messiah in a religious, social, and halachic context. What role does the Messianic Gentile play in Messianic Jewish space? What are our obligations relative to Jewish obligations (which are far more clearly spelled out)? What does table-fellowship look like? Was James right in demanding social segregation between Jews and Gentiles, or is it more likely Paul, as Messiah’s special emissary to the nations, was correct in stating halachah should be constructed to allow closer social interaction and intermingling while still maintaining identity distinctions between the two groups?

Answering the ancient questions, if such a thing is possible, would also help answer our modern questions.

But while Paul was convinced within himself as to the intentions of God toward the nations in relationship with both God and Israel, others in the Way may not have been convinced. Zetterholm’s view of the Paul – James conflict is an educated opinion. At the level of the Christian sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, we all want to believe that the apostles were in complete unity with one another and that early “Christianity” presented a complete and undifferentiated whole within itself, only opposing the other Judaisms and pagan idol worship.

But what if Paul, Peter, James, and the rest were human after all? What if they disagreed, especially on such an emotionally hot-button topic as Gentiles within Judaism?

DaveningIf all that is true, it means we can look to the New Testament to help us understand what the problems are that we’re experiencing today, but no final solutions may be coming our way this side of the Messiah.

But as my quotes of Zetterholm and Schorsch at the very beginning of this missive testify, there is something about being in community that transcends all of the petty bickering. As a Gentile, I’m envious (I guiltily confess this) of Jews in a minyan, the reciting of the morning prayers, the special connectedness of synagogue life. Maybe it’s because I never quite feel integrated in the church. Maybe, like my first quotes above attest, I am one of those Gentiles who sees holiness in Jewish community, since that’s where we come from and I believe that’s where we’ll be returning to in the Messianic Kingdom.

For more on this and related topics, see my commentary on Shaye J.D. Cohen’s book From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition.

The Fundamental Platform

Large crowd of people watching concert or sport eventWe talked denominations last Wednesday night.

Pastor Randy has a wonderful grasp of the historical development of Fundamentalism (which in its original incarnation, isn’t as scary as it seems today). Wikipedia provides this handy summary:

Christian fundamentalism, also known as fundamentalist Christianity, or simply fundamentalism, refers to a movement begun in the late 19th and early 20th century British and American Protestant denominations among evangelicals who reacted energetically against theological and cultural modernism. Fundamentalists argued that 19th century modernist theologians had misinterpreted or rejected certain doctrines, especially biblical inerrancy, which evangelicals viewed as the fundamentals of Christian faith. A few scholars regard Catholics who reject modern theology in favor of more traditional doctrines as fundamentalists. Scholars debate how much the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are synonymous.

Fundamentalism is a movement manifested in various denominations with various theologies, rather than a single denomination or systematic theology. It became active in the 1910s after the release of the Fundamentals, a ten-volume set of essays, apologetic and polemic written by conservative Protestant theologians to defend what they saw as Protestant orthodoxy. The movement became more organized in the 1920s within U.S. Protestant churches, especially Baptist and Presbyterian. Many such churches adopted a “fighting style” and combined Princeton theology with Dispensationalism. Since 1930, many fundamentalist churches in North America and around the world have been represented by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (renamed IFCA International in 1996), which holds to biblical inerrancy, the Virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the literal resurrection of Christ, and the Second Coming of Christ, among other doctrines.

Really, all a fundamentalist was in its original meaning, was a person who adhered to the core fundamentals of their faith. The fundamentalist movement was born out of a desire to establish or re-establish just what was and is fundamental about being a Christian. We have all kinds of denominations and theologies and doctrines. What is the bare minimum core set of beliefs that are necessary for a person to authentically be a Christian?

The paragraph above lists all but one of them. I’ll put the complete list in bullet point form to make the information easier to read.

  • Biblical inerrancy
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Substitutionary atonement
  • The literal resurrection of Christ
  • The Second Coming of Christ

Believe it or not, in the late 19th century in America and Canada (and probably Europe), These core beliefs weren’t automatically adopted and shared between Christians. I had thought the Deity of Christ had been settled by the third or fourth century, but apparently a great deal came into question in about the mid-19th century, and a series of conferences were held to settle the issue (though in the realm of human beliefs, nothing is ever finally settled).

This is all going to seem pretty dry compared to what I usually write, but I know so little about how denominations formed and what makes them different from one another, that I need to put it down in some semi-stable place as a reference. I didn’t take notes during our conversation, so I’ll have to work from memory and the charts Pastor gave me, one of which I’m including here (click to enlarge).


As Pastor was talking, I recalled my blog post What Good is There in the Hebrew Roots Movement, where I attempted to illustrate what Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots have certain things in common. I think we need to expand that idea a bit to include what we all agree upon as disciples of the Jewish Messiah. I know, for instance, that there are a few Messianic Jewish individuals and groups who claim Yeshua as Messiah but deny his Deity. They may be “Messianic,” but if we’re operating from the diagram inserted above, they can’t be included in the list of people/groups who share a fundamental set of core beliefs about Jesus.

I think such a discussion is important if, for no other reason, than to manage the “dizzyingly” confusing collection of different denominations, movements, and groups in our world. Pastor was able to place himself on the different charts he gave me, but I was just baffled where I would fit in. Where does Messianic Judaism find itself in these spectrums or is it such a diverse movement that different Messianic groups would land on different points along the scale?

I found out that Pastor has started reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism. He seems to have thrown himself into the content, but where he finds himself cheering in some chapters, he disagrees strongly with others. I can’t wait to get a more detailed report from him.

I mention this because I think his mixed reaction indeed describes the larger experience within the overall Messianic Jewish movement. The movement is still in a formation stage and is trying to define itself. Contrary to what many people may believe, Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, unified entity. In many ways, it is going through the evolutionary process that mainstream Christianity has experienced and continues to go through. That’s why discovering a fundamental set of core beliefs that can be shared by all disciples of Messiah/Christ is really important. Whatever differences exist that may separate us, at least we’ll know what we all have in common.

How will that work in terms of bilateral ecclesiology as defined in Mark Kinzer’s book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism? I don’t know. As I recall from reading the book several years ago, Rabbi Dr. Kinzer draws a pretty hard and firm line in the sand between Messianic Jewish practice and identity and any non-Jewish worship and following of the Jewish Messiah. Separate but equal silos.

But as I’ve said, Messianic Judaism itself exists on a spectrum and the portion of the movement that expresses bilateral ecclesiology in its purest form (if it exists in actual practice) represents one line along the graph.

Well over two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a blog post called Gears, Wires, and Batteries where I proposed to take all of the assumptions I’d made during my time in the Hebrew Roots movement and strip them down to nothing, then rebuild my theology from scratch.

I didn’t get it all down quite to zero, but the result is a movement away from Hebrew Roots and more toward Christianity with a “Messianic” twist. Pastor described the life of a gentleman whose name I can’t remember, a person who was instrumental in defining and then fulfilling the evangelical needs of a post-World War II Europe. This amazing person, at one point, experienced a severe crisis of faith and had to stop all external activities in order to re-discover exactly what he believed.

interfaithI suppose I’ve been “leaking” similar thoughts on my blog lately. I’m trying to discover and re-discover where I fit in. My position continues to waver a bit, especially since I’ve been attending church and Sunday school for the better part of a year.

Pastor said he wasn’t trying to convince me to become a Baptist and that although he agrees with much or all of the doctrines of the Standard Baptist Church, he’s not married to the name. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a Baptist. I suspect not, since I feel more like the wildcard in the deck. On the other hand, when God sent Pastor to live in Israel for fifteen years and then brought him back and made him a Pastor, I think God added a bit of a wildcard to Pastor’s deck, too. Although he’s more “standard” than I am as a Christian, we each have our “peculiarities”.

There’s a reason our conversations are just between the two of us. Most believers can’t tolerate the dynamic tension involved in being suspended between categories, labels, and pigeon-holes.

I don’t know where this is all going to lead for me personally, but I suspect it’s another step along the path that God has set before me. As far as all of the groups, movements, organizations, and individuals who, on some level, acknowledge that Jesus or Yeshua is the Christ or Messiah, there must be some ground-level, foundational set of beliefs that we all have in common. I know that especially in Messianic Judaism, it’s important to draw identity distinctions in order to avoid the pitfalls of assimilation into Christian culture and identity, but below that layer should exist a platform where we can all stand together and say, “this is what we believe, no matter how different we are otherwise.”

Where do all Christians, all Messianic Jewish people and affiliated Gentiles, and all Hebrew Roots Gentiles and affiliated Jews stand and make that statement? Have we ever tried to do that?

Afraid of Church

leaving-the-churchNot a word is said in the “olive tree” passage (see Romans 11:11-24) or anywhere else in Scripture about splitting the promises into earthly ones for the Jews and heavenly ones for the Church. However, God has made two kinds of promises. In regard to the promises which relate to individual salvation, there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28), no distinction between them (Romans 10:12), no dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-19). On the other hand, there remain promises to national Israel, the Jewish people, in which Gentile nations corporately and Gentile believers individually have no direct share – although it is worth noting that there are also promises to certain Gentile nations…

-David H. Stern, Ph.D
Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians
Chapter 2: “Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel,” pg 25.

The only reason I’m reading this book is because one of the Associate Pastors at my church asked me to read it and evaluate it for him. He’s obviously read it a number of times himself, because there is evidence of a great deal of note taking and underlining in its pages, so he must know its contents well. And yet, this charming, older gentleman from Oklahoma asked me if I’d read Stern’s small book and give him my opinion on how we can restore the Jewishness of the Gospel. Of course, I told him I’d be glad to.

But I was a little worried. My first introduction to Dr. David Stern was through his best known work, The Complete Jewish Bible and it was presented to me as a “real” Jewish Bible (New Testament, actually) within a Hebrew Roots (advertising itself as Messianic Judaism) congregation. I didn’t know any better and so I was thoroughly enthralled with what I read. Real “Hebrew” words were sprinkled among the English. Later, I found some Yiddish also anachronistically inserted within its pages. Ultimately though, I discovered that I desired a Bible that focused on accurate translation with no specific audience in mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand what Dr. Stern was trying to do, but there were already a number of New Testaments translated into Hebrew and many other Christian Bibles in English that would have served as well. Also, since I have separated myself from the “One Law” expression of the Hebrew Roots movement, Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” is a painful reminder of how incredibly naive I was once upon a time.

So in approaching Restoring, I was a little timid and figured what I was going to be reading would be “old school” Hebrew Roots at its finest.

Wow, was I surprised. The book is about 76 pages long, minus an appendix or two and I’m just on page 26 so far, but I was completely impressed. The writing and teaching is basic (but after all, Stern was trying to reach the widest possible Christian audience), but the ideas he documents are very close to what I’ve been trying to express. Given that I associate him with “One Law” and that his New Testament translation is still well-regarded in some Hebrew Roots circles, I just naturally believed his stance was in support of Hebrew Roots Christians rather than Messianic Jews.

Man, was I wrong.

I’m not writing this in any way as my response to the aforementioned Pastor, since he probably isn’t interested in this aspect of Stern’s book, but in recent conversations on Acts 15 commentary and why I go to church, I’ve entered a debate or two on why I believe (though it’s not as if I haven’t stated my reasoning many times before) that there are fundamental differences between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ relative to identity and covenant obligation.

But theologically, the Jews are unique because God chose them as the vehicle for bringing salvation to the world. The entire Hebrew Bible attests to that, as does the New Testament (see Yochanan [John] 4:22; Romans 3:2, 9:4-5). The Jews are God’s people in a sense that applies to no other people on earth. Because of this, the New Testament abounds with theological Scyllas and Charybdis rocky places that offer dangerous passage. What other people is faced with Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek”) or Ephesians 2:11-22 (“the middle wall of the partition”)?

-Stern, pp 12-13

praying_jewNotice what Stern doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that the Jews are theologically unique and identical to the Gentile Christians who have joined their ranks. He doesn’t obliterate Jewish identity and, from the quote above, Stern supports a view that God made unique promises to the Jews that are not shared with Gentile believers just because Christ performed a unique service in the plan of God and allowed the Gentiles to also be saved.

Some of the debates I’ve been having in the comments sections of some of my other blog posts lately have to do with the following:

But many believers feel uneasy about restoring Jewishness to the Gospel and encouraging Messianic Jews to express their Jewish identity. They fear an elitism will arise in which Gentile Christians will be made to feel like second-class citizens of the Kingdom. This is a real pitfall, and Scripture warns against division between Jew and Gentile in the Body of the Messiah. However, the New Testament also gives assurance that both are one in Yeshua, serving one God by one Spirit. Therefore, let all believers, both Jewish and Gentile, work together to avoid invidious comparisons, which only serve the Adversary. Let every Messianic Jew and every Gentile Christian demonstrate in his own life those elements of Jewishness which arise from his own spiritual consciousness and identity, without feeling condemned for expressing either too much or too little.

-Stern, pg 14

That last paragraph might seem ambiguous in terms of how Stern sees the differences between believing Jews and Gentiles, but put together with the other quotes, we see his opinion develop. Both Jews and Gentiles are unique in God’s plan but not in identical ways. They are united in salvation but do not share a uniform identity. There is danger in forgetting the uniqueness of the Jews, especially in light of how some Christians interpret scriptures such as Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2:11-22, as if the aforementioned uniqueness of the Jews was cast aside. Jewish believers must be allowed and encouraged to express a wholly lived Jewish identity by we Gentile Christians. To do that, we Christians must set aside our fears that the Jews will “take over” somehow, and cast the Gentiles out of their midst and “back into the churches.” Stern doesn’t seem to object to both Jews and Gentiles expressing “elements of Jewishness” (which should be a given for Jewish believers) but that which arise from “his own spiritual consciousness and identity (emph. mine).”

Recently I was chastised for my support of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David (TOD), particularly as it inspired my own return to church. One of my (and Boaz Michael’s) especially passionate critics is Judah Himango, a long time blogger in the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots space.

My interpretation of his response to me and particularly to Michael’s TOD book seems to be precisely what Stern predicts when he says, “…they fear an elitism will arise in which Gentile Christians will be made to feel like second-class citizens of the Kingdom.” Coupling TOD with the philosophy of “bilateral ecclesiology” presented in Mark Kinzer’s book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, a portrait of a Messianic Judaism that is plotting the expulsion of all Gentile Christians from their ranks disguised as a benign attempt to reconnect “Messianic” non-Jewish believers to their counterparts in the “Church” begins to emerge.

Or is it what Stern wrote about in 1988 and earlier; that the fear of Jewish elitism by Gentile Christians in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots realm, is still very much alive and kicking (and I’ve got the metaphorical boot prints on my backside to prove it)?

But do Hebrew Roots Christians really have anything to be afraid of?

Yes and no.

kinzer-postmissionaryOK, let’s be fair. The people and groups within the expression of Messianic Judaism I’m discussing very much support Jewish unique identity and distinction within the larger body of Messiah. Much of Stern’s book addresses this in an attempt to help its Christian audience understand that when a Jew becomes a disciple of Jesus, they are not only allowed, but obligated to remain a Jew relative to Torah and halachah (although again, to be fair, Stern hasn’t addressed halachah as of page 26). Messianic Judaism walks a fine line in terms of Stern, because on the one hand, he encourages Jews to continue living as Jews and as having the right to be a unique people chosen by God, but on the other hand, he is insistent that uniqueness and distinction absolutely not get in the way of unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

So far, he hasn’t outlined his vision for how believing Jews and Gentiles are supposed to be separate and unique and yet also united, except to say that we share equality in salvation but the Jews are unique in certain national promises from God.

I’m not offering this as a solution, but as an explanation and a reminder that this problem has been around for at least a few decades and it’s not going away anytime soon. But we are talking about relationships and identity that are based on fear and on who your group is opposed to and struggling against. Both Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism feel victimized by the other. Hebrew Roots fears Jewish elitism and that the Jewish believers will seize sole possession of the Torah mitzvot, and Messianic Jews see the encroachment of Gentile Christians who demand a “Jewish identity” identical to the Jews as a form of replacement resulting in the obliteration of everything it means to be Jewish.

It’s fear that is at the very heart of Hebrew Roots opposition to Michael’s TOD book, as if somehow elitist Messianic Judaism will “force” or “trick” the Hebrew Roots Christians back into their “church ghettos.”

I’m not afraid because I’ve already come to terms with who I am in Christ and what it all means. I have also come to terms with what (to the best of my ability to comprehend) it means for a Jew to possess a unique Jewish identity and role, mainly just because I live with a Jewish wife and have three Jewish children (although their apprehension of their lived Jewish identity varies from one child to the next). I’ve learned what it is to be a Christian living with Jews without having to worry about the distinctions between their identity and mine. I can go to church and not lose anything and in fact, I actually gain quite a bit…and I still get to live with my Jewish family…and they still get to be Jews…and my Christianity doesn’t have to inhibit or interfere with that in any way.

What some of the “fine bloggers” who are deeply concerned with the implication of Michael’s TOD book are missing are the myriads of voices across the Internet who here and there are saying that TOD is changing their lives for the better. TOD is helping people overcome their “fear of church.” People who I’ve known for years and who I never thought would see the inside of a church again are seeking out Christian Bible studies and worship services…largely because they read or are reading TOD and listening to the voice of reconciliation and restoration.

David Stern speaks of restoring the original Jewishness of the Gospel so that both Jews and Christians can hear the voice of the Jewish Messiah King. Boaz Michael speaks of healing the vision of the “Messianic Gentile” or the Christian who has become or is in the process of becoming aware of the “Jewishness of the Gospel;” Stern’s primary message to us. Michael may as well have written the sub-title of his book as restoring the vision of the Christian and the Church. If minds and hearts and relationships really, really are being healed because of this book and the overarching vision it presents, who are you or I to say that’s a bad idea. People are perfectly free to reject the message of healing if they so choose because of fear, because of prejudice against Christians (and sometimes against Jews), or for whatever reason.

But for every blogger who protests, how many people who we may never see or hear from are beginning a journey that will transform isolation, loneliness, broken fellowship, and sometimes, broken families, into a path leading to reunification and reconciliation? Most likely (though I only have anecdotal information to go by), a lot more of them are out there than there are bloggers who oppose those Christians and their mission.

dont-go-to-churchI’ve said this before, but I’ve seen that it’s gone unnoticed, so I’ll repeat the message. Author Boaz Michael and his wife Amber are “walking the walk,” so to speak. For the past several years, Boaz and Amber have been attending a small Baptist church in their community in Missouri. To the best of my knowledge, this church is their only regular worship venue, so they infrequently are able to visit a Messianic (or otherwise) Jewish synagogue. Again, to the best of my knowledge, Boaz and Amber haven’t lost a thing by attending this church, and in fact they’ve gained fellowship and belonging and have shared their unique vision with the Church.

If they aren’t afraid of losing who they are by “going to church,” how should the rest of us feel? I suppose anyway we want. But if we are afraid of church, then we should be honest and ask ourselves why. I was certainly afraid of what returning to church would mean to me, but with a lot of help, I set those feelings aside. And in returning to church, I found that I could also encounter God within its walls and with other Christians. That doesn’t have to be you if you don’t want it to be, but please, don’t let it be fear, animosity, or hostility that stops you from walking that path or causes you to disdain those of us who do.

If you are confident that G‑d will help you, why is anxiety written all across your face? If you are truly confident, show it and celebrate!

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Oh, and I’ll let you know how the rest of Stern’s book turns out.