Tag Archives: bilateral ekklesia

How Will We Live in the Bilateral Messianic Kingdom?

When I started writing this missive, I thought the answer had all to do with the Apostle Paul. By the time I finished, I realized I was dead wrong.

Let me explain.

This issue is compounded by two additional assumptions, based on the New Testament book of Romans – written by Paul whose authority is questionable because he never met Jesus.

-Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
“Know How to Answer Christian Missionaries”
Aish.com

Articles like this make my heart ache because they are based on the assumption that everyone who has received and accepted the revelation that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah has an understanding of Jesus that’s exactly the same as Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine.

This is not consistent with many Messianic Jews I’ve met, either in person or over the web. In fact, most of those Jews have more in common with people like Rabbi Kravitz than they do with me.

But I’m not writing this to convince any Jewish person (or Gentile Noahide for that matter) of the validity of Yeshua’s identity and role, past, present, or future.

My current investigation has to do with a Gentile establishing and maintaining a relationship with Hashem outside traditional Christianity and Messianic Jewish community. For the former, this is the case because I’m definitely not a good fit for the Church, and for the latter, because I suspect any involvement on my part in either Christianity or the Messianic movement just drives my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife nuts.

Not that it’s her fault. That’s just the way it is. She’d probably get along famously with the above-quoted Rabbi Kravitz and eat up his responses to missionaries with a spoon.

So given my circumstances, and the circumstances of quite a number of “Judaicly aware” non-Jews who for many different reasons can’t or won’t join in a community, we turn back to the Bible and to God as our only resources.

I was trying to find a condensed list of the various directives that Paul issued to his non-Jewish disciples so I could “cut to the chase,” so to speak, but doing that search online is proving difficult. I keep encountering traditional interpretations of Paul as having done away with the Law and having replaced it with grace and so on.

I could turn to more “Messianic” or “Jewish” friendly commentaries, but many or most of them are quite scholarly and beyond my limited intellectual and educational abilities and experience.

I do point the reader to a source I’ve mentioned quite a bit of late, the Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. This is a collection of articles written by various researchers who are part of the “new perspective on Paul” movement, those who have chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the apostle and who have taken a fresh look at his life and writings within the context of first century Judaism.

The Jewish PaulYou get a really different opinion of Paul when you take off your Christian blinders (sorry if that sounds a tad harsh).

I did look up Paul at beliefnet.com and they do seem to state that Paul was Jewish, but unfortunately, they take a more or less traditional point of view on what the apostle taught.

They did say that of all the epistles we have recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, scholars are sure he was actually the author of:

  • 1 Thessalonians
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Romans

Even limiting my investigation to those letters, I’m still faced with a lot of challenges. Romans alone is worth a book, actually many books, and is so complex I doubt I’d ever do more than scratch the surface of its meaning.

But maybe I don’t have to start from scratch. After all, in the several years I’m maintained this blogspot, I’ve written many times on Paul. Maybe I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps all I have to do is read what I’ve already written.

Searching “Paul” on my own blog renders 33 pages of search results but I need to narrow it down more to what Rav Shaul specifically said about the Gentiles.

Actually, only the first two pages contain blog posts specifically with “Paul” in the title. It gets a little more generalized after that.

The added problem is typically, any time I wrote about Paul and the Gentile, it was usually in relation to or contrasting the role of Messianic Jew and Judaicly aware Gentile. I produced very little, if anything, about Gentiles as Gentiles. After all, I’ve been a champion (minor league, of course) of the cause of Messianic Jews to be considered Jewish and operating within a Judaism, just the same as other observant Jews in various other religious Jewish streams.

Only of late have I found it necessary to advocate for the Gentiles, and more specifically, me. Only recently have I realized that while it’s a good thing to emphasize Judaism for the Messianic Jew, it has some serious drawbacks for the so-called “Messianic Gentile,” not the least of which is resulting in some non-Jewish believers losing their identity because they’re surrounded by all things Jewish, including siddurim, kippot, Torah services, and tallit gadolim.

While I still believe that a significant role of the Judaicly aware Gentile as well as the more “standard” Christian is in support of Israel and the Jewish people, just as Paul required of his Gentile disciples in ancient times, I also believe there has to be something more for us to hang onto.

Or to borrow and adapt a hashtag from recent social media outbursts, #GentileLivesMatter (by the way, using Google image search to look up “goy” or “goyishe” returns some pretty anti-Semitic graphics).

multiculturalI did find a blog post I wrote in January 2014 called The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, but I’m not sure how useful it is in my current quest, in part because I wrote:

I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.

You can go to the original blog post to click on the links I embedded into that paragraph, but if part of who we non-Jews are is mutually dependent on Jews in Messiah, that leaves me pretty much up the creek without a paddle.

Of course, that’s citing Nanos and his classic commentary The Mystery of Romans, which describes a rather particular and even unique social context, so there may be more than one way to be a Judaicly aware Gentile and relate to God.

The problem then is how to take all this “Judaic awareness” and manage to pull a Gentile identity out of it that doesn’t depend on (Messianic) Jewish community. Actually, I would think this would be as much a priority for Messianic Jews as it is for me, especially when, as I’ve said in the past, in order for Messianic Jewish community to survive let alone thrive, Messianic Jewish community must be by and for Jews.

To put it another way quoting Rabbi Kravitz’s lengthy article:

The growth of Christian support for Israel has created an illusion that we have nothing to worry about because “they are our best friends.”

It would be a mistake to think the risk has been minimized, especially to Jewish students and young adults, just because missionaries are less visible on street corners and offer much appreciated Christian support for Israel.

Granted, R. Kravitz must paint the Church in the role of adversary if he believes that Christians are dedicated to missionizing young Jews so that they’ll abandon Jewish identity and convert to Goyishe Christianity, but we non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community are also sometimes cast as a danger in said-community because our very presence requires some “watering down” of Jewish praxis and Jewish interaction.

I suspect the same was true in Paul’s day and ultimately, it was this dissonance that resulted in a rather ugly divorce between ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah.

Gentiles resolved the conflict by inventing a new religion: Christianity, and they kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by refactoring everything Jesus and Paul wrote as anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and anti-Judaism.

That does me no good because I don’t believe all that stuff, that is, I’m not an Evangelical Christian. I need an identity that allows for my current perspective, my pro-centrality of Israel and Torah for the Jews perspective, my King Messiah is the King of Israel and will reign over all the nations from Jerusalem in Messianic Days perspective, and still lets me be me, or the “me” I will be in those days, Hashem be willing.

Think about it.

All Jewish people will live in Israel. It will once again be a totally Jewish nation. As far as I can tell, people from the nations will be able to visit as tourists, but by and large, besides a rare exception or two, we will live in our own countries, which in my case is the United States of America…a United States devoid of Jews, synagogues, tallit gadolim, and all that, because they will only exist among the Jews in Israel.

MessiahI don’t know the answer to this one, but I think this is the central question I’m approaching. How will we Gentiles live in our own nations half a world away from Israel and King Yeshua? What will our relationship be to God?

The answer to how we’ll live in the future is the answer to my current puzzle.

As I ponder what I just wrote, I realize that even searching out Paul’s perspective on the Gentiles is a mistake. He was trying to find a way for Jews and Gentiles to co-exist in Jewish community. He never succeeded as far as I can tell. No one has succeeded since then, including in the modern Messianic Jewish movement.

But in the Messianic future, as such, Jews and Gentiles really won’t be co-existing in Jewish communal space. Jewish communal space will be the nation, the physical nation of Israel. We goys will be living every place else except in Israel. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven will be more “bilateral” than I previously imagined.

Or have I answered my own question?

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The Bilateral Ekklesia vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

I posted the following after a number of complaints were registered about my original content:

Okay, stop!

Obviously I’ve written more than one controversial statement in this blog post and it’s causing more trouble than it’s worth. So hopefully WordPress will let me “comment out” the HTML of the content so I won’t actually have to erase it. I could have reverted this blog post to “draft” status or simply deleted it, but then I’d have to explain via email to each person who asked what happened to it.

It seems clear that in my exploration to clarify things for myself relative to the “bilateral ekklesia” and its relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven, that I’ve stepped on more than a few toes, which was not my intention. I sometimes complain of the contentiousness of religious blogging, and I’ve been doing more than my fair share to contribute to it lately.

I have to fix this. This has to end. I have to find a different way to take the next step in my spiritual evolution, whatever that may be, without dragging everyone down into the mud and making a mess of things.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of taking a major step forward, but I guess that’s not obvious from what I’ve been doing lately.

I have an idea. Wait for it.

NOTE: No, WordPress won’t let the HTML comment out tags work, so the content is now deleted.

After much deliberation, I decided to restore the original content with the understanding that it is simply to provide context for those who happen upon this blog post and can’t make heads or tails of it. Again, I never meant for what I wrote to cause offense.

The original blog post content follows:

The kingdom of heaven prior to the final redemption can be likened to a partisan movement, such as Robin Hood and his men or the European freedom fighters that fought in Nazi occupied territory. The Partisans is a teaching on Hebrews 2 in light of Psalm 8 and the parable of Luke 19:12ff concerning all things in subjection to the Son and the revelation of the kingdom.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eight: The Partisans
Originally presented on February 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was the opening quote of my original review of Lancaster’s sermon I published in March of 2014.

Much more recently, about a week ago, I published my previous blog post The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia chronicling the recognition, both among the Jews in Messianic Judaism, and those non-Jews who are involved, that there is a rift between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia, and that, as disciples of Yeshua, we desire to be (somehow) reconciled with one another.

I’m about to say (write) something you may not expect out of me. I’m going to say that the major barrier in that healing is the emphasis on Judaism vs. the emphasis on the Kingdom.

I quoted Lancaster above because in that sermon and a number of others, he emphasized that the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom, was already emerging into our world, probably within Yeshua’s earthly lifetime we see recorded in the Gospels, and certainly after his ascension when myriads of Gentiles were being drawn to Hashem through the teachings of the Master.

But as I’ve said many times before, even in those days, the problem of what to do with the Gentiles was a major headache among the Jewish Messianic disciples and apostles, including the emissary to the Gentiles, sent to us by the Master himself, Paul.

I don’t believe Paul ever “solved” the “Gentile problem,” but as I’ve also surmised, maybe he didn’t think he had to. If he really believed Messiah’s return was imminent, then he probably figured our King would order our ways in the ekklesia and in the Kingdom.

But Messiah didn’t return within the last decades of the First Century CE, nor in the subsequent centuries between then and now. What resulted, as you well know, was a terrific rift between the devout Jews and the Gentile believers, until Jewish faith in Yeshua was finally extinguished and only the Gentiles, however imperfectly, kept faith in Messiah…in Christ.

But that’s not to say, as the modern Church believes, that the Jews went down a dead end path of religion by works which took them away from God as it took them away from Yeshua (and I have to thank Rabbi Stuart Dauermann for writing about this on his Facebook page last Friday).

Each body, Rabbinic Judaism and the Christian Church, has preserved something of the lessons of God down through the long years and to this very day. Each has a certain number of pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of redemption, but it seems whenever the two groups get together and attempt to assemble that puzzle, none of the Jewish pieces match up with the Christian pieces. Apples and oranges. Square pegs and round holes.

But wait a minute.

From a present-day perspective, looking back at the late 19th century, we find a small body of Jews who lived as Jews (rather than converting to Christianity) who accepted the revelation that Yeshua as depicted in the Apostolic Scriptures, is indeed the Holy Moshiach of Hashem, sent with the good news of redemption for all Israel and even for the Goyishe nations.

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

Nearly four years ago, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach published a couple of blog posts: Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves and Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves – Part II presenting the lives of a number of late 19th and early 20th century Rabbis who indeed, “thought for themselves,” certainly thought outside the box, and came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth, when you wipe the Gentile “make up” off his face that the Church painted there, is indeed Moshiach and Son of the Most High.

Much later, in the 1960s, the “Jesus Freak” movement spawned something that would eventually become the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots groups we have today. For the past several decades, a small but growing body of Jews have accepted this revelation and have put Yeshua, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, back into their ancient Jewish context.

It then became possible to study their teachings and written works the way any modern Jew would study Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud.

This is terrific news for Jews in Messiah who cannot and should not attempt to fit into modern Christianity, it’s the way to take what Rabbinic Judaism has preserved for the past twenty centuries and “marry” it to the good news of Messiah the Church has preserved, keeping in mind that what the Church believes about Christ has to be radically refactored in order to become (re)integrated with both ancient and modern Judaism, forming or at least crystalizing, some of what is called Messianic Judaism today (I word it that way because often many Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups and communities will call themselves “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” something).

But while this is good news for the Jews, what about the Gentiles? It seemed like good news at first, but as the blog series I’ve been writing lately has shown, there’s an uncomfortable flip side to all of this. If we support Messianic communities as being by and for Jews, where do the Gentiles go, the Church?

My personal experience has shown me that this isn’t always a sustainable alternative. Many of us don’t fit in at Church, much as we’ve tried.

But if Messianic synagogues are havens and sanctuaries for Jews in Messiah to live and worship in Jewish community, then by definition, we don’t fit in there as well.

Or do we?

There is a high degree of variability as to just how accepted non-Jews are in Messianic Jewish groups, at least in the U.S. For instance, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for all Nations,” and while some Jews do worship there, its leadership is non-Jewish.

If you knew nothing about Beth Immanuel and you happened, as a non-Jewish disciple, that is, a Christian, to wander in for Shabbat services one Saturday morning, you might not realize it wasn’t a completely Jewish establishment. I’ve only been there for a couple of Shavuot conferences, so I don’t know what happens on a typical Shabbat, but I’d guess that there would be a traditional Jewish prayer service and a Torah service.

If an Oneg meal is shared, our hypothetical Christian would learn that the kitchen is kosher and no actual cooking is done on Shabbos. For those who choose, before a meal, they may practice netilat yadayim or ritual hand washing. And of course, being this is a kosher kitchen in what seems like a Jewish synagogue, any of the food served would also be kosher. No ham sandwiches or shrimp scampi on the menu.

messianic judaism for the nationsAnd yet, most of the people I’ve met at Beth Immanuel are non-Jews like me. That being the case, most of the men wear a kippah, don a tallit gadol for services, and I suspect many of them wear a tallit katan under their shirt on a daily basis, with the tzitzit tucked into their trousers.

You can see why it can be confusing to have that experience and at the same time hear messages about a strict segregation between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah in order to preserve the Judaism and Jewish life in Messianic Jewish community.

Of course there are many other Messianic Jewish congregations that have a Jewish leadership, such as Tikvat Israel in Richmond, VA, and yet there are numerous non-Jews in regular attendance in those shuls.

I’ve never visited Tikvat Israel, so I can’t comment about it in any detail, except to say that Rabbi David Rudolph, who is the head Rabbi, is Jewish, and that, at least in our email communications, he has treated me courteously and with compassion.

I know there are some notable Messianic Jews who believe the Messianic Judaism we have today is a fully realized microcosm of what the Messianic Kingdom will be when Messiah returns.

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that assessment (and I imagine I’ll hear about it, both in the comments section of this blog post and via email).

D. Thomas Lancaster believes that, using the “partisan” model, the Messianic Kingdom is slowly emerging, but the King is still absent, like an ancient King in exile, but one who has promised, one day, to return.

In the meantime, even though our world isn’t being run by our King, and in fact, it’s being run rather poorly by human agency, we are tasked to behave as if the Kingdom is already here.

Of course, that can be difficult without the proper Messianic “infrastructure” in place. We are partisans or members of the underground such as you’d have found in Nazi occupied France during World War II. We are fighting a difficult battle and we can’t always reveal ourselves to everyone as just who we are. Our “country” is occupied by an enemy force, and while in our hearts and in some of our actions we dedicate ourselves to our true King, in many other ways, we are inhibited or restricted. We can only behave as full citizens of the Kingdom once the King has set everything to right again.

As you probably can tell, we’re not there yet.

JewishThat’s why I think we cannot compare the current “bilateral ekklesia” with the future Messianic Kingdom. Right now, it’s important for the Jews in Messianic Judaism to focus on Judaism and the Jewish disciples of Messiah. Countless generations of Christians have made it clear that Jews cannot remain Jewish and convert to Christianity, while countless generations of Jews have made it clear that if you are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah, even if you live a fully religious Jewish lifestyle, you are considered an apostate.

So the only way for Jews in Messiah to survive and live a Jewish life is to contain themselves in a “Jewish bubble,” so to speak. If they associate exclusively with say, Orthodox Jews in order to maintain Jewish lifestyle, they may find their faith in Yeshua in danger of waning. If they associate mostly or exclusively with even Messianic Gentiles, let alone more traditional Christians, they may discover themselves diluting their lived Jewish experience and even becoming “Jewish-lite.”

I get that.

I also get that, in the Messianic Kingdom, the nations will have a place. We Gentiles, just as the Jews, will receive the full pouring out of the Spirit so that we too, from the very least to the very greatest, will have an apprehension of Hashem greater than even John the Immerser.

We too will have the resurrection and a place forever in the world to come. Our sacrifices will also be accepted in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We will be able to travel to Jerusalem, particularly during the time of Sukkot, and see the face of our King, bring honor and glory to his name, and standing on the streets of Jerusalem, the City of David, and in the Temple courts, we will worship Hashem, God of Israel, thanking Him for redeeming not only the Jewish people, but all of the Gentiles who have kept faith and trust in Him during the hard times.

But that’s then and this is now.

Some Messianic communities would not desire my presence because, as a Gentile, I would inhibit Jewish worship. Interestingly enough, I believe in other Messianic communities, I’d be “too Gentile” because I do not regularly cover my head, wear a tallit katan, keep strictly Glatt kosher (I only keep Leviticus 11 “kosher lite”), use a siddur in prayer, pray at the set times of prayer, pray in Hebrew, cease work on Shabbat, and many other “Jewish” things.

I know there are Jews in Messiah who have “issues” with Gentiles who outwardly behave “Jewish” (don tzitzit, lay tefillin, wear a kippah in public during the week), but I’ve sometimes wondered if there are other Jews (and some “Messianic Gentiles”) who have “issues” with those of us who, as a matter of conviction, have set aside even praying with a siddur?

It’s an interesting question.

The 17th of Tammuz started at sunset on July 4th this year and it begins a three-week period of increasingly intense mourning for the Jewish people (yes, it was a fast day and no, I didn’t fast) leading up to Tisha B’Av.

This is a Jewish time of mourning, so what does it have to do with Gentiles?

Well, one of the greatest losses to the Jewish people was the destruction of the Temple, razed by the Roman army in 70 CE. Consider two things: The Temple was destroyed by Gentiles, and the sacrifices of Gentiles, even in the days of Yeshua, were accepted. We also know they will be accepted again in Messianic Days.

So I think we have a legitimate reason to mourn as well. We also have a very good reason to spend these three weeks repenting. Repenting of what you ask? Two general areas: The first is for our sins. Oh, don’t be coy. You know you sin. So do I.

destruction of the templeThe second is to repent of all the crimes the Gentiles have committed against Jews and Judaism across the ages, including the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.

We non-Jewish believers aren’t used to repenting for sins we ourselves didn’t commit. We aren’t usually held accountable for the sins of our ancestors. And yet, in the future, we know that the rest of the nations of the world, including the good ol’ U.S. of A., will go to war against Israel, nearly destroy her, and at the last second, God Himself will fight for the Jewish nation, and defeat the rest of us.

We know one of the consequences will be that every year at Sukkot, each nation will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage to King Messiah, and any nation that fails to do so, will receive no rain.

Even we non-Jewish believers and disciples of the Master will be citizens of the former enemy nations of Israel. Yes, we were underground fighters, holding the line, maintaining loyalty to our true King, but as citizens of America, Canada, or where ever, we also are (and will be) representatives of our individual countries. How many of you Americans out there celebrated the Fourth of July by having a picnic or barbecue, setting off fireworks, displaying an American flag at the front of your home, or something similar?

We have a lot to repent for, past, present, and future. Where do we fit in? Maybe nowhere yet. We’re underground, remember? Actually, Jewish disciples of Messiah are underground, too. They can’t always advertise to all of their Jewish relatives and friends that they acknowledge Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, for fear of rejection or some other adverse reaction.

At least we Gentiles can say we’re Christian without offending too many people (although that’s becoming kind of a problem in certain areas of social media lately).

We aren’t there yet. This isn’t the fully emerged and flourishing Messianic Kingdom. The Ekklesia of Messiah will no doubt one day be healed, but that day isn’t today. The rift still exists. We pretend it shouldn’t because a sizable number of Jews living as Jews now recognize our Christ as their Messiah. We want to be one big happy family.

We’re not. That much is more than obvious. We have problems. The “family” is dysfunctional.

I think I’m going to pay more attention to the three weeks this year, not because I think I should be emulating Jewish people, and not as a reflection of an arrived Messianic Era, but because of all the screw ups that have happened between Jews and Christians over the years, including the original screw up when Gentiles walked out of the ancient Messianic community.

Mourn the loss of a “healed” ekklesia, for it still lies rent and bleeding on the ground. Mourn that our ancient ancestors destroyed the very Temple that 70 bulls were sacrificed every Sukkot for the sake of the nations…us. Repent. Pray that Moshiach arrives quickly so there will be healing. Pray that you survive the horrors that are to come, the birth pangs of Messiah, when every hand will turn against Israel, and you’ll have to stop being underground and stand up for the Jewish nation against your co-workers, your neighbors, members of your own family, and against (probably) most of the Christian Church, which should know better.

Whatever conflict and alienation exists between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah will eventually be healed and we will be reconciled again. When and how that will happen and what it will look like when it does, I have no idea.

I only know it will happen.

And in the meantime, we’ll have problems, plenty of them.

For we Gentiles, our only assurance isn’t in Jewish community, it’s in the God of Creation and the Son of Man who has promised to return in clouds of glory.

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

Pray that you remain strong in the faith until the end. I know that’s what I’ll pray for…the endurance and courage to stay the course, to not wander off to the left or to the right…to keep steady, no matter what’s happening around me or to me.

We can only celebrate the victory of the King if we keep fighting his fight.

Only then, I believe, will we finally be healed, and all men and women will live in peace with their brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile alike.

The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia

I am getting interested in Judaism – reading the Bible, and trying to practice its many laws. But I am having a hard time accepting the Talmud and all its laws. Isn’t it enough just to do what’s written in the Bible?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for writing. This issue has bothered people throughout the ages, and in fact many break-away Jewish groups (Karaites, Sadducees, and even the Christians) did so over this very point.

But it is a huge mistake.

-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
“Validity of Oral Law: Tefillin Example”
Aish.com

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about how (or sometimes “if”) non-Jews can have a place within social and communal Messianic Judaism, but I think it’s time to return to the Jewish perspective (as best I can perceive it, my not being Jewish) for a bit. Maybe it’s there that we non-Jews can find some illumination if not orientation.

I know a lot of non-Jews (and some Jews) within both Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism have issues with the Oral Law and the wisdom and rulings of the Rabbinic Sages. The argument seems to center around sola scriptura and the sufficiency of scripture vs. recognizing the authority of the Sages to make halachic rulings for their various branches within Judaism, which apparently even Yeshua (Jesus) did.

The Aish Rabbi I quoted above undoubtedly agrees that the Oral Law is “a thing” and that the Jewish Sages were well within their God-given rights to set standards of observance and behavior for the various Jewish communities historically, and said-rulings are still considered authoritative among certain streams of Judaism today (it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but a full examination of the Talmud and its influence on observant Judaism is well beyond the scope of this blog post).

But how does all that work in Messianic Judaism which, as Derek Leman says, is “a Judaism committed to Yeshua” and “…a Judaism [with the] core purpose…[of] provid[ing] a home for Jewish followers of Yeshua where we may live out our covenantal relationship with God based on the Abrahamic promise, the teaching from Sinai, and the revelation of God which is in Messiah Yeshua”?

Jewish movements such as the ancient Sadducees and the modern Karaites reject Rabbinic authority, so Jewish recognition of such authority isn’t universal. Given that Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that embraces Messiah Yeshua (whose multitude of Gentile members have historically rejected not only Rabbinic authority but Judaism as a valid religious and faith expression), what can we believe about the relationship between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic halachah?

RabbisI know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t really, but it’s my favorite line of dialog from the old, 1980s TV show Magnum, P.I.. That said, I suspect some of you may be thinking that since historically the Sages have rejected any and all claims of Jesus possibly being the Messiah, and have treated any Jew who came to faith in Christ as an apostate, how could Messianic Judaism embrace, in any sense at all, what the Jewish Rabbis have to say, let alone consider the Talmudic rulings as having authority over the lives of Jewish disciples of Yeshua?

Let’s start with this:

Though the Sages of the rabbinic tradition are legitimate bearers of halakhic authority, they are not the only leaders with such competence. As the embodiment of heavenly Wisdom and the living Torah, Yeshua himself is the ultimate earthly source of halakhic authority. While he acknowledged the authority of some leaders in the wider Jewish community, he also formed his own messianic subcommunity and bestowed upon its designated leaders – the Apostles – the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:16–19; 18:18). In doing so, Yeshua was authorizing the Apostles to regulate the life of the messianic community according to their Master’s interpretation of the Torah and according to the guidance of his Spirit who writes the Torah on the hearts of his disciples (Matthew 28:18–20; John 14:26; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:2–3).

-from “Halakhic Authority: Halakhic Authority, the Bilateral Ekklesia, and the Wounded Two-Fold Tradition”
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council

So we know that not only did Yeshua affirm that the Pharisees of his day were the proper heirs, in some sense, of Moses and thus had valid authority to make halachah for their communities, but that he also conferred halachic authority to James and the Jerusalem Council, making their legal decisions binding on the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master. We see a clear example of the Council issuing a binding legal decision in the form of Gentile status within the ancient Jewish religious stream of “the Way” (Acts 15), which they only could have done through the authority of their Master, their “Rebbe” Yeshua.

Apostle Paul preachingUnfortunately, that chain of Messianic Rabbinic authority was broken early on as ancient Messianic Judaism went underground and finally disappeared for nearly two-thousand years.

The same web article goes on to say:

The disappearance of a messianic ekklesia within the Jewish people also damaged the halakhic and prophetic capacity of “catholic Israel” – which remains incomplete without the presence of Jewish disciples of Yeshua at its very heart, and without a living connection to the multinational ekklesia which has been joined by the Messiah to Israel as its extension among the Gentiles. Nevertheless, in their many diverse historical expressions and traditions, the Jewish people and their recognized leaders have retained their legitimate halakhic authority, and God continues to operate among them and through them in order to shape their life in accordance with the Torah.

This seems to imply that the MJRC, representing a Judaism devoted to Messiah, also recognizes the historic Jewish leaders and their halachic authority as legitimate, at least in certain areas.

But in the next section of the article, “Halakhic Authority and the MJRC”, we find:

Within the context of the Messianic Jewish movement and its prophetic role, the MJRC sees itself as called to serve a particular halakhic function. The MJRC does not view itself as the only halakhic authority in the Messianic Jewish movement, nor does it claim to be the movement’s highest halakhic authority. It does, however, believe that it has halakhic authority for its own immediate sphere and for those beyond that sphere who look to it for guidance. The MJRC believes that its role is to be a pioneer in the development of a halakhic way of life among Messianic Jews, and thereby to stimulate serious halakhic thinking and practice within the movement as a whole.

Tikvat IsraelSo “yes” to Messianic Jewish halachah, at least for those synagogues and even individuals within the direct sphere of influence and authority of MJRC. I agree that there is no one central authority for all Jews in Messiah, but then again, there’s no one central authority for any of the other Judaisms as well. As one of my readers sometimes says, “Judaism has no Pope.”

Now here’s something interesting:

As is the case for the authority of our movement as a whole, the legitimacy of our claims cannot be determined unequivocally in the present but awaits a divine judgment to be rendered in the course of future events. If our claims are justified over time, then we are an integral part of a process in which the bilateral halakhic authority of the apostolic tradition is being restored, the bilateral ekklesia is being healed, and a corporate Torah-faithful witness to Yeshua is restored to the Jewish people.

This is a very wise statement. There’s no absolute claim of authority but rather a provisional one. While it seems the Rabbis involved in the MJRC are acting in good faith, only Yeshua, upon his return, can lend full legitimacy to MJRC halachic authority and the decisions they make for their communities.

But then again, I suspect that will be true of all the different streams of Judaism, both ancient and modern, as one of the things Messiah is supposed to do is to teach Torah correctly. Since, for most observant Jews, “Torah” includes both the Written and Oral Law as well as the entire compilation of Talmudic literature, Yeshua will likely make many rulings on the decisions arrived at by the legitimate Rabbinic authorities across the ages and what those rulings mean for Jews and even non-Jews in the Kingdom of Heaven.

two pathsHowever, that last quote also spoke of healing the “bilateral ekklesia,” that is, healing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, presumably clarifying our relationship and roles regarding one another.

And this is what I’ve been attempting to write about over the past several blog posts.

The MJRC article on halachah concludes:

We cannot know how the bilateral ekklesia would have developed had its Jewish corporate expression survived and thrived. Similarly, we cannot know how Jewish tradition would have developed had the Jewish disciples of Yeshua been accepted and respected by our entire people at an early stage of the development of Halakhah. We do not strive to articulate or re-create what might have been.

However, we cannot avoid engaging in the task of shaping today’s Messianic Jewish practice from the textual sources and other resources available to us today. This task places enormous demands on Messianic Jewish leaders, requiring of us a serious devotion to study, prayer, discussion, and corporate decision-making in a spirit of humility and charity. At the same time, we believe that the resurrected Messiah dwells among us and within us, and we rely upon his ongoing guidance as we seek to carry on his work of raising up the fallen tent of David within the people of Israel (Acts 15:14–18; Amos 9:11–12).

That conclusion isn’t particularly satisfying in terms of mapping out how this healing of the Jewish and Gentile bilateral ekklesia is to come about, but then again, it’s very likely that they just don’t know.

And so it comes back to that same troubling question, what does this all mean for us, the Gentiles in or near Messianic community (I say “in” or “near” even for those of us who do not directly have “Messianic community” but who nevertheless choose to study from that perspective)?

Our Master Yeshua took the loaves and fish. He told the twelve, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each” (Luke 9:14). “The Gospel of Mark reports that the people “sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties” on “the green grass” (Mark 6:39-40). “There was much grass in the place” (John 6:10). The green grass confirms that the story occurred in the spring when the slopes of the hills around Lake Galilee are still green. The scene invokes the Psalm of the Good Shepherd: “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2).

The Master had the people recline as they might do at a formal banquet or Passover Seder meal: “He commanded them all to recline (anaklino, ἀνακλίνω).” The reclining posture suggests the messianic banquet when the righteous will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). For those with eyes to see, the miraculous feeding of the multitude was a foretaste of the messianic banquet. Not unlike the miracle of transforming the water to wine, Yeshua offered a preview of the kingdom and God’s miraculous provision.

-from “A Prophetic Picnic”
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

fish and breadI certainly hope the folks at FFOZ don’t mind my lifting this quote from their newsletter, but I find it quite valuable in illustrating that both Jews and Gentiles are invited to the formal banquet in the Messianic Kingdom.

On another one of my blog posts someone commented that he’d like an invitation to join that banquet, to which I replied that we have such an invitation. It was quoted above but I’ll repeat it here for emphasis:

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

Of course, the Master was looking at the endgame, so to speak, when all has been accomplished according to prophesy, but what about in the meantime?

That’s the tough part. Like the MJRC article said, if Messianic Rabbinic authority had continued unbroken throughout history, and it stood with the same God-given authority as the other Rabbinic sages and their rulings, things would look very much clearer.

But while the MJRC Rabbis and other organizations within larger Messianic Judaism recognize the need for healing between Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master within (and beyond) Messianic Jewish space, we really are stuck in figuring out what that should look like in the here and now.

But, as ProclaimLiberty related:

I can’t give you a recipe for inviting a personal revelation. The emissary Yacov wrote (Jam.4:8): “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you doubtfully-minded.” However, the most famous revelations depicted in the scriptures were instigated by HaShem. Moshe wasn’t looking for a revelation, as far as we know, when he noticed an odd phenomenon on a desert mountainside, that turned out to be a bush that burned but did not burn up, whence the voice of HaShem began speaking to him. Rav Shaul had other things on his mind until a bright light spooked his horse to throw him before reaching Damascus, whence another revelation ensued. You can find other such examples for yourself. Regrettably, my own example will not likely help either, because I wasn’t looking for revelation when HaShem confronted me one night; and if someone could have warned me in advance what it would entail, I might just have tried very hard to be someplace else rather than to go through that experience. But subsequent experience lets me suspect that those who seek diligently and honestly to enter into the kingdom-of-heaven mindset, meditating on the teachings of Tenakh and on apostolic reflections of them, may just begin to experience similar insight. Who can tell what visions or dreams might ensue.

Sometimes God finds us when we’re not looking for Him. However, it is more likely we’ll recognize that encounter if we invite Him, rather than sit around waiting for His invitation to arrive in our mailbox, so to speak.

Formal halachah for the Gentiles will just have to wait. However, if we turn to Him, He will turn to us.