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A Case For Rosh Ha-Hodashim As The First Of The Year

I periodically receive emails from Hannah Weiss at Restorers of Zion. I probably haven’t personally emailed Hannah is years, but I’m still on the Restorers’ mailing list. I think my friend Tom keeps in touch with her, and I believe his perspectives on Judaism, the Bible, and Messiah more mirror Hannah’s than my own viewpoint.

As I understand it, many modern expressions of Messianic Judaism seek to identify and emulate modern religious and cultural Judaism. I hope I’m not being too presumptuous in saying that Restorers seeks to discover Judaism in the ancient Biblical texts as they were interpreted in the days of Yeshua’s earthly “ministry” and before, rather than as they are understood by modern Rabbinic Judaism in our day.

The beginning of Hannah’s most current email stated:

Rosh Ha-Hodashim is arguably the most neglected of the LORD’s “appointed times” for Israel… receiving less attention from the Torah-observant community than even marginal holidays like “Tu B’Shvat” and “Lag B’Omer”.

In 2012, RZ set out to investigate what happened to the New Year originally commanded by the LORD.

We discovered unexpected treasures: scriptural truth, spiritual wealth, and even buried wisdom from ancient Jewish sages – all connected to this very first commandment given to Israel as a nation.

A great deal of the Forgotten Milestone points to Yeshua, which hints that the rabbinic decision in 90 CE to move away from earlier rabbinic custom was conscious and calculated.

So what exactly is “Rosh Ha-Hodashim?” Well, you can find it’s source here:

Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.”

Exodus 12:1-2 (NASB)

Torah platesThere are four “new years” spoken of in the Torah, but Rosh Hashanah or the “head of the year” that occurs on Tishrei 1 is the most well-known today. Hannah and Restorers argue that there is a mystery as to why Rosh Ha-Hodashim has been “hidden” since 90 CE.

Now I was really curious and followed the link in the email to Restoring the Real “Rosh Hashana”.

On that webpage, you can find seven articles in Microsoft Office Word format. They are freely available for download. I downloaded all seven plus their “sources” paper and started reading and taking notes.

Is there a mystery behind Rosh Ha-Hodashim, one that points to the resurrected Yeshua as Messiah? Hannah Weiss and the people at Restorers seem to think so. However, from a plain reading of the text of Exodus 12:2, at least in English (Hannah renders the verse in Hebrew and explains problems with how it’s been historically translated), this “new year” is only mentioned in a single verse, and only then to instruct the Children of Israel, being held as slaves in Egypt, in how to prepare the Passover lamb and the related rituals that would allow them to live while all of the firstborn of Egypt would die.

What if Rosh Ha-Hodashim is nothing more than to commemorate the escape of the Children of Israel from slavery as well as physical and spiritual death, and their eventual coming together as a nation and receiving the Torah at Sinai? Is there really a “Messianic connection” that’s been hidden for over two-thousand years?

Here’s a summary of what I discovered in reviewing the Restorers’ Rosh Ha-Hodashim papers. The seven papers are not only study guides but “meditations” to be pondered over, beginning on Nissan 1 and concluding on Nissan 7 in preparation of Pesach and celebration of the resurrected King.

I can only briefly quote from each paper and hopefully, I’ve selected representative portions that make the Restorers’ point, as well as my own, clear.

Unlike the Tamid, it is not written anywhere that the Passover lamb brought atonement. Nevertheless, it was understood to provoke the compassion aroused within G-d for His people: “Of all of God’s creations, the lamb possesses the innate ability to arouse mercy by its voice.” (Sefer HaYetzirah, a Hasidic work commenting on the month of Nisan)

This idea becomes quite profound when we remember that G-d brought Israel redemption before they called on His name. They were simply groaning because of their troubles, and yet this was enough for G-d to remember His covenant:

And the sons of Israel sighed from the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help rose up to G-d from the bondage. And G-d heard their groaning; and G-d remembered His covenant, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And G-d saw the sons of Israel, and G-d knew. (Exod.2:23-25, from the Hebrew)

-Meditations for Rosh Ha-Hodashim, the New Year
2: Jewish Tradition with Messianic Potential, page 3

MessiahThis begs the question, was Yeshua’s symbolic sacrifice meant to bring redemption to Israel before they call on the Lamb of God?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

Other significance (meditations, page 4)

What are we to learn from these widely different events occurring on Rosh Ha-Hodashim? What do they all have in common, besides the date itself? We see here new beginnings, historical turning points… but mostly a theme of “cleansing and closure”. The earth emerged freed from an irreversible corruption, a Jewish leader left behind his life of exile, disobedient Jews were made accountable to the Covenant, G-d rewarded a king who had carried out His judgment, and three different sanctuaries were (or will be) made ready for pure worship.

While born-again Christians often relate to Redemption as an individual experience that unfolds in private communion with G-d, in Jewish understanding it is a communal experience with world-changing impact. These different views are emphasized by Jewish antagonists to Messianic faith, claiming that an experience of personal Redemption is not a Jewish concept.

How closely is that opinion connected to the following, which reflects a more modern Orthodox Jewish interpretation?

The special attitude to Tishre and Nissan as two very significant points in the annual cycle, both connected to new beginnings, is voiced in the dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua on the date of the Creation. While R. Eliezer’s opinion is that the world was created in Tishre (Bavli, Rosh ha-Shana, 10b), R. Yehoshua claims that Nissan is the first of months (ibid. 11a). For the Maharal, this dispute represents different approaches to the basics of life. He writes that Nissan and Tishre are the main months of the year, but while Nissan expresses the life force and vitality of the year at the emotional level, Tishre expresses the holiness and spirituality of the year at the intellectual level (Sifre ha-Maharal, Hiddushe Aggadot I, 94-97).

-Dr. Miriam Faust
Bar-Ilan University’s Parashat Hashavua Study Center
The Days of Awe – Renewal and Reassessment

Orthodox JewsThe main point of contention between this Messianic point of view on Rosh Ha-Hodashim and the more normative Orthodox Jewish approach is this:

In the orthodox community, the honoring of Rosh Hodesh Nisan consists of reading the Torah passage where the relevant command appears (Exod.12:1-20, called Parashat HaHodesh). A few additions to the daily prayers appear (a partial Hallel, Yaaleh V’yavo, the Musaf for Rosh Hodesh), while petitional prayers and public mourning customs are omitted, as mentioned in Meditation 2. Otherwise the day is treated like every other Rosh Hodesh (new moon), the observance of which is optional: “Many have the custom to mark Rosh Chodesh with a festive meal and reduced work activity. The latter custom is prevalent amongst women, who have a special affinity with Rosh Chodesh.” (Observances for Rosh Hodesh Nisan, Chabad.org)

This neglect leaves the field open for Yeshua’s disciples to construct Messianic traditions and customs, as the Holy Spirit teaches us about Rosh Ha-Hodashim. The potential is greater than we have explored so far, but here we offer a suggested observance as a starting point.

-Meditations for Rosh Ha-Hodashim, the New Year
3: Celebrating Rosh Ha-Hodashim, page 1

You will have to read the first three papers/meditations to get the entire context up to this point, but my question is, how much of Messiah is being read into this holiday by the Restorers of Zion author?

Granted, many groups, from the various expressions of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, to some denominations of normative Christianity see “Jesus in the Passover,” so the symbolism of the Passover seder elements is very familiar to Yeshua-believers, but is there a wider context related to Rosh Ha-Hodashim that we’ve all been missing?

The Mishnah describes the first of Nisan as “the new year for kings and festivals” (Rosh Hashana 1:1).

The “new year for kings” meant that counting the reign of Israel’s king was always dependent on Nisan.

Meditations for Rosh Ha-Hodashim, the New Year
4: Receiving the King, page 1

I’m sure you can see where this writer is going in connecting Nissan 1 with King Messiah. In this paper, the coronation of King Solomon (I Kings 1:39-40) is compared not only with Zechariah’s prophesy of the coming of Messiah (Zechariah 14:4) but with Yeshua’s entry into Jerusalem depicted in John 12:12-14 and Mark 11:10.

Also…

Only John’s gospel pinpoints the day when Jerusalem celebrated the arrival of her King. It was five days before the Passover (see John 12:1,12). Since the Pesach was slaughtered on the second half of the 14th day, this would have been the 10th of Nisan (in Jewish reckoning, partial days are counted as days). We now have a clue to the strange, unexplained command from G-d to choose the Pesach lamb on Nisan 10, even though it wouldn’t be sacrificed until Nisan 14:

Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household…. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to slaughter it at twilight. (Exod.12:3-6)

-ibid, page 3

The AkedahIn the next paper, a further connection is made, this time between the Akedah or Binding of Isaac, and Nissan:

It’s universally accepted today that Akedat Yitzhak, the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), is associated with Tishrei 2 (the second day of Rosh Hashanah). This appeared fairly early in rabbinic history, and is supported by its mention in the Talmud (B. Megillah 31a). By the 3rd century, it was being explicitly connected with Yom Ha-Truah, the Feast of Trumpets (B. Rosh Hashanah 16a).

However, the original place of the Akedah in the Jewish calendar was Nisan 14, later to be designated by G-d as the day for sacrificing the Pesach. Following is some of the evidence (from “Torah Reading as a Weapon: Rosh Hashanah and the Akedah,” Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, Executive Director, Mechon Hadar).

-Meditations for Rosh Ha-Hodashim, the New Year
5: The Messiah, Our Passover, page 1

I don’t know how accurate this is as I lack the necessary education and references to verify it, but if true, it is a compelling parallel between the Akedah and the crucifixion of Rav Yeshua.

However, this connection isn’t recognized today. In fact, this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. Why?

According to Rabbi Kaunfer, the connection of the Akedah and Pesach was deliberately broken after the destruction of the Temple, in an effort to erase its powerful association with Yeshua’s sacrifice.

-ibid, page 2

However, according to this paper’s author, that dissociation was not universal, at least as early as the fourth century CE:

In that context, the 4th-century Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael further strengthens the association between Passover and the Akedah, and the similarity between Isaac and Yeshua. Commenting on Exodus 12:13, “When I see the blood [of the Pesach lamb] I will pass over you…” the Mekhilta states: “I see the blood of the binding of Isaac.” This was apparently relying on another tradition, handed down in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (2nd c. CE), which said that although not actually sacrificed, Isaac gave a quarter of his blood as an atonement for Israel. (from “Vayera: What Happened to Isaac?” Israel National News, 21/oct/10 – http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/9768 )

-ibid, page 3

Talmudic RabbisFurther, early minority Rabbinic opinion suggests that Abraham actually did successfully sacrifice Isaac (although this contradicts the Biblical account) and that Hashem subsequently resurrected Isaac.

Of course, even if this occurred, the resurrection of Isaac wouldn’t be the same as Rav Yeshua’s since Isaac died in old age while Yeshua, once resurrected, will never die again. If he could, then our own promised resurrection would be questionable and even in vain, since our lives would not be eternal.

But Isaac, in this interpretation, is meant to “point” to Rav Yeshua, not be identical to him. He’s a signpost along the way and the goal is Messiah.

But Messiah did escape death and the tomb and, according to Gospel accounts, was seen by many witnesses. Now here’s something curious:

So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

John 20:8-9

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Luke 24:24-27

These verses are quoted in “6: The Resurrection,” and in reading them, I’ve always wondered exactly what Yeshua said to these men from the scriptures that convinced them Moses and the Prophets really spoke of him being resurrected? Certainly Judaism of today doesn’t interpret Moses or the Prophets in this manner, and I’ve never been convinced that Christianity has been very successful in this area either. I’ve never found a “smoking gun” pointing directly from the Prophets to Yeshua.

This sixth paper quotes from Psalm 16:9-11, Hosea 6:1-3, and other scriptures (see the paper for details) as compelling evidence for the resurrection of Yeshua, and I don’t necessarily doubt that, but again, does that make Rosh Ha-Hodashim more relevant somehow?

According to the Restorers author, the answer to my question is this:

It is appropriate for Yeshua’s disciples to celebrate His Resurrection either on Nisan 17, in memory of that singular event; or on Nisan 16, the day designated for the Barley First-Fruits offering.

The offering itself was suspended after the Temple’s destruction, with no substitute customs ordained by the rabbinic community. All halachic discussion over the generations has focused on who should avoid eating newly sprouted grain before Nisan 16 every year.

Therefore, Yeshua’s followers have an open area on which to build a distinctly Messianic custom to celebrate the connection of His Resurrection with the Barley First-Fruits offering.

-Resurrection, page 5

I’ve skipped from quoting portions of the paper providing more details about the festival of first fruits and the Omer for the sake of length, but again, these papers are freely available online for you to read and download.

PassoverAm I convinced? I don’t know. As a non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua, I’ve chosen to back away from celebrating most of the moadim or “appointed times,” since the vast majority of them have exclusive significance to Israel and the Jewish people. The most notable exceptions are Passover and Sukkot (Festival of Booths). I have a Passover seder in my home every year, largely because I have a Jewish wife and children.

I build a sukkah in my backyard every year, both because I have a Jewish wife and children, and because Sukkot seems to be that one moadim on the Jewish calendar that has applications to the people of the nations:

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19

Passover is a little more questionable, even though many “Messianic Gentiles” and Hebrew Roots Christians, as well as more normative Christian churches hold some variation of a seder seeing “Jesus in the Passover”.

It’s possible that there has been an overlooked significance in Rosh Ha-Hodashim, and that in the Messianic future, we will all be rejoicing the “new year for the King” on Nissan 1. By the way, the first of Nissan or Rosh Chodesh Nissan occurs this year on April 9th, which is also Shabbat. Erev Pesach or the first evening of the Passover is on Nissan 14, which is Friday, April 22nd this year.

If any of this is interesting or even compelling to you, use the link I provided above, download the seven (eight, actually) papers and decide of some sort of observance or commemoration is appropriate for you. If nothing else, like me, you’ll learn something new.

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Returning to God in Time for Sukkot

If Yom Kippur can also be a time of repentance and mourning for non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), then I suppose I’m late.

On the other hand, as PL recently commented:

That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.

I heard somewhere (I can’t recall the source thanks to my leaky memory) that if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can mark a season of repentance and renewal for the Jewish people, then maybe Sukkot serves that purpose for the nations.

No, I’m not attempting to reintroduce myself into Jewish space, but I can’t ignore the (Biblical) fact that God also wants to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom of redemption of the world. And while we are not nor shall we ever be Israel, there has to be a way to return to God that is appropriate for the non-Jew and that doesn’t involve directly (or maybe even indirectly, if such a thing is possible) using any form of Judaism as the Gentile’s conduit to repentance and reconciliation with God.

But where to begin?

Actually, I did begin and then stopped. I thought about looking at the practices of Yeshua and how he related to the Father as well as what Paul taught the Gentiles of his day, thinking this could provide some sort of baseline for the 21st century non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua.

followBut while more traditional Christians have no trouble conceptualizing how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the fact remains that the Master almost never interacted with non-Jews and when he did, he wasn’t always civil about it. Yeshua was (and is) a Jewish teacher who gathered a Jewish following in the first century of the common era, in the then Roman-occupied Holy Land. He came, at that place and time, for the lost sheep of Israel, not the lost sheep of the nations.

For the nations, Yeshua never came directly. For us, he sent Paul instead (Acts 9).

So what did Paul teach? The answer to that question would fill a book, probably many books, and many books have been written with Paul as their subject, some complementary (Christian) and some with disdain (Jewish). And almost certainly, the vast majority of those books got Paul and how he related to Jewish people, Judaism, and his Gentile pupils all wrong.

Probably one of the very few books that may have gotten Paul right, or at least come as close as we can given the Apostle lived and died nearly two-thousand years ago, was the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism (and I still owe Mark Nanos a book review on Amazon).

Don’t think that my returning here to write, even occasionally, means that I think myself worthy of being read. It absolutely doesn’t mean I think myself a teacher. But PL is right. In pulling away from the inevitable strife caused by the presence of a non-Jew (and particularly me) in Jewish space, specifically Messianic Jewish space, I’ve also pulled away from paying much attention to God.

In attempting to hack my 61-year-old body to perform younger at the gym and in more practical physical applications, I’ve used that effort to insulate me from “hacking” my relationship with God, particularly continual repentance and reconciliation.

At this late date in the Jewish High Holidays, there’s no way I can even beg the forgiveness of all those I’ve upset and offended online and in person, but I’ll take this opportunity to humble myself before all of you anyway.

I’m still covered in “filthy rags” as it were. Still in need of a lot of work. I’ve always known that, but the issues over a busted computer (long story) and various other stressors this weekend have brought that realization to the forefront.

I know now that as flawed and imperfect as I am, what kept me moving forward or at least prevented me from moving backward, was writing this blog. Even as I kept falling on my face time after time, each new blog post was my effort to pull myself back up and keep on running the race (with apologies to the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3).

unworthySo I’m telling you that I’m not a better person, at least not better than I was a month, two months, or six months ago. I’ve taken some steps to cull a few of the more negative influences I’ve encountered in the blogosphere and in social media, if for no other reason, than to reduce the level of conflict I experience, but I don’t think I’ve benefited significantly from that as yet.

So where does that leave me?

Non-Jewish disciples of Jesus find their home (this is a generalization, not an absolute statement) in more or less one of two places: Most of them find a home in some sort of Christian church. No surprise there. A significant minority find their home in either an expression of Messianic Judaism or in some version of Hebrew Roots.

None of that helps me.

What’s left?

Well, even if I found myself on a deserted island somewhere thousands of miles from anyone else, there would still be God.

Assuming in a communal and spiritual sense, that’s actually my situation, what’s to be done?

The answer returns me to the Apostle Paul and what he taught. If Jewish avenues of connection aren’t available to me in forging a relationship with God, then Paul certainly must have taught his Gentile students how they could turn to Hashem.

How did they?

Here’s what little I have so far. I put this together a few months ago:

What Did Paul Teach?

What we do/don’t do:

  • Gentiles weren’t to be circumcised.
  • Gentiles weren’t to convert to Judaism.
  • Cornelius prayed at the set times of prayer.
  • Cornelius gave charity to the Jewish people.
  • Paul preached that the Gentiles owed charity to the poor of Israel.
  • Pray for Jerusalem.
  • The Jewish PaulExamples 1 Cor 5:11 and 13. Purge evil from among you and no slander or backbiting.
  • Practice repairing the world a little every day.
  • Restore Jesus and Paul and their teachings to their original Jewish context.
  • Teach the centrality of Israel in the restoration of the world.

Who we are:

  • Gentiles can call Abraham their Father (Rom. 4:11).
  • [Many of the contributors of the Nanos/Zetterholm volume say that Gentile believers had an “anomalous identity” and “occupied a social and religious no-man’s land”. Gentile identity defies classification.]
  • Gentile believers are neither proselytes nor God-fearers.
  • Like converts, we make an exclusive commitment to the God of Israel, but unlike converts, we do not take on Jewish ancestral practices (kosher food, shabbat, circumcision, and so on).
  • While we retain our native ethnic identities, we no longer worship our native gods.
  • Paul saw us as part of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17:4-5, Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13-18), and yet Israel is also Abraham’s seed.
  • Nanos says we are not guests nor proselytes but full members alongside the Jews (members in what…the Kingdom of Heaven probably).

All this is pretty disorganized and needs a lots of fleshing out.

While I’ve missed the boat as far as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are concerned, it’s still not too late to at least get back on the road in time for Sukkot (what most Christians think of as the “Festival of Booths”).

I apologize for involving Jewish online resources, but in a lot of cases, I have no choice since Paul operated on this calendar and, as PL pointed out in the above-quoted statement, even we Gentiles will be operating within such a calendar or observance in Messianic Days.

walking outPreviously, I’ve drawn some ire, both in blog comments and via email, by citing or quoting from specific Messianic Jewish resources that were written for a non-Jewish audience in mind, so I’m going to do my best to avoid mentioning them as I chronicle my journey of return.

That’s regrettable, since a lot of how I understand my relationship with God, Paul, Yeshua, and the centrality of Israel (and not the Church) in national Israel’s redemption and the redemption of the world through her, is from those resources.

But one of my goals for this blog (it always has been actually) is to not promote conflict. Sometimes the only way to avoid conflict is to avoid interacting with some people and groups who, unfortunately, I have a tendency to irritate and provoke (and I apologize and ask forgiveness of all those folks too, but even if they forgive me, repentance and forgiveness don’t automatically mean reconciliation…sometimes, you just can’t go home).

I don’t want “morning meditations” to be like so many other blogs in the online religious space that go out of their way to generate conflict, disagreement, and even raw hostility.

I’m not teaching, declaring, or demanding. I’m just sharing my personal and spiritual experiences (such as they are) day by day (or perhaps more periodically).

What did Paul teach his Gentile disciples and how can I apply (if it’s possible) that to my own life? What can I learn from those few other non-Jews, such as Cornelius, who worshiped God outside of Judaism and within their own non-Jewish households?

Since the Jewish Messiah and becoming his disciple (through the teachings of Paul) is at the core of this exploration, I don’t know that any examples of non-Jews we see in the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) are relevant or even appropriate.

NoahOne notable example might be Noah, since he preceded any notion of Judaism and was considered “a righteous man, blameless in his time,” and “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 NASB).

Noah prayed to God, God spoke with Noah, Noah obeyed God, and Noah sacrificed to God, so what he did (apart from building an Ark and gathering a bunch of animals together) isn’t entirely out of the ballpark.

But for the most part, I’ll be spending my time in the Apostolic Scriptures, hoping some vestige of these ancient trails can point me to my way home as well.

The Pilot Project for the Nations

Warning. This is pretty cynical. It’s been that kind of day.

@James — You wrote: “It does seem like the Bible is biased heavily in defining the roles and responsibilities of the Jewish people and is pretty skimpy with its “advice” to the Gentiles.” I think I mentioned somewhere above, in response to a similar comment from Drake, that this should be obvious because the literature was written by Jews for Jews, and its consideration of gentiles was only to provide a larger framework for the world in which Jews must exist as a part of that larger body of humanity. It was never intended to provide advice or guidelines for non-Jews, though such guidelines may be (and have been) inferred from it. I pointed out to Drake that it is inappropriate to “criticize” this literature for not providing such information, because that was not its purpose. One might as well criticize a cookbook for not including motorcycle-repair instructions, or a self-help book about quitting smoking for not addressing drug addictions in general. Now, it’s not entirely incidental, of course, that the instructions for a pilot program redeeming one of the families of the earth should contain information that can be generalized to other families; but to criticize a lack of generalized information is just not correctly appreciating the nature and purpose of the existing literature.

Comment by ProclaimLiberty (emph. mine)
Submitted 2015/06/30 at 10:53 a.m.
On Why Do Christians Hate Judaism

That explains a lot.

I actually like the references to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) being referred to as a “pilot program” (I know PL used “pilot program” as applied to the Jewish people and then generalized to the rest of us, but I think my interpretation fits better). It makes perfect sense. The phrase brings into clarity what I think we’ve been struggling with in the conversation taking place on the aforementioned blog post, as well as the one that started this whole thing out.

I don’t know if the Apostle Paul ever intended to flesh out his “pilot program” and develop a full-fledged halachah for the non-Jewish disciples. Maybe not. I’ve read more than one commentary stating that Paul believed the Messianic return was imminent, so he probably didn’t think he had to do anything but put band-aids on gushing arteries because Yeshua was going to be back so fast, he’d heal all our wounds.

Oops.

divorceThis also explains why, with the passage of time, the Gentiles decided to take matters into their own hands and, in a rather ugly divorce, separate themselves from their Jewish mentors and invent an identity of their own, one that diminished if not deleted the Jewish role in the redemptive plan of God through Moshiach (Christ).

Maybe I’ve been a little hard on the Church Fathers. Maybe they thought that turning against the Messianic Jews, all other Jews, and Israel was an unfortunate but necessary step if Gentile lives and souls were to mean anything at all, at least in a more fully developed form.

No real identity, role, or function for the Gentile disciples in Jewish space? No problem. Leave Jewish community and create an identity, role, and function for non-Jewish believers, excuse me, “Christians” that stands on its own legs, without any sort of need for Judaism. Heck, if they were stinging from being put on long-term hold in a “pilot program,” they’d just take it to the next level and write a theology that made Israel and the Jewish people the “bad guys”.

And it worked, at least, from a Christian perspective, for the past eighteen-hundred years or so.

Then, as Derek Leman recently wrote, Messianic Judaism had a “revival” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then later in the 1960s. From there, after a few missteps, it picked up steam and is now beginning to realize itself as an authentic Judaism again.

And as I’ve said before, with Jewish realization of their identity in Messiah, there also came a Gentile realization that said, “I’m no longer the center of Christ’s attention, anymore” (not that we ever were).

And it’s not too far a walk from that point to, “I’m not only not the center of attention, but I’m pretty much irrelevant.”

Of course that defies certain statements in the Bible such as Galatians 3:28 which seems to establish some common ground between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic ekklesia, but I think it stands to reason that if you admit the centrality of Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan for the world, then the only place for Christians to go once they leave the pitcher’s mound is either the outfield, or more likely, the bleachers (the parking lot? …maybe a few miles away from the ballpark?).

shakespeareI’ve mentioned before that when Israel becomes the head of all the nations and King Messiah reigns from Jerusalem over not only Israel but over the rest of the world, the rest of the world will be composed of vassal nations, subservient to the head nation, the Jewish nation.

For some reason, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 57 comes to mind:

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But like a sad slave, stay and think of nought,
Save, where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Of course, the accepted commentary on this sonnet states this is the lament of a neglected friend regarding a companion who has abandoned him and gone off adventuring with others, but I think it could be applied to the current discussion.

I know I’m probably exaggerating, but this series of blog posts are an evolutionary exploration into who or what non-Jews in Messiah are if at all in relationship with Jewish community.

In the blog post I mentioned at the top of today’s missive, I commented that the worst case scenario (for Gentiles) in the Messianic Age, given what I’ve just said, is a true “bilateral ecclesiology,” one extending world-wide with the Jewish people in Israel and the rest of us in our own nations, perhaps only visiting Israel on special occasions to pay homage to our Lord, but otherwise, as the defeated nations that had vainly attacked (or from the present’s point of view, will attack) Israel and were conquered and shamed for our efforts, we remain in our place and tend to our own affairs and only come to the King if summoned.

I wonder if the pilot program was ever meant to be developed further, even by Messiah, since the rather dystopian scenario (for Gentiles) I’ve just crafted doesn’t really need a lot more detail than said-pilot program provides.

solomon

I wonder if there’s a Gentile application to Solomon’s Ecclesiastes? We poor, dumb Christians rule and reign in our churches for eighteen-hundred years thinking we have the proverbial tiger by the tail, only to realize that we are the tail and we’re no tiger, not by a long shot.

Each and every insult, pogrom, persecution, injustice, and inquisition Christianity has ever visited upon the Jewish people in eighteen or so centuries is going to come back and land right on our collective necks with a solid, concrete “thump”.

Maybe the reason Gentiles don’t fit into Messianic Judaism is that we were never meant to. Maybe Mark Kinzer’s vision of separate silos for Jews and Gentiles is intended to be carried over into the Messianic Era. Maybe we had our chance to stay loyal to the Jewish people and Israel during the Age of the Apostles, but once we walked out of the house, so to speak, and slammed the door in Messianic Jewish faces, there was no going back…

…ever.

I see now why the Pastor and just about all of the other people I described Messianic Judaism to at that little Baptist church I used to attend didn’t accept a word of it. I know why “One Law” Hebrew Roots Christians (no, you aren’t “Messianic Judaism”) can’t accept it either. It’s a terribly humbling realization and one accepted only with great difficulty and personal reorganization of who we are. We can never be who we thought we were. Those people never existed, at least not to God.

What was Solomon’s point in writing Ecclesiastes again?

Oh, yeah.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NASB)

Yes, God will judge us, may He have mercy on the nations. Except that keeping His commandments, if you mean the Torah mitzvot, only “applies to every person” (assuming Solomon didn’t mean “every Jew” since his primary audience was most certainly exclusively Jewish), in the broadest possible sense.

torahOf course, it’s dangerous to attempt to apply any of the Jewish scriptures (and even the Apostolic texts are Jewish scriptures written by Jews for Jews) to non-Jews in any sense, so I’m skating on proverbial thin ice (a very hazardous thing given that it’s triple digit highs in and around Boise for the foreseeable future).

Yes, I’m being pessimistic. Half the time, I want to take this “religion thing” and say “to heck with it…if I’m not supposed to belong to the club, I’ll leave.”

Maybe Thomas Gray was correct when he penned in his poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College:”

“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

While Christians were ignorant of their/our true place in the ekklesia and their/our station in the future Kingdom of Messiah, we felt like Kings and Queens, reigning and ruling with Jesus, King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, and so on.

Given the “alternate reality” I’ve just constructed, we’d better duck and run when Messiah really does return for treating the Jewish people and Israel so badly, especially if all of the nations we live in (everywhere except Israel) are going to war against God’s precious, splendorous people, and, as the Bible says, we’re going to get our fannies whooped.

So wising up, I look around and find that I’m just part of a pilot project, a starter kit, a house made of cards with cotton candy for a roof and play-doh for a foundation.

No wonder I’ve felt so “unfinished” or maybe just “unmade” in my version of being a “Messianic Gentile.”

But it all fits. It explains everything, particularly why there are so many questions and so few, if any, answers.

We really were never meant to go as far as we tried to go, were never meant to rise as high as we tried to fly.

Like Icarus, now that I’ve flown close enough to the Sun to see the truth, my wax wings have melted and I plummet to earth like a broken angel, though I’m hardly angelic.

“Being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire” indeed.

icarusI think I’d better crawl on my knees in abject humility or humiliation for the incredible arrogance I’ve been guilty of in even imagining I could be more or, worse yet, that I was more.

I don’t think I’ve understood being a servant up until now, not really.

A fallen servant is one whose wings have melted, and wallowing in soggy, warm wax, all I can do to serve is to scoop up some of that gooey, messy stuff. Maybe it’ll be good enough to make into a few candles to light the way, should the King decide to return by the road that winds past my small place.

After the Meal of the Messiah has Ended

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the ekklesia, in filling up what is lacking in Messiah’s afflictions. Of this ekklesia I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Messiah. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Messiah Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Messiah.

Therefore as you have received Messiah Yeshua the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 1:24-2:7 (NASB – adj)

I’m temporarily interrupting my reviews of the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle in order to address a conversation I had with my friend over coffee last Sunday. Yes, this is the same friend who previously issued the pesky challenge (I say that tongue-in-cheek) of considering a return to church or some such congregation for the sake of fellowship.

Last Sunday, the challenge was to consider all that Messiah has done for me.

No, it’s not like I don’t have a sense of gratitude, but the way he put it, it’s like I am to consider only two beings in existence: Messiah and me.

The Death of the MasterSo often in the Church, over and over again, I’d hear “It’s just me and Jesus” like the rest of the human population of this planet didn’t matter. It also sounds like God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through Israel, the world, wasn’t important. All that’s important is the individual Christian and Jesus.

I look at Messiah through the lens of the entire Biblical narrative and what his death and resurrection means in terms of that narrative. I think of Messiah less as dying for me the individual, and more as dying and being resurrected as a definitive confirmation of God’s New Covenant promise to Israel; His promise of Israel’s personal and national resurrection and the life in the world to come. Messiah’s resurrection is definite proof of the resurrection for the rest of us. It certainly was to the direct witnesses of “the risen Christ,” and by their testimony, was accepted as evidence by many other Jews and Gentiles who through faith, became disciples of the Master.

I have a problem pulling Messiah out of that context, isolating his death and resurrection from God’s global redemptive plan, and making it all about “saving” me. When Paul wrote about “salvation,” he was talking about reconciling humanity with the God of Israel, not saving my one little soul so I could go to Heaven and live with Jesus when I die. Paul was “preaching” the New Covenant promises and their blessings to the Gentiles, who needed to do considerable catch-up work not having the benefit of even a basic Jewish education.

I think that’s what he’s saying in the above-quoted block of scripture. He’s writing to Gentiles. They/we who were once far off (Ephesians 2:13) and who had/have been brought near to the promises of God through the faithfulness of Messiah.

There’s no denying that without Messiah, the Gentiles are totally cut off from the God of Israel. The Jews were already near based on being born into the Sinai covenant. Yes, even they could be cut off (Romans 11:20) due to unbelief, but since they are natural branches, think of how much more easily can they be reattached to the root.

My friend said that those who deny Messiah, Jew and Gentile alike, are cut off from God. This at least suggests if not outright demands that God’s presence be manifest only with those Jews and Gentiles who have become disciples of Yeshua and He is apart from everyone else.

working handsI don’t believe that. For the Jews, I believe there’s close and closer. No, it’s not like there is no benefit for Jewish faith in Messiah. I outlined how unbelieving Jews can still be close to God and how believing Jews have a great benefit in being disciples of the Master in my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Faith Toward God. Mark D. Nanos characterizes the text of Romans 11:25 as unbelieving Jews being temporarily “callused” against Messiah. But the text continues:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29

Paul, in part, is referring to this irrevocable promise of God to Israel:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

So how do I understand my friend’s statement that all people, Jews and Gentiles, are alienated from God if they do not have faith in Messiah? Am I to believe that God abandoned the Jewish people at the cross?

I can’t do that.

I can believe, based on God’s faithful promises to His people Israel, that although many Jews temporarily do not see Yeshua for who he truly is as Messiah, one day everything will be revealed, and then they will all receive the promise of forgiveness of sins and thus “all of Israel will be saved.”

I have no problem believing that all means ALL! In fact, I’m counting on it.

However, God made no such promise to the Gentile nations of the world. We don’t directly benefit from those promises, though as Paul tells us, we do benefit from their blessings through faithfulness. In His mercy, God allows not just Israel, but also the Gentiles to receive the blessings of the resurrection, the indwelling of the Spirit of God, and the promise of life in the Messianic Age and beyond as members of the Master’s ekklesia and vassal subjects of the King.

But in my struggle to reframe the traditional Christian narrative into one that takes into greater account the first century Jewish context of Paul’s letters as they relate back to the promises God, I’ve gotten “stuck” with my panoramic view of the Messiah’s role in Biblical and human history.

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

My fight has always been to communicate this Judaic view of ALL scripture, including the Apostolic Writings, as Jewish and centered on national redemption of Israel, and then through Israel, the nations.

Admittedly, I’m having a tough time changing my focus and allowing myself the “conceit” of realizing that there is (or could be) a personal relationship between me and the Master. Frankly, I don’t see why that shouldn’t intimidate the living daylights out of anyone, especially me. How can the King of the future Messianic Era also be, as many Christians might say, my “best friend?”

The presence of Mashiach is revealed on Acharon Shel Pesach, and this revelation has relevance to all Israel: Pesach is medaleg,1 “skipping over” (rather than orderly progress), and leil shimurim,2 the “protected night.” In general the mood of Pesach is one of liberty. Then Pesach ends, and we find ourselves tumbling headlong into the outside world. This is where Mashiach’s revealed presence comes into play – imbuing us with a powerful resoluteness that enables us to maintain ourselves in the world.

-Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I too find myself “tumbling headlong” into unprotected territory. It’s become very easy for me to relate to Yeshua as a lowly subject relates to a King. But how can (or should) this “Messianic Gentile” gain an apprehension of a one-on-one relationship with my Master Yeshua?


1. Shir HaShirim 2:8. Midrash Raba on that verse describes the Exodus as medaleg, “skipping over” calculations and rationales for redemption, bringing Israel out of exile regardless of their merit, regardless of the length of the exile. Later in that section the Midrash applies the verse to Mashiach.

2. Sh’mot 12:42, as Rashi notes, the night destined for redemption.

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Three

Snakebites are common to humanity. Jesus said, “Offences come” (Matthew 18:7 KJV). Offenses do come! The tragic thing is that they often come through the people with whom we are closest.

Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 6: Snakebites
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)

Continued from Part Two of this review as well as a brief commentary on Hebrews 10:23-25.

Pastor Jackson leverages Paul’s misadventure with a viper (see Acts 28:1-10) metaphorically to describe the injuries some people receive from others within Christian community. He also renders an interesting interpretation of the serpent in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).

Of course those closest to us have the greatest capacity to create the deepest wounds (although Adam and Eve’s serpent and Paul’s viper weren’t all that close to them relationally). In this, I suppose my unfortunate set of final transactions with the Pastor at the church I used to attend applies since we had become friends over our two-year association. We haven’t spoken or exchanged so much as an email since that time and I doubt we ever will.

Interestingly enough, Pastor Jackson unwittingly gives a hint to one of the reasons:

In it, Peter quoted the Lord, saying “I lay in Zion a choice stone…a stone of stumbling and offense…” That doesn’t sound right does it? God lays a rock of offense in the middle of His Church?

-ibid

Jackson clearly equates Zion with the Church, but Zion isn’t the Christian Church, it’s Israel, the Jewish people. Even for Christians who say they are opposed to supersessionism or what is also called replacement or fulfillment theology, once you say “the Church” was born in Acts 2 and that it’s the Church that, from that point forward, has all of God’s attention and not Israel, at the very least, you have diminished the power of God’s promises to Israel and elevated the (Gentile) Christian Church, to which God made no promises at all.

No, it’s not to say that God does not have a redemptive plan for the Gentile members of the ekklesia of Messiah, He just doesn’t have plans for this thing we’ve come to know as “the Church”.

That’s my stumbling block.

I’m convinced that the number-one cause of spiritual death among Christians is not outright demonic attacks, but snakebites.

-ibid

I’m convinced that a lot of Christians attribute way too much trouble in their lives to evil supernatural forces and not enough to their own human natures. I think Jackson agrees with me here, but the whole concept of “demonic attacks” bothers me as even a potential causal element in our lives. People are all too well equipped to hurt each other. We don’t need outside help.

Do you know anyone who was bitten and then walked away from the faith?

walkingSure. We probably all do if we’re willing to admit it. I recall a conversation I once had with my former Pastor. As a younger man, he knew a Pastor in another country, a truly Godly man, or so he thought. Later in life, this man left his wife and took up with a younger woman. Pastor is a Calvinist and believes God pre-selected certain people for salvation. Since one discovers these people by their “fruits,” Pastor was convinced, based on this fellow’s lifetime history for the most part, that he was “chosen”. Pastor was baffled at the sudden and complete turn around and didn’t really know how to explain it.

My opinions on Calvinism aside, I’m a firm believer in free will. God is open and available to all human beings but He won’t hold a gun to our heads (so to speak). Although He empowers us to accept the offer to come to Him, we still have the power to refuse it or even once accepting, later refusing it.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

2 Peter 2:20 (NASB)

I suppose all this answers Jackson’s question above. Coming to God is our choice, but ultimately, so is leaving Him.

Satan’s snakebites usually come from other people.

-Jackson, ibid

See my comment above about Christian attribution habits.

Shifting to Chapter 7: Tattooed: A Tale of Two Piercings:

There’s another form of tattooing in effect, though, that we can’t see with the naked eye. Oh, we can certainly see it–we can discern it–but it’s more of an internal tattoo. It’s a tattoo of the soul.

This is another metaphor of Jackson’s for our wounds or “the state of our soul.”

Next, Jackson spends a lot of time comparing “brokenness” and “woundedness”:

This is such an important question because Christlike brokenness can be used by God to powerfully catapult us along the path of our destinies, while woundedness will derail us before we ever begin.

Broken AngelHe explains that there is no brokenness without wounding but you can be wounded without allowing yourself to experience “Christlike brokenness.” Brokenness allows a person to submit himself to God, while being wounded but unbroken is all about focusing on the pain and not the healer.

A broken man embraces correction. A wounded man fears correction.

How many of the Proverbs wisely advises accepting correction and discipline?

I’m actually intimidated by the question because I don’t like the answer I find in myself. One way to interpret all this is to submit to God by submitting to the Church. I know the Pastor at the church I used to attend probably believes that I need correction in the sense that I need to accept his doctrine over my current viewpoints.

But could I have handled all this any differently and would the outcome have resulted in something more positive coming out of my church experience?

There are four end of chapter questions and I think only the last one is relevant.

Are you committed to moving from woundedness to brokenness so that the beauty of the Lord can shine through you?

Jackson continues this theme in Chapter 8: It’s Hard To Be Beautiful:

Likewise, it takes time and focused effort for us to move from a wounded state to a broken one.

Assuming this speaks to me at any level, I guess there’s hope if I find that I’m currently wounded but unbroken.

And then he said:

As I meditated on those words, I felt the Lord speak to my heart.

I won’t quote what Jackson said the Lord said, but not being a mystic, I have a hard time believing that this Pastor heard, word for word, exactly what he wrote in his book. It’s another one of those things about certain Christian circles that don’t make a connection. On the other hand, some of the tales of the Chasidim are truly fantastic.

Quoting Psalm 23:3, Jackson says the Lord restores the soul, but practically in the same breath, he states:

…some people carry the sting of divorce, bereavement, betrayal and rejection for a lifetime without ever experiencing lasting freedom.

True. Also…

…the more we love the offender, the deeper the hurt we experience.

life under repairWhich is why some divorced couples can still have awful encounters with each other, even years after parting.

Which leads to…

…some wounds will go away over time, but others require outside assistance to be healed.

Also, true. Some wounds will heal with the simple application of a band-aid while others need stitches to stop the bleeding. Sometimes a computer just needs to be reboot, and on other occasions, it’s time to bring out the repair tools and open the machine’s cover.

We must repent. We must choose to forgive. We must process the hurt.

Very true. Especially the last part since I do an awful lot of processing here.

“I’ve seen enough in the church to make me an infidel,” the man said, “but I still have a made-up mind and determination to see what lies at the end of a successful Christian race!”

Which goes back to what I said before about free will. We can have a bad time in church and we can experience circumstances, something like the readers of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, that prevent us from having fellowship as they were prevented from the prayers and offering korban at the Temple.

While my circumstances can’t be presupposed in Jackson’s narrative, he mentions another chronic situation encapsulated in the title of a sermon: “The Crisis of Spiritual Fatigue.”

I read a blog post just the other day about fatigue, being worn out, and needing a break.

Jackson says “one of the first things to go in our spiritual lives is the awe and wonder of simply knowing Jesus and being who He’s called us to be.”

I remember when I first became a believer, I was thrilled just to be able to read the Bible and go to church. It was all bright and shiny and new, like I had found an amazing treasure. I couldn’t wait to read more of the Bible, go to Sunday school, and learn more about Jesus and the “new man” I was in him.

I suppose it was the same way when I transitioned into the Hebrew Roots movement. All the “Jewish stuff” was bright and shiny and new, and I loved putting on a tallit and kippah and (very, very badly) saying the prayers from the little beginner’s siddur we used to use.

But like that new car smell eventually fades, so does the newness of faith. We have to put away all of the “stuff” and come to an understanding of God (or with God) on our own terms.

There is a difference between a life of faith and a life of community. Sure, they’re supposed to overlap significantly, but if you were stranded on the proverbial desert island, all alone with just a Bible, would you eventually lose faith because you had lost community, or would you gain faith by continually being alone with God without pesky humans there to get in the way?

keyboardInterestingly enough, on his blog, Pastor Jackson recently wrote about “holding patterns.” While he was addressing a person’s relationship with God being put on hold, I could equally apply his words to the relationship between an individual and religious community. Of these “holding patterns,” Jackson says in part:

They break us…or they make us. And just as our favorite Bible heroes taught us, how a person handles their holding patterns determines whether or not they’ll land in safety.

I’m like that man on the proverbial desert island except I have Internet access and a refrigerator. I’m not really alone, but if God does intend for me to be in community, then I guess I’ll have to wait for it, or make it myself through virtual means.

I’ll continue my review soon.

Christianity Without Christ

Why is that so many people think my affirmations are antithetical to Christianity? I think it is because Christianity has placed all of its eggs in the belief basket. We all have been trained to think that Christianity is about believing things. Its symbols and artifacts (God, Bible, Jesus, Heaven, etc) must be accepted in a certain way. And when times change and these beliefs are no longer credible, the choices we are left with are either rejection or fundamentalism.

I think of Christianity as a culture. It has produced 2,000 years of artifacts: literature, music, art, ethics, architecture, and (yes) beliefs. But cultures evolve and Christianity will have to adapt in order to survive in the modern era.

-John Shuck, Presbyterian minister
“I’m a Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn’t Believe in God”
Patheos.com

My first reaction to Mr. Shuck’s article when I saw it posted on Facebook was to write him off as a loon, but then in reading how he relates to Christianity, it occurred to me that there are some secular and Reform Jews who relate to Judaism the same way. That is, they both see Christianity and Judaism as primarily cultural without a basis in a supernatural, all-powerful creative being. You know…God.

I think Shuck has a problem though. A Jew who is an atheist is still a Jew based on ethnicity and heritage. Even if your distant ancestors converted to Judaism a thousand years ago, you, as a descendant, are fully Jewish. Even Jews who convert to Christianity don’t stop being Jewish. Sure, they may forsake the mitzvot, abandon the Torah, and deny the continuing authority of the Sinai covenant, but they are still Jews ethnically, by family heritage, and probably to some degree, culturally.

I’ve known some Jewish people who went to our local Reform/Conservative synagogue, not because they were religious in the slightest, but to connect with Jewish community. Boise, Idaho doesn’t have a large Jewish population. Heck, there are barely 1,500 Jews in the entire state of Idaho. There just aren’t many places to experience Jewish community that aren’t synagogue related. So it makes a sort of sense that even secular Jews would be seen entering a synagogue on Friday evenings.

But none of that applies to Christians.

John Shuck, Presbyterian minister
John Shuck, Presbyterian minister

No one is born a Christian. There’s no such thing as an “ethnic” Christian, since Christianity in its broadest definition, is inclusive of all ethnicities. Admittedly, Christianity can be a culture. I happen to think that individual churches can be self-contained cultures. But this isn’t something that one is born into.

The sort of Christianity that Shuck is describing is like joining some long-standing social group. You can come. You can go. You can choose to belong. You can choose to dissociate. Nothing ties you to being a Presbyterian other than what you desire to experience at a wholly human level. There’s no shared ethnicity and no shared history as a people group. It’s all based on practices and traditions that Shuck calls “human constructs”. Might as well be a political party.

It is said that Judaism is based on what you do, that is, performing the mitzvot. In Christianity, it’s all about what you believe. But can you have a “beliefless” Christianity?

Shuck continues:

I believe one of the newer religious paths could be a “belief-less” Christianity. In this “sect,” one is not required to believe things. One learns and draws upon practices and products of our cultural tradition to create meaning in the present. The last two congregations I have served have huge commitments to equality for LGTBQ people and eco-justice, among other things. They draw from the well of our Christian cultural tradition (and other religious traditions) for encouragement in these efforts. I think a belief-less Christianity can be a positive good for society.

Belief-less Christianity is thriving right now, even as other forms of the faith are falling away rapidly. Many liberal or progressive Christians have already let go or de-emphasized belief in Heaven, that the Bible is literally true, that Jesus is supernatural, and that Christianity is the only way. Yet they still practice what they call Christianity. Instead of traditional beliefs, they emphasize social justice, personal integrity and resilience, and building community. The cultural artifacts serve as resources.

But what about belief in God? Can a belief-less Christianity really survive if God isn’t in the picture? Can you even call that Christianity anymore? In theory, yes. In practice, it is a challenge because “belief in God” seems to be so intractable. However, once people start questioning it and realize that they’re not alone, it becomes much more commonplace.

broken-crossFrom Shuck’s perspective, Christianity has evolved to the point where God and Jesus Christ (at least a Jesus Christ that has any sort of Divine nature) have been left behind. I’ve actually heard some “progressive” Jews say similar things about Judaism, that the mitzvot are just human constructed moral codes and that Jews don’t really believe in the Exodus except at Passover. Kind of like how some Jewish people only go to synagogue during the High Holy Days. Kind of like how some “Christian” people only go to church on Easter.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has devolved and morphed to the point where, except for a few superficial rituals, their values, beliefs, and practices are absolutely no different from those of the progressive leftist social and political movements in the western nations. It’s “religion lite” and God non-existent. At some point, and I must contradict Shuck here, without a traditional view of Christ, there is no Christianity. The PCUSA becomes decoupled from the central tenets of faith and is reduced to a social club masquerading as a church.

Someone quipped that my congregation is BYOG: Bring Your Own God. I use that and invite people to “bring their own God” — or none at all. While the symbol “God” is part of our cultural tradition, you can take it or leave it or redefine it to your liking. That permission to be theological do-it-yourselfers is at the heart of belief-less Christianity.

Or perhaps a meaningless “Christianity”.

I understand some Christians may react with hostility and panic to this idea — they already have — but it deserves an honest discussion.

Yes, and I’m honestly discussing it. I momentarily became a little hot under the collar when reading Shuck’s article but I realize that Shuck and the PCUSA have so removed themselves from anything taught by Messiah (Christ) that they aren’t even in the ballpark of a theological discussion, themselves being without theology. The world is full of human organizations that have nothing to do with religion, God, faith, or spirituality. The PCUSA is just one more of them.