Tag Archives: church

The Consequences of Trinity Sunday

ChurchI had no idea there was such a thing as Trinity Sunday until I was sitting in a little, local Lutheran church with my Mom last Sunday and the Pastor was preaching on it. I guess it’s a “thing,” just like Reformation Day, which I’d never heard of either until several years ago. Seriously, I know more about the Jewish religious calendar than the Christian version.

I checked this with my friend Tom earlier today, who had never heard of it either, and he’s been a Christian a lot longer than I have.

Anyway, part of the service included the congregation reciting the Athanasian Creed, which is Christianity’s formal codification of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this supposedly can be traced back to the 6th century CE.

However, the Pastor actually preached about the Nicene Creed, including presenting a pretty sanitized version of the Emperor Constantine.

Apparently, it all began with a 4th century CE presbyter and ascetic (and also a heretic according to Pastor) named Arius, who taught that God the Father was superior to the Son, and that Jesus was a created being like the angels. There’s a Biblical basis for this found in Proverbs 8, but I won’t get into the details.

Apparently, in the first few centuries of the (Gentile) Christian church, there was a lot of disagreement over the nature and character of God and the relationship of God the Father to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know):

Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Before the council of Nicaea, the Christian world knew several competing Christological ideas. Church authorities condemned some of these ideas but did not put forth a uniform formula. The Nicaean formula was a rapidly concluded solution to the general Christological debate.

Long story short, Constantine got all the Bishops together (I am severely oversimplifying all of this) to hammer out these issues, and they eventually concluded with the Trinity as we have the doctrine today.

I’m probably going to make a lot of people mad at me, but it seems that between Biblical canon and the present day Church, a bunch of religious authorities got together and decided the exact nature and character of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the so-called Church Fathers got a few things wrong, in my humble opinion, such as supersessionism or replacement theology. I mean if they could reinvent the nature of Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah King to eliminate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, why should I believe they didn’t get the Trinity wrong, too?

See? I told you I’d make people mad. But it gets worse.

Why is the codification of the Trinity any different than the Jewish codification of halakah in Talmud? Okay, I probably just got myself in trouble on a number of levels, but please, give me enough rope to hang myself with. Christianity likes to think of itself as relatively tradition free compared to Judaism, but it seems to me that there are some similarities, at least in terms of process.

You have ancient Christian counsels that got together and defined all kinds of things about Christian belief and praxis, and you have ancient Jewish authorities that got together and (more or less) did the same thing about Jewish belief and praxis. Christians say they are “Bible-believing” and are led to interpret scripture by the Holy Spirit (also “scripture interprets scripture”), but really, what Christians believe and do today, especially relative to the Trinity doctrine, was decided centuries after the last book of the Bible was added, and more centuries after the Gentile Church divorced itself from the original Judaism.

In other words, it may well be that the Apostle Paul had no idea that Jesus was supposed to be the second person of the Godhead.

I know the Pastor of the church I take Mom to every Sunday would call me a heretic too, most Christians would, but how sure are we that we have a Triune God? Just asking.

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One More Time Back at Church

ChurchI’m sure my regular readers have noticed that I rarely post missives here anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the feeling that I’ve said just about everything I have to say about faith, God, and a non-Jew’s bent toward Jewish learning and worship.

However, changes and challenges continue to come my way. My Dad passed away over two years ago, and even then, my Mom’s memory was beginning to fail. Today, her dementia is quite pronounced and for over a year and a half, she’s been living in an independent residential facility, which has worked out well for her.

However, she was in Southwestern Utah, where she and Dad had decided to retire many years ago, while I live in Idaho and my brother lives in Virginia. It was a nine hour drive one way just for my wife and me to visit her.

Mom’s support continued to dwindle as her peers either moved away or passed away, and especially without Dad, she became very lonely. I finally convinced her to move to Boise so we could be near her and she could see us as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My wife and I researched support systems here and found a very nice independent living home just 15 minutes away from where we live.

With her memory and judgment continuing to deteriorate, she’s had a tough time adjusting, but then, it’s only been about two weeks since she’s arrived. There have been a number of hurtles to cross and we’re managing them as best we can.

One of the commitments I made to Mom was that I would find a Lutheran church for her and go with her to services every Sunday. I haven’t regularly attended church services in almost five years, ever since this happened. I never saw myself worshiping with traditional Christians ever again, but now, I go with Mom.

I took her for the first time last Sunday. She seemed to enjoy it, although she said the sermon was a bit long (I actually enjoyed it for the most part, though mentally, I was making little notes about how it could have been better). She even took communion (I called the church ahead of time and they said it was okay).

I’m taking her again this morning, hence my blog post.

It’s a nice place, relatively small and informal. The pastor and the church have a child-focused ministry, particularly regarding chronically ill children and those in the child welfare system. Not too many older folks at the later service, and when I did my research, I found they don’t have anything senior focused including any outreach.

At Mom’s church in Utah, when Dad was alive, they were very involved, had tons of friends, and participated in a lot of activities. Just before we moved Mom up here, she knew the Pastor and had one of Dad’s old friends give her rides to and from Sunday services, but that was about it (and the so-called “friend” of Dad’s turned out to be a bit of a snake, but that’s another story).

At her current residential home, there are plenty of activities, and thus opportunities for Mom to socialize as long as she takes advantage of them, but if we just go for Sunday services, we’ll arrive, worship, and then leave. No socializing, and Mom really needs to connect with folks.

I’ve thought about taking her to Sunday school before services, but between her dementia and macular degeneration in one eye, she neither reads well nor is able to retain what she reads for more than a minute or so. She wouldn’t even be able to follow along with a Bible study since, in any given conversation, I usually have to answer the same question five or six times or more since she forgets that she’s asked and that I’ve responded.

I know one of the reasons Mom likes the idea of me taking her to church is that it gets me into a church. However, in spite of her intentions, I’m going this time around only for her sake, which means, even if I were to go to a class with her, I’d be keeping my big mouth shut, something I didn’t do the last time I was “churched.”

I don’t know how this is going to work out in the long run, but as long as Mom wants to go to church on Sunday’s, I’ll take her.

I’ve looked at the church’s events calendar online, but besides a Quilter’s Group, there isn’t much for women, plus Mom doesn’t quilt. There’s actually more activities for men and a bunch for kids, but nowhere to plug Mom in.

I’m writing this to “think out loud,” so to speak. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a point.

I sometimes find it amazing and daunting that I’m actually attending services again, but it’s only to serve Mom.

Well, maybe I’ll take a few notes during the sermon just to see what turns up.

How is Messianic Judaism “Trending?”

the crowdMy stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).

In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?

It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.

Why should I care?

Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.

I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.

I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.

I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.

I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.

Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.

How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?

Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.

A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.

The Washington Post published a January 2017 article called Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving but Thom S. Rainer’s blog (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) posted a September 2016 blog post titled Five Reasons Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. ChurchLeaders.com produced a December 2017 article that was way too long but reported mixed trends depending on location and church size, and The Gospel Coalition created a March 2015 “fact checker” that seemed to say conservative churches weren’t growing as fast as they once were but were still growing, while “mainline” churches which had strayed away from “Biblical Christianity” were on the decline.

However that’s normative Christianity, not Messianic Judaism.

So does anyone really know how MJ is doing and if so, what’s your source of information?

The Devil Made Me Do It Redux

Over three years ago, as part of my “church experience,” I wrote this blog post illustrating how many churches (including the one I was attending at the time) emphasize the influence of an external tormentor who causes them to sin over their own personal responsibility. I highlighted the fact, using multiple examples, that the Bible emphasizes that we are accountable to God for our actions and that blaming HaSatan (the Adversary) is no excuse.

I was reminded of this again while listening to Christian radio this week. All they talk about is Satan, Satan, Satan, and how if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into one of his traps.

But what about the traps we set for ourselves? I don’t think our external Adversary needs all that much help when after all, most people are their (our) own worst enemies. Just food for thought.

calvin-and-hobbes-devil
Calvin and Hobbes

The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you’ve come in life. It’s a preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe”—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—when we resolve to do better this year than last.

The theme of Elul is return to your essential self—a.k.a. teshuvah—helped along by prayer and charity. “The King is in the field,” they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.

-from “The Month of Elul”
Chabad.org

Elul and ShofarThe month of Elul on the Jewish calendar begins this coming Sunday, September 4th. As the quote above testifies, it’s a month of preparation and personal reflection as the High Holy Days rapidly approach.

Two years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy blog post regarding the impact of Elul on both Judaism and (potentially) Christianity. Since then, things have changed a great deal.

I suppose if Christians have a “month of preparation” it occurs in the spring at the approach of Easter.

But I’ve always appreciated the formality of Judaism in endeavors of self-examination, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.

I suppose Catholicism has its rituals and ceremonies as well, but I’ve never found them particularly Biblical or attractive (though I know some will disagree with me on this).

As non-Jews, whether we call ourselves disciples of Yeshua or Christians, we don’t really have a lot of access to the Days of Awe unless we make that access for ourselves. That requires more from us as individuals, a greater personal dedication to approaching the Throne of God, abasing ourselves, praying for the strength to turn around, to turn back toward Him.

We don’t have a community (most of us, anyway) that embraces a specific praxis focusing on the path of returning to God or trying to find Him in the first place.

A few days ago, I wrote a fictional short story about a man struggling between discovering God and hiding from life. Ultimately, it’s God who finds him, and in a rather unusual venue, certainly not in a church.

Going to GodI think that’s where many of us are much of the time. If we really make the effort to connect to God what will it say about who we are? Will we even like what we discover?

In observant Judaism, every day during the month of Elul, except for Shabbat, the shofar is sounded after morning services as a sort of “wake up call” to prepare for Rosh Hashanah or the New Year. Usually when writing a message such as an email or blog post, Jews will finish with the phrase “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

Psalm 27 is added to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.

There are other customs and the link I provided above to Chabad will render that information if you’re interested.

For a Jew, a relationship with God is personal, but it’s most often expressed in community. Christianity has community as well, but technically, it is represented by many people, by the nations, whereas Jews are a single people, a specific nation called out by God.

The Jewish religious calendar maps out the practice of a Jew and I suppose, depending on your denomination, your church has its own traditions and rituals as well. I’ve never found Christian traditions satisfying, though.

We don’t have the shofar blowing and it would probably seem strange to our friends and family if we started ending our missives to them with “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

If any of us choose to follow the prayers, we can acquire the siddur of our choice through any online Judaica store. There are probably some Messianic siddurim available. I imagine a Google search would yield appropriate results.

siddur
Photo: bcc-la.org

Thus we could follow the tradition of adding Psalm 27 to our personal prayer time. Just be mindful of context. After all, we are not Jews and we are not Israel.

According to the Chabad, selichot are prayers asking God for forgiveness. Christians believe that once forgiven, always forgiven, so this isn’t always a common practice in many churches.

My wife, who is Jewish, says that rather than being depressing because of the emphasis on sins and judgment, the High Holidays are exhilarating. God is offering to hit the “reset button,” so to speak, to lay out a brand new, squeaky clean year for His people Israel. Jews have a unique opportunity annually, to live the next year better than they did the last.

But according to the Bible, forgiveness and redemption are available for the non-Jew as well, and from a Christian perspective, it’s our devotion to Yeshua (Jesus) that allows us to access those blessings. However for people like me, who are non-traditional and Hebraically oriented in our theology, if we choose to use the month of Elul in a manner similar to the Jews, we have to create the context and practices for ourselves.

Both Christians and Jews know they can ask for forgiveness at any time of year, however, for Jews, the month of Elul is a time to concentrate on what they’ve done for the past year, to right wrongs, ask for forgiveness from those people they have offended, and to ask for forgiveness from God.

We may not belong to Jewish community, but as private individuals, we could choose to adopt some of what the Jews do during Elul anyway, though more spiritually rather than too closely mimicking Jewish praxis.

In the past, I’ve written about community for the “Messianic Gentile,” but my experiences over the past few years have taught me it’s not really available for the vast majority of us either physically or emotionally. Sure, we can create our own groups, but anyone who’s tried to run a small congregation or even a regular home Bible fellowship can tell you how difficult it is to maintain over the long haul.

Besides, trying to figure out how to have a “Hebraic” praxis for non-Jews while avoiding treading too heavily on Jewish identity and particularity isn’t easy. I’ve fought in those wars in the past and have concluded for personal reasons that since I’m not Jewish, I shouldn’t walk that path. It’s too much like stealing another person’s clothes and then wearing them as your own.

And trying to do any of this in a traditional Christian setting in most cases won’t be practical, since the “Hebraic” praxis will be alien in that context. In fact, it might be received by Christian peers adversarially.

standing aloneSo more and more, this is a blogspot about the individual non-Jew who is neither fish nor fowl, who doesn’t fit in either world, and yet can’t adjust his or her perspectives on the Bible to “get along” with a more traditional congregation, whether Christian or Jewish.

From that perspective, while the month of Elul and all that it holds is communal for the religious Jews, for the rest of us, well, those few who are like us, it remains individual, at least until the Messiah returns.

My Aberrant Theology

There are days.

Really, I don’t know why I respond to Facebook clickbait sometimes.

No, that’s not fair. It’s not “clickbait” as such. The person who posted the statement is honest and forthright. We just happen to disagree, that’s all.

He said:

Q: What do you say when someone protests, “We’re not under the law, we’re under the New Covenant!”
A: I would respond as follows…

Q: When the Scriptures describe the New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (which is also quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12) what is the first thing God says He will do in the fulfilling of the New Covenant?
A: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”

Q: What is the law that God will write on our hearts as part of the New Covenant?
A: According to Romans 8:1-11 those who walk in the Spirit will submit to God’s Law, so that it “might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” So, we are no longer under the “condemnation” or “curse” or penalty of the law, but we are most certainly still instructed by God’s law. In fact, it is now being written on our hearts, so that we might faithfully walk it out. According to Ephesians 2:8-10 this is why we were saved by grace through faith: that we might walk in “good works” which God, “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

new heartI happened to mention that Jeremiah 31:31 states only the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and not the Gentiles at all, participate in the New Covenant. Christianity sidesteps this little problem by cherry-picking various New Testament scriptures while ignoring the fact that there’s no linear progression from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and those particular passages. In this case Ephesians 2 was invoked.

My response was to point to a two-part series on Ephesians 2, Abraham, and the unique Jewish mission I wrote over 14 months ago, specifically citing the works of Carl Kinbar and Derek Leman.

The response to my response was to have Kinbar and Leman (and by inference, me) accused of “aberrant theologies”.

“The inappropriate emphasis of Jewish or Gentile identity will inevitably result in aberrant theologies.” … as demonstrated by Kinbar and Leman.

Just to be clear, the dictionary definition of “aberrant” is “departing from an accepted standard.” Synonyms include “deviant, deviating, divergent, abnormal, atypical, anomalous, irregular.”

Reminds me of those times when the head Pastor of the church I used to attend stated that he spoke “sound doctrine,” implying that anyone who disagreed with him was teaching “unsound doctrine.”

In other words, “agree with me or you’re wrong.”

Of course, the arguments being used against me are based on Covenant Theology which I’ve already discounted, at least within my own little world view.

This is all my fault. If I’d just learn that people don’t want to discuss, they want you to be “aberrant,” then I’d (hopefully) not engage them, even the nice ones, in such conversations. They never end well. If you’re mainstream, you are always right. That’s one of the reasons I don’t go to their churches. No room for minority opinions. No place for the occasional oddball. The Church is for conformists (of course, most religious institutions require such a thing by definition).

TempleI guess it doesn’t matter if I’m right either. Let them have their victories over the Jewish people and Judaism, over the Torah and the Temple. God will be God no matter what I say or no matter what anyone else says, either.

I just don’t believe God will delete my Jewish wife and children based on a theological technicality that wasn’t even conceived of until after the Gentile Christians threw the Jewish disciples of Yeshua out of their own party sometime in the early second century CE and after.

No, that’s not really what Covenant Theology says…well, not exactly. I just don’t think you have to drag the Jewish people and Jewish praxis into the mud in order to elevate the Messiah. I believe both ascend together. Why would the King of Israel bring down his Israelite subjects, the named members of the covenants with God, in order to elevate a non-covenant people? After all, without those covenant people who are already near to God, how can a non-covenant people be brought nearer to the God of Israel by them and by their King?