Tag Archives: church

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
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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?

Maybe It’s A Relief Not To Be Jewish

The title of today’s little missive will probably rub at least some people the wrong way, but hear me out.

Living with a Jewish wife, a non-Messianic Jewish wife, one who shares absolutely no common theology with me, is sometimes quite illuminating. Last week, the oldest son of the local Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzen had his Bar Mitzvah. Apparently, I’m quite ignorant about all this, since I thought it would be on Shabbos.

Not so (although there was another related event on Shabbos). It was on Thursday. There were a ton of Jews from Crown Heights (Brooklyn) who came for the affair. My wife helped cook tons and tons of kosher meals since Boise is hardly the center of a thriving Jewish community, thus Kosher is hard to come by.

Jewish Man PrayingMy wife is very protective of her Judaism and her Jewish community. The occasional “Messianic” (Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t really matter to her) who shows up at Chabad kind of rubs her the wrong way. Fortunately, the Bar Mitzvah was by invitation only, so it was unlikely to attract the casually curious or the Messianic who wanted to dive a tad deeper into actual Jewish life.

By the way, one of the people she’s protecting the local Jewish community from is me. I’m never quite sure if my asking something like, “How did the Bar Mitzvah go” will be perceived as genuine interest or as an intrusion (fortunately the former in this case).

Processing all this over the past several days, and doing a lot of detailed lawn work while the missus was at Shabbos services (all day in this case, there was a lot of “hobnobbing” to do), I realized that maybe it’s a good thing I’m not Jewish.

Really, I can’t stand being stuck in a crowd, particularly made up of (mostly) people I don’t know, for a long period of time. If, for some strange reason, my wife had asked me to attend with her, I’d feel like the proverbial fish out of water. I’ve read some books on the Rebbe and the Chabad, but I’m sure I’d fit in at a Chabad Bar Mitzvah about as much as a Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon pizza.

The missus is about as much of an introvert as I am, so when she finally came home from Shabbos services and the subsequent activities around 5 p.m., she was wiped out. I don’t blame her.

Jewish in JerusalemI don’t blame her for not including me in her Jewish life, either. The more I’ve disconnected myself from any formal association with Messianic Jewish groups, the more I have begun to realize that maybe I never belonged in the first place. Of course, I belong in a church about as much as a nudist in a nunnery, so I’m not saying that traditional Christianity is an option for me either.

I am saying that a Gentile (well, me anyway) attempting to adopt Jewish practices is kind of like putting a cat in a doghouse. One of these things is not like the other.

My wife showed me a photo of the Bar Mitzvah boy. Wow, what a young face. He was also wearing one of those black fedoras and a black jacket, which seemed strange on a kid that age. But then again, I’m not Chabad or even Jewish. Even if I discovered some long-lost family secret that my mother was Jewish, while halachically, that might make me Jewish, at almost 62 years of age, I would still lack a lifetime of Jewish experience.

In other words, I’d still think and feel like a Goy.

I think it’s OK for me and people like me to not pretend to be someone and something we’re not. It’s OK not to engage in what I’ve heard called “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”.

I don’t think I have a Jewish soul, and I don’t think I’ve got long, lost Jewish ancestors, and I don’t think I’m a descendent of one of the lost tribes or any of that stuff.

I hang onto my current understanding of the Bible because it’s the one that makes the most sense. That’s why I’m about as welcome in a Christian Bible study group as a quart of Vodka at an AA meeting. Sooner or later, I’m going to say something that will be perceived as a threat.

Just showing up in a traditional Jewish venue would be enough to be looked at askance since I’m a Christian (what my wife calls me, not necessarily how I see myself).

Like I said, it’s easier and better to avoid trying to be something you’re not, especially since you’ll (I’ll) stick out like a clown at a funeral. Oh, for a time I can “blend into” a Church setting, but only until I open my mouth.

If religious community is important to you, then I hope you’ve got one where you are accepted for the person you are. I hope you fit in.

For those of you who don’t, welcome. That’s my world. That’s the world of a lot of us who hold to an alternate view of the Bible’s overarching message, particularly the actual meaning of the New Covenant. Some of you have found enough fellow “oddballs” within driving distance that you have formed your own groups. That’s good.

But we’re pretty strange ducks, and sometimes there isn’t a significant number of like-minded oddballs around to get together with.

Besides, within our own little sub-group, there are numerous sub-sub-groups who are just different enough to where we’re not going to get along for one reason or another.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

And then, there are those folks who are just plain “out there”.

So, if you have ever gotten that feeling that you don’t fit in, no matter how hard you try, maybe you’re trying too hard to belong in the wrong place. Instead of having that make you feel disenfranchised, maybe you should feel grateful.

Thank you God for making me who I am, even if that sort of person isn’t very common, and even if that person isn’t always easy for others to understand. The downside is you don’t have a small Bible study group to go to every Wednesday night (at least not without starting a theological “knife fight”). The upside is you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. All you have to do is be the person you are.

If God created you (and me), then He understands.

An Easter Musing: Why I Consider the Church as “Them” and not “Me”

Something to ponder. If Jesus died on Passover and rose again a few days later (depending on your timetable), then why are most people celebrating his resurrection a whole month before Passover this year (and various other years as well)? Respectful responses are welcome. No witch hunting.

-Query from Facebook

No, this wasn’t directed at me. It was a general question tossed out into social media by a Facebook “friend” (I put that in quotes because we’ve never met face-to-face).

It’s an interesting question, but I must admit, it wasn’t the catalyst for today’s “morning meditation.” Easter was.

More specifically, my massive and total disconnect from Easter was the catalyst. For Easter, or perhaps more accurately expressed, for “Resurrection Day” three years ago, I crafted this little missive about my emotional disconnect from the event, even as I was attending Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services in a little, local Baptist church.

There were certain things I liked about the service. There were certain things I learned. But I wasn’t just gushing with joy like everyone else around me because “he is risen”.

Add to that, the memory of how my wife looked at me when I was walking out the door to go to Resurrection Day services, how crushed and betrayed she seemed, as if she found out I was cheating on her. I know I’ll never attend another Easter service in my life.

My regular readers are aware that my wife is Jewish and not a believer. More specifically, her viewpoint of Jesus, Paul, and Easter is what she learned from the local Chabad Rabbi. She would never stop me from expressing my faith in whatever way I choose, but I know it bothers her, at least on certain occasions…

…like Easter.

he-is-risenShe sometimes surprises me, though. She said that although she wouldn’t take me to Israel with a Jewish group, she does want me to go with a more appropriate (for me) Messianic group. I once had a passion to do that, but a lot of things dried up for me, including my sense of community.

I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s essay “The Jewish People are Us — not them” which you can find published here and which I reviewed a few years back.

Rabbi Dauermann was emphasizing that a Jewish faith in Yeshua shouldn’t result in Jewish “messianists” considering the wider Jewish community as “them” or as “the other,” the way most Christians consider “unbelieving” Jews. From his perspective (as I understand it), Jewish devotion to Rav Yeshua is very Jewish and should, if anything, result in Jewish Yeshua-disciples being drawn closer to larger Jewish community because, after all, Moshiach is the first-born of Israel’s dead, living proof that the New Covenant promise of the resurrection to Israel will indeed come to pass.

What’s more Jewish than that (and I know I’ll take “heck” from one or two Jewish critics of my blog for that question)?

But what about those of us, we non-Jewish “Christians” who stand on the Jewish foundation of the Bible, who feel a greater connection to Passover and Sukkot (Festival of Booths) than Christmas and Easter? What about those non-Jewish believers who feel more comfortable calling ourselves “Messianic Gentiles” or Talmidei Yeshua than Christians?

While Rabbi Dauermann may feel a lot closer to Jewish community than the Christian Church (and I agree, he should), does a “Messianic” perspective for a Gentile believer draw us closer to the Church or push us further away?

I admit, after this particular church experience and the consequences that resulted from my public disagreement with that church’s head Pastor, I realized I have no place in the Church. The ekklesia, yes. The Church, no.

Simply put, because Rabbi Dauermann is Jewish, he identifies with larger Jewish community, even those who are not disciples of Rav Yeshua (which just baffles the daylights out of most Christians I’ve spoken to about it). I have a Jewish wife, so I’ve seen that dynamic in action first hand, and any thought of my denying her or forbidding her to associate with Jews (not that I would, of course), is totally revolting to me, absolute anathema.

quitting churchBut to reverse the equation somewhat, being a Gentile disciple of Jesus does not automatically make me think of the Church as “us” or even “me”. In fact, on Easter, I feel more apart from “Church” than ever.

Going back to the previously mentioned Facebook commentary on Easter, there have been some interesting responses. There are others like me out there who also experience the disconnect from this Christian holiday, even those who remain in the Church. Some recognize Easter as a deliberate attempt by the early “Church Fathers” to co-opt the Passover/Resurrection event for Gentiles, divorcing it from its Jewish origins and context.

Others launched into “paganoia,” often a consequence of some Hebrew Roots teachings, saying that Easter was a deliberate attempt to introduce paganism, particularly worship of “Ishtar.”

I don’t think I’d take it that far.

But I am disturbed by one thing. The resurrection of Rav Yeshua is living proof that the New Covenant promises of God to Israel (Ezekiel 37:11-14) will indeed occur, and Yeshua is the “first fruits from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Why don’t I feel connected to that?

Well I do, sort of, but it happens more on Passover and during the week of Unleavened Bread than it does at Easter, whether I’m in a church or not.

I know there are Hebrew Roots and Messianic Gentiles out there, those in their churches and elsewhere, who still have an emotional connection to Easter. These people were probably raised in a Christian setting by their Christian families or otherwise, spent enough time in a church to forge that visceral linkage.

I didn’t, not when my parents took me to church as a child, nor when I returned to Christian community as an adult.

Today being Easter punctuates for me that I consider normative Christianity as “them, not me.” I can’t say “us” because I don’t have an alternative “us” to relate to, at least not in an actual, physical form of community.

But that’s OK. Worshiping alone is OK, even though, in an absolute sense, we are never alone.

One of these things is not like the othersI’ve said before that I’ve given up the identity crisis that has seized so many non-Jews who are either in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots community. As Popeye famously quipped, “I yam what I yam,” even if it doesn’t have a widely recognized name or label.

For those of you who are indeed emotionally and theologically attached and even thrilled by Easter or Resurrection Day, may you use your worship to strengthen your devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and all he brings to us.

For those of you who are like me, any day is a good day to bring honor to our Rav and glory to the God of Israel. May the day come when we all merit the resurrection from the dead, and the life in the world to come.

The Non-Covenant Relationship with God

One of the difficulties…that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

-ProclaimLiberty
from one of his recent comments

I’ve written about the “connection” (or lack thereof) between Gentile believers and the New Covenant many times before, and I agree with ProclaimLiberty (PL) that we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31, Ezek. 36), and thus we have no stake in those covenant promises.

That might come as a shock to some of you.

MessiahBut through Hashem’s grace and mercy for the human race, He has allowed any of us who attach ourselves to Israel through our Rav to benefit from some of the blessings of that covenant.

We know that Hashem wants all human beings, not just Israel, to come to a knowledge of Him, to become His servants, to worship Him alone as the God of Israel:

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (NASB)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Romans 14:11

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

These are just a few scriptural examples illustrating God’s desire for all people, both Israel and the nations, to be devoted to Him.

But what PL wrote made me think. The Jewish people are collectively Israel, and the covenants apply to all Israel. Yes, each individual Jew has his or her own responsibilities to fulfill under covenant, but ultimately, God doesn’t covenant with each individual Jew, but with all of them, past, present, and future.

A Jew is the only person to be born into a covenant relationship with God whether he or she wants to.

Not so with the rest of us.

NoahExcept for the Noahide covenant, which Hashem made with all living things, we are born into no relationship with God at all. If we want a relationship with Him, we have to choose that for ourselves and then act on it (not that the Spirit of God can’t send us certain “prompts”).

Good thing we have free will to make that choice.

But then I thought about the “Church,” which is something of an artificial construct, so I dug back into the concept of the “ekklesia”.

Nearly two years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I started exploring the meaning of ekklesia:

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia

Also:

— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

the crowdI tend to think of the ekklesia in its broadest sense, as that world-wide body of people, Jews and Gentiles, who have answered the call of Rav Yeshua to follow his teachings and draw nearer to Hashem. For Jews, this is the next “evolutionary” step or the next logical extension of their covenant relationship with Hashem, since Rav Yeshua is the mediator of the New Covenant.

For non-Jews, we are allowed to draw near to Israel and be “grafted in” (and being grafted in to the promises doesn’t make us Israel) to stand alongside Israel within the body of the ekklesia so that we can benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant.

Here’s where things get blurry.

PL describes we non-Jews as coming to Hashem through Rav Yeshua individually. It is true that in the Church it’s said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” This means that even if you are a Yeshua-disciple, your kids may not be. They don’t inherit a relationship with God  just because you have one.

This is the exact reverse of a Jew’s covenant relationship with Hashem. When Jewish parents have a child, that child does inherit a covenant relationship with Hashem by virtue of the fact that he or she has Jewish parents (or a Jewish mother in the case of my children).

As non-Jews, one-by-one, we come to faith and trust in Rav Yeshua and it is our custom to gather together with other individual non-Jewish believers in a congregation to worship and fellowship. In and of itself, a “church” is an expression of part of the world-wide ekklesia, the larger body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

PL said of we non-Jewish disciples:

They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

synagogueI believe this is true, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with emotionally. Reading this statement, makes me feel disconnected and unattached.

I know my attachment is symbolic and metaphorical, even though it has real, tangible results, but it draws a sharp distinction of what happens when Jews gather together in a synagogue on Shabbos, and what happens when Christians come together in church on Sunday.

The former are bound not only to each other but to Hashem by covenant, a formal, specified, and direct relationship between Israel and their God. We “Christians” voluntarily covenant with each other and are beneficiaries of the kindness of the God of Israel, though we have no formal relationship with Him.

It made me realize just how fragile that relationship is.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:22-24

I believe being born into a covenant relationship with Hashem has a cost. If you are Jewish and choose to disregard the covenants and your responsibilities relative to them (Shabbat, kosher, davening, tzedakah, and so on), I believe that at the judgment, there will be consequences. None of my children are even slightly religious and my wife’s observance is “so-so” and I worry about that.

As far as being “natural branches,” I don’t know their state at present. But I do know that even as they are, they are still members of the covenants simply because they’re Jewish.

ShabbatI’ve heard it said that Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion, so every time my wife does go to shul, davens, lights the Shabbos candles, or observes other mitzvot, I’m pleased. But there’s always more to do.

Even a secular Jew is a Jew, and even being non-observant, has a relationship with Hashem (even if they’re totally unaware of it).

We non-Jews, on the other hand, though we don’t have a formal relationship with Hashem, also don’t have as many rights and responsibilities. We get a lot of the same benefits (the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection in the world to come, the love of Hashem, prayer) without the obligations shouldered by collective Israel (and there’s no other way to think of Israel except “collective”).

But our “attachment” to that metaphorical olive tree isn’t as secure as is Israel’s. The covenants are a lock. They don’t go away just because Israel as a whole or any individual Jew is not observant. The only thing that changes are the consequences, one set for obedience, and another set for disobedience.

For the rest of us, we need to watch our “Ps and Qs” so to speak. As Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wrote (Romans 11:18), if we are arrogant and put “the Church” ahead of Israel, we can easily be knocked off the root. The root (and I believe one way to look at the root is as Israel’s covenant relationship with God) supports us, not the other way around.

The root belongs to Israel by covenant right, and we Gentiles are merely “resident aliens” among Israel (metaphorically speaking). We have no rights. We are granted guest status just because God’s a “nice guy,” so to speak. Not that God would do it, but if any one of us gets out of line, God could blow us off the root with a (metaphorical) sneeze.

That should make you feel a little insecure. I feel a little insecure.

But that’s not the end of it. PL finished his comment this way:

Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is. 56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

interfaith prayerWe non-Jewish disciples are living proof that God can be trusted beyond the covenant promises to Israel. Covenants are highly formal and specific agreements between two parties, but every word the comes from the mouth of the living God is trustworthy, carved in stone, immutable, unchangeable, and utterly reliable.

We may only come to God one-by-one as non-Jews outside of the covenants, but we are more than just individuals. We are part of something greater. We voluntarily come to Hashem, and we may voluntarily covenant with each other when we gather together, but we are more than just a group of individuals. We are members of the ekklesia and we make up a huge portion of the ekklesia alongside of Israel. We are different from the sum of our parts because the grace of God has made us children and family of the Most High.