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Attached and Yet Unattached

As a centrist movement, Conservative/Masorti Judaism strives to reconcile ancient ideas with modern understandings. Utilizing this approach, twenty years ago, a group of Temple Emunah members, led by Barbara Palant, began to consider how we could become a more welcoming community—one that embraces interfaith families while still adhering to our time-honored traditions.

Following the Rabbinical Assembly’s practice, Temple Emunah has adopted the phrase “K’rovei Yisrael” to refer to those individuals who are part of our community and part of a Jewish home, though they are not personally Jewish. The term literally means “those who are close to [the people of] Israel.” K’rovei comes from the word “karov,” meaning “close;” krovim means “relatives.” K’rovei Yisrael are distinct from non-Jewish friends and extended family members who might visit our community or our congregation for a Bar Mitzvah or for some other reason. K’rovei Yisrael are also different from non-Jewish relatives of Temple Emunah members who choose not to be involved in our synagogue community.

-Rabbi David Lerner
Welcoming K’rovei Yisrael at Temple Emunah Today
TempleEmunah.org

I saw a link to this webpage posted in a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. I don’t recall the actual context involved, but if you look at the content of Temple Emunah’s webpage for “K’rovei Yisrael,” you can see they have rather liberal social and religious tastes, and in this particular instance, are outlining the roles and responsibilities of intermarried non-Jews who are part of their synagogue “family”.

intermarriageI can see why this would be appealing to a group of Messianic Gentiles, but this only works under certain circumstances, the circumstances outlined in Rabbi Lerner’s brief missive. It only works if you are not only regularly attending a (Messianic) synagogue that is primarily a Jewish space that permits Gentile involvement, but also, that you are married to a Jew.

Of course that second qualification could be adapted such that you are a regular attendee and while not intermarried, have nevertheless bound yourself to Israel through devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the coming Moshiach, and to Hashem, God of Israel.

Rabbi Lerner’s welcome to K’rovei Yisrael is very enthusiastic and encouraging, offering many opportunities for synagogue participation by non-Jewish “family members,” but I wanted to focus on the limitations he presented:

Out of respect for our traditions, K’rovei Yisrael should not participate in rituals with the Torah including:

  • Aliyot, opening/closing ark, and performing hagbah or gelilah (lifting or rolling/dressing the Torah).
  • Wear tefillin. If K’rovei Yisrael want to learn more about tefillin for educational purposes, they are invited to speak with me.
  • Recite any prayer that fulfills the ritual obligation of another person; for example, reciting Kiddush over the wine or another blessing for the community.
  • Recite b’rakhot, sign the ketubah as a witness, or read the ketubah as part of the ceremony at a Jewish wedding.
  • Hold committee chairmanship or board member positions, or vote at congregational meetings (per policies of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

To me, this makes perfect sense. Rabbi Lerner may be offering an extraordinarily generous opportunity for intermarried non-Jews to be part of synagogue community, but at the end of the day, even if you live in a Jewish home as a non-Jew, you’re not Jewish, which means, even if you share devotion to Rav Yeshua with the Jews in your community, there are just certain things that belong to the Jewish people because of their covenant standing with Hashem.

Here’s a little more from R. Lerner’s article:

The areas that become challenging are those where K’rovei Yisrael are symbolically enacting a ritual that signifies their commitment to our tradition, which would not be accurate. For example, when Jews take an Aliyah to the Torah, they are not merely standing at the Torah; they are acting out a drama that reflects their relationship to the Torah. First, they are called up with their Hebrew name, something that K’rovei Yisrael do not have. Second, an Aliyah is ascending to the Torah, accepting the Torah as the binding force for living your life.

chabad
Credit: jewishvenice.org

R. Lerner speaks more about Jewish tradition, but for me, what he’s describing is the covenant relationship with God that a Jew possesses over the non-Jew.

I’ve written at length about particularly how the New Covenant was made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and if we non-Jewish Yeshua-disciples are able to reap some of the blessings from that covenant, it’s not because we are named parties, it is only because Hashem has grace and mercy toward us.

Most of us (non-Jews) who are intermarrieds, if we found ourselves in such a synagogue, out of respect for the Rabbi, out of respect for the Jewish synagogue community, and particularly out of respect for our Jewish spouses, we would be more than happy to accept the limitations along with the opportunities being offered.

However, as Yeshua-believers, if we find ourselves in a Jewish community of Yeshua-believers, somehow we think that doesn’t matter anymore and we have been elevated to equal covenant status with the Jews. So we want to be called up for an Aliyah, we want to wear a tallit gadol, we want to lay tefillin, we want to be counted as part of a minyan.

It seems that at least some groups believe Yeshua-faith is a license to abrogate the unique and exclusive covenant relationship that Israel and the Jewish people have with Hashem. Is this what our Rav, the once and future King (so to speak), Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah wanted when he called upon Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) to become the special emissary to the Gentiles?

It hardly seems likely, for it represents a gross betrayal of everything God did for Israel by covenant.

Ironically, in some ways, this is exactly the sort of betrayal that both normative Judaism and normative Christianity believe Paul is guilty of. Except, Christians don’t look of it as guilt or betrayal, just replacement, inclusiveness, or whatever you want to call it.

I also recently read another article called How Jewish Christians Became Christians, which is a short summary from Lawrence H. Schiffman’s book From Text to Tradition, A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism .

The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion [of Jesus], and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.

Apostle Paul preachingThe article is relatively kind to early “Christianity” as a Jewish movement with an unusually liberal policy regarding Gentile admission. However, it does describe the Christian view of what caused the schism to the massive influx of non-Jews who did not see themselves as part of Jewish community. So…

…the New Testament redactors had clearly decided that they were no longer part of the Jewish people. Therefore, they described Jesus as disputing with all the Jews, not just some, as would be appropriate to an internal Jewish dispute. Once Christians saw Jews as the “other,” it was but a short step to the notion that all Jews were responsible for the rejection of Jesus and, hence, for the failure of his messianic mission to be fulfilled.

This perspective has echoed through nearly twenty-centuries of Church history and fuels much of how Christianity interprets Rav Yeshua’s relationship to his fellow Jews today. And yet, even a casual reading of the Gospels by someone who is not inculcated in Christian exegetical tradition will illustrate…

In the earliest Gospel texts, which picture Jesus as debating issues of Jewish law with the Pharisees, no hostility is observed. The crucifixion is said to have been carried out by the Romans with the support of some (apparently Hellenized) priests.

In other words, the Gospels we have with us today show Rav Yeshua having what Jews would consider perfectly normal and acceptable debates with fellow Jews on matters of halachah. This remains perfectly normal and acceptable behavior within religious Judaism today. It’s a matter of the Jewish “us” arguing with the Jewish “us”, not “us against them”.

Even for we Gentiles who accept that Christian theology and doctrine is based more on traditions that were originally created by those early non-Jewish “Church fathers” who sought to separate their newly created religion from the Jewish scriptural understanding, the Jewish people, and Judaism, it can sometimes be difficult to escape our past. We still sometimes tend to give in to the old habits and attitudes we were taught in our churches.

We still have a tough time understanding that “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) means that we are all equal in God’s love, in receiving the Holy Spirit, in having a place in the world to come, without it also meaning that there are absolutely no covenant distinctions between the two groups.

However, all of this only becomes a problem at the intersection of Jews and non-Jews in (Messianic) Jewish religious community.

It’s a moot point for those of us not in community, Jewish or otherwise. Also, as I briefly explored in another recent blog post, there seems to be a movement of sorts among Messianic Jews in Israel to become participants in more normative Jewish synagogue life with the goal of being integral members of those communities (to paraphrase PL’s comment on the matter).

synagogueWhile this strengthens the ties between Messianic Jews and the larger Jewish community in the Land, by necessity, Gentiles will not be involved, so again, the points I brought up regarding the aforementioned “intersection” become moot.

And as Rabbi Lerner wrote in his article to K’rovei Yisrael:

The blessings themselves indicate how integral the Torah is in our lives and that we have been given a unique destiny as Jews to live by its ideals, bringing them fully into the world.

I know that many of us, when we became involved in Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism, or whatever opened your eyes to the more “Hebraic” nature, not only of the Tanakh (Old Testament), but especially the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), we became attached and even enamoured with Jewish community, such that we actually had access to, as well as Jewish praxis, ritual, and tradition.

There are a lot of non-Jewish people who were dismayed, discouraged, and even insulted when various Jewish and Gentile pundits in Messianic Jewish space (including little ol’ me) basically said, “Back off…some Jewish stuff just doesn’t belong to you.”

If the movement in Israel for Messianic Jews to integrate into normative (Orthodox) Jewish community takes hold, and especially if it becomes the model for Messianic Jewish practice in other nations, including the U.S., then opportunities for non-Jewish participation in Messianic Jewish community dwindle.

This doesn’t particularly affect me. I’ve accepted it in my life, but for others, it may come as quite a blow. Of course, all this is just speculation and at least in the U.S., authentically Jewish Messianic synagogues which service a majority Jewish population are not especially plentiful.

But for me, it again emphasizes that Judaism as such isn’t the primary interface by which we non-Jewish disciples access our Rav or access the God of Israel (though I’m still fond of my “Jewish lens”). This is probably what the early non-Jewish disciples in the Apostle Paul’s day and soon after experienced. You have a religious structure that is uniquely by and for Israel and that affords Israel a covenantal relationship with God, as well as a rich lifestyle of Torah practice, but so much of it doesn’t include the rest of us. How could Judaism possibly be an anchor for us?

ChurchThe answer, almost two-thousand years ago, was for the Gentiles to leave en masse and to develop a brand new Gentile-focused religion: Christianity. But now, for whatever reasons, many Christians are leaving the Church in pursuit of some aspect of Judaism as they understand it, whether it’s formal conversion, becoming a Noahide, Hebrew Roots, or Messianic Judaism.

But that puts us right back where we came from, so to speak. Christianity, as it has turned out to be, doesn’t accurately understand why the centrality of Israel is so important in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and those of us who have figured it out, leave the Church because of that. But increasingly, there’s less and less room for non-Jews who are attracted to Israel, and who want to attach themselves to Israel and thus to Israel’s God to find a place among Israel, even as “resident aliens,” at least as far as I can tell from my little corner of Idaho.

It would be easier for me, as a Gentile husband to a Jewish wife, to find a role in Jewish community in Rabbi Lerner’s synagogue (assuming my wife attended and desired my participation) than it would be for me to have a role in Messianic Judaism, at least if the goal is for Messianic Judaism to become an increasingly integral part of larger (Orthodox) Judaism and Israel.

On the one hand, that’s where Jews need to be, among other Jews in Jewish community. That’s why I’m delighted that my wife does that, both in our local Reform/Conservative group and with the Chabad. But on the other hand, we Gentiles in Rav Yeshua are facing the same dilemma that we faced in the First Century C.E.

My personal answer is to give up the identity crisis and to develop my relationship with my Rav in isolation (with the help of the Internet, of course). What I say, think, do, and believe in private affects no one, except to the degree that I write about it on this blog. And even then, you can choose to read or not read what I produce. Your decision.

But my answer isn’t everybody’s answer.

I get that Messianic Jews are Jews and I understand, having my wife as a living example, what that means. I also get why some Messianic Gentiles are looking to Noahides as a model for how to define themselves. For both Christianity and Judaism, community is extremely important and it provides a lot of support and encouragement.

But I also understand that the natural consequence of all this is that we non-Jewish Yeshua disciples who will never fit in at a church and who possess this peculiar “Judaically-aware” perspective on the meaning of the Bible, the meaning of Messiah, and the meaning of Hashem’s overarching plan of redemption for Israel, and through Israel, the world, are left with the option of either somehow forming our own communities of “Gentile-focused Messianics” or go it alone.

MessiahI’m sure God has an answer to all this, and I don’t doubt that when Messiah physically rules Israel and the nations from his throne in Jerusalem, that he will enact laws and practices to address these questions, but in the present, in order to preserve (Messianic) Jewish identity, community, and unity, the rest of us have to figure out how to do something else by going somewhere else.

I wrote Why Worshiping Alone Matters and Why We Are Never Alone as possible responses to this issue. I hope they can be an answer for you, too.

I don’t know if the following applies, but I’ll include it anyway, just in case:

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;

Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:6-8 (NASB)

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Why We Are Never Alone

Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days.

Genesis 49:1

Prior to his death, the Patriarch Jacob wished to disclose to his children the future of the Jewish nation. We know only too well what those prophecies were, and Jacob knew that revealing the enormous suffering that the Jews were destined to experience would be devastating to his children. The only way they could hear these things was if they “gathered together” and, by virtue of their unity, could share their strengths.

What was true for our ancestors holds true for us. Our strength and our ability to withstand the repeated onslaughts that mark our history lie in our joining together.

Jacob knew this lesson well. The Torah tells us that “Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob discovered that he was vulnerable only when he remained alone.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from the “Growing Each Day” column
Aish.com

DaveningSomeone recently commented in one of my blog posts wondering why I said that “Messianic Gentiles” had no active spiritual life.

I replied that it wasn’t that we didn’t have an active spiritual life, but that our praxis is ill-defined when in relation to Jewish community.

I’d actually read Rabbi Twerski’s commentary before the blog comment, but once I read and responded to the comment, my thoughts turned back to R. Twerski’s statements about Jewish community. Here’s some more about what he said from the same source (see the link above):

Some people feel that they must be completely independent. They see reliance on someone else, be it others or God, as an indication of weakness. This destructive pride emanates from an unhealthy ego. In my book Let Us Make Man (CIS 1987), I address the apparent paradox that a humble person is one who is actually aware of his strengths, and that feelings of inadequacy give rise to egocentricity and false pride.

Not only are we all mutually interdependent, the Torah further states that when we join together, our strengths are not only additive, but increase exponentially (Rashi, Leviticus 26:8). Together, we can overcome formidable challenges.

Of course, R. Twerski is writing to Jews about Jews, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the principles he is highlighting apply to the rest of us as well.

However, the “rest of us,” or at least that subset who identify as “Messianic Gentiles,” “Talmidei Yeshua,” or something similar, are really only who we are in relation to (Messianic) Jewish community, or at least (Messianic) Jewish religious thought and teaching. Otherwise, who are we?

The Jewish PaulWe are non-Jews who have chosen to understand and explore our faith by returning said-faith back (as best we can) to its original Jewish context rather than accept the Christian refactoring of the teachings of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) and his emissary to the Gentiles, Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul), or for that matter, just about anything else in the Bible.

Granted, some writers and teachers within the Messianic Jewish religious and educational space are non-Jews, and they are very helpful in assisting us in understanding ourselves. However, by definition, we Gentiles cannot set aside the “Jewishness” of the context that defines us (although that definition isn’t clearly understood). That context is a large portion of who we are.

And that’s part of the problem.

Another part is that because we are so few in number, it’s pretty hard for a bunch of us to get together and “hobnob,” at least on a regular basis.

Every other Sunday afternoon, I get together with a friend of mine for several hours of coffee and conversation, however not everything we talk about has to specifically do with our common understanding of our faith and praxis.

Yet another part of the “community” difficulty is that although we all may share certain things in common, we are also divided by what we don’t have in common. I’ve probably met or at least know of most or all of the “Messianic Gentiles” in the greater southwestern Idaho area, and in the past, I would meet with a few of them periodically, but we weren’t and aren’t the same, and that lack of “sameness”  (and sometimes a radical “differentness”) makes our “community” highly fragmented.

While Rabbi Twerski can reasonably expect to regularly gather with a large or at least significant number of Jews to worship with, study with, and to be in community with (not just religious community, but social, cultural, and national community), the same cannot be said of “Messianic Gentiles”.

It’s one of the things we have in common with Noahides, since there aren’t to many of them around either, and even if they can gather in community with other “righteous Gentiles,” they don’t always live near a significant number of Jews.

I’ve been reminded that Messianic Jews have the same problem, often swimming in a vast sea of secular and religious Gentiles, but without another Jew in sight.

MessiahOne day, we will all find unity and “ekkelsia” in the Messianic Kingdom, but that day has yet to arrive.

Until then, we must focus on the hub that unites us all through the spokes of the wheel, so to speak, that is, Rav Yeshua. If we have no immediate community, although geographically (and often theologically) apart, we are spiritually united. Although our traditions and doctrine may not always line up with each other, the Messiah has one mind and one heart and after all, God is One.

We may not always see Him or each other in the same way, but He is One and when our Rav returns, our King will correct all of our misunderstandings about Messiah, God, ourselves, and each other.

Faith and trust means being patient, even in isolation, and holding onto the fact that this current world is not forever. The Bible states that all the Jewish people will be returned to their Land, national Israel. It’s one of the tasks of Messiah, and one in which the people of the nations will take part.

Those Jews who find themselves apart from their people and their Land will have unity as the covenant people of Hashem.

We Gentiles, though we live in many different lands and in Messianic Days we will continue to live in our nations, will have one King and one God, and we will also be brought to a place of unity and peace.

WaitingRabbi Twerski ended his column by stating:

Today I shall…

…try to join with others in strengthening Judaism and in resisting those forces that threaten spirituality.

We should try to do the same thing in relation to our faith in God and in trusting our Rav, and if we can’t join with others in this mission, then at least we can do this within ourselves.

We are vulnerable when alone, but if we don’t have a body with which we can join, then as long as we turn to God, we can never be alone, and in Spirit, we are also with each other.

Where Would Noahides Go If There Were No Synagogues?

Messiah’s community is a single community expressed in diverse forms within the Jewish community and among the nations. All are called to a dedicated life of worship, neighborly service, and public testimony to Yeshua. Unity and love throughout the entire community confirm Yeshua’s role, as the One sent by the Father, and God’s purpose in Messiah for Israel and the Nations. (John 17:20-21; Acts 21:20; Gal. 2:7-8)

-from the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) Statement of Faith

I came across this link somewhat at random, and it reminded me of a question I wanted to ask the Internet.

Typically non-Jewish believers in Rav Yeshua (i.e. Christians) become aware of movements such as Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots through a sense of dissatisfaction with the Church, the feeling that something is missing. I remember having that sense early on in my “Christian walk”. My wife, who is Jewish, also felt something was lacking in our church experience, and when we encountered a local Hebrew Roots group (this was many years ago), she was immediately “hooked”.

It took me longer to get onboard, but eventually, as I started learning more, I began to realize that what the Bible actually said about the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel wasn’t what was being preached and taught in most churches.

two pathsMy wife and I have since journeyed on separate trajectories relative to our faith and I respect her decision. She’s Jewish and she needs to be in Jewish community and to embrace Jewish identity.

My identity is less traditional and I’ve gone through a sometimes convoluted developmental process, finally arriving where I am today (though I don’t think God is finished with me yet).

Someone recently said (Don’t make me regret posting this link, Peter) that “Judaism is a communal faith and not designed to be practiced in isolation.” So is Christianity. The ideal is to find a like-minded community of fellow believers and to “fellowship” with them.

Over the years, I’ve transitioned between numerous communities, starting with a Nazarene church, then a Hebrew Roots/One Law congregation, then to a Bible study/home fellowship, then (eventually) back to Hebrew Roots, and most recently, I attended a Baptist Church for two years (and have since left). There were times in that history when our family was just alone in our faith, and times, including the present, when I am alone as an individual.

No, I’m not revisiting the idea of community for myself. As nearly as I can tell, that door is closed for more reasons than I can list in this brief blog post. However, it did occur to me that there are very few paths to community for someone, particularly a non-Jew, who generally believes in the tenets of faith as described by the UMJC (no, I’m not affiliated with them, and no I’m not specifically advocating for them — they just happen to be a handy example).

Even if there were a Messianic Jewish community in my area, and even if I felt I’d be welcome there, I probably wouldn’t attend out of respect for my wife’s sensitivities on the matter.

But what about other non-Jews who have my point of view?

cross and menorahThere are plenty of Gentile-only Hebrew Roots One Law/One Torah congregations out there of various sizes and configurations. Some have a few Jewish worshipers, but they almost always were not raised in a Jewish home nor had the benefit of growing up in Jewish social and religious community. Those Hebrew Roots groups are also almost always run by non-Jews, although their leaders may wear a tallit and kippah and even call themselves “Rabbi”.

But there are also a number of non-Jews who have a more “Messianic Jewish-like” perspective on the Bible, the centrality of Israel, the primacy of the Jewish Messiah King, and how all that relates to the people of the nations. A view I advocate here on my blog.

If they don’t live within reasonable distance of a Messianic Jewish congregation established and operated by Jews as a Jewish community which graciously also admits non-Jews, where do they go?

It would be like being a traditional Noahide and not having a nearby Jewish synagogue to attend. I know of intermarried couples who attend both our local Chabad and the Conservative/Reform group here in my area, and the non-Jewish spouses are Noahides in Jewish community, not unlike how I think of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community.

But what if there were a group of Noahides who lived nowhere near a synagogue? What if they weren’t intermarried to Jewish spouses, but through some other process, came to the realization that being a Noahide was what the Bible required of them in order to worship Hashem?

Apply those questions to those of us who are “Judaicly-aware” non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua. Where would such a group of Gentiles go to find worship and community? Could a group of Gentiles band together to practice something analogous to “Messianic Judaism?” What would you call it, “Messianic Gentilism?”

Orthodox JewsI was wondering if those organizations that generally call themselves “Messianic Judaism” (such as the aforementioned UMJC) have established any guidelines for non-Jews who want to come alongside them but who geographically are too far away from a Messianic Jewish congregation to attend. For that matter, that group of Gentiles may not even have a skilled teacher or leader among them. They probably could use a lot of assistance and guidance.

Although the community in ancient Antioch (Acts 13:1; 15:1-2), to the best of my understanding, had both Jewish and non-Jewish members, the Apostle Paul (Rav Sh’aul) also founded many Gentile-only communities, the one described in his epistle to the Galatians being the one that immediately comes to mind. Paul “kept tabs” on these various groups, when he couldn’t visit them, through his correspondence, but the vast majority of the time, for day-to-day operations, they were run by the local members.

What did a Gentile-only “Messianic” community look like in those days? We don’t really know. Probably they looked at least somewhat “Jewish,” if for no other reason than because that was the only communal model available to them.

But this is nearly two-thousand years later and a lot has changed. Yes, ultimately the Gentiles broke away from their Jewish base and invented Gentile-only (unless a Jew wanted to leave Judaism and convert) Christianity, which almost completely rewrote how the Bible was to be understood.

Judaism too has gone through a great deal of development, and what we think of as Rabbinic Judaism today (which, in my opinion, includes at least some Messianic Jewish groups) is not the same as the Judaism(s) practiced during the late Second Temple period.

rainbowSo theoretically, if a collection of “Noahide” Judaicly-aware non-Jews wanted to pursue a community consistent with how we think of Gentiles coming alongside their Messianic Jewish counterparts, is there anything or anyone they could contact to help them? What resources should they consult so they wouldn’t just be “shooting from the hip?”

And no, I’m not thinking of starting such a community here, but I’m thinking that this is an area where others like me in the world are underserved and, left on their own, are perhaps forming groups and fellowships that might be less than optimal. I think they could use some help. I’m just wondering if such help exists and if it is even possible to create viable, sustainable congregations of Gentiles who worship and live consistently with how Messianic Judaism envisions Gentiles in Messiah.

The Return of the Pesky Challenge

Every other Sunday, a friend of mine and I have coffee together and talk about whatever. Some of what we discuss is religion (his beliefs are close but not exactly the same as mine), but we talk about everything else under the sun, too. So, as he reminded me, we can’t strictly define our conversations as “fellowship” in the Christian (or Messianic) sense.

And that concerns him.

Many of you know that after a two-year experiment in attending a local church, I found it necessary to leave church again. For sometime now, I’ve pondered joining some sort of virtual religious community via the Internet, but I know that virtual relationships can’t take the place of face-to-face connection and communication with human beings. It’s just not fellowship in the truly realized sense of a community of faith.

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, my wife (who is Jewish, not Messianic, and who does have community) asked if I missed having a congregation to go to (and I am pleased that she seems to be making attending services at Chabad on Shabbat a regular thing). I have no idea what brought that comment up, but I played it off like it wasn’t an issue. Most of the time it’s not, at least consciously, and I relegate the idea to some dark closet in the back of my mind. But then Sunday before last, my friend challenged me over coffee.

He really, really thinks I should be in religious community. He isn’t the only one. I receive emails occasionally from people who believe I should not set aside fellowship indefinitely. In principle, I agree, but as a matter of practicality, I have nowhere to turn for two basic reasons:

  1. I have no idea how to go “church shopping” and the very idea of randomly visiting churches in my area hoping to get lucky and find a theological match is not even slightly attractive.
  2. The effect of my going to church has on my wife.

infinite_pathsI sometimes receive what I feel are mixed signals from her. I know that she believes I should be in community too, but she’s already embarrassed by having a Christian husband, and my being in Christian community only makes it worse. I used to struggle within myself every Sunday morning as I got ready to leave for church while she was staying at home and being uncomfortable with the thought of my going (not that she’d say anything about it, of course).

And the one time I went to Easter services just about crushed her. I could see it on her face, in her eyes, as I walked out the door. I guess it would do that to any Jewish wife of a Christian husband.

I’m not doing that to her again.

Which led me to download a book (it was a special deal from Amazon so I got it for free) called Loving God When You Don’t Love The Church by Chris Jackson. Jackson is a Pastor who uses his book as a forum to talk about how damaging church experience can be to some people (including him), and damaging to the degree that people don’t (necessarily) leave the faith, but they do leave their churches in droves.

I can relate.

But I don’t relate to most of the reasons these people are leaving. I wasn’t kicked out, scorned, called a “sinner” or “demonic” or anything like that. The Pastor, who I had become friends with and who knew exactly what my doctrinal position on the Bible was (and is), directly contradicted everything I believe and called a Messianic faith a “misuse of the Law“.

He had to have known how I’d feel listening to his sermon.

(I should note at this point that I have no ill feelings for the Pastor, leadership, or members of the church I used to attend. I met many genuinely kind and caring people, all of whom were serving God and other people in their walk of faith with Christ. But in the end, I was an elephant in a roomful of gazelles. I was never going to fit in.)

I’m only about a quarter of the way through Pastor Jackson’s book, but it’s an easy read. At the end of each chapter there are study questions, so I guess the book can be used in small groups of people who have all felt alienated by their local churches (or “the Church” with a big “C”).

I guess I’m looking to see how others have responded to this situation and I’m finding that (of course) I’m not a typical Christian. It’s not just a matter of being burned by some snobby clique at one local church (although that also happened to me back when I first came to faith). If that were the case, I could just go to another church, since the theological dissonance between me and other Christians would be slight (if it existed at all since I’d be blissfully ignorant of everything I know now).

But standing on the foundation of the Jewish Bible and declaring myself a Messianic Gentile (in two parts), means that my theology and doctrine differs significantly from the vast majority of people you’ll find in most churches on any Sunday morning.

chris jackson
Pastor Chris Jackson

However, for lack of any other course of action for the reasons I specified above, I’m going to work my way through Pastor Jackson’s book and see if there’s anything he presents that I can somehow adapt. Jackson seems sincere, reasonably transparent, friendly, and approachable. But knowing myself as I do and getting a sense of who he is in his writing and on his blog, I suspect he’d drop me like a hot rock if we ever entered into conversation and I told him exactly what I believe about the New Covenant, the Bible in general, God’s promises to Israel, and the specific sort of “connectedness” we Gentiles have to all that through Messiah (Christ).

I suppose it’s not a coincidence that Derek Leman recently wrote a blog post called How to Read the Bible if You’re Not Jewish, highlighting the focus of scripture on national Israel and the Jewish people and not so much the rest of the world (that is, the goyim).

The uncomfortable truth of the Bible in general and my faith in particular is that I continue to find myself where I left off at the end of this missive. Both church and synagogue (and I would be fine with Jewish community if it could be with my wife) of any variety are out-of-bounds for me and as concerned as some people are for me because of that, I simply see no viable option.

I’m sorry to keep revisiting old ground. It’s not like I’m the only person without community. Both Gentiles and Jews find themselves in this situation as part of the consequence of being Messianic. I’ll keep reading Pastor Jackson’s book and post my thoughts about it here in the coming days, but this is as much in God’s hands as it is mine. I’m still trying to decide of He’s painting me into a corner or if I’m the one doing it.

Here’s the link to Part One of my book review.

The Lone Wolf and the Elders

Just listened to a little of David Rudolph’s sermon entitled “Why Zakenim??” About 13 minutes into it, he mentions that there are some One Law interlopers at Tikvat causing trouble. What kind of trouble?

They’re talking about One Law (which is sin enough apparently) but they’re also trying to get people to sign a petition to remove David Rudolph from office.

These One Law interlopers apparently feel that there is enough grass roots support for this to occur.

Interesting.

For the record, I had nothing to do with this…but naturally I support it. The ironic thing is this: the message is about Zekenim at Tikvat. But Rudolph recently caused virtually all of the elders to leave. They’re now meeting at Grove Ave. Baptist Church on Saturday mornings. Why Grove? I have no idea except that I think it’s odd OUT OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN RICHMOND they chose the one where my family visits.

-Peter Vest
from “One Law Revolt at Tikvat Israel”
Orthodox Messianic Judaism blogspot

I periodically engage Peter, both in the comments section of his blog and in this one, about topics of mutual interest. Most of the time, we disagree, which is fine, but occasionally, he comes up with an opinion to which I must respond with a more detailed message. His commentary regarding Rabbi David Rudolph and the Tikvat Israel Synagogue is one of them.

In his blog post and subsequent comments, Peter makes it seem as if Rabbi David is running a “one-man show” as sole leader of the synagogue, and that a significant minority among the members of the synagogue are circulating a petition to have him removed because he opposes what has been called a One Law theology, which this group apparently wants to see put in place as Tikvat Israel’s official theological position.

Except that when I actually listened to Rabbi David’s sermon Why Zakenim or “Why Elders,” I got a completely different impression.

The link I just posted leads to a podcast of the sermon. It’s about twenty-five minutes long, so if you’ve got that amount of time, you might want to listen to the entire presentation for context.

This sermon is part of what Rabbi David calls the “Messianic Jewish Discipleship 101” series, which seems a compelling subject in and of itself. In this sermon, Rabbi David presents his view in support of congregational elders with passages taken primarily (but not exclusively) from the Apostolic Scriptures or what most Christians call the New Testament.

I won’t break down each and every part of the sermon for you. Like I said, you can listen to it for yourself, but in brief, R’ David presents a definition of the role of congregational elders in three parts:

  1. Shepherds to guide the flock
  2. Shepherds to guard the flock
  3. Shepherds to judge matters related to the flock

I was on the board of elders for a small congregation for several years and I can attest that we were called upon to fulfill all of those roles. When I attended a local Baptist church, the head pastor and the board of elders also fulfilled these functions. In listening to R’ David’s sermon, I discovered that he is part of a three-person board and additionally has another person acting as a Rabbi-in-training, so R’ David isn’t acting as a “one-man show,” in spite of what Peter intimated on his blog as I quoted above.

the shepherdThe portion of the sermon relevant to Peter’s blog post has to do with elders as guards (and probably as guides). It seems there were two incidents that had recently occurred at Tikvat Israel. The first had to do with a single individual who was visiting the synagogue for Shabbat services and handing out religious materials, apparently in contradiction to the official position of the congregation. R’ David was away that day, and his Rabbi-in-training, also named David, saw what was going on and gently (according to the sermon) redirected this individual to the congregation’s bookstore and some materials more in keeping with Tikvat Israel’s theology and doctrine.

The second incident had to do with another visitor who had the chutzpah to pass around a petition among the members calling for Rabbi David’s removal from leadership, apparently because R’ David does not support a “One Law” theology, and this individual wanted to see the Rabbi replaced with someone who supported One Law.

It’s important to note here that R’ David in his sermon clearly differentiated between visitors and members in the synagogue. In both of these cases, it seems that lone visitors were coming in from the outside and “disturbing” (my word, not David’s) the members of the congregation, rather than a minority group among the members calling for Rabbi David to step down.

The sermon didn’t give any details as to the reaction of synagogue members to the petition in question, but R’ David did encourage the members to speak up when they encounter someone from the outside (or apparently inside) who is making statements or actions that are in opposition to the formal standards of the congregation. R’ David was careful to say that differences in opinion aren’t really the problem. The problem is with individuals who attempt to cause division and disunity in the congregation. This is part of the function of elders in the synagogue (or church), to guard the flock from “disturbing” theologies or doctrines coming in from the outside.

If you go to the Tikvat Israel website’s About page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see items labeled “What We Believe” and “Position Papers”, and R’ David encouraged the members listening to his sermon to redirect anyone promoting “strange doctrines” to those materials so they could become familiar with the standards upon which the congregation is based.

I had a similar experience at the small Baptist church I mentioned before, where I attended services for about two years. The Pastor and I became well acquainted and we spoke regularly about our different theological and doctrinal views. At one point, I took our differences a step too far and criticized one of his sermons on my blog. He didn’t take kindly to that, nor the fact that I had leant someone at his church my copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series (on audio CD) What About the New Covenant.

Although, I could have remained at the church, I would have had to censor myself both in congregation and on my blog and I made a decision not to do that. I ultimately chose to leave the congregation, not because I thought poorly of anyone (quite the opposite, there are many good and kind people in that church who are authentically serving God) but because their doctrine and mine were pretty far apart in a number of key areas. I wouldn’t be serving God by remaining as a disruptive influence, regardless of my motives.

Please notice that while I admit to lending teaching material that stands in opposition to local church doctrine to one of the church’s members, I didn’t start passing around a petition to get anyone removed or otherwise oppose the head pastor or any of the church elders in authority. That would have been at least improper and at worst insane (though not in the clinical sense).

In retrospect and particularly after listening to Rabbi David’s sermon, I can see how the church’s pastoral staff and board of elders were fulfilling their function in relation to me since I represented a doctrinal position that was in conflict with their official position. If they were willing to listen to my ideas and perspectives and volunteer to consume any resources I was able to provide, that’s one thing. But if I was deemed to be an element that might contribute to disunity and discord, then the elders had a responsibility to draw my attention to that behavior and expect some changes on my part.

Which is exactly what happened.

David Rudolph
Rabbi David Rudolph

The result was that I decided to leave church and seek other avenues for community or association. Given all that, those two individuals who entered Tikvat Israel for the purpose of introducing doctrines contrary to the synagogue’s official position should expect the elders to address this issue and said-individuals could either decide to stay without trying to “rock the boat” significantly, or they could decide to do what I did and leave the congregation.

The only difference is that I attended that church for two years and, from what I got out of R’ David’s sermon, the two individuals involved were not regular attenders and certainly not formal members.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to think exactly in the same way as the worship community you attend, but remember that the congregation has a group of elders who are responsible to guide and guard the sheep. Although I don’t see myself in such a light, I very well could have been perceived by some to be a “wolf in the fold”. If I find myself in a “fold” where I am incompatible with the rest of the “sheep,” it’s the job of the elders to inform me of that and it’s my job to decide how to respond as a person of good conscience and as a disciple of the Master.

I think the individuals cited in Rabbi David’s sermon needed to do the same.

On Being a Good Christian

churchesAfter they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples…

Acts 14:21a (NASB)

Last Sunday, Pastor Randy preached on Acts 14:21-28 in a sermon he called, “What Makes a Good Missionary (Part 3)?” In many ways, the title could be expressed as “What Makes a Good Christian” since it is Pastor’s opinion that all believers are responsible for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, whether we’re formally called missionaries or not. Pastor spent most of his adult life as a missionary and his parents were missionaries, so it’s completely understandable why his perspective would be as it is.

When he was teaching about what a disciple is, he used several different phrases to describe them/us. I want to focus on one of those phrases:

A good Christian is a person who places himself/herself under a local church authority as a member.

Whoa!

Yeah, I even wrote “whoa” in my notes during the sermon. A member?

Pastor listed a number or reasons for this including giving the person a sense of accountability, opportunities for service, both to the other members of the church and to the larger world, and displaying commitment to the body of believers.

I know what you’re thinking? Aren’t we all as believers, part of the body of Christ anyway, what Pastor called “the universal church?”

Yes, but he used Paul’s model of “planting churches” (I can’t imagine Paul actually used that term) to emphasize how we can’t really function effectively in the body unless we join with a local church and display a commitment to that body as one of the operational parts. The sense of community would also contribute to the individual growing in “Christ-likeness” and, as I said before, providing a platform to allow the individual to minister to God’s people.

I’ve been campaigning to completely redesign the church’s website, which currently looks like a throwback to the ancient web of the 1990s. I’ve gotten some traction, but there’s a bottleneck in the process and until that bottleneck is cleared (which I’m told will be soon), I can’t actively begin my redesign project. Most of the information on the current site is obsolete, however, I did manage to pull this from the “Beliefs” page:

Because the Bible is the complete, true and sufficient Word of God, holding absolute authority for the church and the individual, we believe and teach the following:

  • Jesus Christ as the one and only begotten Son of God, is fully Jehovah God (the second person of the trinity) (John 1:1-14). In Mary’s womb, He joined to His divine nature, a human nature and was virgin born, thus becoming ‘God-man’ (Philippians 2:5-7 / Hebrews 10:5-10).
  • Jesus was tempted by Satan but remained sinless because He was and is God, and it is impossible for God to sin (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). Still, the temptations were both valid and real to the God-man. Oh, how he can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15-16).
  • Christ was literally crucified on the cross, His blood becoming the sufficient cleansing for our sins. He died and was buried. Then on the third day, He physically arose in victory over sin and death (1st Corinthians 1-5). He who truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is rescued from eternity in hell and given eternal life (Salvation – John 20:31).
  • The next prophetic event will be the taking up into heaven of all believers, ‘The Rapture,’ (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17). Then following the tribulation, Christ will return to the earth with us, His glorified saints, to establish His literal rule over all the earth for 1,000 years (The Millennial Kingdom), and we will rule with Him (Jude 14-15). This is our destiny as Sons of God (Romans 8).
  • Saving faith is by grace alone and not by works of merit that we can do (Ephesians 2:8-9).

churchmembershipI object to the use of “Jehovah” as if that were the actual pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, and I’m not crazy about the “rapture” doctrine. Becoming an actual church member means taking some classes and then signing on the dotted line that you buy all of their doctrine, dogma, and theology hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve had enough conversations with my Pastor to realize our points of disagreement and, if being a member of my church or some other local church is a requirement for being a “good Christian,” then I have a problem.

Sunday afternoon, I had coffee with my good friend Tom. Tom’s been a Christian for over forty years and he and I have both been through the Hebrew Roots “wringer” as well. We have a good many attitudes in common, but he agrees with my Pastor that I will never be truly effective in my community until I formally become a member. Tom’s been a member of his church for about three years now. I asked him what he does about the bits and pieces of church doctrine with which he disagrees. He’s discussed it with his Pastor and his Pastor’s response is, “We’ll work on that.”

I’d interpret that statement to mean that Tom’s Pastor will try to convince Tom of the correctness of whatever Tom currently has issues with. I guess that situation is a work in progress.

But what about me? Frankly, I don’t think any church has their understanding 100% correct. How am I supposed to pretend that the church I attend does? I’m already anticipating a major disagreement next week in Sunday school class over the “symbolic” meaning of the moadim.

By the way, I took a closer look at the study notes for next week’s class and my blood ran cold. I’m actually kind of nervous about this. The notes mainly describe how the primary purpose of all of the Festivals just point to the reality of Jesus Christ. In other words, they had no value of their own to draw the Israelites closer to God (never mind that the word “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “korban” which gives the meaning of “drawing closer to” God). Dispensationalism isn’t supposed to be inherently supersessionistic but this part of it is getting close.

But anyway…

Since Pastor is anachronistically applying the “missionary journeys” of Paul to modern Christian missionary work anyway, let’s apply that process to “church membership.” When Paul “planted churches,” and appointed leaders, how did Gentiles join the community? Besides professing faith in Messiah, was there some additional process of agreeing to the specific conditions and rules of that community in order to join? Maybe, but remember, there weren’t “church denominations” in those days. Yes, there were different streams of Judaism, and “the Way” was the Jewish stream that contained the Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah. However, within the Way, were there different and competing variations? Did you have to choose one and forsake all others or could you just be a “generic” Jewish or Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah?

Actually, it looks like there were some divisions:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NASB)

broken-crossOn the other hand, it looks like Paul took a dim view of these divisions and urged unity in Messiah, not in the name of some “leader” or “teacher” (or “denomination”).

I know, I know. I can’t anachronistically apply conditions as they existed in Paul’s day to the modern “church” because after all, the “church” isn’t a unified entity, at least at the level of human organizational meaning. Times have changed significantly in the past twenty centuries or so, and being a “good Christian” now means different things to different streams of Christianity.

I currently attend a small, Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho. They have definite standards and a formal process of baptism and education leading to entry into membership. I suppose I could attend and worship there forever as unaffiliated, but then, I wouldn’t meet the qualifications of a “good Christian.”

It’s not that I object to being committed to a community, having affiliation, accountability, and opportunity for service, but it’s the albatross being hung around my neck of all the specific doctrine and dogma to which I object (and if taking Calvinism on board is a requirement, then it’s an absolute “showstopper”). I can’t lie about believing stuff when I don’t believe it, so how can I ever join any church anywhere? How can I, as Pastor puts it, be a “good Christian?”

Oh, and apparently Pastor isn’t alone in his opinion about joining a church. Another collision between the principals outlined in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David and the reality of “going to church.”