Tag Archives: First Fruits of Zion

Listening for the Spirit Within Us

Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.

Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp.

Numbers 11:25-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

As at least some of you may know, the first quote is from Torah Portion Beha’alotcha, which was read in synagogues all over the world last Shabbos.

The second quoted scripture is the famous Pentecost event when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit of God and began speaking in many different languages, languages they did not normally know.

As Christians, we are taught that anyone who comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) immediately receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will guide us in all things. Yeshua said something to this effect.

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:25-27

However, in each and every scripture I’ve quoted, the objects of receiving the Spirit and the audience of Yeshua’s words are Jews. So far, all we know (if we knew nothing else) is that Jews receive the Holy Spirit under certain circumstances, perhaps like the seventy elders and the Apostles, to prepare a specialized population for a highly specific set of duties.

But then there’s this:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

cornelius
Peter and Cornelius

Obviously the Roman (Gentile) Centurion Cornelius and all those other Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit. Peter and the Jews who were with him were direct witnesses to the event and it was something that was obviously apparent to them in a physical manifestation.

“These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:12-18

Peter reported all this to the “apostles and the brethren” in Jerusalem, and after hearing his testimony, they glorified God saying “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

This was even confirmed later by Peter at the legal proceeding held by James and the Jerusalem Council for formally establishing the status of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish community:

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

Acts 15:7-9

Clearly, God intended for non-Jews to enter into the community of faith and be saved in a manner identical to the Jews, receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers did.

More than that, it was foretold long before these events that many nations would turn to the God of Israel:

Many nations shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you.

Zechariah 2:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Every Knee Shall Bow
Photo credit: art.jkirkrichards.com

The Tanakh is replete with prophesies regarding the nations turning to God at the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom Yeshua’s advent inaugurated into our world, but I’ll only quote this one as it was part of last week’s Haftarah portion.

It seems my last blog post caused a disturbance among some of my non-Jewish readers relative to the uncertainty of our status in modern Messianic Jewish community. It was never my intension to upset or disturb anyone. Actually, quite the opposite.

I wanted to emphasize that even though, as we saw in the passage I quoted from Zechariah, God will dwell among Israel, even as He rules the entire world, Gentile lives matter, too. We’re not just an afterthought in God’s redemptive plan. We are not just God’s left-handed, red-headed step-children, the ones you hide in the closet when company comes over. We have a very specific purpose in the Kingdom.

But it’s sometimes easy to get the idea that Gentiles are indeed an afterthought given all the emphasis on Jews and Judaism on Messianic Jewish websites and blogs, and in such publications, and sermons.

However, I also brought up some uncomfortable ideas regarding our existence in my previous article: we don’t have a very exact roadmap regarding mitzvot or lifestyle, at least nothing as detailed as do the Jewish people.

I decided to focus on the Holy Spirit in today’s “morning mediation” for a few reasons:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow my decrees and guard my ordinances and fulfill them.

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

This is part of the New Covenant promises Hashem made to Israel, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which we saw fulfilled in Acts 2 when it was given to the Jewish Apostles, and in Acts 10 when Peter witnessed it being given to the faithful Gentiles in the household of Cornelius.

But it’s interesting that a promise made exclusively to Israel somehow was transmitted to those Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua as the foretold Messiah.

Actually, we have another giving of the Spirit that needs to be included.

Then Yeshua came from the Galil toward the Yarden to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit me, for so it is appropriate for both of us to fulfill the entire tzedakah,” so he permitted him. When Yeshua was immersed, he quickly came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending in the likeness of a dove, and it rested upon him.

Matthew 3:13-16 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

hebrews_letterPart of what I learned in listening to D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is that Yeshua, as the arbiter of the New Covenant, came, in part, to deliver “samples” of the New Covenant blessings to Israel, and apparently through them, to the Gentiles. This was to be evidence that God will indeed keep His promises to Israel (and somehow some of those promises also apply to the nations) at the appropriate time.

We see the New Covenant promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36, we see Yeshua receiving the Spirit in Matthew 3, the Apostles receive the Spirit in Acts 2, and some faithful Gentiles receive it in front of Jewish eyewitnesses in Acts 10.

This should be pretty encouraging to some of the people who were dismayed at the content and discussion regarding my chopped liver blog post.

There’s just one problem:

The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:34-39 (NASB)

The Ethiopian eunuch (a subject worthy of his own study), who was (in my opinion) most likely a Jew, did not receive the Holy Spirit, or at least Luke didn’t record it. But why, if he received the Spirit, would Luke have omitted this important point? If it was just assumed by Luke, then why did he include that the eunuch was baptized, which also could have been assumed?

Furthermore:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

Acts 19:1-6

Apparently it’s possible to come to faith in Yeshua, to receive a water baptism, but not to receive the Holy Spirit.

tongues of fireI’m just shooting in the dark at this point, but as a believer for many years, while I can recall the moment I came to faith, no specific physical event occurred indicating that I had received the Holy Spirit. I was baptized in the Boise River along with my wife and children in August of 1999, but nothing like the Acts 2 or Acts 10 events occurred (although Acts 10 does not describe what Peter witnessed that told him Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit except that they spoke in tongues  and praised God).

Is it possible in the community of faith for some of us to possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God and others to not possess it? Further, with no physical evidence of the Spirit resting upon us as described in the multiple Bible quotes I’ve offered, how can we say the Spirit is on us or in us at all? Did you speak in tongues and utter prophesies? I didn’t.

I know that there’s a general consensus in Evangelical circles that the “age of miracles” ended when Christian Biblical canon was closed, but there are all sorts of anecdotal stories other Christians tell of spiritual manifestations and even miracles that happen all around us (though they seldom if ever make it into mainstream news reports).

I don’t have a definitive answer to all this. Maybe someone out there does. I have to take it on faith that I do possess the Holy Spirit, only because Christian tradition says I must if I’m a believer.

On the other hand:

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, My master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me workers of evil!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

That’s rather sobering.

Think about it. There’s a class of believers who are capable of performing actual supernatural acts, apparently in the name of Yeshua, and yet, the Master does not know them and even calls them “workers of evil”.

How about this?

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Acts 19:13-15 (NASB)

I’m not sure this is an example of what Yeshua was talking about, but just paying the Master lip service, so to speak, doesn’t seem to be enough to get you “into the club,” as it were.

So what do we do as faithful Yeshua-followers?

Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and the first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:37-40 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

I know Yeshua was speaking to a Jewish audience, but I think that it is appropriate to consider this a commandment that also applies to us, that is, we non-Jews in Messiah. Why shouldn’t we also love God with all of our resources and love other human beings as we love ourselves? It would seem this “Torah” is one that also forms the core of our existence as disciples of the Master and worshipers of Israel’s God.

I still feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I can’t seem to close again. With all of this, what are we supposed to do next, particularly if we, in some way, exist either directly or tangentially in Jewish community?

That might take a long time to find out. Certainly an inventory of each and every instruction Paul gave in his epistles to the Gentile disciples, as viewed from a Paul Within Judaism perspective, would be in order.

109
Messiah Journal 109

Actually, back in February 2012, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) published an article written by Toby Janicki in Messiah Journal issue 109 called The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses. Unsatisfied with my original review which I wrote at the time, I wrote another one over a year later (which was nearly two years ago now).

It doesn’t answer the conundrum regarding the Holy Spirit or how some people could sincerely believe they were serving Yeshua and yet be so horribly wrong, but as far as getting some sort of handle of who Gentiles are supposed to be in what is essentially, a Jewish religious form, it might be a good place to start, at least for those of you who are experiencing a crisis of community.

The rest will have to come along by the by.

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Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 2

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NASB)

This text indicates that the two identified in Ephesians 2:11 as Gentiles and Jews, have become one in Christ. Jesus broke down the barrier dividing the two in order to create “one new man” in which there is peace and reconciliation. “One new man” is a metaphor for the church but, in spite of its apparent simplicity, two diametrically opposing views of its nature appear in the literature. Each of these views is underpinned by antithetical perspectives on Israel in the present era inaugurated by the Christ-event.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.51
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Continued from Part 1.

The above-quoted scripture is the foundation for both Woods’ commentary in the current issue of Messiah Journal and Derek Leman’s commentary on his blog. Leman addresses “the wall” and what it might actually be from a Judaically-oriented interpretive perspective, and Woods takes on who this “one new man” might be.

Woods quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“God’s Way of Reconciliation” [vol. 2. of “An Exposition on Ephesians”; Edinburgh, Scotland: Baker Book House, 1972], 275) to exemplify the currently held viewpoint of the “one new man” within Evangelical Christianity:

The Jew has been done away with as such, even as the Gentile has been done away with, in Christ…nothing that belonged to the old state is of any value or has any relevance in the new state.

-ibid, p.52

If you’re familiar with my views on supersessionism, otherwise known as replacement theology or fulfillment theology, then you know from my perspective, those are “fighting words.

Conversely, Woods quoted the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) (“Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC” [Albuquerque, NM: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2010], 24) to illustrate the “flip side” of the coin:

One new man does not mean that the distinction and mutuality between Jews and Gentiles are obliterated. Instead, it means that Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles, with their differences and distinctions, live in unity and mutual blessing in Yeshua…they do not become a new generic, uniform humanity.

-ibid

AbrahamThis harkens back to certain passages of Carl Kinbar’s article from the same issue of Messiah Journal: “The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1” which I mentioned in my previous blog post. God endowed the Jews, through the patriarchs, with certain blessings and responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is, through Abraham, being a blessing to the Gentiles. This operates through the faithfulness of Messiah and Gentile faith in the God of Israel through Messiah Yeshua, and it only works if Israel, that is, the Jewish people, remain distinct from the Gentile disciples in the Ekklesia of Messiah.

Distinction theory is my term for the theological framework which understands Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as distinct in certain significant theological senses, including identity and function (role, service) in the economy of God’s kingdom. That is, a biblical differentiation exists between Israel and the nations within the church similar to that which existed before Christ. This distinction results in a twofold structure within the church that I label “intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction.” In this framework, the “one new man” or “humanity” as I shall explain, comprises Jews and Gentiles who together are devoted to Jesus.

-ibid, p.53

I know that statement won’t sit well with some people reading this, namely more traditional, mainstream Christians, and certainly many Hebrew Roots proponents. Woods intends on showing from his analysis of scripture, how his view is more Biblically sustainable than those views that insist on the obliteration of Jewish uniqueness of identity and corporate covenant responsibility, either by, in essence, “Gentile-izing” them (and recall that Kinbar says you can’t “unJew” a Jew) or erasing Jewish distinction by assigning Jewish roles and responsibilities to both Jews and Gentiles equally.

To do this, Woods proposes to take the phrase “one new man” and analyze the Greek (and Hebrew) one word at a time. Unfortunately, by the time he ended part 1 of his article, he had addressed only the first word.

His explanation is complex, but in short:

Hena assuredly means one, but Jewish and Christian scholars alike are aware that the word is laden with theological import. God, says Deuteronomy 6:4, is one (…echad–or heis in the Septuagint, where heis and hena are inflections of the same word).

-ibid, p.54

Relative to the Shema and “the LORD is One”, it is just as accurate to translate echad as “unique” or “alone”. Applied to the “one” in “one new man,” this changes the meaning somewhat, from a single fused entity, to a grouping that has the potential to contain other groupings. Certainly “alone” could be compared to “called out”.

Also echad might not imply so much that God is “one and indivisible,” but…

…rather that God alone is to be worshiped to the exclusion of all other gods.

-ibid

Woods also considers basar echad or “one flesh” (Genesis 2:4) and states:

The marriage relationship is dependent on the distinction between husband and wife; thus “unity implies distinctiveness and yet is complementary.”

-ibid

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Looking back upon the “one new man” as the Messiah’s Ekklesia, we can see that it’s possible to have a group of called out ones that are echad and yet not only can contain sub-groups that are distinct, but that the Ekklesia’s very existence is dependent upon the Jewish and Gentile sub-groups within the larger “one” group remaining distinct and also complementary.

Woods cites Ephesians 2:11-22 in that it notes:

…that the principle distinction between members of the body is their status in Israel: They are either members of Israel (Jews), or they are drawn from among the nations (Gentiles/non-Jews) into fellowship with Israel–yet without becoming Jews.

-ibid, p.55 (emph. mine)

I might change that last part to say that we Gentiles in the Ekklesia are drawn “into fellowship with Israel without becoming Israel.” We have fellowship with Israel without replacing or usurping Israel’s unique covenant relationship with and responsibility to God.

Woods continues building his case for several more pages, but I believe I’ve presented sufficient examples to illustrate where he’s going. However, he won’t begin discussing his understanding of the word “new” until the next issue of Messiah Journal which will be published this coming summer.

Turning now to Derek Leman’s blog post on the Dividing Wall:

I attended a paper in 2013 on the meaning of the dividing wall passage of Ephesians 2. A year and a half later, the interpretation put forward by Jesper Svartvik still looks good to me. I include here a postlude concerning the meaning of “abolishing the law of commandments in decrees.”

So based on Leman’s presentation of the conclusions of Svartvik’s 2013 paper, how are we to understand the “dividing wall” that Yeshua was to have “broken down in his own flesh?”

From Leman’s perspective (taking from Svartvik), the Christian misunderstanding of this “wall” is based on the Christian misunderstanding of the Temple’s sacrificial system:

First, Svartvik said we need to keep in mind a Jewish understanding of sacrifice and the Temple worship, as opposed to same later Christian re-interpretations. Sacrifice at the Temple was about staying in the covenant and not getting in. People were not trying to “get saved” or “be born again” in offering a lamb. They already were in and sacrifices were part of keeping right relation with God.

Second, sacrifice in the Bible is about nearness, the spatial metaphor of “drawing near” to God. The verb most used for offering a sacrifice means literally “bring near.” (As a Hebrew Bible devotee, I can tell you, this is not only true, it is one of the most profound things I wish people knew about the sacrifices and it is one of the major issues I discuss in my book, Yeshua Our Atonement). We might notice that in Ephesians 2 the same nearness issue is being discussed: those who were far off are now brought near.

The Jewish people were near to God and the Gentiles were far off. So how could those who were far off be brought near to those who were already near (the Jews)? How was the enmity between Jews and Gentiles to be resolved? By doing away with Jewish obligation to Torah? By mandating that Jewish obligation to Torah also be assigned equally to the Gentile?

As we see from Woods, forming an “echad” Ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles doesn’t require that both groups be eliminated to form a new, homogenous entity with no distinctiveness contained within it.

As I quoted Leman in my previous blog post, the dividing wall can be understood differently than the four prevailing theories, the “soreg” or literal fence forming the “Court of the Gentiles” in the Temple, the Talmudic “fence” around the Torah commandments, a theological dividing wall between heaven and earth, or, most commonly, the Torah itself. The dividing wall can be understood as a metaphor for the “mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.”

intermarriageLet’s go back to Woods’ comparison of “one” as the “echad” of a marriage. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They desire to marry, but there are “issues” that stand between them that must be resolved before they can enter into a life-long commitment to one another. You might say that they have to overcome any “mistrust and enmity” between them before they can be joined as “one flesh” and become something new, not two individuals, male and female, living apart, but “one flesh”, male and female, living in a single family and yet requiring they maintain their distinctiveness.

You can go to Leman’s blog to read the entire text of his essay as well as view the ongoing discussion, but hopefully, I’ve adequately summarized his main point regarding the nature of the “dividing wall” that was torn down through the Messiah. The dividing wall is just a metaphor for the mistrust and enmity that previously existed between Jew and Gentile. In Messiah, those barriers are gone and Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master can co-exist within the Ekklesia while remaining Jewish and Gentile. This is the same thing as a man and woman getting married and remaining male and female within the family.

Now before someone asks, Leman ends his blog post…

By the way, I should say the theory I just put out there concerning the meaning of “law of commandments in decrees” could never be fully verified as it is an example of trying to fill in a gap left by the writer. We can only guess what fills in the gap. The guess that “law of commandments in decrees” means the whole Torah has huge problems, not least of which is that is a strange way of describing Torah as a whole.

My take away from reviewing Kinbar’s, Woods’ and Leman’s work is that the concept of two unique and complementary groups, one made up of Jews and the other of Gentiles, operating within a single Ekklesia, and indeed, providing mutual blessings to one another, is certainly supportable from a Biblical viewpoint that is Israel-focused and Judaically-oriented, and may well represent the Apostle Paul’s original viewpoint.

Adopting that viewpoint requires divorcing ourselves from the more traditional Christian exegetical perspective on Paul in particular and the Bible in general, so that we may attempt to recapture the actual context and meaning of Paul and the other Bible writers, who were attempting to communicate how God’s vast, sweeping redemptive plan for Israel and the nations was to unfold, first through the Torah, then the Prophets, and finally the revelation of Messiah.

Reviews, by their nature, can only capture a snapshot of the works being reviewed. Again, I encourage you to go to Leman’s blog, and to read the articles written by Kinbar and Woods in the current issue of Messiah Journal to get the full message of what they are presenting. While not everyone who reads my blog may agree with what they have to say, you will see that there are compelling counterarguments to the traditions that have been handed down in the Church for so many centuries. I believe those counter-perspectives must be considered and ultimately accepted by believers in order for Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to apprehend the true meaning of “one new man.”

JerusalemIn Part 1, I said that in order to understand the role and purpose of the Messianic Gentile, we needed to understand the role of the Messianic Jew in the Ekklesia. So what did we Gentiles learn about ourselves? Hopefully, I illustrated that our role is to be joined with Israel, not to become or replace Israel. And as I’ve stated before, our purpose in the Ekklesia, in response to being blessed by the Jewish people and the promises God made to Abraham, is to support and encourage Jewish Torah observance and covenant obedience, for without an Israel oriented toward God, there is no redemption for the world.

Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 1

I am writing this article to a specific segment of this generation of Jews: those who follow Messiah Yeshua, whether we are in Messianic congregations, synagogues, churches, groups of various kinds that meet in homes, or not actively part of a group. I call us all “Messianic Jews,” but the name is not important; what counts is our connection with Messiah.

We are members of both the body of Messiah and what Michael Wyschogrod calls “the body of Israel.” It is essential that we fulfill our calling and destiny in both communities.

To be frank, many Messianic Jews, myself included, have avoided speaking openly and in depth about the meaning and significance of Jewish existence because we do not want to inadvertently offend others. For now I want to say that the “tasks begun by the patriarchs” that are now entrusted to this generation of Jews have positive and profound implications for the nations. Therefore, if you are not Jewish, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in. You are welcome here.

-Carl Kinbar
“The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1 of 3” p.34
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

At two separate seminars I attended in 2009, two speakers presented a different interpretation of Ephesians 2:15; they both claimed that the unity of the “one new man” does not imply, let alone require, a flattening of its Jewish and Gentile members into homogeneity. Instead, the unity spoken of in Ephesians 2:14-16 strengthens the case that Jewish identity of Jews who believe in Jesus is fundamental.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.52
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Regarding the fourth and most common Christian interpretation, Svartvik said something profound: how would that view fit with “peace to those near” in Ephesians 2? In other words, Yeshua came to bring peace to those near (Jewish people) and far (Gentiles). If he came to nullify God’s covenant with Israel, how is this peace with Israel?

Thus, Svartvik offers a fifth and new suggestion: the dividing wall is not physical or tangible, but is exactly what the text says it is, the mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.

He offers a comparison with another first century text in which a wall is used as a metaphor for something abstract. In 2 Baruch 54:3-5 the image of a wall refers to a block in understanding or perception: “You pull down the enclosure for those who have no experience and enlighten the darkness.”

-Derek Leman
“The Dividing Wall in Ephesians 2”
Published April 9, 2015 at the
Messianic Jewish Musings blog

You may notice that the common thread running through all three of the above-quoted paragraphs (besides Messianic Judaism in general) is the special status and mission of the Jewish people, particularly those who are disciples of Messiah Yeshua, as distinct and separate from the body of believing Gentiles, whether they are affiliated with Christianity, Hebrew/Jewish Roots, or the Messianic Jewish movement.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Each article provides an excellent springboard by which to launch ourselves into further investigation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles who are attached to Yeshua, and to define the unique roles and purposes of each population as we exist within the Ekklesia of Messiah.

When I first started reading Kinbar’s article and saw that he had specifically written it to a Jewish audience, I felt as if I’d opened and was reading someone else’s letter, at least until he invited non-Jews to “pull up a chair” and become part of the audience. For it is in the definition of the special tasks that the current generation of Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, have inherited from the patriarchs, that we find a contrasting role for “Messianic Gentiles”.

Both Woods and Leman tackle this topic through the lens of Ephesians 2, with Woods addressing the so-called “One New Man” (Ephesians 2:15) made out of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and Leman focusing on the breaking down of the “barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14 NASB) that previously separated those two groups but, “by the blood of Christ” (v.13) have been made one.

They both, as you might imagine, disagree with the traditional Christian interpretation of what “one new man” is supposed to mean, or what the result of tearing down the “dividing wall” was supposed to bring about. Christianity believes that annihilating that wall and creating one new man eliminated distinctions between Jews and Gentiles by obliterating Jewish and Gentile identity. The “one new man” was “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) but an entirely new creation in Jesus Christ.

Except that’s not how these gentlemen interpret these scriptures.

I should also say it is a shame that Paul’s letters can only be read in their Jewish context via a “radical” and “new” perspective. That is, of course, how they should have been read all along. But a few issues have understandably blocked Christian readers from seeing the Jewishness of Pauline letters and Ephesians in particular. To make a complex issue simple let me just list a few things. Paul’s letters do not address Jewish believers and their concerns, but rather his burgeoning Gentile mission of the earliest Yeshua-movement. Paul does not give us a theology of Jewish identity in relation to Messiah Yeshua because that identity was already well-known and assumed in the background. Jewish identity in Messiah remained rooted in the covenants with Abraham and at Sinai and through David, but the coming of Yeshua marked a new stage in God’s revealing his plan to Israel. It was only later, when the church interpreted Paul as saying there was a break away from Sinai and God’s covenant with Israel, that Jews must now become Christians, that the idea occurred that it would become “radical” and “new” to read Paul as a Jewish writer who had not abandoned his prior beliefs and practices.

-Leman (emph. mine)

Carl Kinbar
Rabbi Carl Kinbar

It is difficult to distill an analysis of all three articles into a blog post or two, so I’ll just hit the highlights, so to speak. Also, since both Kinbar and Woods are writing multi-part missives, and the latter submissions are not yet publicly available, the picture you are going to receive here will be, by necessity, incomplete. I encourage you to read Leman’s blog post and acquire copies of Messiah Journal, issue 119 and the subsequent two issues, to read their complete messages.

In order to “flesh out” the role of the “Messianic Gentile” related to Messianic Judaism and the Jewish people (in and out of the movement), it is necessary to understand to some degree, the role and mission of Jewish people as a covenant people within Judaism and as devoted disciples to Messiah.

Our loyalty to Messiah must be so powerfully integrated into our lives that we are simply unable to conceive of life without him. He must be part and parcel of our lives.

At the same time, being Jewish is a fact of our existence: whether we were born Jewish or converted, it is not even possible to “un-Jew” ourselves. To minimize, ignore, or deny this fact is to minimize, ignore, or deny the meaning and significance of our existence. That said, the fullness of our Jewish identity needs to be internalized just as our loyalty to Yeshua does. Our identity as Jews must be part and parcel of our lives.

Our identity as Jews and our loyalty to Messiah must be internalized and brought into harmony.

-Kinbar, p.35

That harmony is not easy to achieve, and I know of at least three Jewish people, one of whom I am very close to, who fully integrated and internalized their Jewish identities by way of entirely dispensing with their devotion to Yeshua.

What Kinbar said reminds me of an article Stuart Dauermann wrote for issue 114 of Messiah Journal called “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which I reviewed nearly eighteen months ago.

In their separate articles, both Kinbar and Dauermann emphasize the vital importance in Messianic Jewish loyalty and affiliation to the Jewish people and national Israel, but while Kinbar makes his points very well regarding Jewish covenant responsibilities to the Torah mitzvot, to their fellow Jews, and to Hashem, what does this say about we Gentiles?

It all seems to come down to Abraham:

Shaul of Tarsus explains how we receive the blessings in Romans 4, where he writes that when Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have a son, God counted his faith as righteousness. Since this took place before Abraham was circumcised, the blessing is not reserved for the circumcised — that is, for Jews. It is available to anyone who follows in Abraham’s footsteps by relying on God, “who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Thus, God’s promise statement that he has made Abraham “the father to many nations” is being fulfilled in the body of Messiah…

-ibid, p.40

Kinbar made what I thought was a very interesting point on the same page:

This changed dramatically when Abraham’s name became more broadly known through the distribution of the Apostolic Writings among the nations of the world. In my opinion, it is not an accident that Abraham’s name appears proportionately more often in the Apostolic Writings than in the Tanach.

And again he says:

Were it not for the Apostolic Writings and the body of Messiah, “the families of the earth” would not have known that they may be blessed in Abraham.

But blessed with what? The evidence is in scripture itself as previously quoted above:

“who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

MessiahOur faith and the faithfulness of Messiah results in we Gentiles receiving the promise of the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and justification before the Almighty. But remember, these promises are universal because they were given to Abraham before the circumcision. There are responsibilities incumbent only upon the Jewish people based on what was promised to Abraham after circumcision and subsequently promised to Isaac and Jacob:

Everyone who is devoted to Messiah should fear God, but Jews and Jewish communities are uniquely entrusted with the tasks begun by the fathers so that we can confirm the promises that God made to them. Engaging in these tasks is part and parcel of the meaning of Jewish existence: to be a source of blessing to the rest of humanity.

-ibid, p.49

So how are we to understand Woods, Leman, and Ephesians 2 in terms of what I’ve written above? For the sake of keeping this “morning meditation” reasonably short and thus of readable length, I’ll save the answer to that question for Part 2.

Of Dissonance and Hashkafah

Hashkafah is a great Hebrew word without an exact English equivalent. Your hashkafah is your worldview. The term is often used when referring to one’s personal worldview as regards to religion and halachah (Jewish law). It’s the lens through which you view things. It’s how you understand a system. It’s your paradigm of thought. It dictates the way you think about things, and therefore impacts the conclusions you will reach. It’s your ideology and the reason behind your ideology.

-Boaz Michael
“Hashkafah,” p.7
from the Director’s Letter for Issue 119/Spring 2015 of
Messiah Journal

I learned something new today. I learned that my blog is all about discussing my hashkafah, “the lens through which I view things” including my “paradigm of thought” and my “ideology and the reason behind my ideology.”

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. I’m not writing because I think I’m smarter than other people and that I am delivering my learned pronouncements from some virtual ivory tower. I’m writing to explain what I’ve been learning and how it affects the development of my hashkafah.

Actually, Boaz said so much more in his letter that I found quite useful, which is why I’m sharing this with you. Here’s another useful idea:

A person’s hashkafah (worldview or paradigm) is like the DNA that determines both appearances and actions as a fully formed body. If one’s outward appearance is inconsistent with his hashkafah, it will lead to cognitive dissonance and a crisis of faith.

-ibid (emph. mine)

And that’s what I’ve been experiencing, both in my previous attempt to integrate into a local church and, ironically enough, in my encounters with Messianic Judaism.

For instance, for Shauvot 2012, I attended First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Wisconsin and I had a blast. I made connections with new people and deepened relationships with old friends.

But the following year, I had started going to church and as a result, I was encountering some of that “cognitive dissonance” Boaz talks about. At the Shavuot conference in 2013, I was confused and conflicted as to who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I eventually settled in, but not before behaving in such a way that damaged a number of friendships.

The dissonance worked both ways, and not only made it unlikely for me to be invited to attend future Messianic conferences, but ultimately ended up with me leaving church as well.

How do you resolve the dissonance between being attracted to a Messianic Jewish study and practice paradigm and yet not being Jewish?

jackson's bookThis is the reason I’ve been reviewing Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing. I’m using my review series as the lens through which to look at whether there’s any likelihood of me returning to fellowship or if I should even try. Since Boaz’s letter speaks to what’s going on behind that concern, I consider examining it here part of that investigation.

Here’s what’s at the core of not only my difficulties with the church but with just about every single religious argument we have in the blogosphere:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

-ibid

That, in a nutshell, describes the vast majority of the religious arguments that happen in the comments sections of my blog and many other religious blogs, especially in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces.

Although I doubt Boaz intended to, he described exactly what happened between me and the head Pastor of the church I used to attend:

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

-ibid, p.8

It took two years to get to this point, but Pastor and I finally arrived on the shores of “there is no point in arguing.”

Boaz, spent much of his letter describing his perspective on the hashkafah of various related movements such as Christianity, One Law, Missionary and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, and then what he calls Messianic Judaism for the Nations, which is First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) perspective.

I won’t go into all of that here (I may in a future blog post), but for the sake of matters of dissonance and fellowship (or lack thereof), I’ll focus on the portions of Boaz’s letter I consider relevant. He restated the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism from his previous letter in issue 117 thus:

The practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.

Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

My immediate question was how that’s supposed to work for someone who isn’t Jewish. Boaz answers that question subsequently, but does Boaz’s answer work for me? We’ll see by the by.

I do want to mention something regarding Boaz’s hashkafah for Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism since Derek Leman said something similar recently.

Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is interested in practicing Judaism and maintaining Jewish identity, because Torah is seen as covenantally binding on all Jews. It has an interest in restoring the faith and practice of first-century believers for Messianic Jews, but not for Gentiles. Under this vision for Messianic Judaism, Gentile believers belong in Gentile Christianity identifying as Christians and Messianic Jews belong in Messianic synagogues identifying as Jews.

-ibid, p.10 (emph. mine)

It’s important to remember that Boaz distinguishes his personal (and FFOZ’s official) hashkafah from this Post-Missionary description, but it’s equally important to realize that there is significant overlap. So what does this mean for the so-called “Messianic Gentile?” What is FFOZ’s hashkafah for Messianic Judaism for the Nations?

The practice of Messianic Judaism by both Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles for the sake of continuity with the New Testament and the coming kingdom.

He further defines this view of Messianic Judaism as “the Judaism of the Messianic Era.” As far as that goes, I agree with him, and I’ve said more than once that when Messiah returns, as such, there will be no such entity as “the Church.” There will only be Messianic Judaism as it applies to Jews and to the people of the nations.

Relative to the rest of the Judaism in our world, Boaz states:

Our hashkafah acknowledges Jewish authority. We do not believe the New Testament stripped the Jewish people of the biblical and God-given authority to transmit, interpret, and apply the Torah. Although the rest of the Jewish world may be enemies regarding the gospel, they are nonetheless beloved for the sake of the fathers (Romans 11:28).

morning prayerIn other words, God did not abandon the Jewish people or Judaism nearly two-thousand years ago all for sake of the Gentile Christian Church. He didn’t change horses in mid-stream, and He didn’t jump from Plan A to Plan B in Acts 2 or anywhere else in the Bible, or for that matter, in post-Biblical times. God is with the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and God is also with His people Israel, the Jewish people, all of them, for the sake of His promises in the Torah and the Prophets as well as the aforementioned Romans 11:28.

As far as Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles, Boaz says:

Our hashkafah distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles and their respective obligations to the Torah. Since we accept the authority of the apostles, who also made that distinction clear, we maintain distinction. We advocate the integrity of Jewish identity as defined by Jewish tradition, with all its associated prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations. We advocate the integrity of Messianic Gentile identity with its own prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations as defined by the New Testament. Although Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles are two distinct groups, they share one religion.

While I wholeheartedly agree with all of that, I still asked myself where the Gentile praxis is defined specifically. It seems to vary from one Messianic group to the next, and my personal response was to give up all (or almost all) practice that could even tangentially be considered Jewish (I will still occasionally use a siddur).

I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon (I’m not much of a Sabbath-keeper anymore). Last night, my family and I had a very pleasant, low-key, and quite yummy Passover seder. I’m still getting full noshing on left-over matzah ball soup, and matzah and hummus.

This morning, my wife (who is Jewish) went to shul at the local Chabad, and I believe she’ll be attending the second seder night there as well (which means she won’t be home until very late). One of the obligations I believe we “Messianic Gentiles” have is encouraging and supporting Jewish Torah observance. To that end, I’m delighted she can partake of Jewish community as a Jew. I wish the same for all Jews, Messianic or otherwise.

Now if only someone would write and publish the definitive guide to Messianic Gentile praxis within the context of “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”

I would encourage you to see our various works in our Mayim Chayim series: Mezuzah, Tzitzit, Tefillin, etc.

-ibid, p.12

Tent of DavidApparently there is a praxis for Messianic Gentiles, and after a few minutes and a quick Google search, I remembered that in past years, FFOZ had published a series of small booklets about different aspects of Jewish practice as applied to non-Jews. Toby Janicki wrote about Gentiles and Tefillin in this 2007 blog post. However, a quick search of the FFOZ online store front didn’t yield any positive results, so I can’t point you to where to purchase them. I remember possessing at least some of these booklets in the past, but either I loaned them to interested parties who never returned them, or they didn’t survive one of my wife’s “reducing clutter” projects.

Now as I said, so far, I agree with Boaz on most or all of the points he makes in his letter. But in terms of my own situation and especially the last two-and-a-half years of my personal history, here’s the kicker:

I should point out that I do not believe that Gentile believers need to leave their churches and join a Messianic synagogue or Sabbatarian group in order to be part of Messianic Judaism. As I advocate in my book Tent of David, I feel the best place for most Messianic Gentiles, at this point in history, is to remain in their respective churches, supporting the local church’s efforts for the kingdom and becoming an ambassador within that church for this message of restoration. Yes, it may be lonely, one may face theological opposition in the form of subtle anti-Semitism and not-so-subtle replacement theology, but disciples of the suffering servant should expect to suffer a little bit. If we greet only those who greet us and love only those who love us, what reward will we get?

-ibid

Now let’s compare that paragraph to two of Boaz’s previous statements:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

And…

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

I think Boaz’s suggestion works with some Messianic Gentiles in some churches under certain circumstances. I don’t believe it can be universally applied to all Messianic Gentiles in all churches under all circumstances. Of course, that’s not what I think Boaz is suggesting, but still, we must acknowledge that in terms of the “Tent of David” ideal, one size does not fit all.

Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m pounding on the doors of some Messianic Jewish community demanding to be let in. Far from it. As I’ve said many times before, my current family situation would prohibit such a thing, even if the perfect Messianic shul was just down the street from my house.

As far as church goes, I went in with the idea of being an ambassador and left to avoid being a nudnik (pest), at least any more than I’d already become.

To be fair, Boaz also said:

At the same time, I believe that the Messianic synagogue should function as a daughter of the holy Temple: “A house of prayer for all nations.” What would it look like if Messianic Judaism was to open its doors to the many Gentiles who come flocking to Messianic Judaism seeking leadership, direction, and spiritual guidance? What if Messianic Jews took up our role as the head, and not the tail, and we began to lead and shepherd our Master’s flocks? What might that look like?

alone-desertGiven the goal of maintaining Jewish identity and distinctiveness, all of that is easier said than done. Boaz says “Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era–practiced today.” Well, sort of. There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how Messiah will consider Jewish vs. Gentile devotees. It would be nice to believe there’s a way to smooth out all of the rough edges between Jews and Gentiles sharing Jewish community in Messiah, but I can only have faith that this is something Messiah will accomplish when he returns.

What’s the bottom line for me? Like my reviews of Pastor Jackson’s book, while I can see what both of these authors mean, and I can see it working for others, I don’t see a personal application. I’ve said before that I was willing simply to surrender the idea that I must be in community at all. I have limited social needs, so it’s pretty easy for me to be self-contained and to progress forward as an individual. Relative to my faith, it’s what I do at home anyway. It was only the concerns of a friend that had me return to this topic and take another look.

I’ve finished reading Pastor Jackson’s book and I’ll continue my reviews soon.

Final Note: I realize that every time I mention Boaz Michael and First Fruits of Zion, those people who have “issues” with him and his organization tend to make a number of rather “uncomplimentary” remarks in the comments section of my blog. I insist that you stick to the actual issues I’m discussing, that is the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism for the nations as contrasted with Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism and with Christianity as applied to my personal situation. If you can’t comment within the bounds of decorum and avoid committing lashon hara, then consider not commenting at all. Thank you.

The Meaning of Purim for the Christian Church

I posted this one last year and I think the message needs to be repeated. Purim definitely has applications to the Christian Church. If only they would listen.

Morning Meditations

Super girlI haven’t thought much about Purim in awhile. It’s not something we observe in our home and I tend to think of Purim as being primarily for children, dressing in costume, playing games, telling jokes, that sort of thing. Back in the day, the congregation I used to attend observed Purim with a children’s play, which often took on some sort of Star Wars or other fantasy theme. But those days are gone, my children are grown, and my grandson isn’t even aware of Purim.

I received an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) a number of days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was weeding the backyard over the weekend. It’s interesting trying to pull weeds out of muddy plant beds, listening to D. Thomas Lancaster lecture about Purim to the congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, and periodically grab my pen and notebook to…

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Dealing with the Heresy Hunters

Saul understood the disciples of Yeshua as a dangerous sect of Judaism that needed to be silenced before it spread any further. In Saul’s day Judaism contained a variety of sectarian movements. The word “sect” translates the Greek word “hairesis.” It is the same word for “choice,” or “opinion.” Over time, as Christianity battled against the deviant hairesis of Gnosticism, the meaning of the word evolved into the new concept of “heresy.” In the days of the apostles, however, the word primarily referred to a faction of thought and practice within a larger group. For example, the book of Acts refers to the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17) and the “sect of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5), which was “the strictest sect of [the Jews’] religion” (Acts 26:5 NASB). It also refers to the disciples of Yeshua as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus used the word hairesis to describe “schools of thought” within the Jewish people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. In Josephus’ writings the word hairesis only means a faction within the broader religion of Judaism. It does not imply heresy.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from “Damascus Road Encounter,” pp.15-16
Messiah Magazine issue 8, Winter 2015/5775

I find I can’t read Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” anymore without thinking about the church I used to attend and the reasons I left. The head Pastor during the two years I attended, was working his way through the Book of Acts in his sermon series, preaching on it verse by verse.

During the first year I was at this church, I was studying Lancaster’s Torah Club Volume 6: “Chronicles of the Apostles,” which is a detailed analysis of Acts from a Messianic Jewish point of view (based on the theology and doctrine espoused by First Fruits of Zion). Between Pastor’s weekly sermons and my Torah Club studies, I became very familiar with Acts, perhaps more so than any other single book in the Bible. So now, when I read Acts, I think both of Pastor’s sermons and of Lancaster’s teachings.

FFOZ’s Messiah Magazine is a less “scholarly” publication compared to Messiah Journal and is written, in my opinion, for people with a more traditional Christian mindset who are interested in what I call “Messianic Judaism 101.”

That’s not a bad thing. When encountering Messianic Judaism for the first time, it’s helpful to have an elementary point of entry that speaks to someone not familiar with that perspective. I guess I’ve been studying too long to be challenged by entry-level material.

But I found myself wishing this (Sunday) morning that I could share Lancaster’s article with the folks at the Sunday School class I used to attend. It’s a vain hope. For two years, I tried to make a positive impression on the class regarding Messianic Jewish thought and perspective on the Bible, and while some people found some of what I said compelling, ultimately, for two years, I was spinning my wheels. Paradigms are not easily shifted, and sometimes they are so cemented into place, that it becomes all but impossible (at least for human beings) to shift them perceptibly. Any doctrine outside of what is taught by the local church is considered heresy.

Which brings me to the quote from Lancaster’s article.

We experience now, as did the Jewish people in the days of Saul/Paul, a number of different “sects,” both within Christianity and Judaism. If we take all this within the context of the original meaning of the word “hairesis,” then we can consider the different denominations of Christianity and the different branches of Judaism as different factions, or schools of thought and practice, within their broader respective religions.

But where does that leave modern Messianic Judaism and her (somewhat) parallel sister movement Hebrew Roots? Can we consider them two different “sects,” and valid “schools of thought and practice” within a larger religious context?

I’ve been following a number of different blogs over the past week or so and monitoring a series of “differences of opinion” (to put it mildly in some cases) that would seem to belie that thought.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

For instance, on Derek Leman’s Messianic Jewish Musings, there is a lively debate between Messianic Jews (and Gentiles) and an Orthodox Jewish person about the validity of Christianity as a religion, including Messianic Judaism, which this fellow (Hi, Gene) believes to be a subset of Christianity rather than a “school of thought” within Judaism.

Pete Rambo issued a rather provocative challenge on his blog by “offering a $10,000 reward to the person who can prove unequivocally, from Scripture alone, that God changed the Sabbath day from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday the first day.” Naturally, a “spirited debate” ensued, although there only seems to be one person attempting to “collect the reward.”

And then, on Peter Vest’s blog, he proposes the interesting idea that the later Rabbis of the Talmud rejected what Peter believes was the “One Law” teachings of the Second Temple era Rabbis. There’s no particular argument going on in the comments section of that blog (yet), but it nevertheless presents another variant opinion on what the Bible teaches us about Jewish and Gentile interactions in the first-century Jewish “stream of thought” of “the Way.”

I must say that adherents to these various “sects,” in these blog discussions, can express quite a bit of “passion” in defending their particular opinions, but sometimes it (seemingly) goes beyond that.

I haven’t watched the YouTube video yet (and I probably never will), but according to Peter on his blog, a couple of gentlemen in some sort of One Law radio talk show outright said that Peter was a “liar” relative to his statements about Judaism and the validity of the Oral Torah.

Now I can’t state strongly enough that I haven’t watched the video and so I don’t directly know what was or wasn’t said. I do know that it’s not unheard of to misinterpret someone’s opinion of you, especially if that opinion is at all critical. I don’t know what the people Peter mentions said or didn’t say, so what I’m writing here isn’t a matter of taking sides or calling anyone out.

However, if we, for the moment, accept Peter’s allegations at face value, then we have encountered a problem. All of us in our various “sects” of Christianity, Judaism, or whatever, actually have the same core goal: drawing nearer to God. However, each of us within our own specific “streams of thought” imagine the details of just how to accomplish that task rather differently. And yet, in spite of the fact that we know there have been multiple differing “streams of thought and practice” about the Bible and God for well over two-thousand years, significantly predating the existence of anything called “Christianity,” we still insist that whatever religious stream in which we find ourselves is the only one with “the truth.”

Everyone else is wrong and we have a duty and obligation to go online and, by golly, prove it.

It is one thing to disagree with someone else, to believe their particular interpretation of the Bible is in error, that the person is (Heaven forbid) wrong, mislead, or even deluded. It’s another thing entirely to believe another person’s difference of opinion indicates that the individual is a willful liar. I hope that’s not what’s going on here, because it would be a sad commentary on two people who are professed disciples of Yeshua (Jesus),  but as I said, I don’t really know.

And that brings us back to Lancaster’s article and “Saul, the Heresy Hunter” (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Christian teaching emphasizes the story of the conversion of Saul the Jew, a persecutor of the early church, into Paul the Christian, as a pattern for Jewish believers to follow. Just as Saul renounced Judaism and even changed his name to Paul, so too, Jewish believers should renounce their old allegiances and embrace their new identity in Christ. A careful reading of the story of Saul’s Damascus road encounter, however, does not indicate a conversion from Judaism to Christianity, nor does it indicate a change in name from Saul to Paul.

-Lancaster, p.15

You’ll have to read Lancaster’s full article (only four pages long) to see how he defends his opinion (successfully from my point of view), but it indicates a couple of things. First, that Saul was wrong about his persecution of the Jewish members of “the Way,” and that he was rather dramatically forced to face his mistakes by an encounter with the Master of that movement, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Second, we discover that (in my opinion and Lancaster’s) Christian interpretive tradition is wrong about what happened to Saul, what sort of “conversion” he underwent, and why he had two names.

Saul did undergo a radical transformation of the heart, soul, and mind. One might say that he experienced a spiritual conversion — something the Master called being “born again.” His life would never be the same. Compared with the “surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua,” Saul counted all his prestigious heritage and achievements in Judaism as mere rubbish (Philippians 3:8 NASB). Yet that change in priority did not indicate a change in religious affiliation. Saul encountered the Messiah on the way to Damascus, but he did not abandon his Jewish identity or his loyalty to the Torah, the Jewish people, or Jewish practice.

-ibid, p.18

The Jewish PaulIf I said something like that in at least some churches, I would likely encounter strong and passionate counter arguments that anything “Jewish” did not survive in Paul after his Acts 9 encounter with Jesus. Nevertheless, that’s how I (and Lancaster, and many others) read the life of Paul in the Apostolic Scriptures.

So as we’ve seen, there have been multiple sects of Judaism that predated the earthly ministry of Jesus by quite a bit, and there have been multiple sects of Christianity from pretty much the point when the term was first used.

What do we do about that, especially in the volatile environment of the religious blogosphere?

View people you are likely to quarrel with as your partners in personal growth. They are likely to make you more aware of your vulnerabilities, limitations, and mistakes. Don’t let this get you down. Rather, let it serve as your coach. You now have more awareness of what you need to strengthen, fix, and keep on developing.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: Harmony with Others, p.36, http://www.artscroll.com)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #236: “My Partner in Personal Growth”
Aish.com

If you’re religious in any sense of the word (I know that some Christians say their faith is a “relationship, not a religion” but go with me on this one) then other people are going to disagree with you. Get used to it. If you are going to discuss your religious beliefs on a blog and allow others to comment on your blog, people will comment and some will disagree with you. Others will write their own blog posts disagreeing with you, sometimes in the most caustic and “unChristian” like manner.

If we are to believe what Rabbi Pliskin says, all of our opponents are our partners in personal growth. Without them, we might never discover weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and limitations in our own character as well as our knowledge. They force us to constantly stretch ourselves so that we will be more aware of our strengths and deficits tomorrow than we are today. As one motivational statement I’ve seen at my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NASB)

It seems that Rav Shaul (otherwise known as Paul the Apostle) and Rabbi Pliskin agree on something.