Tag Archives: fundamentalist

Burning on the Strange Pyre

strange-pyreWhen I first read MacArthur, I was enamored. I was young, and my no means spiritually mature; to me, MacArthur appeared to give real direction. His warnings fell on ready ears. Discernment—I was young, and naïve, but I was smart enough to know that I needed discernment. And MacArthur’s work was designed to capitalize on this knowledge. He and other teachers like him have helped to raise a generation of conservative Christians who, practicing what they believe to be “discernment,” have insulated themselves from being influenced by—well, you name it. Anti-megachurch, anti-charismatic, anti-seeker-friendly, anti-topical-sermons, anti-emergent-church, anti-Arminian, anti-dynamic-translations, anti-Rob-Bell, anti-Harry-Potter, anti-anti-anti. A generation of anti-s.

And yes, of course, anti-Messianic. It’s new, it’s weird, it’s different, it’s not what we grew up with, and it doesn’t square with the doctrines on which we have built our on theological superstructure. If Messianic Judaism is right, we’re wrong, and how could we be wrong?

So when I read Messianic Jewish teacher Michael Brown’s appeal to John MacArthur to cease and desist his campaign against the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, my first thought was, “Of course—if MacArthur doesn’t come to his senses, we’re next.”

-Pastor Jacob Fronczak
“Strange Fire & The Gifts of the Spirit”
FFOZ Blogs

Note: It’s Wednesday evening and I just came from my weekly meeting with my Pastor. He gave me his perspective and understanding of the Strange Fire conference which was significantly different than what I’ve been reading in the blogosphere recently. I wrote this blog post a few days ago, and will likely revisit the topic in the near future for the sake of being fair. In the meantime, this is my initial response to the information I previously received and more importantly, my impression of how the different elements in the body of Christ have been treating each other.

I was only marginally aware of the Strange Fire conference before today (as I write this) and only because I previously had some small encounter with the thoughts and writing of John MacArthur, both through my Pastor and in Sunday school. I’ve struggled with MacArthur before and I doubt I’ll ever become his biggest fan.

Then last Sunday, as he was introducing his sermon, my Pastor, from the pulpit, mentioned MacArthur, the “Strange Fire” conference (which got my attention), and how he generally commended it.

My blood ran cold for a second, but then I got lost in a flurry of note-taking as Pastor launched into his sermon, and I didn’t look back. Religious conferences come and go, and I thought MacArthur’s would simply fade into the background noise and finally degrade into static.

But then I read Jacob Fronczak’s commentary on the MacArthur conference. It’s not that I’m writing this as yet another critic of MacArthur or “Strange Fire.” Fronczak, Michael Brown, and many other people far more worthy than I and closer to the issues involved have already done that (I should say at this point that while I’m not particularly attracted to Pentecostalism, I don’t feel I have to lead a “holy crusade” against them, either).

But when Jacob wrote, “Of course—if MacArthur doesn’t come to his senses, we’re next,” it struck a chord.

Oh, some background first.

This is where the phrase “strange fire” comes from:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Leviticus 10:1-2 (NASB)

Christian and Jewish scholars and theologians have been debating for centuries as to exactly why Nadab and Abihu were killed and what the “strange fire” was that they attempted to offer before the Lord. No one really knows for sure, although I don’t doubt there are a few people out there who are certain they do. In the realm of religion, there are always those people out there who think they have all the answers set in concrete on matters so complex or mysterious, that it is reasonably unlikely or even impossible for them to be that sure.

michael-brownNext stop, John MacArthur writes another book. This one is called Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. According to Amazon, it isn’t available for purchase until November 12th, so I suppose the conference anticipates the book’s publication (I could be cynical and suggest that part of MacArthur’s motivation for the conference was to drum up mass market interest to sell more copies of his book, since controversy sells like proverbial hotcakes, but I digress, since only God knows the heart).

And then we come to Michael Brown’s final attempt to appeal to MacArthur prior to the actual conference.

I received an advanced review copy from the publisher; all quotes here are from the Introduction and should be checked against the final text of the book.

In fact, he claims that leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”

This is divisive and destructive language based on misinformation and exaggeration, as Pastor MacArthur attributes the extreme errors of a tiny minority to countless hundreds of thousands of godly leaders worldwide.

I have worked side by side with some of these fine men and women myself, precious saints who have risked their lives for the name of Jesus, giving themselves sacrificially to touch a hurting and dying world with the gospel, literally shedding their blood rather than compromising their testimonies, yet an internationally recognized pastor calls many of them “Satan’s false teachers . . . spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”

May the Lord forgive him for these rash words.

MacArthur didn’t take the expressed concerns of Brown or any of his other critics lying down:

“In response to this conference, there have been some attacks, and we’ve been unable to escape them,” MacArthur said to the more than 3,000 attendees at the conference Friday night. “I just want to address those, because I do think that it’s important to answer the criticisms that have come.”

-Reporter Melissa Barnhart
quoting John MacArthur in the article
“John MacArthur Responds to Critics Who Believe His Strange Fire Conference Is Divisive, Unloving”

I suppose I could make a case for the pot calling the kettle black since one good “attack” deserves another, but again, that would be unfair. To continue:

“This is for the true church, so that they can discern; so that they can be protected from error; and so that they can be a source of truth for others outside the church,” he said, adding that his book, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship,” can withstand the most intense scrutiny, when measured against the word of God in the Bible.

Judge NotThis is similar to the rationale behind why we have laws requiring that people in cars must wear seat belts and people riding bicycles must wear helmets…the authority is acting for our own protection.

In his blog post for First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), Jacob Fronczak commented on this point:

The stated reason is always that it is for the good of the faith. MacArthur’s crusade against Pentecostalism claims to be based on reasoning similar, if not identical, to this: “After years of prayer, fasting, and serious searching of the Scriptures, undertaken due to a genuine concern for the purity of the Christian faith, we have been led by the Holy Spirit to the sobering conclusion that everything you think the Holy Spirit is doing in your life is actually the work of the devil.”

I don’t think we attack each other because we are insecure. John MacArthur is very secure in his beliefs. Nor do I think we attack each other out of genuine hate or malice. I think we attack each other because we enjoy it. We like to fight, and we like to win. We like to make ourselves look good at someone else’s expense. We like to be right, and we like it even better when someone else has to be wrong.

I think this is probably what the Bible calls pride. The unwillingness to admit that we could be wrong and someone else could be right. The unwillingness to give an inch for the sake of another person, even another believer.

“purity of the Christian faith?” Oh my! I can’t even begin to tell you how I’m viewing this statement.

Let me stop here for a moment. Like I said before, I’m not really “going after” MacArthur or his “Strange Fire” book or conference. Unlike Brown, I didn’t receive an advance copy of the book, and I have no idea what actually happened at the conference, so I have no basis upon which to say anything like “John MacArthur is wrong about such and thus.”

But I do have a concern. Under the guise of “revealing truth” and “protecting believers from error,” it becomes acceptable and even desirable to “go after” other religious groups, other denominations within the Christian Church (big “C”), other individuals associated with the denominations brought “under the gun.” It becomes acceptable and even desirable to take the failings of some individuals associated the denomination “under the gun” and to generalize those specific incidents to the entire denomination, painting everyone belonging to that group with an exceptionally broad brush.

rev-john-macarthurIf someone like “little ol’ me” writes a blog post that is critical of an individual, a group, a denomination, or an entire religion, maybe a dozen people at best will pay attention and respond one way or another…and that’s on a good day. When someone like John MacArthur writes a book and holds a conference, lots and lots of people, Christians and just about anyone else interested in what the Church (big “C”) is up to, will pay attention.

It’s a foregone conclusion that MacArthur has no doubts whatsoever that he’s right in an absolute sense. The quote of his words above tells us that he believes his viewpoint is completely backed up in scripture. Never mind that scripture has more than one possible interpretation and even more than one highly likely interpretation, hence the (seemingly) millions of variations on Christianity we see in the world today.

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

-Martin Niemöller
found at Wikiquote

Before you become too upset, no, I’m not comparing John MacArthur to a Nazi. Relax. I am drawing this parallel because some of the darkest moments in the history of Christianity have been when we’ve “gone after” others who were not like us. The Church may not employ brute violence, torture, maiming, and murder as its tools anymore, but we must now ask ourselves when does “expressing truth” become slander? When does “correcting error” become a lack of love for a fellow disciple of Christ? When do we commit cruelty while hiding beneath the thin veneer of kindness?

In my past experience with the “Hebrew Roots” movement, I met more than a few people who left the Church (big “C”) due to real or perceived injustices of other Christians against them. Some of these people had nothing good to say about Christians, Christianity, and their general church experience. They called the Church “Babylon.” They called the Church “apostate.” They called the Church “heretical.” They said they were telling “the truth.” They said they were trying to “correct error.”

They simply weren’t internationally famous Pastors and authors who could publish books backed up scrupulously by scripture, and the hold large conferences to draw attention to their opinions…fortunately.

Jacob Fronczak and for all I know, Michael Brown have their opinions about why John MacArthur is doing something like this (besides the reasons MacArthur himself gives). I have no idea. I could guess, but that guess would be based on very little information, so I’ll refrain.

Heart-on-FireJohn MacArthur, for all the press he’s currently getting (this will pass in a moment…the media and the public are fickle) is just one man and he has just one opinion. Lots of lots of “famous Christians” have stirred the pot over the years, upset a lot of people, and then faded into the woodwork (I can’t remember the last time James Dobson incited any significant upset in the media).

But the impression all this leaves me with is that some of the different members of the body of Christ have a hunger to eat the other members alive.

Although I attend a church that is part of normative Christianity, my personal beliefs are hardly “normatively Christian.” Anyone who has read more than one or two of my blog posts can figure that out. I know that as an individual, I’m insignificant and fall well below anyone’s radar, especially someone as famous as John MacArthur (thankfully).

But has it occurred to any of these firebrand Christian leaders out there that God is watching? Don’t they imagine that God has His own viewpoint on any of these matters of controversy? Do they think that Jesus Christ will personally approve of them and all their activities when the moment of judgment comes? Do they believe that their interpretation of scripture is so ironclad that their is no room for them to be wrong?

MacArthur was quoted as saying:

“The broader Charismatic movement has opened the door to more theological error than any other doctrinal aberration in this modern day,” MacArthur added, noting that in chapter 12 of his book, he has written an open letter to his continuationist friends.

“…more theological error than any other doctrinal aberration in this modern day.”

Wow. That’s quite a statement. I have an opinion, too. I believe that when the Messiah returns he’s going to be a lot more Jewish than John MacArthur or anyone like him can possibly imagine. I believe the thing we call “the Church” now, that distinguishes itself from any stream of Judaism, will become a lot more like what it was in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. I believe it will be the faith of the Israelites, the Jewish people, and that Gentiles are allowed to join that Jewish stream without becoming Jews. I think a lot of Christians, on the day they come to that realization, will feel pretty humiliated and will need to seek repentance for any “cursing” they may have aimed at Israel, the Jewish people, Judaism, and the idea that “Jesus Christ” will probably want to be called “Yeshua HaMoshiach.”

(The Christianization of Acts 15 is only one small example of how the Church can experience itself as “right” and yet might still be wrong).

broken_spiritAnd I believe that all those people, including the really famous Christians, who were all so sure of themselves, who believed that scripture, as interpreted through all the traditions and presuppositions they held onto as “truth,” totally backed them up, will be shocked out of their socks.

I hope and pray on that day that I’ll at least be prepared to be shocked out of my socks and kneel before my Master in humility and brokenness. I think though, that kneeling and humility and brokenness will be more difficult for some believers to achieve than others. I hope John MacArthur won’t be one of them. I hope all of us, no matter who we are or in what stream of Christianity or other religious expression that points us to Messiah, Son of David we exist, will be ready to receive him on that day.

But we won’t be ready as long as the primary expression of our faith in Jesus Christ is to go on the latest “error” hunt. I even wonder if it might be better to be one of the hunted rather than the hunter? Is it better to ignite someone with your strange fire or to burn on the pyre of someone else’s judgment?

Be bold in what you stand for and careful what you fall for.

-Ruth Boorstin

You may be interested in a blog post written by Boaz Michael called Shaping the Way Spiritual Gifts are Expressed to view the journey of Rabbi Carl Kinbar from a Charismatic Conference to Messianic Judaism, and to see how spiritual gifts have been a meaningful and active force in Rabbi Kinbar’s life.




When Will Being A Christian Be Enough?

onfire.jpgStrange Fire by John MacArthur is basically an attack on anything and everything related to the charismatic movement and the various movements descended from it, as if the whole of it were composed of one monolithic set of doctrines and practices that all of us espouse. It invalidates anything that smacks of the supernatural or of emotion freely expressed in God’s presence.

-R Loren Sandford
“Real Holy Spirit Fire Out”

For Thursday’s “morning meditation,” I’m going to publish my own commentary on John MacArthur’s recent Strange Fire conference in Sun Valley, California, or rather, the implications of such activities when one member of the body of Christ apparently attacks another. It’s like my liver wants to eat my pancreas because my liver doesn’t think my pancreas is an authentic member of my body.

Hey! Don’t I have anything to say about it? After all, I need all those organs inside of me so I can stay alive and healthy. Doesn’t my liver have enough to do processing all of the toxic junk that enters my body through the environment (including what I eat) without going after all the other stuff inside my body that keeps me alive?

But enough about MacArthur, Strange Fire, and all that…at least in detail. What I want to know is why being “a Christian” isn’t enough?

Recently I became aware of the buzz surrounding a new book, soon to be released, by a prominent cessationist who has been around for a long time.

Reading MacArthur, you’d think all charismatics espouse prosperity teaching. We do not. You’d think we are all Word of Faith adherents when, in fact, they constitute a small minority and promote a doctrine many of us oppose.


Oh yuk! More divisions and doctrines.

Before now, I’d never heard of the debate between Cessationism vs. Continuationism. I have heard of Prosperity Theology (and am not impressed), but I had to look up Word of Faith to figure out what all that’s supposed to mean.

I’ve written before about how different religious streams are basically Systems human beings use as an interface between themselves and the Bible as well as between themselves and God. We use this sort of interface, like the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of your computer, to help us talk to and understand what otherwise would be inaccessible to us. You use the GUI of your computer to interact with the computer’s software and hardware. You use your religious systems to interact with the Bible and with God.

But as anyone who has used a computer can tell you, the interface isn’t a perfect environment and it has inherit limitations. So does any religious system, even yours.

christian-devotionI’ve talked with my Pastor before about the various Christian denominations and why he’s attracted in a certain denominational direction. Obviously, I lean in my own direction, though it’s far from the fundamentalist world of my Pastor. I’ve also lamented as to whether or not I’ll make a good Christian, but what I’m really saying is that I wonder if I’ll ever make a good and true “demominationalist.”

I know, you probably think of my “denomination” as “Messianic Judaism,” but that has a few problems (I’m going to write on related topics pretty soon), not the least of which is whether or not a Gentile Christian can practice Messianic Judaism or any other Judaism. With apologizes to Toby Janicki and his classic introduction of himself on the FFOZ TV show A Promise of What is to Come, I have my doubts.

On the other hand, Toby could be right, at least in the sense of the future, Messianic Kingdom. My Pastor tells me that “the Church” was formed in Acts 2 and although it started as a completely Jewish religious entity, with the addition of Gentiles and finally, when Gentiles became the “majority stockholders,” so to speak, it became separate from the rest of Israel and developed into its own “thing.”

I disagree.

The Jewish religious stream of “the Way” in the first century CE was the culmination of everything that came before it in Jewish and Biblical history, the apex of a dream, where Gentiles could join a Jewish religious stream in a way that resulted in reconciliation and justification before God without the Gentiles having to convert to Judaism or take on the Torah in the manner of Jewish people. In that sense, “the Church” wasn’t a new thing but it did a new thing…allowing the Gentiles in as equal members without necessarily equal Torah responsibilities.

It’s not that way now, thanks to all kinds of terrible things that happened in the decades and centuries to follow the destruction of Herod’s Temple, but I firmly believe it will be that way again for all of us when Messiah returns. There will be one, valid, thriving, religious stream that has evolved from Abraham, from Sinai, from the life of Messiah, that was always Jewish and will again be Jewish that we, the people from the nations who are called by His Name, are allowed to join, in a manner defined by Jewish authorities with the approval of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15) and commanded by Messiah (Matthew 28:19-20).

But it won’t look much or anything like “the Church” looks like right now.

prophetic_return1Fundamentalism, Charismatics, Word of Faith, Prosperity Theology, Calvinism, yada, yada, yada, will all be swept away from the lived experience of any approved believer and disciple of the Jewish Messiah when he establishes his throne in Jerusalem.

I can imagine there will be Christians and Jews who will resist the Kingship of Messiah in those days. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who will have great difficulty surrendering their pet theologies, doctrines, and dogmas, all of which have been invented in the last two-thousand years, and most of which have been invented only in the past several centuries (or even decades).

It will be enough to be a disciple of the Master. Put in “church-friendly” language, it will be enough to be a Christian.

Religious Jews practice Judaism by definition. In those days (and maybe as a foreshadowing, even today), Gentiles who are disciples and worshipers of the Jewish Messiah King will also “practice Messianic Judaism” in the manner defined for us by Messiah.

And it will be enough.

So try not to become too attached to all of that stuff we argue about now in the blogosphere, on websites, at conferences, in books we write and publish, stuff preached from the pulpit, discussed at the bema, taught in Sunday school, yada, yada, yada.

Learn to accept the idea that someday you may have to let go of most or all of your much-vaunted doctrines and dogmas, because being a disciple of Messiah as he desires us to be will be enough.

It will be enough.


Leaving the House of God

broken-crossSo what is it like to leave? Some quietly slip out of their religious beliefs without much fuss. There are many though, who were previously strongly convinced that their religion is utter reality. It is highly revealing to listen to those who have had experience into and out of Christianity and are in a position to know and authoritatively evaluate and relate their actual experiences. Deconversion for such people, although sometimes initially very emotional or traumatic, comes as a revelation far more spiritually enriching than conversions into religion. In the stories scattered over the Internet and in books ex-Christians have repeatedly said this enrichment of life is the case.

Leaving Christianity

One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Yoram Kaniuk, has resigned from the Jewish religion. He won his case in court to have the word “Jewish” removed from his identity at the Population Registry, and from now on he will be listed as “without religion”.

He is not alone. Apparently, hundreds of Israelis are lining up to follow his example.

-Rabbi Gideon Sylvester
“Resigning from Judaism”

I’ve said before that one of the fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity is that although you can stop being Christian, you can never stop being a Jew. I guess I was wrong. Israeli Yoram Kaniuk has legally stopped being a Jew and apparently, he has good reasons for doing so.

As an Orthodox Rabbi, I am troubled by their actions, however, I understand the frustration that drives them.

Many Jewish traditions such as the Passover seder, the lighting of Chanukah candles and our lifecycle events are popular, beautiful, and inspiring to religious and secular Jews alike.

Unfortunately, this beauty has been overshadowed by the religious leadership’s coercive tactics. Our religion demands precision, but when the legalistic minutiae of ritual become the raison d’etre of Judaism drowning out the beautiful ethical messages of our tradition, people feel cheated out of the outstanding beauty of their heritage.

Of course, everything Rabbi Sylvester says to describe why Kaniuk and many others have decided to abandon their peoplehood and their faith can be distilled down to a single sentence:

Religious coercion is the enemy of true religion.

What does this bode for Christianity? No one is born a Christian. Even if you are born to Christian parents and are raised in the church, you still must make an independent decision to the cause of Christ and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior over your life and over the world. Plenty of kids have been raised in warm, loving, Christian homes only to leave the church when they were old enough to make their decision stick (i.e. refuse to go to church with the family and/or leave home).

A new survey by LifeWay Christian Resources indicates that most Millenials are not religious and are leaving churches, although many consider themselves to be spiritual.

Youth are walking away from Christianity and the Christian church, opting instead for spirituality.

Millenials are defined as those born from 1980 to 1991. They are aged between 18-29 years old.

Of the total surveyed, 65 percent said they are Christian; 14 percent atheist or agnostic; 14 percent do not favor any religion; and 8 percent mentioned affiliations with other religions. Seventy-two percent said they are more spiritual than religious, the Christian Post reported.

“Survey shows trend of young people leaving Christianity, church”
Posted 30 April 2010
The Underground

Why do Christians leave the church? One answer is that they were never really “Christians” to begin with, that is, they never fully gave their hearts and lives to Jesus and were never completely dedicated to the faith. On the other hand, perhaps many have left for the same reason that Yoram Kaniuk left Judaism.

Unfortunately, if ones closest friends and relatives are very religious then not being a Christian can cause problems in the family and amongst peers. We often hear how Christians claim high standards for “family values” and yet, especially amongst more fundamentalist Christians, ex-Christian family members who “come out” are not only shunned but are even told that they will go to hell. Belief in the justice of unrelenting torture for your family is not a way to bring family unity. Also Christians seldom do justice to the possibility of what we have read, thought and discovered, merely claiming we can’t have been “true Christians” or asking “where did you go wrong?”

It is a common misapprehension to claim that those who leave Christianity never understood what Christianity was “really about.” The full range of Christian types leave Christianity, from all denominations, doctrines, and persuasions. From the most liberal to the most fundamentalist. The philosophical liberal, the conservative orthodox, the born-again and the hyper-charismatic fundie.

Despite the fact that there are plenty of “liberal” churches to go around, Christianity can seem very heavy-handed, judgmental, and cruel at times. I know the church doesn’t see itself that way, but the worst examples seem not to try to reach out and help Jesus save the world, but to condemn it and want to watch everyone, including every single Jew on the planet, burn. This seems “OK” to the church as long as the “true believers” are “raptured” safely to Heaven and the elect get to sit at the right hand of God. Judah Gabriel Himango has recently posted yet another example of how Christianity seems to want to delete Judaism from the face of the earth by letting Jesus replace Israel. There’s a spirited debate going on in the comments section of the blog over the intent of Pastors John Piper and Jonathan Parnell, and wondering if perhaps their recent messages were not ones of supersessionism. However, replacement theology, as I commented on Judah’s blog, is a:

…deeply woven thread in the tapestry of the church. Most Christians don’t consider themselves doing wrong by adopting a supersessionist viewpoint, they just think that’s what the Bible says. Unfortunately a subtle kind of arrogance has crept into the church.

Many years ago, admittedly after only a few years as a Christian, I left the traditional church (in my case, a large Nazerine church in Southwest Idaho) to join what I thought of as the “Messianic movement”, a religious tradition that attempts to preserve the Jewish foundation of the Christian faith (the actual definition of “Messianic” is much more involved than I’m stating here). While I have met and maintain friendships with many Messianics, I realize that a “grafted in” non-Jew is not meant to imitate Judaism for the sake of the Jewish Jesus and that Jews have always been and remain God’s chosen “treasured splendorous people”. We, who have been granted a covenant closeness with God by Jesus cling to the robes of the Master and worship alongside the Jew…but we don’t become Jewish nor do we replace them.

magen-davidIt’s the “religious coercion” of Christianity, the “arrogance” of believing that only the Gentile church has a direct pipeline to God and the undercurrent of disdain for Jews, and even antisemitism that keeps me from entering the sanctuary on any Sunday. If Yoram Kaniuk can remove himself from the Jewish life stream because of rigidly frozen Rabbinic religious dictates, then by comparison, leaving the church should be a walk in the park.

Of course, by choice, I still self-identify as Christian and I do not abandon my faith. I simply await what I pray will be God’s instructions for how best to express my worship while remaining unified with my Jewish wife. For Kaniuk’s part, though he voluntarily walks away from Judaism, it is still impossible for Judaism to walk away from him.

Rabbis have not taken him seriously either, because Jewish law makes it clear that however much a Jew tries to escape their origins, they remain Jewish (Sanhedrin 44a).

But even if the act has no halachic significance, it should still concern all who care about Judaism in Israel.

If the Nazis were to return tomorrow, they would still come for Kaniuk and herd him with the rest of the Jews into cattle cars across the long, slow miles to the camps and the march of death into the ovens. Still, the fact that he can take such a bold step is a little terrifying. It takes another Jew out of the world, though Kaniuk still lives. It is also a Jew’s personal indictment of the present state of religious Judaism in the land of Israel. Have the extremely Orthodox elements of the Israeli Rabbinic system, the stated guardians of all that it means to be a Jew, committed a “Chillul Hashem” – a desecration of God’s name?

The villains represent only a tiny minority of observant Jews, most of whom are good, law abiding citizens, but their actions tarnish all of us. Seeing their behavior, we can understand why many of the most idealistic people feel alienated from their religion.

Even a minority, whether they be ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel or extreme fundamentalist churches in the United States, can take a tremendous toll on the larger people of faith, by driving them completely out of that faith.

If any Rabbis and Pastors are reading this (probably not, but I can never tell), please consider the following story Rabbi Sylvester relates.

Many years ago, when zealots in Petah Tikva tried to prevent Sabbath desecration by calling for the closure of cinemas on Shabbat, my teacher Rabbi Riskin rejected their coercive techniques. “Let every cinema remain open”, he told us, “but let them be empty, because every Jew has been invited to a traditional Shabbat meal with their friends, neighbors and family”.

When I challenged him on the need to protest religious transgression, his answer was straightforward and wise; “No one appointed you God’s policeman!” he said.

Even when we commit heinous acts “for the sake of Heaven”, they are still heinous acts. I’m sure, at this point, some critic of religion could chime in and say the Bible is full of heinous acts of genocide that were commanded by God, but I’m speaking of those commanded by well-meaning but misguided men. There will be another time to discuss and debate those acts of God with which we struggle with as Jacob wrestled the angel. The blog Failed Messiah reports that:

Nehorai is Mea Shearim’s mob lawyer, defending haredi gangsters and thugs. His favorite tactic is to claim that his clients should get preferential treatment from the court because his clients’ intent in beating, attacking, robbing, destroying and vandalizing the bodies and property of other Jews, often haredim, is for the sake of heaven.

While this blog consistently presents a critical picture of Haredi Jews (as you can tell by the language used), it also paints a portrait of how religion can go out of control and any act can be justified if it is committed in God’s name; “for the sake of heaven”. Christianity has its extremes as well, the most blatant and outrageous being the Westboro Baptist Church, a group made up mostly of the members of a single family, who are devoted to performing any act that will fail to promote the love of Christ and who tout their hateful self-righteous causes above all others.

The extremists are easy to see and dodge and we do not have to let them drive us out of our churches and out of our synagogues simply because they’ve got a loose wire burning in their brain pans. However, it’s the subtle acts of arrogance and self-servitude that are much harder to avoid. Those are the congregations and the people that compel men like Yoram Kaniuk to have their Jewish identity legally erased and who are emptying the church of almost anyone under the age of 30.

god-will-lift-you-upIt doesn’t have to be this way. This isn’t faith. This isn’t service to God. That we believe only a remnant will remain in the end doesn’t mean we must ensure this by deliberately chasing away the majority from the houses of worship. Small wonder the Master lamented, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Our faith is not based on how others define it. The “ark” that lifts us above the waters was not made by men. Our words and prayers come not from hate, but from the heart and God in His Heavens.

There is a raging storm at sea. There are hellish waves that crash and pound at the shore, carrying all away, leaving desolation behind.

The sea is the world of making a living. The waves are the stress and anxiety of indecision, not knowing which way to turn, on what to rely. Up and down, hot and cold—constantly churning back and forth.

Do as Noah did, and build an ark. “An ark” in Hebrew is teivah—which means also “a word.” Your ark shall be the words of meditation and of prayer. Enter into your ark, and let the waters lift you up, rather than drown you with everything else.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Ark”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson