Tag Archives: hashkafah

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Six

Do you think of yourself as a leader?

-Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 13: A Leader Who Lost His Cutting Edge
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing

Continued from Part Five of my review series.

I need to find a way to accelerate this review process or it’ll take as many blog posts to finish as Jackson’s book has chapters. Okay, here goes.

According to Pastor Jackson, we are all leaders in the sense that anyone with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will “rise to the top,” so to speak. That said, rising to the top in our homes, our jobs, and our relationships, as he says, is easier said than done. It’s possible for anyone to lose their “spiritual edge,” as Jackson puts it, including Pastors.

The cure for “spiritual dullness” (and I can relate) is to remember that “the Christian journey is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” True enough. Any of us can temporarily pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but for the long haul, we need the faithfulness of God to see us through.

Like most Christians, Jackson says we need to believe in God, but he also says we must experience Him. This goes back to advice I’ve been given in the past about not focusing so much on Judaism or Christianity, but pursuing the presence of God. Jews do that through prayer and the mitzvot and there are Christian equivalents, though Christianity considers itself more of a “relationship” than a “doing” religion.

Jackson asks a telling question:

When was the last time you took the day off of work just to be with Jesus?

If this Pastor had a Jewish appreciation of the Shabbat, he wouldn’t have to ask that question, at least not in that way. He might ask instead, “When was the last time you truly observed Shabbos?” With Easter behind us and now in the midst of the Week of Unleavened Bread, special days of Holiness should be on everyone’s mind, and hopefully, in everyone’s experience.

End of Chapter questions included “Have you lost the edge in any area of your life” and “Are you convinced that you can get it back?”

Good questions.

Moving on to Chapter 14: Mimicking God, Jackson spoke of a small-group meeting he had recently attended where the meeting began:

He opened his Bible to Ephesians 5:1 and read, “Be imitators of God.” After that, he closed his Bible, looked everyone in the room in the eye and said three words: “Now…let’s wrestle.”

Jackson continued, “Some truths must be wrestled with.” I agree, and in fact, I believe that many more truths must be wrestled with than most religious people are willing to engage, particularly in the Church.

While Jackson describes Ephesians 5:1 as a “wrestling verse,” he states that wrestling ends in verse 2: “and walk in love.”

The word “walk” is a great word with a profound meaning. In the Bible it means ” to regulate one’s lifestyle.”

WalkingAgain, Judaism anticipated his response with the concept and application of halachah. Jackson’s “halachah,” if you will, is summarized with the word love. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s out of this love for God and our neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40) that we must respond behaviorally. Walking in love isn’t metaphorical, feel-good language, it’s a call to action.

I’m convinced that the primary search of mankind is not for doctrine, religious truth or strategies for successful living; it is for love. It is for acceptance. It is for belonging…

Then why are these things so difficult to find in religious community?

When people in the world see Christians who bear one another’s burdens, who are quick to forgive, who fail to judge and criticize, who are quick to repent and ask forgiveness and who reach out with accepting arms of love, they will feel like they’ve come home. They will realize that they have truly encountered Jesus in our churches.

While I can see his point that living out the teachings of the Master is the best way to communicate the truth of his faithfulness, Jackson seems to have moved from attempting to heal the wounded Christian who is estranged from the Church, to matters of what Christians call “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20). What’s the connection?

Or is Jackson speaking to the person who not only left the church but left the faith?

The Lord not only wants to heal you from your hurtful experiences in church, but He wants to make you one of his saints.

I’m never really sure what being a “saint” means in this context. Is it equivalent to the Jewish concept of a tzadik, a holy, righteous person who is close to God?

From here, Jackson encourages his readers to consider how children relate to God with that innocent faith that never questions anything. We should be more transparent than performance-oriented, don’t worry so much about “coloring inside the lines” (rules), and instead, becoming “prayer warriors”. We should also consider ourselves God’s “favorite,” as if the world were created only for our sakes individually (and that last part is actually a very Jewish concept).

The chapter seemed to focus on how much God loves each of us as a way of healing our hurts and getting us to reunite with church. By realizing that we are loved by God, we should reflect that love, both to people outside the Church and to other Christians.

Jackson continues with this theme in Chapter 15: Becoming Someone’s Angel. I’ve sometimes said that we should be the answer to someone’s prayer. Instead of waiting for God to intervene supernaturally in some situation, if we see a need and we have the ability to fill it, we should fill it. I think Jackson would agree with this.

Jackson seems filled with his own boundless enthusiasm for the work of the Church, so much so that he said:

I believe the United States is due for a third Great Awakening and that the other nations of the earth can also be transformed by a visitation from Him.

Church splitI believe no such thing, and in fact, based on the ethical and moral nosedive that many churches and all of secular western culture is in right now, I believe that in the end, except for a small remnant, the nations in general and most churches in particular, will turn against Jewish people, Judaism, and national Israel. The churches may call that “a Great Awakening” but based on how I read the Bible, it will actually be rebellion against God.

Like many American Christians, Jackson sees America as the central nation in God’s field of vision. But the Bible says that the centrality of Israel is the lynchpin in God’s redemptive plan for the rest of the world. If Jackson doesn’t see this as well, he’s in for a big surprise when the Messiah returns.

Jackson does rightly say that “most answered prayers come in the form of other people,” but he misses the big, big picture.

He did go on to say something to which I can relate:

One Sunday morning I was so discouraged that I didn’t think I could cut it as a pastor. I didn’t even want to be in church.

I used to have quite a number of Sunday mornings in church where I felt exactly like that, not that I had to worry about being a Pastor, of course. My answer was to stop going to church. My Sundays seem more productive and liberating now.

Jackson then told a story that I think illustrates some of my points well. He mentioned how he had visited a church friend, and older woman who was laid up with an injury, to pray with her. As they were praying, he heard a noise from the bathroom and discovered another woman cleaning the toilet. As it turns out, this other church friend had been coming over pretty much every day cooking and cleaning, as well as praying with the injured woman and keeping her company.

I suddenly felt a little sheepish and realized that this young lady’s cooking, cleaning and other practical help was far more a demonstration of the heart of God than any quick prayer.

I completely agree. I think it’s examples like this young woman, this living, breathing answer to prayer, that trump all of the “religious arguments” we have in the blogosphere, from the pulpit, or anywhere else. Churches and synagogues that preach this sort of message and follow it up with continued action are better than all of the theological and doctrinal pontifications we stack up against each other.

Then in Chapter 16: Ten Times Better, Jackson says:

One of the most significant problems with Christians–with me–is that we so frequently surrender the image of God in us. Rather than living in our glory as the Creator’s image-bearers, we live from our lover, natural selves.

And living like that, Jackson wonders if non-believers ask:

Is that what it means to be a Christian?

alone at churchI’m sure many people who surf into our blogs and read the comments sections ask that same question about Christians, Messianics, and Hebrew Roots people as well.

Jackson makes another good point:

…a major reason that people are leaving the Church today by the thousands is that there is frequently no real discernible difference between Christians and the world.

So many churches, in an attempt to “fit in” with the current culture, “adjust” their Biblical morals and ethics to fit the larger, politically correct and progressive mindset of the world around us. How can the Church be imitators of God if it’s too busy taking its cues from CNN and MSNBC?

For the Church as well as the individual believer, how we live out our faith is a matter of choice. Who are we trying to please, people or God?

None of this is why I left church, but I can agree with a lot of what Jackson is saying. True, he’s speaking from his own Hashkafah, but it’s not as if I can’t relate at all with his worldview, at least the broad strokes of it.

It goes back to what I said before. Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity, but seek an experience with God. I might add, then walk on the path He sets before you, even if it leads to some pretty uncomfortable places.

I still don’t think that means back into church, or at least not the church I left. My problem is that I can only see a few steps ahead at a time, so beyond that, I proceed forward trusting that God won’t lead me over a cliff.

Moving on to Chapter 17: Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense Without It, Jackson says:

The Christian religion is a lifelong quest to know our loving Creator and become more and more like Him.

In that, it is indistinguishable from my understanding of Judaism, although exactly how that task is accomplished can look quite a bit different between the two religions. For instance, Jackson asked:

How can I know God more? How can I be more like Him? How can I prosper financially and thus bless my family?

That last question seems distinctly Christian. In Pirkei Avot 4:1, we learn:

Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot

That doesn’t preclude ambition and achievement, only that we need not constantly feel that we must have more just because somebody else has or become some television commercial says so. I sincerely hope Pastor Jackson doesn’t subscribe to any form of Prosperity Theology, which seems like a total scam.

Jackson wants to “experience the abundant life” he says Jesus promised him? Really? Does that really mean financial abundance? Is that what the Master meant in John 10:10?

Gateway to EdenJackson goes on to compare Genesis 1:1 with John 1:1 and says “John 1:1 details the real beginning of the story.”

I’m sure from his point of view, that probably seems true, but most Christians read the Bible from the Gospels or from Paul backward rather than from Genesis forward. That unfortunately leads to the false conclusion that “the Church” is the center of God’s plan rather than Israel. And focusing on John 1:1, Jackson says:

If any project, process or expedition gets too far away from its original design, it is destined to fail.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, that describes the Christian Church and the divergent path it has taken across history since the days when the Apostle Paul was sent to be an emissary of the Messiah to the Gentiles.

Jackson goes on to state how Matthew 28:19 “set the course of the Church throughout the ages” based on good, solid principles.”

He compares this with:

Jesus said of the Pharisees that they searched the Scriptures in pursuit of life, but they couldn’t find it. They could not find true life because their religion had become divorced from mission.

In other words, he presents a traditionally Christian discounting of the Pharisees and by extension, all of post-Biblical Judaism. From Jackson’s point of view, 100% of the Church’s mission is evangelizing:

On days when I share my faith with an unsaved person, I’m on top of the world.

And…

I exist to manifest the glory of God.

What about the young woman who was manifesting the glory of God by cooking for a disabled woman and cleaning her toilet?

…and I think I blessed the people who were in attendance. Of course, they were just like me…

I think this is the book’s central message about community, whether Jackson intended it to be or not. Particularly in the church, but most likely in any other human community, we thrive if we are in a group made up of people just like us.

But I’m not just like them.

Life makes no sense…until we return to the sanctuary of God. Christianity makes no sense…until we return to the place of mission.

Up to JerusalemAssuming Jackson isn’t being metaphorical, it seems he’s replaced the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with the Great Commission. This isn’t far-fetched from the Church’s point of view if he believes that the body of Christ is the Temple and that we are all stones that together make up the Temple. He won’t be able to see that we can metaphorically and spiritually be a “temple” and yet there can also be a Heavenly Temple as well as a future Temple on Earth in the coming Messianic Age.

These chapters continue to convince me that, as I said above, I’m not like them.

And further, as I quoted Boaz Michael saying in my previous blog post:

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 made it through five chapters today. Only six more to go.

I’ll continue my review in a bit.

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.