The first part of his book seems to be Pastor Jackson’s acknowledgement of how the Church can be a hurtful place, how Pastors, lay staff, and regular members can be heavy-handed instead of open-hearted, and why thousands upon thousands of people have legitimate reasons for walking away from their local churches if not their faith in Jesus.
Jackson was reasonably transparent in describing how he’s been hurt in church and how he has sometimes caused hurt.
Then he attempted to lure his disenfranchised readers back into church using a number of incentives. One was his belief in a third Great Awakening, a national or even world-wide revival of the Church in response to the moral nosedive of current western progressive culture.
He also described how desperately God loves each and every individual Christian as if each person were His favorite son or daughter. He emphasized how each person was born into this day and age to fulfill a unique role in God’s plan of redemption.
But we can only fulfill that role if we are not only part of the universal Church, but fellowship at a local church. Yes, church can be a pretty uncomfortable place and people can be mean or just plain thoughtless. If one church doesn’t work, go to another. He makes it sound pretty simple.
I read a number of the reviews of this book at Amazon.com. Those who didn’t like the book or who were lukewarm to its message said that it didn’t speak to the specific reasons they left, and I have to join this group.
I left church, not because anyone was mean to me, but simply because my theological and doctrinal viewpoints were so different. Hashkafah is a Hebrew word without an exact English equivalent, but basically it’s one’s worldview, specifically regarding your ideology and the reasons behind your ideology. My “Hashkafah” was inconsistent with that of my local church and after two years, the two viewpoints weren’t even beginning to mesh.
I had spent most of that time meeting regularly with the Head Pastor. We developed a friendship, or so I thought, and we each shared our own personal understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and how God’s redemptive plan was supposed to work. As it turned out, he was trying to convince me to change my mind and adopt his viewpoint and I was doing the same thing.
When he preached from the pulpit against my specific viewpoint, I knew I was being asked to change or leave.
Parting was on good terms, but I haven’t heard from anyone at that church since the day I left. At first, I thought Pastor might keep in touch, but he never called or emailed.
Pastor Jackson encouraged people to make amends and either return to the churches they left or find another church to join. The one thing absent from his book is exactly how to do that. He didn’t develop a “re-entry” plan. He just pumped up his audience with how important they were to God and God’s plan, how important the Church is in the next great revival, and how, to be a part of it all, his readers needed to go back to church.
But like I said, he didn’t describe that process. It didn’t help that I disagreed with some of his key interpretations of the Bible and the full purpose of how God plans to redeem the world. In fact, at many points in his book, he reminded me of why I left church in the first place, not because the people were unkind, actually, most of them were very compassionate, but because I was totally alienated among them, a “stranger in a strange land,” if you will. I could only attempt to force a square peg into a population of round holes so long.
I downloaded and read Pastor Jackson’s book, not because I was really looking for a way back in, but because a friend of mine expressed his concern that I was without regular fellowship, as if being alone in my faith opened me up to some sort of “spiritual predator.” I re-examined my original decision using Jackson’s book as a lens. In the end, the view showed me what I’d seen in my local church before.
The Church contains a large number of kind, good-hearted, gentle people who desire to serve Jesus and to preach the gospel message as they’ve been taught. But a church is as much a culture as it is anything else, and I learned (or re-learned) from Pastor Jackson’s book that “church” is not my culture.
I’m sure his book serves his target audience well. It just didn’t serve me, at least not in the way he probably intended.
When He made the world, He made two ways to repair each thing: With harshness or with compassion. With a slap or with a caress. With darkness or with light.
“And G‑d looked at the light and saw that it was good.” Darkness and harsh words may be necessary. But He never called them good.
Even if you could correct another person with harsh words, the One Above receives no pleasure from it. When He sees his creatures heal one another with caring and with kindness, that is when He shines His smile upon us.
—cited from Kedushas Levi on Shabbos Vayechi, 5751
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on the Letters and Talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson Chabad.org
Beginning with Chapter 18: The 21st Century Christian, Pastor Jackson writes:
Do what the occasion requires! This statement comes from the Bible, from the passage when the prophet Samuel gave this command to the newly anointed King Saul (see 1 Samuel 10:7).
The occasion of the 21st century requires a specific response. It requires a specific breed of Christians. The day and age in which we live requires a specific type of church.
The good news is that God has known all along what the specific challenges of each era would be, and He has strategically placed believers in those eras to respond to them.
Jackson also briefly cited Esther 4:14 and other sources, all to say that each of us, you and me, were born and live in this time for a very specific purpose.
That purpose, Jackson says, is to summon revival, which he discussed in a previous chapter. Quoting Romans 8:19-22, Jackson says creation is longing and groaning as if in childbirth.
Of course he means all this starts with the American church and ripples outward, which is Biblically unsustainable. However, it’s his “hook” to engage his reader, to engage us (or them). What he misses (and how would he ever see it?) is that our purpose as believing Gentiles is to encourage Jewish return to Torah observance, to making Aliyah, all in preparation for the return of Messiah and the rise of Israel to the head of the nations.
We can’t simply coexist with the ideologies of our day. We can’t peacefully allow our nation to be overrun and destroyed by demonic strategies.
See what I mean? Oh, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for our country. We are encouraged to do so in the Bible. But America is not the center of all things. We haven’t replaced Israel. New York, Los Angeles, or Seattle haven’t replaced Jerusalem as the city where the Almighty has placed His Name.
But then Jackson asks an interesting question:
What are some of the specific messages that you were meant to carry?
The response I have in my notes is You have no idea.
The other question, which comes at the end of this chapter is:
Do you believe that God has strategically placed you in this hour of church history?
I don’t know that I’m even part of “church history” or “the Church,” at least as Jackson defines those terms. We search all our lives in an attempt to find purpose and meaning in the world and in God’s plan of redemption. Who is to say for what reason you or I exist at this moment in time?
Moving on to Chapter 19: The 21st Century Church, Jackson continues:
I would like to include a chapter here that slightly detours from specifically discussing you and me as individual believers and instead focuses briefly on the bigger picture of the Church. As we move past the hurts we received in church and resolve to take our place again in God’s plan for His Body, it’s important to recognize what that plan is so we can identify what our role in it might be.
Staying with his focus on the American church, Jackson believes that Christianity has a highly critical role in the history of America right now. Quoting Pastor Jack Hayford of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, Jackson writes:
I perceive “an hour” has arrived. It is an hour of citywide impacting that is beginning to occur in New Testament ways, because New Testament vitality and spiritual penetration is taking place.
I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, even in the larger context of the original quote. Sometimes, Christian Pastors word things rather oddly, at least from my point of view.
In order to describe the church the 21st century needs, he goes through a list of churches we read about in the Apostolic Scriptures, such as those congregations as Ephesus, Colossae, Thessalonica, and Antioch. He also mentioned “other New Testament churches, like the one at Jerusalem.” Really, I was astonished (and so would be James and the Council of Apostles and Elders) that he conceives of the faithful first century Jewish disciples in the Holy City as “a church.” Many of the original communities Paul established in the galut were more synagogues, particularly the ekklesia in Antioch, but modern Christians can’t help revising history to make them “churches.”
I was just as surprised that he cited Numbers 23 and Balaam’s words “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed,” applying them to the Church when clearly Balaam was describing Israel. Has Jackson replaced Israel with the Church? It would seem so.
I know he’s trying to build up his Christian readers and building up the Christian Church in order to convince his audience that it is an institution of destiny and that to be part of that destiny, they must return to their congregations, but in order to do so, he has to bend the meaning of scripture beyond any reasonable bounds.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Jackson reinvents the “Church” at Antioch to look more like a 21st century Evangelical church. This serves his own perspective and probably the majority of his readers, but I don’t think it serves the Bible or God’s true intent in his redemptive plan for Israel and then the world.
Moving on to Chapter 20: The Life of a Puzzle Piece, we read:
Did you know that you and I are living inside a puzzle box?
Yes, I’ve always suspected as much. Actually, Jackson means a jigsaw puzzle box, with each of us representing one of the pieces. We all have to fit together (he cites 1 Corinthians 1:10 here) in order to see the big picture.
Jackson relates what he calls “The Parable of the Puzzle Piece” to get his point across. From the point of view of the individual puzzle piece, we can’t see the big picture. The puzzle is actually the body of Christ or the unified Christian Church. If we aren’t part of the entire puzzle, then life has no meaning and makes no sense.
Well, that’s not entirely true, since plenty of atheists find meaning, purpose, and direction in life, and there are Christians who aren’t actively part of a local church that have other means of fellowship, and of course, as Jackson says, rely on their relationship with Jesus to help make sense of their lives.
However, returning to the puzzle piece metaphor, he states that although an individual piece can’t see the big picture, it is absolutely essential in order to complete the big picture. If you’ve ever assembled a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that one or more pieces are missing, it can really be annoying.
This is Jackson’s way of saying that each and every individual Christian is important and matters to God. Just like he said earlier that each Christian should be considered God’s favorite.
But each piece only contains a fraction of the whole and will never “fulfill its destiny” if it isn’t correctly put together with the rest of the pieces.
It’s pretty obvious where Jackson is going with all this, but at one point he adds:
Sometimes it takes several attempts for the piece to find its fit.
In other words, if your first church experience doesn’t work out, try, try again. Cute.
Oh, and a puzzle piece usually fits only in one single spot. Trying to fit a puzzle piece in a gap where it doesn’t fit won’t work out well and the piece will end of being mangled if forced.
Be patient, he says. Your place might not become available until other puzzle pieces are put together.
Although he doesn’t quote 1 Corinthians 12, he does say “Don’t get jealous of any other pieces–we’re all equally important.” Equally important but not identical. Each piece is uniquely shaped and will only fit in one location within the puzzle. This might be a message describing the differing roles of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic movement.
One of his end of chapter questions is:
Do you know that you are crucial for God’s big picture plan?
Even accepting this, as Jackson said before, the individual puzzle piece can’t see the big picture and therefore is unlikely to know where it fits or what it contributes.
Chapter 21: Old People starts out:
Recently, a number of young adults in our church hosted a very special banquet to honor the senior citizens in our congregation. We wanted to treat them to a night of honor and esteem that would send a clear message that we loved and needed them in our church.
This reminded me of the following commandment from the Torah:
‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.’
–Leviticus 19:32 (NASB)
But Jackson was simply leveraging the concept of “the wisdom of the aged” to what he imagines an older might say to a younger one. Advice like “I’m not better than you” and “It’s all about relationship” (his favorite theme). The advice is largely just restating points he made earlier in his book about being transparent, Christianity’s evangelical mission, and “God will come through.”
Chapter 22: The Abundant Life begins:
I think the book of Ecclesiastes is probably one of the most overlooked and underrated books of the Bible…
Well, in the traditional church, that’s probably true.
On the other hand, Jackson also says:
…and then moving on to something easier, like the book of Psalms or the gospel of John…
The Gospel of John may seem deceptively easy, but being that it’s the most mystic of the four gospels, I’d have to say that anyone thinking it’s “easy” hasn’t read it in sufficient depth.
Going back to Ecclesiastes, Jackson attempts to distill some Christian principles from Solomon’s wisdom such as “The perspective that this life is only a pilgrimage–a journey toward eternity” and “Enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures.”
The bottom line of this next-to-the-last-chapter of Jackson’s book is in one of his end of chapter questions:
Do you ever consider the fact that this life here on earth is merely the dress rehearsal for your eternal life in heaven with Jesus? How does this change your attitude and perspective?
I assume this is meant to put a life in church community into some sort of positive context with the realization that our earthly life is a test. How we perform on the test determines how or if we share a life “in heaven with Jesus.”
I tend to prefer a more Jewish interpretation of being alive, that what we do is important, not primarily because we will merit a place in the world to come, but because what we do summons or inhibits the return of Messiah. Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) matters because the world matters to God. In fact, it’s to our world that Messiah will return, and it is here, not in Heaven, where we will reside in the Messianic Kingdom.
Last chapter, Chapter 23: Sleeping With Bathsheba…Again.
So, now what? We’ve looked at the good, the bad, and the ugly of church life, and we’ve recognized that, for all of its very human shortcomings, the Church is still the Bride and the Body of Christ. He is still committed as ever to building it into a force that will overthrow hell in every region of society.
Jackson might almost be writing in a foreign language as far as I’m concerned. No, I understand what he’s saying, but it’s just such a different point of view on the purpose and glory of Messiah from the one I hold.
Jackson goes on to say that “we are the Church” and as such, we can’t remove ourselves from church, anymore than we could remove our heart or our lungs and remain alive. In this case, he means spiritual life, of course.
I’m like you-I’m finished with religion that helps only the ultra-disciplined but offers no life for hurting, desperate people.
I know he’s speaking to his target audience, but this is just another slam against ancient and modern Judaism…”religion but no life”. Jackson believes, based on the current “cultural maelstrom,” that we’re “entering the age of the Church,” that the Church is God’s instrument to bring a fallen world back from the brink of disaster. that there will be a great revival in this country (U.S.A), and that we all can be a part of it if we’re a part of the Church (meaning a part of a local church).
Jackson actually brings up a point (you probably know what it is based on the chapter’s title) that I sometimes think about. After David’s sin with Bathsheba, David remains married to her and indeed, she becomes the mother of Solomon, the heir to the Davidic throne and ancestor of Messiah.
If those events were to happen today, let’s say with a President instead of a King, most of us would be appalled and call for this President’s immediate impeachment and imprisonment.
But in this case, Jackson is talking about second chances:
Perhaps there’s a Bathsheba waiting for you. Perhaps there are relationships in your church that ended in pain, and you’ve vowed never to return to them.
In other words, reconsider your decision.
And that’s it. The end of the book. Since this is a pretty long blog post, I’ll save my final conclusions for another time.
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?”
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.”
Again, 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.
I 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?
I’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?
Jackson 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.
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.
Assuming 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.
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.
Pastor Jackson attributes the above quoted statements to “hurting church members who failed in their attempts to discuss their grievances with the church’s leadership.” Jackson further states that people typically don’t experience conflict with other church members but “with the leadership of the church.”
I suppose that’s what happened to me. My relationship with the church’s head Pastor reached a tipping point when, in a sermon, he discounted the foundations of my understanding of the Bible, calling it a “misuse of the Law.” He also laid that at the feet of more normative Judaism as well as Seventh Day Adventists, so it wasn’t solely aimed at me.
As far as airing my grievances, I did that. I made the mistake of doing so on my blog instead of phoning or meeting with the Pastor, and that just made a difficult situation even worse. I left the church not because I had been kicked out, and not because I was so offended, I left in a huff, but because I was incompatible with church and particularly with the church leadership. I don’t think anyone was sorry to see me go.
The next highlight I have in this chapter is Jackson citing the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the fox says of Aslan:
“He’s everything we hoped he would be.”
Unfortunately, the opposite of this sentiment is sometimes true in church.
We all have expectations of those around us. If people were truly unpredictable, our lives would be chaos. We couldn’t make plans with anyone. We have to have some sort of grasp of how our families and friends and the leaders and people in our houses of worship will react under certain circumstances.
I think a Pastor and church leadership have a certain expectation of what a person believes and stands for if they voluntarily attend their church week after week. If we choose a church or other sort of congregation, we probably do so because we expect that the leaders and members of the church think, believe, teach, and act in a certain way. It would be tough to drop a Messianic Gentile like me in the midst of a Fundamentalist Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho.
But since this is a chapter on Pastors, let me be quick to say that none of my leaving church was the leadership’s fault. They were behaving and teaching as was expected by the vast majority of the people attending that church. I was the square peg vainly attempting to fit into a round hole, or conversely, trying to convince the round pegs to at least consider the benefits of thinking and studying like square pegs.
Ah, this next point is important:
What do good spiritual leaders look like? Spiritual leaders are very important for our spiritual growth and maturity so it’s important for us to know what to look for in one. I’m very selective and protective about the people I let speak to my wife…
What I’m about to say wasn’t exactly Jackson’s point, but it relates. One of a Pastor’s jobs is to protect the flock from wolves. In spite of the fact that Randy spent nearly two years meeting with me individually and attempting to convince me of the correctness of his “sound doctrine,” in the end, I was a rogue wolf in the fold.
After a number of discussions with a young man in the Sunday school class we attended, I suggested he borrow my audio CDs of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant. He did. He listened to them. He seemed at least confused if not shocked. He asked to keep them a while longer so he could listen to the lessons again.
And when the Pastor found out about it, he was pretty unhappy with me. Based on our reading and discussing Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians together, Pastor came to the realization that he disagreed with Lancaster on just about everything. So my lending one of his flock CDs containing Lancaster’s teachings (even though Pastor had never listened to those sermons) exposed that particular “sheep” to “danger.”
As much as I disagree with his opinions on Lancaster, Pastor’s doing his job. He’s protecting the flock.
Jackson, in describing the ideal Pastor says, “First of all, he loves you.” Yes, the Pastor loves his flock and out of that love (just as Jackson loves his wife), he’s protective and will defend them.
Jackson’s point in mentioning this love is that it’s healing. A hurting believer having the Pastor notice and love them will help heal that hurt. But going back to what I said earlier, the basic theology and doctrine of Pastor and church goer must be what the other expects and desires.
Jackson also describes the ideal Pastor as transparent. He must be approachable and human rather than someone who dwells on high in an ivory tower dispensing holy decrees. Yes, Pastor was approachable and probably as transparent as a human being can be and still have healthy boundaries. I wouldn’t say he was nonjudgmental, as Jackson would have us believe of ideal Pastors. Not that he beat people over the head with his Bible, but he definitely had a firm sense of right and wrong doctrine, and he stuck to his guns.
An ideal Pastor, according to Jackson, “sees the greatness in you.” I think Pastor saw potential in me, but doing anything about it was contingent upon being convinced of his “sound doctrine” so that I’d be safe within the fold. So although Jackson says the ideal Pastor is not controlling, it’s tough to exercise your role as protective shepherd without maintaining control of who has access to them and under what conditions.
This next statement I thought was a bit over the top:
When he speaks, it is as if God Himself was speaking to you.
I think Jackson means the ideal Pastor is “Christ-like” in his love, compassion, and understanding of the people in his flock, not that he’s all-seeing, all-knowing, and commands one hundred percent of everyone’s respect and obedience.
…there is no human leader who can fully provide all that we need as growing disciples of Jesus. We need Him.
“Him,” in this context, is God.
And so Jackson urges his readers to realize that Pastors are also human, what he calls “tools of destiny,” and he wants us to know that someday, some of us may be in church leadership, which will further help us understand the responsibilities faced by our Pastors. Jackson also said that, given this, he urges reconciliation with church leaders when there’s a problem, and outlines the steps for his readers. Ultimately, it’s a call to forgive leaders who may have hurt us. Just for giggles, I included a photo of John MacArthur because to me, he exemplifies the sort of Pastor who generates a lot of “hurt” among people. But that’s just my opinion. What do you do when a well-known and influential Pastor has the ability to potentially hurt thousands?
The only end of chapter question I have highlighted is:
Are you looking for them (church leaders) to provide something that can only come from Jesus?
At this stage in the game, I don’t think I’m looking for a church Pastor to provide anything at all. How can they when my presence in almost any church (at least if I opened my mouth) would be a monkey wrench in the machinery?
In Chapter 11: The Cup of Misunderstanding (sounds like a little-known additional cup at a Passover seder), Jackson speaks of this metaphorical cup containing something that tastes bitter, tastes like injustice, and “those who drink it must do so alone.” He also says that this cup is usually received by “innocent people,” and is particularly harsh when “delivered to you by a brother or sister in Christ.”
Jackson compares being misunderstood and judged by someone in the church to the pain of betrayal suffered by Christ at the crucifixion.
I felt the comparison was a bit much. After all, human misunderstandings aren’t confined to the church, they happen in every human corporate venue, from the family to the workplace.
Jackson says this pain is intensified if the person you are trying to reconcile with makes it abundantly clear they have no intention of mending fences.
Someone once said, “You must embrace the cross if you would carry it with dignity.” The same is true of this cup.
I think what Jackson is saying is that being misunderstood, judged, and cut loose requires the Christian to be “Christ-like,” to bear the burden and the pain as Jesus did on the cross. Sounds pretty dramatic, but then, human conflict can elicit a lot of drama.
One of the end of chapter questions is:
Do you have a friend who can stand with you in your struggle?
In spite of my friend’s concerns about me and the issues Jackson addresses in his book, I don’t know that I’m really struggling, at least in relation to community or my lack thereof.
Jackson asks: “Are you passing the test? As you do, you’ll begin to look more like Him.” If the test is forgiving the Pastor, first of all, I doubt he thinks he needs my forgiveness. Nevertheless, I have forgiven him. After all, he’s only doing what he believes is right, and within his church’s context, it is the right thing to do.
In Chapter 12: Death by Religion, Jackson discusses watching an infomercial for Chuck Norris’s Total Gym product. The bottom line is that in spite of the seemingly fantastic claims made in the marketing of this all-in-one piece of exercise equipment, Jackson says if used as indicated, and if you eat a proper diet, the claims are all true.
Please forgive this sacrilegious comment, but I’ve noticed that in some ways, the Church is a lot like that infomercial–we’re touting a product that really works.
And by that he means:
A life devoted to His service is the only way to ensure our eternal salvation and to experience the life we were created to live.
But while a very fit Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley sell their product on TV, Jackson says, by comparison, those Christians promoting a better life through Jesus are more like “a flabby, middle-aged guy who thinks he looks good in spandex.”
In other words, many believers promoting a better life through Christ don’t look or act like they’re participating in that life. They look like they’re participating in a marathon dining session at McDonald’s.
We’re selling relationship, but what they see is religion…and religion is killing our sales pitch.
I’ve mentioned this artificial split between these concepts in a previous blog post. It’s really the traditional Christian rant against their misconception of Judaism:
Religion breeds death because it is limited to man’s ability to comply with its codes and regulations.
If Jackson had my understanding of the New Covenant, he’d (hopefully) understand why his opinion is completely out of the ball park.
But I don’t have time or space to go into all that again in this rather lengthy series of book reviews.
Religion is easier to control than a relationship.
You may have noticed that Jackson has shifted his emphasis from the individual’s relationship with other Christians in church or their relationship with the Pastor and church leadership, and is now focusing on the person’s relationship with Christ.
…after all, we’re all under grace and God doesn’t get ticked if we skip a day of devotions.
I’m not sure what God does or doesn’t think about an individual being hit and miss on living a life of holiness, not that any one of us is perfect at it.
Jackson then proceeds to bash the Pharisees, even though (he probably doesn’t see this) Jesus lived a life consistent with the basic tenets of Pharisaism, and as a matter of fact, so did Paul.
In describing “religious systems,” he says they operate like “spiritual frat houses”. They have their secret handshakes, inside jokes, matching jackets, and the like. Yes, I’ve experienced cliques in church. People who were ‘in’ and people who were ‘out’, though to be fair, I didn’t experience them at the last church I attended (at least for the most part).
However, Jackson could have been describing how some people experience certain individuals and congregations involved in the Hebrew Roots and the Messianic Jewish movements.
I’ve mentioned before Derek Leman’s blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which addresses this matter. If you feel you are “in”, then being in contributes to your sense of identity, according to Jackson. You may, again, as Jackson says, experience a sense of being among the elite by being in.
This next point is important:
Spiritual fraternities do not welcome different opinions or viewpoints.
I’ve experienced that in spades, but I think that a lot of religious communities are like this, based on a mutually accepted sense of “rightness” of their doctrine. Anything that contradicts their doctrine is automatically wrong. These congregations state, using Jackson’s words:
We want your input and opinions–as long as they agree with ours.
This goes back to what I said before about expectations within the group. Jackson also says such “frat houses” are full of cliques, difficult to fit into (again, I know what that’s like), and Jackson says the only way to combat this is to “make sure that our hearts are free from religion.”
And yet, I could probably speak to Jackson for less than an hour and elicit a very protective and “religious” (as he defines it) response from him, just by disagreeing with how he interprets the Bible’s message of the good news. Actually, all he’d have to do is read my reviews of his book.
Only two of the end of chapter questions seemed relevant:
Are you managing a religion or living in a relationship?
Has your religious experience become a duty or a delight?
Convincing Jackson of the beauty of the mitzvot, particularly with Passover and the family seder coming up in a few days, all the preparations, all of the ceremony, and the retelling of the Exodus, would be a lost cause if I were to make the attempt. I suspect all he’d see is “religion,” missing how the seder brings a Jewish family closer to God.
Of course, I wonder how he’s managing the “relationship” of the upcoming Easter Sunday service at his church, which usually involves a multi-media presentation and tons and tons of preparation and ceremony?
So far, having reviewed about half of Jackson’s book in a fair amount detail, I have two preliminary conclusions. The first is that I don’t think he’s speaking to my situation. The second is that my opinion of my being incompatible with “church” is being re-enforced. I find it impossible to review his book as related to my current status of being apart from “community” without being critical of his theology and doctrine.
I just can’t seem to put our obvious differences aside and simply listen to what he has to say on a human level. This is my fault. I have a friend who tells me I need to be more patient and to speak out less.
One last story.
I had coffee with my friend last Sunday. On the drive home, he mentioned that his congregation had a guest speaker from Africa on the previous Shabbat. Among other things, this speaker talked about lions and how they hunt only the sick, the weak, the old, and those who wander off and are alone.
Pastor Jackson leverages Paul’s misadventure with a viper (see Acts 28:1-10) metaphorically to describe the injuries some people receive from others within Christian community. He also renders an interesting interpretation of the serpent in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).
Of course those closest to us have the greatest capacity to create the deepest wounds (although Adam and Eve’s serpent and Paul’s viper weren’t all that close to them relationally). In this, I suppose my unfortunate set of final transactions with the Pastor at the church I used to attend applies since we had become friends over our two-year association. We haven’t spoken or exchanged so much as an email since that time and I doubt we ever will.
Interestingly enough, Pastor Jackson unwittingly gives a hint to one of the reasons:
In it, Peter quoted the Lord, saying “I lay in Zion a choice stone…a stone of stumbling and offense…” That doesn’t sound right does it? God lays a rock of offense in the middle of His Church?
Jackson clearly equates Zion with the Church, but Zion isn’t the Christian Church, it’s Israel, the Jewish people. Even for Christians who say they are opposed to supersessionism or what is also called replacement or fulfillment theology, once you say “the Church” was born in Acts 2 and that it’s the Church that, from that point forward, has all of God’s attention and not Israel, at the very least, you have diminished the power of God’s promises to Israel and elevated the (Gentile) Christian Church, to which God made no promises at all.
No, it’s not to say that God does not have a redemptive plan for the Gentile members of the ekklesia of Messiah, He just doesn’t have plans for this thing we’ve come to know as “the Church”.
That’s my stumbling block.
I’m convinced that the number-one cause of spiritual death among Christians is not outright demonic attacks, but snakebites.
I’m convinced that a lot of Christians attribute way too much trouble in their lives to evil supernatural forces and not enough to their own human natures. I think Jackson agrees with me here, but the whole concept of “demonic attacks” bothers me as even a potential causal element in our lives. People are all too well equipped to hurt each other. We don’t need outside help.
Do you know anyone who was bitten and then walked away from the faith?
Sure. We probably all do if we’re willing to admit it. I recall a conversation I once had with my former Pastor. As a younger man, he knew a Pastor in another country, a truly Godly man, or so he thought. Later in life, this man left his wife and took up with a younger woman. Pastor is a Calvinist and believes God pre-selected certain people for salvation. Since one discovers these people by their “fruits,” Pastor was convinced, based on this fellow’s lifetime history for the most part, that he was “chosen”. Pastor was baffled at the sudden and complete turn around and didn’t really know how to explain it.
My opinions on Calvinism aside, I’m a firm believer in free will. God is open and available to all human beings but He won’t hold a gun to our heads (so to speak). Although He empowers us to accept the offer to come to Him, we still have the power to refuse it or even once accepting, later refusing it.
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
–2 Peter 2:20 (NASB)
I suppose all this answers Jackson’s question above. Coming to God is our choice, but ultimately, so is leaving Him.
Satan’s snakebites usually come from other people.
See my comment above about Christian attribution habits.
Shifting to Chapter 7: Tattooed: A Tale of Two Piercings:
There’s another form of tattooing in effect, though, that we can’t see with the naked eye. Oh, we can certainly see it–we can discern it–but it’s more of an internal tattoo. It’s a tattoo of the soul.
This is another metaphor of Jackson’s for our wounds or “the state of our soul.”
Next, Jackson spends a lot of time comparing “brokenness” and “woundedness”:
This is such an important question because Christlike brokenness can be used by God to powerfully catapult us along the path of our destinies, while woundedness will derail us before we ever begin.
He explains that there is no brokenness without wounding but you can be wounded without allowing yourself to experience “Christlike brokenness.” Brokenness allows a person to submit himself to God, while being wounded but unbroken is all about focusing on the pain and not the healer.
A broken man embraces correction. A wounded man fears correction.
How many of the Proverbs wisely advises accepting correction and discipline?
I’m actually intimidated by the question because I don’t like the answer I find in myself. One way to interpret all this is to submit to God by submitting to the Church. I know the Pastor at the church I used to attend probably believes that I need correction in the sense that I need to accept his doctrine over my current viewpoints.
But could I have handled all this any differently and would the outcome have resulted in something more positive coming out of my church experience?
There are four end of chapter questions and I think only the last one is relevant.
Are you committed to moving from woundedness to brokenness so that the beauty of the Lord can shine through you?
Jackson continues this theme in Chapter 8: It’s Hard To Be Beautiful:
Likewise, it takes time and focused effort for us to move from a wounded state to a broken one.
Assuming this speaks to me at any level, I guess there’s hope if I find that I’m currently wounded but unbroken.
And then he said:
As I meditated on those words, I felt the Lord speak to my heart.
I won’t quote what Jackson said the Lord said, but not being a mystic, I have a hard time believing that this Pastor heard, word for word, exactly what he wrote in his book. It’s another one of those things about certain Christian circles that don’t make a connection. On the other hand, some of the tales of the Chasidim are truly fantastic.
Quoting Psalm 23:3, Jackson says the Lord restores the soul, but practically in the same breath, he states:
…some people carry the sting of divorce, bereavement, betrayal and rejection for a lifetime without ever experiencing lasting freedom.
…the more we love the offender, the deeper the hurt we experience.
Which is why some divorced couples can still have awful encounters with each other, even years after parting.
Which leads to…
…some wounds will go away over time, but others require outside assistance to be healed.
Also, true. Some wounds will heal with the simple application of a band-aid while others need stitches to stop the bleeding. Sometimes a computer just needs to be reboot, and on other occasions, it’s time to bring out the repair tools and open the machine’s cover.
We must repent. We must choose to forgive. We must process the hurt.
Very true. Especially the last part since I do an awful lot of processing here.
“I’ve seen enough in the church to make me an infidel,” the man said, “but I still have a made-up mind and determination to see what lies at the end of a successful Christian race!”
Which goes back to what I said before about free will. We can have a bad time in church and we can experience circumstances, something like the readers of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, that prevent us from having fellowship as they were prevented from the prayers and offering korban at the Temple.
While my circumstances can’t be presupposed in Jackson’s narrative, he mentions another chronic situation encapsulated in the title of a sermon: “The Crisis of Spiritual Fatigue.”
Jackson says “one of the first things to go in our spiritual lives is the awe and wonder of simply knowing Jesus and being who He’s called us to be.”
I remember when I first became a believer, I was thrilled just to be able to read the Bible and go to church. It was all bright and shiny and new, like I had found an amazing treasure. I couldn’t wait to read more of the Bible, go to Sunday school, and learn more about Jesus and the “new man” I was in him.
I suppose it was the same way when I transitioned into the Hebrew Roots movement. All the “Jewish stuff” was bright and shiny and new, and I loved putting on a tallit and kippah and (very, very badly) saying the prayers from the little beginner’s siddur we used to use.
But like that new car smell eventually fades, so does the newness of faith. We have to put away all of the “stuff” and come to an understanding of God (or with God) on our own terms.
There is a difference between a life of faith and a life of community. Sure, they’re supposed to overlap significantly, but if you were stranded on the proverbial desert island, all alone with just a Bible, would you eventually lose faith because you had lost community, or would you gain faith by continually being alone with God without pesky humans there to get in the way?
Interestingly enough, on his blog, Pastor Jackson recently wrote about “holding patterns.” While he was addressing a person’s relationship with God being put on hold, I could equally apply his words to the relationship between an individual and religious community. Of these “holding patterns,” Jackson says in part:
They break us…or they make us. And just as our favorite Bible heroes taught us, how a person handles their holding patterns determines whether or not they’ll land in safety.
I’m like that man on the proverbial desert island except I have Internet access and a refrigerator. I’m not really alone, but if God does intend for me to be in community, then I guess I’ll have to wait for it, or make it myself through virtual means.
Why is it that people who have been wounded in church will still be talking about their wounds years later? Why can people forgive a betraying friend or experience a business meltdown and move on with their life, but if it is a church that fails them, it is nearly impossible to let it go? Have you ever seen this dynamic in others? Have you ever lived it yourself?
Reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book (Here’s the link to Part One) is my way of attempting to respond to what I am calling a pesky challenge to find fellowship and community (or something) with like-minded believers. I’m not sure such a thing is possible for reasons I outlined yesterday, but since a friend asked me to consider it, I suppose I should.
A couple of days ago, Derek Leman wrote the blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which sort of addresses my current situation but not really.
But first things first. To answer Pastor Jackson’s question, a great many Christians who have left the Church and affiliated with Messianic Judaism and/or the Hebrew Roots movements have lived out the dynamic he describes above. And seemingly in response, Leman wrote in the aforementioned blog post:
I also say to disenfranchised non-Jews not to give up on churches. Many have not tried really looking. Some came from churches with certain labels and assume they can only return to those places. Be more open minded. There are churches, often outside of evangelicalism, whose clergy are better educated (evangelicalism is heir to revivalist Christianity and tends to squash intellectual growth).
That may well be true for some Christians and some churches. After all, I’ve read that First Fruits of Zion‘s (FFOZ) HaYesod and Torah Club materials are being taught in churches. I’ve heard that episodes of FFOZ’s television program A Promise of What is to Come are viewed and then discussed in Sunday School classes in some churches. So it’s apparent that there are some Christian churches that are open to this perspective and to “Messianic Gentile” worshipers.
But I’m reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book through the lens of my own experience, so finding “the right church” and fitting in isn’t the entire solution. In fact, it really isn’t a solution at all.
I feel like I’m participating in Pastor Jackson’s statement of talking about my “hurt” months and even years later, but again, I’m only revisiting all this because I was asked. Also, everything has been resolved between me and the church I used to attend to the extent possible. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be reconciliation and return and, relative to my home life, even if I did return, it wouldn’t be helpful.
Pastor Jackson, answering his own question, says “We don’t expect to get hurt in church.” That’s true. At least in an ideal sense, we expect “church” to be a safe place, maybe the safest of places, given how many Christians see secular society as unfriendly or even dangerous to religious people.
I only perceive church as “hazardous” to the degree that, at least in my own recent experience, what I believe is incompatible with how they define “sound doctrine.” Granted, it was only one church, but I do live in a pretty conservative part of the country and religious views in many local churches are also “fundamental”.
Pastor Jackson says one of the problems is that those hurt in churches are never heard. That is, they never get the opportunity to express their side of the story. That’s not the case with me. I had abundant opportunities to be heard by the Head Pastor and he listened to me at length. Jackson asked how there can be healing without closure. I have closure. I made a very definite decision on what to do in leaving church and why I was doing it. The door is closed. It’s over.
The end of chapter questions have to do with being accepting of differences, carrying around anger, and coming to the realization that some of your hurts may be your own doing.
I don’t think I understand the last question:
Do you know that God believes you can make it?
I’m not sure if Jackson means “make it” in life or “make it” in church.
In Chapter 4: The Other Life, Jackson makes an interesting statement:
Religion has left me parched and dry and wondering if it was really what God intended for me when He drew me into the other life.
By “other life,” Jackson means a life of faith and a personal journey with Christ. I find myself closer to God when I’m reading and studying the Bible (or writing this blog), so my “other life” is lived, for the most part, outside of any immediate fellowship. Although I don’t observe a proper Shabbat, I’m usually able to carve out a few hours to study the weekly Torah portion which often is the most rewarding part of my day and week. It’s the closest I come to the “other life”.
I read this next statement of Jackson’s and realized we conceptualize prayer in different ways:
A few weeks ago, I felt like the Lord spoke to me in one of my morning prayer times. I was journaling my thoughts to the Lord and then recording what I felt He was speaking to me in response.
Is that normal? Oh, I get the part about writing my thoughts down. I do that all the time. But writing down what I imagine God is saying back to me? Isn’t that substituting my personality for God?
I’ve never heard audible voices from Heaven but on those occasions when I thought God was trying to tell me something, it was usually through an unusual set of circumstances. That’s what led me to attend that little Baptist church a few miles from my house for two years. I won’t go into the story, but an unlikely set of events occurred that led me to call the Pastor of that church, set up a meeting, and then decide to go to Sunday services. It was so unusual, I just couldn’t chalk it up to coincidence. I felt as if God wanted me to go to that church as a sort of Tent of David experience.
Either I was wrong and God didn’t want me to go to that church or God did want me to go and I blew it. But I’ll never know which one it was.
The Chapter 4 end of chapter questions address hearing the “other life” speaking to you and what it said, whether or not religious life stifled or accentuated that voice, and taking the road less traveled. Nothing that really connected to my experience.
In Chapter 5: Troubled Waters, Jackson says:
A great feeling of personal satisfaction ensures when we are fulfilling the commands of God.
Jackson surely doesn’t realize what a loaded statement that is in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles when applied to a Christian. He did connect that to “serving our fellow man” which I felt was encouraging, because much of the Biblical message has to do with loving God by serving people. Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world” after all is the Jewish mission and the Church has inherited some of that whether they realize it or not.
Jackson was raised in a Christian home and has fond memories of church:
I know it helped me. I can’t imagine what my life would be like or what temptations I might have fallen into had I not been raised in a Christian home. Church has always been the backdrop of my earliest memories.
I periodically encounter a “life long Christian,” someone who came to faith early in life and who was raised in a Christian home. When I tell them I didn’t come to faith until I was about 40 years old or so, they are almost always astonished. From their point of view, it is inconceivable that someone could live the first half of their life as a “sinner” and then come to faith. It’s funny that Yeshua and Paul never seemed to have an age limit on repentance.
One of my earliest memories was of my parents being water baptized in a swimming pool.
Just thought I’d toss that quote in there.
Jackson includes a number of other pleasant childhood memories about church involvement. He calls it “a flowing current of life that overwhelms us.”
But a few pages later he says:
It’s happening every day, you know. People are leaving the church by the thousands. They’ve tasted what church has to offer and, still dissatisfied, they are abandoning organized Christianity in droves.
Jackson attributes this mass exodus away from local churches to people being mistreated, misunderstood, or just plain bored. He wisely states:
They’re not searching for a different gospel or a different God–they just want more of Him.
“Get to know Jesus better.” That phrase was used to promote the Torah Club a few years back. I think Jackson is right. I think a lot of Christians are reading the Bible for themselves and realizing that the Bible doesn’t say what they’ve been taught it says from the pulpit or in Sunday School.
In that sense, people may not all be leaving church because they’re hurt but because they’re “hungry”. Jackson says, “Jesus didn’t come to earth to institute a religion–He came to reveal God.” True. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, he practiced a normative Judaism of his day, specifically Pharisaism (I know a lot of Christians who would be really upset at that statement). The invention of Christianity only came later, much later.
Jesus did come as Prophet and Messiah to reveal God, first to the Jews but ultimately, to the rest of the world.
Jackson doesn’t want that message to be contingent upon what the local church does or fails to do. But he also says:
God created us to be part of a community, and from the beginning He determined that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. We need the Church!
Well, that “not good for man to be alone” addressed Adam and having a suitable “helpmate”, not religious community as such. Also, I believe in Messianic Days the Church as most Christians conceptualize it, will cease to exist and be replaced by Messiah’s ekklesia (which does not translate into “Church” in English). Messiah will define the correct sort of community/communities for his Jewish and Gentile subjects.
At the end of this chapter, Jackson asked four questions, but only the last is relevant:
Do you think this is what Jesus wanted?
If he means the Church as it exists today, I’d have to say “yes and no”. I think he wanted communities of disciples who would obey his commandments to love God and to love others, doing good, feeding the hungry, giving hope to the hopeless, visiting the lonely, making peace in the home, which many churches do, but there’s a lot that has happened in the history of the Church he definitely didn’t and doesn’t want.
He absolutely didn’t want all of the crimes Christianity has committed against the Jewish people and Judaism. How could he? The Bible speaks of the Messiah coming (returning) to defeat Israel’s enemies and to judge those who have harmed his beloved Jewish people. Imagine Jesus judging all of the resurrected Christians across the ages who were taught to hate the Jews, who were taught that the Jews killed Jesus, who participated in burning volumes of Talmud, burning Torah scrolls, burning down synagogues, who tortured, maimed, and murdered countless Jewish people whose only crime was to faithfully cleave to the God of their fathers, and who died in pain while singing the Shema.
No, that isn’t want Jesus wanted, and in the resurrection, there are going to be a lot of shocked and dismayed Christians.
I realize this wasn’t what Pastor Jackson meant but his focus and mine are different. He’s talking to Christians who have been hurt by other Christians and who have chosen to respond by leaving community. But when you ask me what Jesus wanted out of “the Church,” I have an entirely different viewpoint.
At the end of Chapter 5, I’m still not finding much of what Jackson is writing that speaks to my own experience. If anything, as good a guy as I think Jackson is, what he has recorded in his book simply emphasizes for me how differently he and I understand God, Messiah, and the Bible.
I’ll continue my review in a few days.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman