Tag Archives: Reformation

Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles

I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.

-Toby Janicki
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree forbidding all social contact between Christians and Jews. The Church sought to stop Christian converts to Judaism; throughout Europe, those who did so were liable to the death penalty.

This Day in Jewish History
For 24 Adar 5774 – March 26, 2014

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading Toby’s article because the title just didn’t “resonate” with me, but now I’m glad I did. Lately, I’ve been writing about the nature of Messianic Judaism for Jewish people and just how Jewish should Jews in Messianic Judaism be. However, as I’m always reminded, there’s the other side of the coin; Gentiles who remain devoted disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and yet who are also attracted to the practice and/or perspective of Judaism on their (our) faith.

But I included the quote about Pope Nicholas V for a reason. When I first read it a day or so ago, I found myself wondering why this Pope found it necessary to forbid contact between Christians and Jews and why there was such a “problem” with Christians converting to Judaism in 15th century Europe? How many Christians were converting anyway, and why? What was the allure?

I suppose the story of the 18th century Subbotniks might contain part of the answer. It seems that periodically in the history of the Church, some sub-group of Gentile believers breaks off from their local, normative expression of Christianity and either converts to Judaism or, without abandoning their faith in Jesus, begins to take on more “Jewish” practices and perspectives.

Luther’s open letter of 1538 condemning Sabbatarian tendencies among Christians in Silesia and Moravia after 1527 is a key work marking the transition toward the anti-Judaic attitudes of the late Luther. Marked by a new severity toward the Jews on Luther’s part, the letter had its origin in Luther’s response to a new Sabbatarianism arising among radical Protestants, which Luther saw as a victory for Jewish legalism over sound evangelical teachings.

-Dr. Lowell H. Zuck
“Luther’s Writing Against Emerging Sabbatarianism”
ConcordiaTheology.org

Apparently, the Reformation didn’t end of the problem of Christian Sabbatarians anymore than Pope Nicholas did.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

I’ve often thought that the authors of the Reformation didn’t take things far enough. Sure, they stood up against the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic church as it existed in the 16th century, but they didn’t change as much as you might imagine. They still kept the Sunday worship day and continued to adhere to and enforce theologies and doctrines that were anti-Semitic and anti-Judaism, even accusing “the Jews” of attempting to mislead Christians (probably relative to the Shabbat):

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-quoted from “The Jews & Their Lies” (1543) by
JewishVirtualLibrary.org

I’ve been accused in the past of bashing Luther a little too hard, so I’ll try to be a little less aggressive here, but the history of Christians being attracted to aspects of Judaism doesn’t seem to be an isolated one.

Why? What’s the attraction?

Initially, these former members of the Christian Church continued to view both the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired, but they believed that nothing in the New Testament abolished the commandments of the Torah, including the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). While still considering themselves disciples of the Master, the Subbotniks wrestled with the traditional Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Trinity, and they developed some of their own thoughts regarding Christology and Yeshua’s role as a prophet and miracle worker. They also squarely rejected icons and frescoes of the Orthodox Church as idolatrous.

-Janicki, pg 50

shabbos1My guess is when my traditionally Christian readers hit the word “Trinity” in the quote above, you may have decided that the Subbotniks were heretics and wrote them off, but hang in there. Also, for the Protestants out there, you may be thinking that the Subbotnik reaction to the “icons and frescoes” of the Orthodox Church may have been appropriate, but they certainly wouldn’t have that sort of issue with Protestant Christianity today. They certainly wouldn’t have left a (for example) Baptist church to take up Sabbath-keeping, would they?

Having spent some number of years in the Hebrew Roots movement (which meant I also exited traditional Church worship and thought), I’ve interacted with many, many people who “left the Church”. They (we) have a lot of reasons for doing so. For me, it was that the Christian Pastors and church members (Sunday School teachers, rank-and-file in the pews) weren’t able to answer all of my questions about the Bible and why Christians do and teach certain things (a Sunday Sabbath, replacement theology). But some people felt much, much worse about Christianity than I ever imagined.

Some people were actually angry at their former churches and their former Pastors. Some people felt lied to. They had discovered, through various processes, that the New Covenant didn’t say what many churches teach, it isn’t a recipe for replacing Israel with the Church in God’s covenant promises, and it isn’t the “swan song” for the Jewish people and Judaism. Many of these people, and some expressions of Hebrew Roots, attempted to follow a path similar to those of the Subbotniks, remaining believers in Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will), but adopting many of the practices of modern Judaism to varying degrees of observance. The logic is that if the fundamental theology and doctrines of Christianity are wrong because they are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and misrepresent the “Jewishness” of the foundations of “Christian” faith, the true answer to how we Gentiles are to be devoted disciples of Jesus can only be found by seriously revisiting the first century Judaism of “the Way” and building a worship practice and teaching from there. That point of view also accuses the Reformation of not going far enough or perhaps not going far enough back in time as I previously mentioned.

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

As I quoted Toby saying, the example of the Subbotniks and of all the various non-Jewish groups across history who have devoted themselves to Jesus by devoting themselves to Jewish study and practice is inspiring for modern-day Messianic Gentiles like me, but he also said their story is a cautionary tale.

Toby relates that the Subbotniks were persecuted by the Orthodox Church and the government, but it’s fairly unlikely Messianic Gentiles in the western nations would face the same treatment today. The separation of church and state means the U.S. government has no vested interest in enforcing a state religion as such, and how exactly is a Catholic or Evangelical (or any other kind of) church going to persecute us? No, we won’t be persecuted. Some Christians and some Churches are actually curious about Messianics. Up to a certain point, they find it interesting or even a little fascinating to be just a little more “Jewish” as Gentile Christians and to even “allow” a certain level of Jewish practice among Jewish believers.

But when they finally grasp just how people like me think Jewish believers should be completely Jewish, these Christians back off while rapidly raising their “you’re under the Law” shields. Even Christians like me, who don’t have a significant “Jewish” practice but who utilize a Messianic Jewish informational and educational platform in interpreting the Bible, are at best thought of as intelligent but mistaken and at worst as a member of a cult or even a heretic (what do you mean “the Law” wasn’t nailed to the cross with Jesus?).

But Toby’s right. Messianic Gentiles walk a fine line, at least potentially. We must never mistake Jewish perspective or Jewish practice as the object of our faith. The true focus must be Messiah as the “doorway” by which we may approach the Throne of God.

At the same time, the story of the Subbotniks cautions us about potential pitfalls. What began as a life-giving revelation ended in causing the people to deny Yeshua as Messiah — the very one who had brought them to the truth. This story is not just an interesting footnote for the history of religion. Both Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement face the same issues today that the Subbotniks did.

-Janicki, pg 57

I don’t have any numbers to draw from, but anecdotal information suggests more than a few Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have “swung to the other side,” so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism. One of the best arguments “the Church” has to dissuade Gentiles from becoming involved in Jewish practices and studies is the danger of apostasy and conversion. This is as big a problem now as it was five-hundred years ago. The understanding that the Church labors under a set of misunderstandings, some of which go back to the very foundations of (Gentile) Christianity, creates the false impression that Christianity is bad and Judaism is good.

jewish-traditionI’m not denigrating Judaism, but I am saying that, for my part, it is a lens through which I gain a clearer (in my opinion) focus on what the Bible is actually trying to say, and a better view of the original intent of the Bible writers including the ever controversial Apostle Paul. One of the reasons I limit my “Jewish” practice is to avoid falling into the trap that captured the Subbotniks and that pulls many believers out of Yeshua-faith and into conversion to normative Judaism every year (I should say though, that it’s not my only reason).

In my opinion, Messianic Gentiles will continue to struggle with our own “identity” issues, regardless of whether we find ourselves in a Messianic Jewish synagogue or a traditional church. I’ve participated in adding some resources to a website called MessianicGentiles.com, created by Rabbi David Rudolph, in order to assist in building a positive identity for people like me. While I believe that it is vital for Jews in Messianic Judaism to have authentic Jewish community in the movement so as to not be cut off from larger Jewry, just like Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles must never forget that the central focus of our faith is not our practice but the Messiah.

If Judaism were the focus, then Jews in Messianic Judaism could find community in any synagogue of any of the other branches of Judaism. And if Judaism were the focus for Gentiles, then our answer would be to convert to some branch of normative Judaism and that would be that.

But then we end up denying the Master, Yeshua…Jesus. Having come this far under difficult circumstances, being dismissed by other Christians, trying to help our families understand why we do what we do, being accused of being “wannabe Jews,” are we to fail now in our faith and apostatize by becoming Jewish proselytes and casting Messiah aside like an old love affair?

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The Christianization of Acts 20

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (NRSV)

Christians sometimes cite Acts 20:7 as evidence that the early believers met on Sundays: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” The narrative does not support that interpretation. If Paul met with the Troasian believers on Sunday morning, they had a very long church service. Paul spoke until midnight: “Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

The Greek text of Acts does not indicate that they met on Sunday morning at all. Instead it literally says, “On the first of the Sabbath …” The word “day” does not appear in the Greek. According to the Jewish reckoning of time, the first of the week begins Saturday after sunset.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Tzav (“Command”): Acts 20:1-21:14, pg 653

It’s been awhile since I dug into a Torah Club study but I needed to get my bearings.

I probably shouldn’t even write this but part of my returning to church is to “experience church” relative to my own unique perspectives and practices.

I’d like to think that Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend, and I have formed a friendship, and within the confines of that relationship, we are free to engage in candid and forthright conversation. He reads my blog, when he has time (he’s a really busy guy), so nothing I put here is meant to be kept from him.

I know that my criticism of “the Church” does frustrate him on occasion and I think he is authentically puzzled why, when he presents his educated and logical arguments about theology, I just don’t “get it” and accept his basic understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity.

Last Sunday morning, Pastor’s message was based on Acts 20:1-12. I was particularly interested in his lesson on the following verses:

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20:7-12 (NRSV)

Pastor always includes a page of notes in the Church bulletin, and I review what he’s going to talk about before services start. When I came across the section called ”Parenthetic Conclusion: Sunday worship,” I knew where he was headed. Then there was the quote from Justin Martyr he inserted. I’ll only use part of it here:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

-Justin Martyr
The First Apology
“Weekly Worship of Christians” (c. CE 155)

Justin MartyrI won’t try to replicate all of Pastor’s points, but he did say the phrase “first day of the week” (although as Lancaster states above, the word “day” does not appear in the literal Greek) appears only three times in the New Testament (actually, there are a few more). In addition to the above-quoted verse, it can be found in Mark 16:9, the declaration of when Jesus rose from the tomb, and 1 Corinthians 16:2, which is part of Paul’s instructions to set aside funds for Paul’s intended donation to the poor and needy in Jerusalem.

There were a number of conclusions Pastor derived from Acts 20:7-12:

  1. The Roman rather than Jewish calendar was being used to fix the date of the gathering, so that we see they were meeting on Sunday evening rather than Saturday night after Shabbat.
  2. The breaking of bread was likely an enactment of the “Lord’s Supper” indicating the practice of communion.
  3. Preaching and teaching of scripture was a common activity in such assemblies.
  4. Collecting tithes for the church on Sunday was becoming a more common practice.

Both Pastor and my Sunday school teacher said this is evidence that “church services” within Paul’s lifetime weren’t all that different from what we have today: preaching the Word, meeting on Sunday, gathering tithes on Sunday (presumably as part of the service), and taking communion.

Sunday Worship

I’ll get into my reaction in a moment, but the one thing that puzzled me was Pastor’s proof that Paul had to be meeting with these believers in Troas on Sunday evening rather than just after Shabbat had ended (Saturday at sundown). He says that if this was a Saturday night, Paul, who intended to leave by ship the next day, would have had to wait two days, until Monday, to depart, so it had to be Sunday night.

But I either couldn’t hear the rationale or it went by so fast that I just plain missed it. I’ve read Acts 20 numerous times since listening to the sermon, but I just can’t see where this is coming from. I emailed Pastor after I got home from services asking for details, and hopefully he’s respond soon. Once I receive a response, I’ll edit this blog post to reflect his views.

Addendum, Tuesday, March 18: Pastor responded to my email with his explanation. He’s pressed for time, so the rationale is brief. I’ll put it in the comments below rather than interrupt the flow of the narrative here more than I already am.

Justin Martyr, Sunday, and Supersessionism

Now to my response. In the absence of the information Pastor possesses regarding why the assembly at Troas must have been meeting on Sunday, it is my opinion that a shift from a Saturday to Sunday Sabbath occurs here much too early in history. We have Justin Martyr’s writing declaring that Sunday is the proper day of Christian worship, but that isn’t published until some time after Paul’s death (and I find the reasoning, that it’s the day God separated light and darkness, completely disconnected from anything taught by Jesus or the Apostles). I don’t know that Martyr is relying exclusively on his interpretation of scripture and I suspect that he, like many of the other “church fathers,” may have had attitudes about Jewish people and Judaism that colored his thinking and possibly had him making doctrinal decisions about practice based on that bias.

I know Wikipedia is a poor source to quote, but it will have to do for my current analysis:

Justin was confident that his teaching was that of the Church at large. He knows of a division among the orthodox only on the question of the millennium and on the attitude toward the milder Jewish Christianity, which he personally is willing to tolerate as long as its professors in their turn do not interfere with the liberty of the Gentile converts; his millenarianism seems to have no connection with Judaism, but he believes firmly in a millennium, and generally in the Christian eschatology.

Justin saw himself as a scholar, although his skills in Hebrew were either non-existent or minimal. His opposition to Judaism was typical of church leaders in his day but does not descend to the level of anti-semitism. After collaborating with a Jewish convert to assist him with Hebrew, Justin published an attack on Judaism based upon a no-longer-extant text of a Midrash.

-from the Wikipedia page on Justin Martyr

Economic supersessionism is used in the technical theological sense of function. It is the view that the practical purpose of the nation of Israel in God’s plan is replaced by the role of the Church. It is represented by writers such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, and Barth.

-from the Wikipedia page on Supersessionism (Replacement Theology)

HavdalahNone of what I just quoted is rock-solid evidence that Martyr’s declaration of Sunday as the proper meeting day for Christians was motivated by supersessionistic ideology (and it was stated above that Martyr was probably not anti-Semitic), but it does open the door to the possibility that Martyr may not have been operating purely on his understanding of scripture. Based on my understanding of early supersessionistic bias and the church fathers (See my four-part article ”Origins of Supersessionism in the Church” in issues 109-112 of Messiah Journal), I believe there was a focused effort to create a set of practices of worship that specifically separated the budding Gentile Christian Church from its Jewish origins and heritage, replacing the Jewish institutions to which Paul and the other Apostles were accustomed with completely separate rituals, including a calendar disconnected from the Jewish holy days.

Please keep in mind that I have no problem with Christianity choosing a day of the week for corporate worship, but I consider it a tradition based on an emerging (in the mid-second century) reverence for the day of Jesus’ resurrection, not necessarily on a decision of Paul or any of the other Apostles.

Breaking Bread

Depending on the translation you’re using for Acts 20:7, the words the NRSV Bible renders as “break bread” are also read as “the Lord’s Supper” (New Living Translation) or “break the Eucharist” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Actually, all of the other translations I’m looking at just say “break bread”. I can’t access the Greek for this term, so I don’t know if it contains something that doesn’t translate into English, but, as Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said, ”Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In other words, just because something is longer than it is wide, doesn’t mean it’s a phallic symbol.

Applied to the current context, I might say, “Sometimes breaking bread is just breaking bread, grabbing a loaf and tearing it in two or more pieces.” The term “breaking bread,” as far as I know, could just as easily indicate a meal of fellowship. It’s typical to “break bread” with friends and companions as a sign of affiliation and trust. Why does it have to mean communion unless we’re trying to make this verse fit a later institution created by the Church?

We were gathered for the disciples came, A.V. and T.R.; discoursed with for preached unto, A.V.; intending for ready, A.V.; prolonged for continued, A.V. The first day of the week. This is an important evidence of the keeping of the Lord’s day by the Church as a day for their Church assemblies (see Luke 24:1, 30, 35; John 20:19, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:2). To break bread. This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians. Comparing the phrase, “to break bread,” with St. Luke’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist (Luke 22:19) and the passages just quoted in Luke 24, and St. Paul’s language (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:24), it is impossible not to conclude that the breaking of bread in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an essential part of the holy sacrament, which man may not for any specious reasons omit.

-from the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 20:7

The key scripture as far as “the Lord’s Supper” goes seems to be 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 but Acts 20:7 only mentions “breaking bread”. In comparison to that verse, almost all translations of 1 Corinthians 11:20 refer to “the Lord’s Supper”, so I can only imagine the original Greek is more specific here (only the Aramaic Bible in Plain English states, ”When therefore you assemble, it is not according to what is appropriate for the day of our Lord that you eat and drink.”).

I’m going to have to set the early initiation of what Christians call “communion” today to one side for the moment except to say that it is certainly not definitive that the group in Troas was assembled for the specific purpose of taking a weekly communion or Lord’s Supper. It’s even possible, as I mentioned above, that the very concept of a communion might have been a later invention of the Church.

Tithing

We see a strong record of Paul collecting money or directing the various assemblies to set aside money which he would collect when he arrived (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). However, we also see Paul having a specific concern for the poor in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:10). Paul’s companions we find in Acts 20:4 were to accompany Paul to Jerusalem, presumably with donations from the various congregations they represented.

TithingSo Paul was collecting money for the poor and needy in Jerusalem, but this does not mean he was collecting money to pay for the operational costs of the local churches or the Jerusalem “church”.

No, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for the church to ask for donations from the congregants to support the costs incurred in running such an institution, I’m just saying the practice can’t be directly attributed to specific references in the Bible.

It is true that in ancient times, the Israelites did donate materials and services in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert (Ex. 35:4-36:7), and King Solomon heavily taxed his citizens and required tens of thousands to contribute labor in the service of building the Temple in Jerusalem (starting 1 Kgs 6). But again, none of these point specifically to a church tithe. Frankly, neither does Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).

But like I said, I don’t think it’s wrong for the administrative office of the local church to request that members and attendees contribute to the upkeep of the church, since those attending are consuming the church’s resources. I also think it’s reasonable and Biblical for churches to collect money for the poor and even money to support missionaries (Paul alluded that he deserved to be supported but preferred to support himself to avoid being a burden). But I maintain that the modern concept of tithing, especially by having men pass around metal plates through the pews so that people can give their weekly donation, isn’t exactly what we see in Acts 20 or any of the other referenced scriptures.

Resurrection Day

I’m returning to the issue of Sunday here but with an eye on it being a day of reverence early on in the first century community of “the Way.” Do we actually see concrete evidence that the day of the Master’s resurrection was directly revered and added to (or replaced) the list of holy days traditionally observed in the various Judaisms? Did the followers of Christ move away from a Sabbath rest because Sunday became so incredibly important to them?

There’s no smoking gun but a lot of inference. I know that Sunday was an important day of gathering in the mid-second century, but is that because of what was gleaned from the Bible, or because the men establishing Sunday as the Christian assembly day needed to separate their religion from Judaism? In the latter case, the “invention” of Sunday worship would have come after the Apostolic Era ended and the church fathers would have just “mined” the various scriptures and verses to support such a decision, declaring it “Biblical” and “Holy Doctrine” of the Church.

Revelation 1:10 was brought up in Pastor’s sermon as well. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he had his well-known (but not always well understood) set of revelations and visions, but what did “the Lord’s Day” mean to him at that time? It’s assumed by many Christians to mean “Sunday” but Pastor thinks rather that it indicates Resurrection Day, that is, Easter.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows, and I think Christian theologians have developed various educated theories over the centuries. Each church denomination has adopted a set of practices that appear to map to certain parts of the Bible, but the question for me is which came first?

Do we believe, for example, that Sunday is the official day of Christian worship because it was established in the Bible, or was Sunday established nearly a century after the Apostles were all in their graves because the leaders of the Gentile Christian church needed to separate their movement from Judaism (and in this case, especially Shabbat observance) and they found portions of scripture they could leverage to support their requirements?

Past and Present

I know that sounds terribly cynical and I know this will make a lot of Christians feel hurt and angry. I know it can’t possibly please Pastor Randy when I write these things, and I know he’s being absolutely honest and sincere when he preaches on Acts 20 and draws conclusions that are consistent with modern Christian practices.

ShabbatHowever, I don’t think it’s all so clear. In fact, I believe if Paul were to walk into a Christian church today, even if he understood our language, he would hardly connect the experience to the practice of the assemblies he established in the diaspora nearly twenty centuries ago, and he absolutely wouldn’t see the Jewishness of everything he taught and the Jewish Messiah he lived and died for in modern Christian observance. I’m sure he’d wonder why modern disciples weren’t gathering on Shabbos.

I’m not saying modern Christian observance is bad or wrong as a set of practical traditions, just that it’s mostly not what Paul did. Yes, he’d understand collecting money for the poor. Yes, he’d understand preaching. Yes, he’d understand studying the scriptures with a learned teacher. Yes, he’d understand sharing a communal meal (though that’s more like Oneg than communion).

But I think it’s OK to admit that Christianity has evolved, and not in an entirely linear fashion, since the days when Paul planted his “churches.” I think it’s OK to admit that the majority of what Protestants believe and the majority of what they do has a history of more like five-hundred years rather than two-thousand. Evangelical Christianity is more a product of the Reformation than what you might call “Apostolic” or “Messianic Judaism”.

Purim

I knew it was Purim when I walked into the church Sunday morning. So did Pastor Randy and Pastor Virgil. So did those few people in the church I know to be Jewish. Most other people would have missed it, though. I kept pondering the significance of experiencing the “Christianization” of the scriptures in Acts 20 as I listened to the Pastor’s message in church on Purim. Why is there a desire to “rush” history, so to speak, and to give the early Judaism of our faith the bum’s rush out the door while the Pharisaic Apostle Paul (or Saul if you prefer) was still alive and desiring to reach Jerusalem before Shavuot or Pentecost (Acts 20:16). He’d already been delayed so he couldn’t be in the Holy city for the Pesach sacrifice and meal (Acts 20:5).

Paul and the Moadim

Paul was an observant Jew and as such, he desired to obey the mitzvot associated with the moadim, the appointed times chronicled in the Torah. This is a clue we should pay attention to. Paul’s desire to return to Jerusalem was connected to specific seasons and events, Passover and Pentecost, Pesach and Shavuot. Wouldn’t it make more sense to believe that Paul also revered the Shabbat as did his forefathers? The Church (big “C”) changed quite a lot of things later on, but for Paul, there was nothing inconsistent with being an Apostle of the Messiah and practicing the Judaism of the Way. In fact, departing from the Torah and the traditions would likely never have occurred to him.

Regrets and Conclusion

I’m actually feeling pretty down about having to write this. I’ve been keyed up since hearing the sermon. I was nervous around the others in Sunday school yesterday. I didn’t sleep well last night. Obviously this bothers me. Last week, I wrote about fellowship in the church and today it seems like I’m doing a big turn around by disagreeing with the conclusions of Pastor’s sermon. Believe me, I’m not disagreeing just to disagree. I’m not being oppositional or “anti-Church.” I’m being who I am as a believer operating with a particular understanding and perspective on the Bible. I’m looking through a different lens, I’m standing at a different look out point. The Bible I see looks a lot more “Jewish” than most of the people I worship with suspect. I apologize if what I’ve written results in hard feelings. That’s not my intention, believe me. But someone needs to stand up for the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, and represent who I believe he was and is, and what he was trying to teach.

I started writing this “meditation” early Sunday afternoon and stopped. I figured I needed a “cooler head” before actually getting into this, and I really thought about not writing it at all. I consulted with a good Christian friend. I agonized over it. Finally, I needed to do this. I’m sorry. It’s not against you, or Pastor, or anyone else. It’s for Paul and it’s to keep my head from exploding.

The Jewish PaulThere’s the Paul the Christian church sees, the murderous Jewish Pharisee who encountered Jesus on the way to Damascus one day and became blind. Having his sight restored, he converted to Christianity and left his Judaism behind, preaching a Torah-free faith to Jew and Gentile alike. Then there’s Paul the Jewish Pharisee, who met the Messiah in a vision and having been blinded and his sight then restored, embarked on a journey to tell the good news of Moshiach to his brothers and sisters as well as the Gentiles, that the Messianic Age was at hand, the pinnacle of the history of the Hebrews was within reach, and even the Gentiles could be redeemed by coming alongside Israel through Messiah.

When Messiah returns, we’ll know, everyone will know. For now, I am a loyal subject of the Jewish King and I await his return. May he come soon and in our day. Amen.

The Next Reformation of the Church

reformation_sundayNearly five centuries ago in Central Europe, an unknown Augustinian monk decided to nail 95 theses to a church door, sparking a religious revolution felt to the present day.

Reformation Day, the anniversary of when Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, is an observance remembered by hundreds of American churches in the modern day. While the exact date of Luther’s call to theological debate was Oct. 31, or the Eve of All Saints’ Day, many Protestant congregations choose to observe the occasion on the last Sunday in the month. This year, Reformation Sunday will fall on Oct. 27, with Protestant denominations such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists drawing attention to the past.

by Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
“Churches Remembering Martin Luther With Reformation Sunday Observance,” October 27, 2013
ChristianPost.com

Yesterday I had the pleasure of celebrating Reformation Day at a wonderful inner-city Anglican church in Melbourne, St. Matt’s Prahan, speaking on Rom 3:21-26.

It’s a great day to get your Luther on, unleash your inner Calvin, channel some Bucer, reconnect with your “sola” power panels, thank God for Tyndale, and play with your Ridley and Latimer action figurines. But such a day does lead to a question or two. Is Reformation Sunday a bit like commemorating a divorce, vindicate the violence between Protestants and Catholics, reinforce old prejudices, rent further apart the already fractured body of Christ, become an exercise in Roman Catholic bashing, and Anabaptist drowning?

by Michael F. Bird
“Reformation Sunday Reflection”
Patheos.com

I’d never even heard of “Reformation Sunday” until Sunday before last when my Pastor briefly mentioned it from the pulpit. Last Sunday, Reformation Sunday, he gave a short presentation about this day during the “announcements” portion of the service. I didn’t take notes but near the end of his presentation, Pastor said something that sounded like the Church needing a Reformation again.

I can see his point.

We had recently discussed my viewpoint on John MacArthur’s conference Strange Fire. I know Pastor, in last Sunday’s evening service, delivered a sermon called “Should We Put Out Strange Fire?” (I’ll have to listen to the recording when it’s posted online).

I don’t want to rehash all that, but I do want to use the topic as a jumping off point for why the Church (big “C”) needs another reformation. Yes, I agree with my Pastor, but I think the direction and form of that reformation is a lot different in my eyes than they are in his.

Last Sunday, my Pastor preached on Acts 16:1-5. It’s just amazing how much insight and information he can draw from a simple five verses in scripture. For instance, one of the things Pastor said by way of introduction (I’m working from my notes, here) is that Paul always visited the synagogue when he arrived at any location. By the time he left, he had founded a separate church and believing Jews would leave the local synagogue and join the church, presumably with Gentile believers.

Naturally I chafed at this summary, as it depicts the Jewish worship and devotion to the Jewish Messiah as not Jewish at all, but rather a “Christian” activity wholly divorced from Judaism…and that’s an important distinction.

Burning-Star-of-DavidThe information he presented did not denigrate the Jewish people in the slightest, but it was still designed to separate the Jewish believer from Judaism. This has been the source of more than a few debates between us.

The “sister” blog post to this one is called What Church Taught Me About Jews and the Torah, and ironically, uses portions of Pastor’s sermon to fill in the gaps of my argument supporting Jewish continuing observance of Torah within the body of Messiah.

As I write this, he hasn’t read that blog post, nor have we been able to discuss it. I know that no matter how logical an argument I make, and no matter how well I think I’ve supported it in scripture, theologian that he is, Pastor will find numerous other scriptures to use to refute my opinion.

And yet, for me, the “Jewishness” and the “Judaism” of Jewish faith in Messiah is inescapable. Pastor sees the Church as a new entity that separated itself from Judaism, sort of like the train of God’s plan extending forward from Torah and the Prophets “jumped the tracks” at Acts 2 and took a whole different trajectory into the future, leaving the original path (and the covenant requirements, blessings, and promises along with them) abandoned. I can’t read the way most Christians see the development of the faith back into the Tanakh.

That’s why the general viewpoint of Messianic Judaism, including the perspective of Postmissionary Messianic Judaism makes more sense to me than Fundamentalist Christianity and Progressive Revelation. In order to celebrate Reformation Sunday as a significant holiday in the church, I have to conclude that the idea of Progressive Revelation must extend into the post-Biblical period and was active as recently as five hundred years ago, if we are required to see the Reformation as a Revelation of God.

And if it’s not a revelation from God, then it’s just another set of theologies and doctrines created by human beings who are trying to understand the Bible, God, and who we are as Christians.

You can’t have it both ways.

I could write a whole other blog post (and I probably will at some point) about whether or not the Holy Spirit continues to be manifest in our world or not (Pentecostals say “yes,” Fundamentalists say “not so much”). But for the moment, let me assume that God didn’t abandon us all for the past two-thousand years with only various translations and copies of copies of copies of the Bible to speak for Him. Let’s assume God actually cares about us enough to whisper in an ear or two from time to time.

And let’s assume that such whispers might even contain instructions for the periodic “course correction” of the great ship of the oceans called “the Church.” Obviously the authors of the Reformation felt the ship was off course and made efforts to steer her in a better direction. Obviously, they wouldn’t have made such changes if they didn’t believe it was within the will of God. Otherwise, they’d just be a bunch of guys reading what they wanted to in the Bible and acting out of their interpretations.

But then, it’s not like people don’t do stuff like that sometimes.

Yes, I believe God’s Presence still makes itself felt in our world. I don’t think we can put God in a box. Oh yes, we can make our boxes and say we’ve put God inside because it’s a perfect fit, but I think God has other ideas about Himself. He said that the tabernacle was not truly His home, since all the Earth is His footstool, so to speak. What makes us think we can make a theological box that is big enough to “fit” God yet small enough for us to carry around with us?

I can’t argue with history. Good, bad, or indifferent, the Reformation happened and it sent ripples across the timeline that still rock our boats today.

prophetic_return1But the Church (and all of its little churches, hundreds of them, thousands of them, all the little denominations, movements, and streams) has gotten really static. Even suggesting a paradigm shift meets with strong resistance. Inertia can be such a difficult thing. So hard to push start the truck on a cold morning when all it wants to do is to stay in its nice, comfy garage.

I really do think that the Church needs another Reformation. I think that by the time Messiah gets back, it will go through a whopping big one, whether we’re ready for it or not. I think that the beginnings of such a Reformation are already evidenced in our world. I write about those beginnings all the time. I wrote about one just recently and will continue to do so.

I can’t prove what I’m about to say, but I believe it’s a credible suggestion. I believe the next big Reformation for the Church is the restoration of Messianic Judaism. The Church was artificially carved from Judaism probably in the second and third centuries of the Common Era. Before that, it was one of a number of functioning Judaisms in occupied Israel and the Diaspora. I think Paul was instrumental in spreading this Judaism to both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman empire of his day. I think that he, like the ancient prophets of the Tanakh who came before him, intended that the Messianic promise should move forward in history as Israel’s path of redemption and restoration, with Israel as the light and Messiah as the light bearer, attracting the people of all the nations to that light to join in Messiah’s body…a Jewish body…a Judaism.

The next Reformation for the Church is for the Church to stop seeing itself as a separate thing and to stop seeing Judaism as dead. The next Reformation of the Church is to come alongside the resurrected Judaism of Messianic Judaism, the reborn Jewish faith stream of “the Way,” and to cease requiring Jews to become Christians and to leave being Jews and being part of Judaism and Israel and instead, for the Gentile Christians to realize that we must join them, not them joining us.