Tag Archives: shepherds

The Lone Wolf and the Elders

Just listened to a little of David Rudolph’s sermon entitled “Why Zakenim??” About 13 minutes into it, he mentions that there are some One Law interlopers at Tikvat causing trouble. What kind of trouble?

They’re talking about One Law (which is sin enough apparently) but they’re also trying to get people to sign a petition to remove David Rudolph from office.

These One Law interlopers apparently feel that there is enough grass roots support for this to occur.

Interesting.

For the record, I had nothing to do with this…but naturally I support it. The ironic thing is this: the message is about Zekenim at Tikvat. But Rudolph recently caused virtually all of the elders to leave. They’re now meeting at Grove Ave. Baptist Church on Saturday mornings. Why Grove? I have no idea except that I think it’s odd OUT OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN RICHMOND they chose the one where my family visits.

-Peter Vest
from “One Law Revolt at Tikvat Israel”
Orthodox Messianic Judaism blogspot

I periodically engage Peter, both in the comments section of his blog and in this one, about topics of mutual interest. Most of the time, we disagree, which is fine, but occasionally, he comes up with an opinion to which I must respond with a more detailed message. His commentary regarding Rabbi David Rudolph and the Tikvat Israel Synagogue is one of them.

In his blog post and subsequent comments, Peter makes it seem as if Rabbi David is running a “one-man show” as sole leader of the synagogue, and that a significant minority among the members of the synagogue are circulating a petition to have him removed because he opposes what has been called a One Law theology, which this group apparently wants to see put in place as Tikvat Israel’s official theological position.

Except that when I actually listened to Rabbi David’s sermon Why Zakenim or “Why Elders,” I got a completely different impression.

The link I just posted leads to a podcast of the sermon. It’s about twenty-five minutes long, so if you’ve got that amount of time, you might want to listen to the entire presentation for context.

This sermon is part of what Rabbi David calls the “Messianic Jewish Discipleship 101” series, which seems a compelling subject in and of itself. In this sermon, Rabbi David presents his view in support of congregational elders with passages taken primarily (but not exclusively) from the Apostolic Scriptures or what most Christians call the New Testament.

I won’t break down each and every part of the sermon for you. Like I said, you can listen to it for yourself, but in brief, R’ David presents a definition of the role of congregational elders in three parts:

  1. Shepherds to guide the flock
  2. Shepherds to guard the flock
  3. Shepherds to judge matters related to the flock

I was on the board of elders for a small congregation for several years and I can attest that we were called upon to fulfill all of those roles. When I attended a local Baptist church, the head pastor and the board of elders also fulfilled these functions. In listening to R’ David’s sermon, I discovered that he is part of a three-person board and additionally has another person acting as a Rabbi-in-training, so R’ David isn’t acting as a “one-man show,” in spite of what Peter intimated on his blog as I quoted above.

the shepherdThe portion of the sermon relevant to Peter’s blog post has to do with elders as guards (and probably as guides). It seems there were two incidents that had recently occurred at Tikvat Israel. The first had to do with a single individual who was visiting the synagogue for Shabbat services and handing out religious materials, apparently in contradiction to the official position of the congregation. R’ David was away that day, and his Rabbi-in-training, also named David, saw what was going on and gently (according to the sermon) redirected this individual to the congregation’s bookstore and some materials more in keeping with Tikvat Israel’s theology and doctrine.

The second incident had to do with another visitor who had the chutzpah to pass around a petition among the members calling for Rabbi David’s removal from leadership, apparently because R’ David does not support a “One Law” theology, and this individual wanted to see the Rabbi replaced with someone who supported One Law.

It’s important to note here that R’ David in his sermon clearly differentiated between visitors and members in the synagogue. In both of these cases, it seems that lone visitors were coming in from the outside and “disturbing” (my word, not David’s) the members of the congregation, rather than a minority group among the members calling for Rabbi David to step down.

The sermon didn’t give any details as to the reaction of synagogue members to the petition in question, but R’ David did encourage the members to speak up when they encounter someone from the outside (or apparently inside) who is making statements or actions that are in opposition to the formal standards of the congregation. R’ David was careful to say that differences in opinion aren’t really the problem. The problem is with individuals who attempt to cause division and disunity in the congregation. This is part of the function of elders in the synagogue (or church), to guard the flock from “disturbing” theologies or doctrines coming in from the outside.

If you go to the Tikvat Israel website’s About page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see items labeled “What We Believe” and “Position Papers”, and R’ David encouraged the members listening to his sermon to redirect anyone promoting “strange doctrines” to those materials so they could become familiar with the standards upon which the congregation is based.

I had a similar experience at the small Baptist church I mentioned before, where I attended services for about two years. The Pastor and I became well acquainted and we spoke regularly about our different theological and doctrinal views. At one point, I took our differences a step too far and criticized one of his sermons on my blog. He didn’t take kindly to that, nor the fact that I had leant someone at his church my copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series (on audio CD) What About the New Covenant.

Although, I could have remained at the church, I would have had to censor myself both in congregation and on my blog and I made a decision not to do that. I ultimately chose to leave the congregation, not because I thought poorly of anyone (quite the opposite, there are many good and kind people in that church who are authentically serving God) but because their doctrine and mine were pretty far apart in a number of key areas. I wouldn’t be serving God by remaining as a disruptive influence, regardless of my motives.

Please notice that while I admit to lending teaching material that stands in opposition to local church doctrine to one of the church’s members, I didn’t start passing around a petition to get anyone removed or otherwise oppose the head pastor or any of the church elders in authority. That would have been at least improper and at worst insane (though not in the clinical sense).

In retrospect and particularly after listening to Rabbi David’s sermon, I can see how the church’s pastoral staff and board of elders were fulfilling their function in relation to me since I represented a doctrinal position that was in conflict with their official position. If they were willing to listen to my ideas and perspectives and volunteer to consume any resources I was able to provide, that’s one thing. But if I was deemed to be an element that might contribute to disunity and discord, then the elders had a responsibility to draw my attention to that behavior and expect some changes on my part.

Which is exactly what happened.

David Rudolph
Rabbi David Rudolph

The result was that I decided to leave church and seek other avenues for community or association. Given all that, those two individuals who entered Tikvat Israel for the purpose of introducing doctrines contrary to the synagogue’s official position should expect the elders to address this issue and said-individuals could either decide to stay without trying to “rock the boat” significantly, or they could decide to do what I did and leave the congregation.

The only difference is that I attended that church for two years and, from what I got out of R’ David’s sermon, the two individuals involved were not regular attenders and certainly not formal members.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to think exactly in the same way as the worship community you attend, but remember that the congregation has a group of elders who are responsible to guide and guard the sheep. Although I don’t see myself in such a light, I very well could have been perceived by some to be a “wolf in the fold”. If I find myself in a “fold” where I am incompatible with the rest of the “sheep,” it’s the job of the elders to inform me of that and it’s my job to decide how to respond as a person of good conscience and as a disciple of the Master.

I think the individuals cited in Rabbi David’s sermon needed to do the same.

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