Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
–Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)
How is it pleasing to the Lord when hungry believers with different backgrounds and viewpoints, come together in a spirit of unity to study and apply His Word? What Christ-honoring qualities, in Ephesians 4:1-3, do we need to embrace in order for this to happen?
-from the Sunday school study notes for June 8th
I know I’ve accused myself (and been accused by my wife) of collapsing the Tent of David because of my arrogant presumption, which has subsequently caused me to question my role in the church (if any, beyond being a pew-warmer in services and a silent witness in Sunday school), but I’ve got just one question: are we supposed to “dumb down” the Bible and ignore blatant error for the sake of unity among believers?
I’m really tempted to ask my Sunday school teacher that question, but I know it would just stir up hard feelings (and I’ve done that before).
We’re studying Acts 22:22-29 and somehow my Sunday school teacher has gotten the impression that Paul became all humble, meek, and mild for the sake of Jesus Christ. Really, the last thing I imagine Paul to be in the face of adversity is meek and mild. I also think Christians largely misunderstand humility, especially in leadership.
Moses’s humility was a function of his greatness. Penetrating more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of things than anyone before or since, he was more acutely aware of his ignorance. As the Torah relates at Mount Sinai: “Moses approached the thick cloud where God was” (Exodus 20:18).
To make his point, he recast a verse in which Moses declares: “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you — indeed, you are the smallest of peoples” (Deut. 7:17). Nevertheless, the midrash continues, “the Holy One Praised Be He told Israel that I love you because each time I bestow greatness upon you, you shrink yourself before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham and he said to Me: ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Upon Moses and Aaron and they said: ‘who are we?’ (Ex. 16:7) Upon David and he said: ‘I am a worm, less than human'” (Psalm 22:7).
“The Humblest of Men,” pg 513, June 5, 2004
And from another source:
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky was about to take his place at the end of a long line waiting to board a bus, when someone in the front of the line who knew him called out, “Rebbe, you can come here in front of me!”
“I’m not permitted to,” replied Rav Yaakov. “It would be stealing.”
“I give you permission. I don’t mind.”
“But what about everybody else behind you?” said the Rosh Hayeshiva. “I would be stealing their time and choice of seat by moving them back one. Who says they allow me to?”
Here we see that humility is a reflection of strength of character and the upholding of Torah values (or Biblical values if you prefer), and is not the result of a person willing to sacrifice those values for the sake of unity, peace, or to prevent a “spirited debate.”
Certainly no one could accuse Abraham, Moses, Aaron, or David of being “meek and mild” and unable or unwilling to take a strong personal stand for what is right just to avoid an argument or to dodge a disagreement.
That said, we can also see from Rav Kamenetzky’s example that it is also required to sacrifice personal convenience for the sake of said-values, and from that, I derive the principle that you don’t enter into a debate, even if you think you’re correct, just for the sake of being right and proving the other person or people wrong.
I continually struggle with that last bit, even as I compose this blog post and anticipate (as I write this) Sunday school tomorrow morning (yesterday as you read this).
And as compelling as the examples I’ve already presented may be, there’s one more that should “seal the deal” so to speak:
When the ten heard this, they began to be upset with Ya’akov and Yochanan. Yeshua called to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles are the ones who oppress them, and their great ones dominate them. But it is not to be that way among you. Rather, one who desires to be great among you is to be as a servant to you, and the one who desires to be the head will be a slave to all. For even the son of man did not come in order to be served, but rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
It is true, and Chancellor Schorsch supports this in his commentary, that people operating outside of the Covenant community (Gentiles, in Schorsch’s as well as Jesus’ case) have leaders who feed off of power and self-glorification, while leaders in Judaism, at least in the ideal, become more humble as God heaps greatness upon them.
But as I said, this doesn’t mean humility equals passivity.
In the Temple he found merchants of cattle, flocks, and young doves and those who give change for money sitting there. He took cords, twisted them into a whip, and drove all of them out of the Temple, along with the flocks and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To the dove merchants he said, “Take these out of here, and do not make my Father’s House into a marketplace!” His disciples remembered the passage, “For the zeal of your House has consumed me.”
–John 2:14-17 (DHE Gospels)
Of course, that hardly gives me license to make a whip and go charging into Sunday school, even metaphorically, for the sake of making a theological point. On the other hand, if unity were the single, overriding priority in the community of faith, then we would never see any Jewish leader, including Jesus, take a strong, personal stand for the sake of Heaven.
There is a line in the sand that, once crossed, must provoke a response. So on the one hand, I could have been wrong to remain silent in Sunday school class when I felt that line had been crossed. On the other hand, I need to choose my battles. I usually do that in class, selecting only one or two points in the class notes to address openly, but even then, it doesn’t always work out.
How do I tell my Sunday school teacher (or do I tell him at all) that unity is not the be all and end all of communal life in the congregation of Christ?
Be careful not to become involved in quarrels with your friends. Arguments will only create distance between you and others.
The most effective approach to avoid needless arguments is to master the ability to remain silent. You don’t have to say everything you think of saying. At times there is an actual need to clarify a specific point and it’s appropriate to speak up. But a large percentage of arguments come from making comments that don’t need to be made.
Before starting, I wish to apologize to Pastor Randy, everyone at his church, and any Christians who may be offended by what I’m about to say. I’m sorry but the Church isn’t perfect. It’s full of flawed human beings (I know, I’m one of them). Last Sunday, one of those people proved it and I’m proving it again by even talking about it. I probably shouldn’t. I almost didn’t. But I decided in the end that this needs to be said, not to injure the Church but to help it improve.
Now to begin today’s “morning meditation.”
Two statements from the notes handed out in the church bulletin on Pastor’s sermon for last Sunday:
Paul’s Conversion in Damascus (22:2b-13)
His Previous Conduct – How Judaism Once Controlled His Life (vs. 2b-5)
His Present Conduct – How Jesus Now Controls His Life (vs. 6-13)
This was part of Pastor’s sermon on Acts 21:35-22:2a. For a little context, here are the relevant passage of scripture:
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. and I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.”
–Acts 22:2-13 (NASB)
I go over the notes for the sermon before services while everyone else is “schmoozing” and drinking coffee. Sometimes, I’ll even start writing down my impressions (I’m kind of a nerd that way). When I saw the two points above, my immediate response was “Judaism and the Jewish Messiah are not mutually exclusive.”
It’s doubtful Pastor meant to say they were, at least in a first century context (today is another story), but so many Evangelical Pastors believe that with the so-called “birthday of the Church” in Acts 2, God had declared Judaism (and possibly the Jewish people) obsolete and replaced by Christianity and the Church (neither of which existed as we understand them today at that point in history).
Actually, I really liked today’s (as I write this) sermon. Pastor really shines in his knowledge of Biblical history as well as the languages involved, and he brought out many details I thought were important and illuminating. At the same time, I could see the “lights” dim in the eyes of some of the people around me as Pastor may have (for them) gotten a bit too historical and scholarly.
He also delivered a welcome and rousing speech condemning anti-Semitism and the shocking fact that there are some two-hundred neo-Nazi organizations in the U.S. today that teach adults and children to hate and kill Jews and other minority populations. Anti-Semitism should not exist in our world, especially post-Holocaust.
The only thing he left out was how for nearly all of the history of the Church, we have been one of the chief supporters of anti-Semitism, pogroms, forced conversions, torture, and murder of countless Jewish people, not to mention the numbers of synagogues, Torah scrolls, and volumes of Talmud we’ve destroyed “in the name of Jesus”.
Thankfully, Christians don’t participate in such actions today, but there’s an echo of that same sentiment toward Jewish people we can still hear in our churches right now, including in the Sunday school class I attended a few hours (as I write this) ago.
I’ll get to that in a bit.
In reading Paul recite his own history about how he so zealously opposed the Messianic Jewish movement of the Way, I realized the Bible never directly addresses why Paul embraced such murderous hate of the movement. What did it mean to him personally? Why did he make it his special mission to eradicate Jewish Jesus-believers?
Typically in the late second Temple period, the Way was opposed by other Jewish groups because of it’s unusually wide acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in Jewish religious and social space without the requirement of the non-Jews undergoing the proselyte rite.
“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”
–Acts 22:21-22 (NASB)
The Jewish crowd, that had previously assaulted Paul because of the mistaken belief that the apostle had taken a Gentile into the Temple, up to this point, was (presumably) calmly listening to Paul relate his first encounter with Messiah, even describing how Yeshua appeared to him in a vision of light, and that he heard a Bat Kol from Heaven. Seemingly, they did not object to Paul’s assertion that Yeshua was Messiah and even that he could speak from the Divine realm. They only became once again enraged when Paul mentioned the Gentiles.
But when Paul previously opposed the Way some thirty years before, it was early enough in history that there would have been few, if any Gentiles participating in the Messianic Jewish movement. Paul’s motivation couldn’t have been Gentile involvement. But what else could it have been?
But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?”
–Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)
Jewish objections to Jesus were never about claims of his being Messiah. Would-be Messiahs came and went in Judaism all of the time. The worst Jesus and his followers could have been accused of was being wrong, but being wrong is hardly blasphemy. What would have been considered blasphemy was a man declaring himself co-equal with God. This is why the High Priest tore his clothes. This is what got Jesus killed. This is what the Jewish people found so incredibly offensive and wanted to exterminate.
(As an aside, for more details about Jewish objections to Messiah as Deity, read Derek Leman’s new ebook The Divine Messiah as well as my book review on his work.)
Paul (Saul) was present at the defense of Stephen (Acts 7) and heard the disciple of the Master state, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), declaring Yeshua co-equal with God. Saul willingly held the cloaks of the men of the Sanhedrin as they drove Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death.
This may have been the genesis of Paul’s hatred of the Way, a sect of Judaism that went one step too far in not only following a (presumably) dead man as Messiah, but believing him to be co-equal with God and God Himself.
So in opposing blasphemy, from the point of view of most Jews of his day (or for that matter, ours), Saul was in the right (even though it turned out he was wrong). The only thing really questionable was how personal his hatred of the Jewish Messianics seemed to be. We can speculate as to Saul’s reasons, but the Bible is silent as to what they might have been.
So in Acts 9, Paul did not “convert to Christianity,” but he did have a supernatural and highly personal encounter with the Master, strong enough to override all of Paul’s previous motivation and set him on a new track. That track however, was one that was completely Jewish and might even be described as “Pharisaism with a Messianic twist”. By his own admission, Paul’s beliefs and practices were still totally consistent with being a Pharisee and a zealot for the Torah, but he was most of all a zealot for Messiah within a completely Jewish lived reality.
Out of that, I resolved, at least for a time, to remain silent in Sunday school. I mentioned to the teacher before class got started that I would be keeping quiet, and he honored that by not posing me with any questions.
There were more than a few times during class when I regretted my decision, although I still think it was for the best.
Oh sure, the non-believing Jews who opposed Paul were called “satanic” for their devotion to the Law and their rejection of Jesus (although nowhere in the narrative we were studying does it mention them rejecting Jesus at all). Teacher likes to label non-believing Jews as “influenced by Satan” from time to time, and I’ve called him on it in the past. He can’t seem to imagine the actual motivation and reasoning involved in first century Jews not understanding Gentile equality in a Jewish social and worship venue. I’ve noticed some Christians often treat the people they encounter in the Bible as “characters” playing out some sort of artificial role in a “Bible story,” as if they weren’t (and aren’t) real, live human beings in actual human situations.
But a number of people in class were sort of chuckling at the “ignorance” of the Jewish mob who had finally settled down and was listening to Paul’s words, and how they had a “hissy fit” upon Paul’s mention of the Gentiles.
At one point, a gentleman piped up complaining about all the accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Christians and wondering if there was some sort of opposite sentiment like Jewish “anti-Gentilism” (I suppose he was thinking along the lines of something like reverse discrimination, but depending on your point of view, that may or may not exist).
That’s when I started gritting my teeth. It’s incredible that anyone who has studied the Bible for any length of time (this person, by the way, seems well-read and intelligent) can miss why, especially on one of the three major pilgrim festivals on the Jewish religious calendar, Jews would be highly sensitive to Gentiles invading Jewish worship and social space in the Temple (which was what they were reacting to).
For cryin’ out loud, the Romans had invaded the whole blamed country and were occupying it. The Jewish nation was hip deep in oppressive, cruel, dictatorial Gentile Roman soldiers. Who responded to keep the peace when the Jewish mobs rioted? The Roman soldiers. Why? Because Rome had control of Israel and jurisdiction over Jerusalem, including on the Temple Mount where the riot occurred. Of course the crowds of Jews, both native to the Land and from the diaspora, millions of them inhabiting Jerusalem during the festival of Shavuot, would have been incensed at the very idea of Gentiles taking even more away from the Jewish people than they already had.
Believe me, if you were a Jew in that situation, you’d probably have “lost it,” too.
I stayed silent and no one else spoke up. Remember those echoes I mentioned before? This was one of them.
I’ve already got enough theological and doctrinal issues to address in church as it is. I don’t want to find something like this on top of it all.
I know it might seem like a small thing to some, maybe to most people. Maybe it’s just that I’m married to a Jewish wife and have three Jewish children. But the Church, including each and every individual in my little local church, won’t truly make Pastor’s dream of a world without anti-Semitism come true until we really start treating the ancient and modern Jews like real people with real concerns instead of caricatures or stereotypes used only as “bad examples” of religion without Christ.
My Sunday school teacher made a point several times in class to emphasize how, when we believe we don’t like someone, to look deeper and to find what is good in them rather than focus on what we dislike. In complaining about the Jewish crowd who opposed Paul as displaying “anti-Gentilism” and failing to see why they would feel and act as they did, one Christian gentleman overtly failed in that mission and by not speaking up, the rest of us silently agreed that we didn’t have to look past Jewish anger to see Jewish hurt, fear, and vulnerability.
We always read these “Bible stories” supporting Paul and the rest of the believing Jews and Gentiles, and imagining the Jews who were “persecuting the Church,” including Saul back in the day, as fools and villains. The Church exists in a post-missionary, crypto-supersessionist space, even now, relative to the Jewish people and Israel. If I would have called this gentleman on his comment, I don’t think it would have done any good. I’m an outsider, an anomaly in Christian religious and communal space. The rest of them had heard the Pastor’s plea to end prejudice against Jews in the Church. But at least one person didn’t think it applied to him.
Matters leading to sadness fall into two categories: matters that can be corrected and matters that cannot.
If something can be done to correct a situation, why feel sad? Simply take action to correct the matter!
On the other hand, if nothing can be done, what gain is there in feeling sad? Sadness will not improve matters. It is wiser to accept what cannot be changed.
Tonight at sundown begins the Festival of Shavuot which I commented on a few days ago. As long as even one believer thinks the “birthday of the church” completely overrides this moed’s meaning to God’s chosen people, the Jews, the Church will never be free of its anti-Jewish history.
One last thing. I’m often critical of the Church, not because I’m into “Christian-bashing” but because I believe that the Church, the Gentile Jesus-believing ekklesia, is good. But it could be a whole lot better. I’ve defended the Church more than once, and one of the defining qualities of Christianity is love of one’s neighbor and fellowship. I know I’m only one man, but I can see this so clearly. We need to do better, a lot better. We need to see the Jewish people and Israel as God sees them. Only then can we fulfill our own purpose as the people of the nations who are called by His Name to be the crowning jewels surrounding and uplifting Israel and her King Messiah.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
–Genesis 2:18 (NASB)
Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.
–Acts 21:26 (NASB)
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
–Romans 14:5-6 (NASB)
You’re probably wondering what those different portions of scripture have in common. Actually, relative to my experiences last Sunday, quite a lot.
The topic of both the sermon and the Sunday school class at church was Acts 21:15-26. It was a source of a great deal of frustration for me, but I have to be thankful to Pastor Randy for cluing me in about something first.
He reminded his audience of the great accomplishments of the Jewish people and Israel across the centuries, and made sure that we all got the idea that God didn’t do away with the Old Testament (Tanakh), the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people.
He also let us know that, in the debate over whether or not Paul did the right thing by paying the expenses of the four men under a vow at the Temple and offering sacrifices, over half of those historic and modern scholars upon whom Pastor depends for his research strongly believe that not only did Paul make a mistake, but that he sinned by participating in the Temple rites.
Fortunately, Pastor doesn’t agree with that opinion (and neither do I) and in listening to various people conversing after the sermon, I was relieved to hear that most (but not all) of the people around me have the same opinion as Pastor.
But Pastor kept repeating that offering sacrifices doesn’t atone for sins, it never did. This reminded me of time after time during our previous private discussions, when talking about the continuation of Torah observance for the Jewish people including Jewish believers, he kept stressing the same point.
You see, I agree with Pastor that the sacrifices in and of themselves have no power to atone for sins and to save a human being from the consequences of God’s justice. We are only saved through faith and out of that faith, we obey God. That’s what Paul and every other Jew who sincerely participated in the Temple rituals was doing. Obeying God out of faith.
So why beat up the Torah by saying it doesn’t save when I fully agree that simple, mechanical performance of the mitzvot with no intent or faith behind it is just going through the motions?
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
–Acts 15:1 (NASB)
This has alway puzzled me because circumcision (that is, the physical act of being circumcised and then observing the Torah commandments) isn’t what saves a person, and these gentlemen from Judea should have known that. Of course, they should have known that.
But that’s not what they meant.
When an Evangelical Christian reads that verse he or she thinks the Jews involved are saying that performing the mitzvot including the sacrifices in the Temple is what saves. But they were never meant to save. They are the conditions of the covenant relationship with God and that relationship in covenant, through faith, is what saves.
Why didn’t I see this before?
The big hang up Christians have with the Torah is because of a misunderstanding of what the folks they call “Judaizers” were saying (Nanos more aptly refers to them as “influencers” since New Testament scholars can’t seem to agree on exactly who these people were. See The Irony of Galatians).
The “influencers” Paul refers to in his epistle to the Galatians and the Jews we hear from in Acts 15:1 weren’t saying that obeying the mitzvot and making the various sacrifices at the Temple would save the Gentile. They were saying that the Gentiles needed to be in a covenant relationship with God in order to be saved.
Especially for non-Jesus-believing Jews, the New Covenant times weren’t even on the horizon. How could they be? From their perspective, Messiah had not yet come. Thus, the Gentiles had no standing before God unless they became proselytes and entered into the Sinai covenant with God as converts to Judaism. Being a God-fearing Gentile might have been a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t a covenant relationship.
But Paul and many of the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) knew that the New Covenant had been inaugurated with the death and resurrection of the Master, so through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles could be grafted in and benefit from the blessings of that covenant, which had begun to enter the world but had not yet completely arrived.
If you miss the distinction, that it’s being in a covenant relationship with God through faith that saves rather than just the literal behaviors of the conditions of a covenant, you completely misunderstand the Jews advocating for Gentile conversion.
These “Judaizers” or “Influencers” weren’t bad, awful, evil people. They may have had genuine concern for the Gentiles who had attached themselves to the Jewish religious movement of “the Way”. These Jews, some of whom could have been Jesus-believers with an incomplete understanding of the New Covenant blessings upon the Gentiles, may have been authentically puzzled why Paul was treating the Gentiles as if they were equal co-participants, both socially and in covenant, in Jewish religious life. They may have felt that the Gentiles couldn’t participate in covenant blessings without conversion, because they didn’t see any other way to reconcile the Gentiles to God.
Paul understood, but his viewpoint wasn’t always terribly popular with Jewish populations who didn’t apprehend his vision (figuratively and literally).
Once you figure it out, you realize the issue was never that the mitzvot saved, it was Covenant relationship. It always has been and it’s still the issue we struggle to comprehend today. Jews are the focus of almost all of the covenants we see in the Bible including the Sinai and New Covenants. Gentiles are included under a single provision of the Abrahamic covenant and by faith in Jesus, in the blessings of the New Covenant.
And that’s what I got out of last Sunday’s sermon, not that Pastor explained it that way, but by his preaching, I finally made the connection.
Things didn’t go so well in Sunday school. I was determined to make only one statement in class. I could have talked all day long about the Christian traditions that were being imposed on the text resulting in quite a few (in my opinion) erroneous assumptions being made by most of my classmates. One fellow pointblank told me Paul did sin because when Jesus was crucified, the sacrifices ended. I disagreed of course, and gave him a mini-explanation of what the Epistle to the Hebrews was really about, but I knew it was for nothing.
My Sunday school teacher heavily favors the sermons of John MacArthur and it is MacArthur’s opinion that the practice of Judaism by Jesus-believing Jews as we see it in the Book of Acts, was a transitional period between Jewish practice being within the will of God, and it being replaced by the grace of Jesus Christ, effectively extinguishing the “ceremonial laws” in the Torah.
Teacher said it was MacArthur’s opinion that God was being patient and tolerant of the Jesus-believing Jews, including Paul, who continued in devotion to Hashem by davening at the set times of prayer, offering sacrifices in accordance to the commandments, observing Shabbos, keeping kosher, and all of the other portions of the Law that had been “nailed to the cross with Jesus.”
But there’s an apparent contradiction. In Acts, Luke depicts Paul as very pro-Torah, pro-Temple, pro-Jewish people, and pro-Judaism. However, a number of Paul’s letters, principally Galatians, seem to cast Paul in the role of being anti-Torah. That was the foundation for my comment in class when the issue of Romans 14 and the identity of the “weak” and “strong” (basing my opinion on Nanos in The Mystery of Romans) came up.
It was like I was talking in a language no one in the room understood. I saw quite a few blank stares, like no one could figure out what the heck I was talking about. One fellow, who is quite intelligent and well-read (and who holds a highly traditional Evangelical Christian view on the Bible) referenced Romans 14:5-6 to explain that it was (at that time) OK to either observe the Law or not observe the Law as long as it was for the sake of the Lord.
In other words, no one even understood my question and so they had no idea they had completely missed my point.
I let it go rather than continue to be a source of confusion and aggravation and after all, teacher said this was a lesson about unity.
Unity. That totally baffled me until I realized he meant Paul agreed to undergo the Temple ritual and humble himself to James and the Elders in Jerusalem as kind of “going along to get along.” They saw Paul as compromising in order to keep the peace, rather than standing his ground about the lack of validity in Jewish tradition, custom, and observance.
There was no way anyone in the classroom could have possibly imagined that Paul might have wanted to offer sacrifices and looked forward to participating in the Temple ritual, especially during the Holy Festival of Shavuot (although they all acknowledged why Paul should have totally been jazzed about Pentecost…the Acts 2 Pentecost, not the Greek word for the Jewish moed).
I spent the rest of the class time in a forced silence, so I was in a “terrific” mood when I left church and made the ten or fifteen minute drive back home.
When I walked in the kitchen trolling for lunch, my wife made the mistake of asking me how church went, and I made the mistake of telling her.
Then she reminded me of her role according to God:
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.”
–Beresheet (Genesis) 2:18
The translation I found at Chabad.org is a bit different than you’ll find in most Christian Bibles, and as I understand it, implies that God created woman to oppose her husband under certain circumstances.
Women can often cut through the fog that surrounds a man’s mind and get to the core of a matter, whether we like it or not.
My wife told me I was being arrogant if I thought I was going to change anyone’s mind, especially if that was any part of the reason I was going to church.
I got mad at first, but spending some time in the backyard pulling weeds gave me time to think.
I have been arrogant. I’ve walked into someone else’s religious and social space with the assumption that I had anything to offer them; that I had anything they wanted at all.
As it turns out, I have nothing to offer and certainly nothing anyone at church wants to hear or learn. I may think what I’m learning and how I understand the Bible is worthwhile and illuminating, but obviously I’m in a world of people who don’t see things like I do.
I kind of thought that was the point, but I’m realizing I’ve been wrong. I have no right to impose my point of view or to disagree with the people who are running the show at church. It’s their church. I’m just a glorified guest. I’m not a member and I couldn’t become a member with my current perspectives and attitudes.
My Sunday school teacher’s emphasis on unity is really the Church’s (big “C”) attitude about community. People must agree with each other for the sake of peace and unity because Christians believe certain things.
Whenever I make some sort of theological statement that conflicts with how my wife sees her convictions, she tells me “what Jews believe,” which largely comes from the local Chabad Rabbi. He tells her what Jews believe and helps orient her to a Jewish religious perspective (not that she in any way is Orthodox). So I should have realized there are certain things Christians believe too, and making some sort of theological statement that conflicts with how people in Sunday school see their convictions elicits the same response from them as I get from my spouse.
I have been arrogant, and naive, and just plain stupid.
I feel like an idiot and I feel ashamed.
I also have to question why I’m going to church, any church. In his book Tent of David, Boaz Michael emphasized that the “Messianic Gentile” must have the right attitude, one of humility and fellowship, when returning to (or staying in) church and being a sort of “light to the nations…uh, Christians.”
But there’s a light you shine to help people see the path, and then there’s the really bright, annoying light you shine in people’s faces until they yell at you to turn the darn thing off.
If the “Tent of David” were inflatable, then I’d be guilty of letting at least some of the air out. I certainly feel deflated.
The Internet went out at my home on Sunday afternoon (long story) so I wasn’t able to write this blog post when my emotions were running high. That’s a good thing. I’ve had a day or so to mull things over and to cool off.
I know I disagree with most (or all) of the people at church about many things, and I have good reasons (whether anyone agrees with those reasons or not) why I believe what I do, but the people around me every Sunday morning are under no obligation whatsoever to care what I think and feel, particularly when it flies in the face of their Biblical and world view.
So I’ve got one of three options as I see it: Do what I’m doing now and continue to be an irritant not to mention desecrating the name of God, continue to go to church while keeping my big mouth shut and not participating in discussions, or leaving church and let bygones be bygones.
Frankly, in the eighteen months or so I’ve been going, I may have contributed a few positive things in church, but for the most part, no one knows what to do with me, or if they’ve made up their minds (and some have), they know they want nothing to do with me.
I’ve ruined more relationships, both face-to-face and online, by spewing my opinions and putting people off.
I’ve been letting the air out of David’s Tent or maybe I’ve been taking tools of mass destruction to it. I was supposed to be inflating it, constructing it, building it up, but now the thing is beginning to collapse around my ears. Maybe it should collapse around my mouth.
No, it’s not my mouth, it’s my attitude. I just got so caught up in what I know, that I forgot about what’s most important.
Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
–Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB)
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—-and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—-what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
–1 John 1:1-3 (NASB)
As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon. Pastor Dave gave a sermon on Christian fellowship based on 1 John 1 and 2 (Pastor Randy had been out-of-town all week at a conference and wasn’t able to prepare a sermon for today). Pastor Dave doesn’t give sermons very often but I think he did a really good job at this one. I found that he was touching on many Jewish concepts, probably without realizing it. He spoke of walking in darkness or light 1 John 1:6-7 which I associated with halachah or the way to properly “walk” in lived obedience to God. He also talked about how God as light doesn’t mean like a light bulb, but as something that reveals what was once hidden, which brought me back to D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on Purim, which I reviewed yesterday.
Further, he talked about how Christian fellowship should be more than just liking each other and getting along. It should be more than just getting together over football and beer (my words, not Dave’s). It should be fellowship surrounding a core of our common faith and identity as Christians. That, to me, is really Jewish:
Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d” (Ezekiel 41:22).
But he also spoke of the heart and from the heart about fellowship. Just being in church with fellow believers doesn’t mean you have fellowship or at least, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always feel like you have fellowship.
That point really spoke to me because I don’t have a lot of what I consider true fellowship in church…and it’s probably my fault.
Everyone is friendly and approachable, but I know if I let myself off my chain and really start talking about what I think and believe relative to the Bible, a lot of those people won’t want fellowship with me, or they will think I’m deluded or a heretic or something that would make fellowship impossible. He even said the very words I sometimes think:
“I don’t have any real friends at church.”
That’s not exactly true. I do have one, Pastor Randy. I’m friendly with many others, but outside of Sunday services, for the most part, we never see each other. If I had left church after the sermon, I probably would have been depressed.
But I went to Sunday school where, for this week, we departed from studying Acts and focused on Ephesians 1. I recently learned that if I have any serious questions about the lesson, mentioning them to the teacher before class begins is really helpful. He has more time to respond and I don’t think he feels so much “under the gun” since it’s just him and me.
I was having a tough time with his notes trying to figure out what his point was. It wasn’t until he started class that I realized it had a lot to do with what I’m learning from D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews and especially a concept I’m going to explore in tomorrow’s review. How Jesus could have all authority over literally everything granted to him at the ascension when he sat down at the right hand of the Father, and yet we barely see a glimmer of that reality in the day-to-day world around us.
His lesson worked over various bits and verses of scripture, but I was taking the entire chapter and to some degree the entire letter as a single unit, trying to summarize in my head why Paul even wrote the epistle and what his overarching message might be to Ephesus.
How can we have all spiritual blessings now and have authority to rule with Jesus and at the same time be mere mortal creatures struggling just to survive and discover some sort of meaning for our existence here and now?
And then, when one of the people in class asked me a question in response to something I’d said, the answer hit me, but visually. I quickly asked permission to use the whiteboard, hopped up, and drawing a few pictures, gave a sixty second lesson on God’s perspective vs. ours and how I saw Ephesians 1 being some sort of bridge between the two.
I think I made the teacher nervous for a moment because he asked how long I was going to take. I told him “less than a minute,” which calmed him down, and afterward, he jokingly said that he might have to put me to work doing some teaching.
I know he was kidding and I also know that Pastor Randy would never sanction me to do any teaching in the church, since he knows what we agree and especially what we disagree on, but it felt good to “teach” again, even if it was just for a few seconds. I also felt that momentarily, I was part of the flow of transaction in the class. After class ended, I stopped to talk with the teacher and another fellow for about fifteen minutes, including sharing just a little about how “Jewish” some of the concepts Pastor Dave presented in his sermon. Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to drop a little pebble in the pond with the hope that the ripples it makes will be productive.
As I was leaving, I was able to chat with Pastor Randy for a bit, mainly over further suggestions I have for the church’s website (which I built to replace their previous and archaic web presence). He had to rush off to a Deacon’s meeting, but as I left church today, I felt a little lighter, a little brighter than on other such occasions.
I have to admit that I’ve been afraid of fellowship at the church, of becoming really involved, because of what I thought the impact would be on me and particularly how my wife would see it, not that she’d complain. Naturally, I have no problem at all with her involvement with our local Jewish community and it’s right for her, as a Jew, to be involved with other Jews. But letting the door swing both ways, I worry that she’ll be put off by being Jewish and yet having not only a husband who’s a Goy, but a Christian…one of those.
If I invest in fellowship in the church, what does it do to my wife’s feelings? We live in a fairly small community. Word gets around. How many of her Jewish friends already know I go to a church and what do they think? Not that I’m overly concerned about what people think, but I am concerned about how who I am affects her relationship with other Jewish people, especially if that affect is “damaging” in some way.
But if I don’t invest in fellowship in the church, then what am I doing at church? How will I be able to make a significant and positive contribution if I don’t develop relationships and interactions that go beyond merely attending services and Sunday school? Pastor Dave called fellowship vital not optional.
He also asked a funny question that has a serious answer, which is at the heart of my fears. Apparently Pastor Dave is a naturally friendly guy and he can’t imagine not getting along with someone or someone not getting along with him. He asked why we sometimes fail to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships at church. The following quote, I have no idea where it came from originally, popped into my head:
The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.
In spite of Stephen McAlpine’s rebuttal, there are plenty of people who can say they’ve been “burned” by church. Given my own theological bent, I can expect to be rejected if I dropped too much information to too many people about my understanding of the Bible vs. what is typically taught by Evangelicals.
But there’s another answer I could give to Pastor Dave, and it’s another cliché of a sort, but I think it’s a useful one. Sometimes atheists will say that “religion is just a crutch” to which the cliché response is “but everyone is limping, or beaten, or bleeding.”
But it’s not religion that’s a crutch in the functional sense, but fellowship. One of the functions of fellowship, of friendship, of family, is when you’ve been knocked to the ground, and you’re having trouble getting back up, someone is there to help you. Fellowship in Christ is walking the path the Master set before us when he said this:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
–John 13:34-35 (NASB)
So fellowship in Christ not only helps us support one another when we are “limping,” but it is a direct public witness that we are Christians obeying the command of our Master by being loving.
It’s risky. Any participation in a community of people is risky. But Christian fellowship is supposed to be worth a few risks and may be the only way, or one of the only ways to encounter God as part of the body of Messiah.
Joseph was a stranger in a strange land, even as he held royal power and authority in Egypt. Moses was raised in Egypt and was a stranger in Midian, where he found a wife and raised two sons. The Torah admonishes the Israelites in how they treat strangers because they too were once strangers and aliens in Egypt.
In many ways, I’m also a stranger in a strange land, a Christian who doesn’t fit very well into a Christian church, someone who finds Adon Olam in a siddur more familiar than anything in a hymnal.
But it’s my fault. If I am to accept the challenge of fellowship, then I have to take risks, well, more risks than I’ve already taken. I just don’t know where the path will lead, the price not only I, but my family will have to pay, and how to do my best to not hurt anyone and to avoid the obvious trapdoors and pitfalls involved in “mixing” theologies, relationships, and identities.
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.
–Acts 17:10-15 (NASB)
This was the topic of today’s sermon and Sunday School class teaching. I thought it would be a nice, friendly, benign topic, and the Sunday School teacher is very supportive of Jewish people and Israel. But then, when reviewing the notes teacher sent me for class, I saw this question:
In verse 13 of Acts 17 we see that the jealousy (emph. mine) of the Jews in Thessalonica continued to boil over into trying to destroy the work of God in Berea also. Can and do Christians today oppose the work of God? How?
That’s a loaded question but before continuing, let’s take a look at the “jealousy” of the Thessalonian Jews.
Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous (emph. mine) and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.
–Acts 17:1-5 (NASB)
The question is, why did “the Jews” become jealous in the first place? Jealous of what? I remember the question was covered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) author and scholar D. Thomas Lancaster in the Torah Club series, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles. In fact, this type of jealousy was first observed by Paul in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13) when he was evicted, not because of his declaration that Yeshua was Moshiach, but because his sermon on one Shabbat brought a huge number of pagan Gentiles into shul on the following Shabbat. The Jewish leadership was “jealous,” not because Paul brought in record numbers of people, but because record numbers of pagan Gentiles were invading their religious space…all because of Paul and his “inclusive” teachings.
I confirmed this by looking at Lancaster’s commentary on Acts 17. Lancaster referenced the following to support his opinion:
… who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles (emph. mine) so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
–1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (NASB)
We see in Acts 17:2 that Paul had been preaching in the Thessalonian synagogue for three Shabbats, so it couldn’t have been that his message about Messiah was immediately offensive. We do see that some of the Jewish people were persuaded along with “a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). That in and of itself might have been the problem if the “God-fearing Greeks” and “leading (Greek) women” were bringing in large numbers of their friends, relatives, and business associates who regularly patronized pagan temples. The Jewish leadership of the synagogue probably felt threatened and outraged and finally (and wrongly) staged a violent upheaval to attack Jason, who had been hosting Paul and his party, forcing Paul and his companions to flee into the night.
I was somewhat heartened when the teacher asked the question about God’s purpose for the Jewish people. Well, not his question, since that could go either way, but his answer:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
–Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)
So when the question about “the jealousy of the Jews” came up and teacher said this caused “the Jews” to reject Paul’s message about Christ, I piped up and said, “Not all the Jews.” And things went downhill from there.
Even accepting that it was the Jewish leadership of the synagogue and not every individual Jewish person in attendance, one woman in class said that the leadership represented the people, pretty much painting all “the Jews” with a broad brush. Actually, I was thinking of the synagogue in Berea but I figured that I’d missed my window of opportunity in explaining my point and wasn’t going to get another one…that is unless I wanted to start a riot.
I thought about answering the question, “Can and do Christians today oppose the work of God? How?” but I didn’t think it would go over very well. The class ended up answering that question by talking about Strange Fire and got into how Christian apathy is a big problem, how we gave up “school prayer” but the Muslims haven’t caved in as we did, and so on.
I did actually learn something though. If the Thessalonian synagogue leaders became jealous because of the vast number of pagan Greeks Paul attracted into their space, why didn’t this happen in the Berean synagogue? Paul’s message was the same and neither group objected to a visiting Rabbi sharing his theological opinion about Moshiach (even if they didn’t agree necessarily) so the issue could have been Gentile inclusion.
Let’s compare two verses about these two synagogues:
And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob…
–Acts 17:5-6 (NASB)
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
–Acts 17:11-12 (NASB)
In both examples, we see a population of Jews along with Greek men and prominent Greek women, so it looks like the base population of both synagogues is very similar (to the best of our ability to discern given the brevity of detail). I learned that Berea was off the beaten path, so to speak, which was probably a good place to hide out from the Thessalonians, some forty or fifty miles away from the scene of Paul’s previous troubles.
There could have been something different about the general population of Berea. Maybe not as many pagan Greeks were attracted to the message of the Jewish Messiah King. Maybe the Jews in Berea had a better relationship with or at least didn’t mind the general non-Jewish people of their small town so much. Maybe being more “noble-minded” means that these Jews were more accepting of Gentile inclusion in a Jewish religious space, especially since they diligently searched the Tanakh (Old Testament scriptures) and possibly discovered scriptural evidence supporting such inclusiveness.
I had never considered any of that before, so I’m indebted to today’s Sunday School class for inspiring these thoughts.
I know a large part of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David is the message of healing relationships between more “Hebraically-minded” Christians like me and the normative Church. Part of this process is to have folks like me me make a traditional Christian venue my “church home.” I get to see the positives of how church really does “teach Torah” and I get to share something of my pro-Judaic views on the Bible.
My Sunday School class identified one of the big problems in the Church as apathy, especially with people who were raised in the Church. People take hearing and reading the Word for granted. They go with the flow. They don’t let themselves be engaged by the Bible, either in hearing or reading. They don’t kick up a fuss when the rights of Christians are surrendered by Christians who don’t want to make waves in the larger secular society (which is probably why liberal churches are popular at the moment).
I agree that “going with the flow” can lead to large problems, but the “flow” I have a problem with, even among Christians who are generally pro-Jewish people and pro-Israel (but not necessarily pro-Judaism) is the difficulty in entertaining even a slight deviation from their general assumptions about “the Jews” they read about in Acts or in Paul’s epistles.
If I’m going to make an impression, I have to speak up, but if I speak up too much, I’ll make the wrong impression. I kept silent for the most part in class except for a few words here and there, but I could have literally taken over class with all that was bubbling between my ears.
Pastor’s Ph.D program has expository preaching as an emphasis (and I notice from this reference that the “practice originated from the Jewish tradition of the rabbi giving a ‘Dvar Torah’, explaining a passage from the Torah, during the prayer services”. Pastor encouraged us from the pulpit to engage in “expository listening” which generally means actively engaging God’s Word, allowing it to be applied and integrated into our lives, and then responding out of that application.
But that probably also means generally agreeing with the rest of the people in church, sharing only very small differences of opinion.
I really wanted to ask what the Thessalonians were jealous of in Sunday School class, but I knew if I did, it wouldn’t end well. I’m grateful for what I did learn in class today but unfortunately, as much as I like and admire the teacher (and he is a wonderful person and even a tzaddik), it wasn’t what he was actually teaching.
Many Christians have chosen the path of the Messianic Gentile. They have seen their lives changed for the better as a result of the strides they have taken towards an understanding of their Jewish roots. They have studied, learned, and grown. At a certain point in this process of growth, though, it is not always obvious what to do next. I am frequently contacted by Messianic Gentiles who are debating what do to with their new understanding. I have connected with many communities in which this is a serious problem.
For the most part, Messianic Gentiles want to share the Messianic renewal with other believers. Grasping hold of one’s Jewish roots is a wonderful thing. It is a beautiful feeling to learn about the biblical feasts, the Sabbath, and other Jewish practices which our Master embraced and taught. Our love for Yeshua makes these things precious to us. For disciples of Yeshua, finding our Jewish roots is like discovering a beautiful, long-lost treasure.
Here is where I come in. I should say that I’m not really a typical “Messianic Gentile.” I think the model may have been more appropriate back in the day, but not so much anymore, primarily because I’m a believer going to a church, and the missus is Jewish and not a believer. Furthermore, as Boaz says several times in his book, a “Messianic Gentile” is indeed a “Christian.” I’ve adopted the latter “title” to clarify my vision: that there’s nothing about a Messianic perspective on Messiah and the Bible that should be considered separate or apart from Christians and the Church (big “C”).
The other reason I don’t call myself a “Messianic Gentile” is that I don’t “keep Torah” in many of the ways someone on a Messianic community might. Even at the height of my so-called “observance,” I still drove on Shabbat, cooked on Shabbat, ate what you might call “Kosher-style” rather than what my local Chabad Rabbi would consider kosher, used the Siddur poorly, had (and still have) by and large no command of Hebrew at all, and so forth. I was a lousy “Messianic Gentile” in my practice. But the study and the information flow was and is fabulous.
Among the many things our Master taught us was the command to love each other as he loved us (John 13:34).
This is a core of the message and the vision. If we don’t do these “Tent of David” experiences out of love rather than some other motivation, we lose and the Church loses.
And that’s not easy.
What is easy is to get involved in theological and doctrinal debates trying to show who is wrong and who is right. That’s no different from the typical “dust ups” we have in the religious blogosphere, and I’ve been critical of those before.
Becoming a living and active part of the church community isn’t always easy. I go to services, attend Sunday school, visit weekly with the Pastor, but that’s about it. Oh, I’ve taken on a special project that has required I work with one of the Associate Pastors and some of the staff, but I don’t know if that qualifies me as part of the community. Maybe it just takes more time or maybe I’m holding back.
Can one live as a Messianic Gentile among Christians who don’t yet embrace his lifestyle or viewpoint?
-ibid, pg 19
As Boaz says on the previous page, “Yet this is not always easy. Churches can be resistant to the message of the Messianic Gentile.” But is my mission and purpose to go into church with the idea of changing people? This is one of the most difficult parts of the “TOD” experience. The vision is vast and glorious, but living it out day by day is difficult, especially when I’m not a gifted teacher, theologian, and publisher, but rather, just a guy “on the ground,” so to speak.
I don’t really try to live my life as a “Messianic Gentile” in the church. I just try to be me, which I suppose is both my greatest strength and my staggering weakness.
And why should the church listen to the rather odd sounding message of the “Messianic Gentile?” I mean, it’s their home ground. They hold all the keys that open all of the doors in their realm. They are comfortable with what they are being taught and what they believe fundamentalist and evangelical Pastors and their books and sermons tell them. Saying something like the Torah is not canceled is not just different or new information, it’s radical and potentially “dangerous”. It flies in the face of everything the average Christian in the pew has ever been taught.
The Gentile believers, as part of the commonwealth, had a unique and vital role in the process of building the Tent of David, using their numbers and resources to empower and bless the Jewish community and spread the message of the kingdom in their own culture. In this way, the apostles envisioned the imminent restoration of the Tent of David and the establishment of Yeshua’s hegemony over the entire world…It would hardly be an overstatement to say that this apostolic vision is Christianity’s raison d’être, its reason for existing.
-ibid, pg 22
That’s only vaguely how most Christians and most Christian churches see themselves. Frankly, it took me awhile to even see this aspect of my “reason for existing” and even longer to get comfortable with it. A tremendous amount of internal struggle along with lots of prayer and studying had to take place before I was able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and to recognize that the completed picture was “me.” I’ve spent many months trying to communicate on this blog what I see and while the people who already share that vision are enthusiastic, those who don’t are going to be just as blind to it as I was.
As disciples of the Messiah, Messianic Gentiles must live out by personal example the teachings of Yeshua…
-ibid, pg 24
I read this sentence and immediately thought about Sukkot. I happened to mention to my Sunday school teacher that I built a sukkah in my backyard, as I do every year, and a little bit about the customs around Sukkot. He seemed interested and enthusiastic, but not in the way I anticipated. It was more like a novelty item to him…something interesting and curious to look at but nothing that had to do with him and his lived experience. The idea of him building a sukkah would be seen in the same way as the idea of living in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet for a year. A fascinating thought but in no way connected to his experiential reality.
Who will show the institutional church its blind spot?
-ibid, pg 26
Who says they want to see it? The most interesting part of this experience is not the response, but the silence. I recently had a bit of a disagreement with my Sunday school teacher over the meaning of Acts 15:1-2. He says that the Jewish people who stated that Gentiles needed to be circumcised were “Satanically-inspired” and I said that they were Jewish people who had a legitimate theological question that needed to be resolved.
But we were the only two engaged on this issue. Everyone else in the room was silent. What were they thinking? Did they imagine I’d flipped out or was I just a heretic? OK, probably nothing that strong, but I really don’t think most of the Christians in that room had a clue how to deal with the idea that first century Jews requiring Gentiles to covert to Judaism as the only way to be saved were at all people expressing a valid concern, as opposed to a bunch of trouble makers and Judaizers.
“The church desperately needs creative heretics. A “creative heretic,” an independent thinker, is an example of the “unbalanced” force to which Newton refers in his first law of motion. Only the person who breaks with tradition can change the direction of an institution. A heretic is not an enemy of God but one who is more interested in truth than in tradition.”
Imparting the vision of the “Messianic Gentile” within a church setting requires a great deal of tact. I’ve tried as best I can to restrain myself. I almost always pick just one question (out of the many I could cite) to ask in Sunday school so as not to appear like I’m trying to argue. I can be candid with my Pastor but that’s part of our relationship, and all of those conversations only involve the two of us.
This can only happen, though, if those Christians who understand their Jewish roots choose to remain in their churches as faithful congregants.
-Boaz, pg 26
I’ve had this discussion before about whether or not the “Messianic Gentile,” that is, “me,” should join the church as an official member. My good friend with whom I have coffee every other Sunday afternoon says absolutely “yes.” I must join the church as a full member in order to be accepted and integrated into the body.
But I don’t know if I’d ever by a good Baptist when their’s so much about the theology involved with which I don’t agree. If being a good Calvinist is required, then it’s a “showstopper.”
Which brings me to the question of who changes? Boaz mentioned previously in his Introduction about the challenges of living as a Messianic Gentile in the Christian church. Part of the difficulty as I see it is that the church is exerting an effort to change the Messianic Gentile even as the Messianic Gentile is making the same effort to change the church. Boaz says that all committed Christians want to know Jesus better, and while I believe that’s true, they also anticipate that Jesus won’t look too “Jewish” as they draw nearer to him. The portrait of Moshiach I have to paint is far more semitic than any Jesus they’ve ever seen or want to see.
The Tent of David book is designed to reach out to a vast population of Messianic Gentile and Hebrew Roots Gentile people in our country and either support them in the churches they already attend, or encourage some of them, like me, to return to the church as emissaries of the Messianic viewpoint on the Jewish Messiah. We’re not “secret agents” on a covert mission, we’re representatives of an idea and a perspective that isn’t common in the church. We’re part of Boaz’s vision of reaching the church with a new (or renewed) way of conceptualizing the Jewish Jesus. And we are only one stream among several they are trying to produce, another such stream being their A Promise of What is to Come television series (available for free over the Internet), which is designed to impart much of this information at a very accessible level for most Christians.
You are not required to complete the task, you are not free to withdraw from it … but be aware that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.
-Pirkei Avot 2:21
That sounds incredibly noble, but I’ve always had a tough time seeing myself as incredibly noble. I know too much about myself to see the reflection of a hero in the mirror when I shave in the morning.
So after nearly a year, who do I see when I look at my reflection? Most mornings, it’s easy to ignore the question. I’m getting ready to go to work or if it’s Saturday, I’m mulling over my “honey do” list for the day. If it’s Sunday, then I’m anticipating Pastor’s sermon and considering what I’m going to say in Sunday school, and then thinking about what the rest of the day will bring.
But this blog post series (assuming I write future entries) is about stopping and taking the time to look at the scruffy older guy in the mirror. Am I living up to my mission as an emissary to the church, as it were? Have I been successful in delivering my message and more importantly, in living it out?
I can’t say I’ve been wildly successful. A few people have expressed an interest in what I have to say, but they seem to only just get started on the trail and then stop. I have had conversations with one of the older Associate Pastors who is interested in Hebrew Roots but when I directed him to the First Fruits of Zion website to access some resources, I got the impression that he was quite overwhelmed.
I think there is a desire to learn more about the Jewish Jesus in the church, but there are two issues of concern. The first has to do with what Christians expect to learn. They expect that the Jewish Jesus will look and act just as they imagine him to be. They think the “Messianic Gentile” will teach them “more of the same” but maybe with some interesting but minor details. What they don’t expect is to learn anything different and especially anything challenging. The second issue comes out of the first: getting people to think outside the box without feeling like they’re being heretics or, heaven forbid, being brought “under the Law.”
That second part is really important, because if people aren’t willing to even consider a paradigm shift to a new perspective, they’ll never accept what the “Messianic Gentile” has to offer beyond the superficial.
My impression is that the mission of the Messianic Gentile in the church is a lengthy if not life long process. It also requires a great deal of commitment, not only to the church, but to God. My Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok blog post illustrates how I see what I need to do, not only for the sake of the mission but for the sake of my relationship with God. I do no one any good if I neglect dedication and devotion to Hashem, Master of Legions, Lord of Creation, while otherwise beating my brains out against the stucco walls of the church (or in the blogosphere).
If I am ever to be successful in showing the Christian world around me a true portrait of the Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah King who has come once and who will come again, then I must spend every possible moment at his feet studying, learning from his wise teachings, and becoming an ever more dedicated disciple of my Master.
Addendum: It has come to my attention that I need to be spending a lot more time sitting at the feet of my great Teacher than doing many other things. I’ll speak more on this in tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” but things are going to change.
"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