Tag Archives: the way

What I Learned in Church Today: Anti-Gentilism and Crypto-Supersessionism

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)

  1. His Previous Conduct – How Judaism Once Controlled His Life (vs. 2b-5)
  2. 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.

ChurchThe 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)

PhariseesJewish 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.

Although I thought Pastor’s sermon was very good with just a few slight wrinkles, Sunday school was another story. You may recall from a previous blog post how my wife had pointed out my arrogance, and as a result, I began to reevaluate my role in the church.

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.

Adult Sunday SchoolBut 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.

Christian and JewishWe 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.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Aish.com

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.

Best Viewed Through a Long Telescope

phariseesThe Jewish-Christian schism in Late Antiquity has been studied from numerous points of view. This paper will approach these events by investigating the manner in which halakhic issues (questions of Jewish law) motivated the approach of the early Rabbis to the rise of the new faith, and the manner in which Rabbinic legal enactments expressed that approach as well. The eventual conclusion of the Rabbis and the Jewish community that Christianity was a separate religion and that Christians were not Jews, was intimately bound up with the Jewish laws and traditions governing personal status in the Jewish community, both for Jews by birth and proselytes. These laws, as known today, were already in full effect by the rise of Christianity. In the eyes of the Rabbis, the evolution of Christianity from a group of Jews holding heretical beliefs into a group whose members lacked the legal status of Jewish identity and, hence, constituted a separate religious community, brought about further legal rulings which were intended to separate the Christians from the Jewish community.

-Prof. Lawrence H. Schiffman
“The Halakhic Response of the Rabbis to the Rise of Christianity”
lawrenceschiffman.com

Yahnatan Lasko at the Gathering Sparks blog sent me the link to Professor Schiffman’s brief article (and with a title like that, I was surprised it was so short) with the idea that I might want to write something in response (and I’m not the only blogger in the “Messianic space” Yahnatan notified). I emailed him back with my immediate thoughts:

Schiffman seems to be saying that prior to the destruction of the Temple, he believes that Jews who believed Yeshua was the Messiah and even Divine wouldn’t have caused any sort of rejection from the larger Jewish population or authority structures since there were multiple streams of Judaism in operation, with the general expectation that they were going to disagree with each other. The destruction of the Temple was the catalyst for many things, including Jewish dispersal, the apprehension of Gentile leadership of “the Way” for the first time, the power surge of Gentiles entering that Judaism, all resulting in the shift from Messiah worship as a Jewish religion to Christ worship as a Gentile faith. As Schiffman said, the Pharisees were the only Jewish stream to remain intact after the Temple’s fall and while “the Way” also survived, it took a divergent trajectory, leading it away from Judaism, so by default, the Pharisees became the foundation for later Rabbinic Judaism.

Schiffman is being very “gentle” in his treatment of this topic. I can see a blog post coming out of this in the semi-near future. Thanks for sending the link.

Of course, Schiffman also said that Jews who had faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah were holding “heretical beliefs,” so I guess he wasn’t all that gentle, but he still seems to be treating the topic with a lighter touch than you’d expect.

I was somewhat reminded of Talmudic scholar Daniel Boyarin’s treatment of “the story of Jesus Christ” in his book The Jewish Gospels (a book I extensively reviewed in The Unmixing Bowl, The Son of Man – The Son of God, and Jesus the Traditionalist Jew).

Boyarin, of course, didn’t express personal faith in Yeshua as Messiah or assign any credibility, from his perspective, that modern Judaism could consider Jesus as Moshiach, but he is another Jewish voice saying that, given the understanding of the Torah and the Prophets in the late Second Temple period, it was certainly reasonable and credible to expect that some Jews, perhaps a large number of Jews, would have accepted Yeshua’s Messianic claim and even his Divinity.

mens-service-jewish-synagogueToday, for the vast majority of Jewish people, such thoughts are outrageous and offensive, but unwinding Jewish history and the development of Rabbinic thought back nearly twenty centuries, we encounter a different set of Judaisms than we observe in the modern era. We can’t really retrofit modern Jewish perspectives into the time of Jesus, Peter, and James anymore than the modern Church can insert post-Reformation and post-modern Christian theology and doctrine backward in time and into the original intent of the Gospel and Epistle writers, particularly Paul. Both inject massive doses of anachronism into the ancient Jewish streams of life when the Temple still stood in Jerusalem.

Today, it takes a tremendous amount of courage for any Jewish person, under any set of circumstances, to say anything even mildly complementary about the ancient Jewish stream of “the Way” and that it might be reasonable to believe that in that cultural and chronological context, Jewish people, from fishermen to scribes, might see the Messiah looking at them from the eyes of Jesus.

While our sources point to general adherence to Jewish law and practice by the earliest Christians, we must also remember that some deviation from the norms of the tannaim must have occurred already at the earliest period. Indeed, the sayings attributed by the Gospels to Jesus would lead us to believe that he may have taken a view of the halakhah that was different from that of the Pharisees,. Nonetheless, from the point of view of the halakhic standards, the early Rabbis did not see the earliest Christians as constituting a separate religious community.

-Schiffman

A number of months ago, Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar made a statement that I think speaks to the above-quoted comment of Professor Schiffman:

But, to complicate matters, different social groups and congregations often have their own versions of Torah that they enforce in these ways. Obviously, this situation is far from ideal.

Fortunately, God is (in my considered opinion) not a perfectionist. Even as he calls us to holiness, he understands the limitations that surround us. For the most part, then, Torah observance is essentially voluntary and variable rather than compulsory and uniform. In fact, this is exactly the situation that existed in Yeshua’s, when the vast majority of synagogues were “unaffiliated” and most Jews practiced what has been called “common Judaism.” In common Judaism, Jews kept the basics of Torah observance according to their customs but did not acknowledge the authority of the sects (including the Pharisees) to impose additional laws.

ancient-rabbi-teachingMy understanding of what Rabbi Kinbar said was that while there was a basic or core set of standards and halachah that defined Judaism as an overarching identity and practice, not only were there multiple streams of Judaism (Pharisees, Essences, and so on), but significant variations of how Torah observance was defined among “different social groups and congregations” (and I apologize to Rabbi Kinbar in advance if I’ve misunderstood anything he’s said).

What this means for us as we’re gazing into the time of the apostles, is that there were many different expressions of what we call “Judaism” back in the day, but in spite of all the distinctions, including one group who paid homage to a lowly Jewish teacher from the Galilee as the Messiah and Divine Son of God, they were all accepted as Jewish people practicing valid Judaisms.

This situation changed with the destruction of the Temple. Divisions within the people, after all, had made the orderly prosecution of the war against the Romans and the defense of the Holy City impossible. The Temple had fallen as a result. Only in unity could the people and the land be rebuilt. It was only a question of which of the sects would unify the populace.

-Schiffman

Holding all of this diversity together in a Jewish land occupied by the Roman empire was difficult enough, and more so for Jewish communities in the diaspora, but the Temple was the common denominator (even if you lived so far away that you could only afford to make the pilgrimage rarely) that defined all Jewish people everywhere. The Temple was always the center, the resting place of the Divine Presence, the only place on earth where once a year atonement was made for all of Israel.

And then it was gone.

As Schiffman points out, with their power base destroyed, the Sadducees where scattered to the winds. It could be argued that the Way, the ancient movement of Messiah worshipers, was a Pharisaic extension. We have indications that the apostle Paul not only did not abandon Jewish practice but remained Pharisaic throughout his life. Many of Yeshua’s teachings most closely fit the theology of the Pharisees. Even my Pastor said that if we lived in ancient Israel (and we were Jewish), we’d be Pharisees, because they were the “fundamentalists” of their day, the populist movement among the common Jewish people, Am Yisrael.

But the split would inevitably occur, perhaps not so much because one splinter group among the Pharisees, the Way, believed they had identified a Divine Messiah, but because a mass movement of Gentiles was entering that particular Jewish sect and, by definition, re-writing the nature of the movement as the majority Gentile membership achieved ascendency and as the Jewish membership were forced into exile, grieving a Temple and a Jerusalem left in ruins.

Of the vast numbers of Greco-Roman non-Jews who were attracted to Christianity, only a small number ever became proselytes to Judaism. The new Christianity was primarily Gentile, for it did not require its adherents to become circumcised and convert to Judaism or to observe the Law. Yet at the same time, Christianity in the Holy Land was still strongly Jewish.

As the destruction of the Temple was nearing, the differences between Judaism and Christianity were widening. By the time the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish Christians were a minority among the total number of Christians, and it was becoming clear that the future of the new religion would be dominated by Gentile Christians. Nevertheless, the tannaim still came into contact primarily with Jewish Christians and so continued to regard the Christians as Jews who had gone astray by following the teachings of Jesus.

-Schiffman

Long telescopeAccording to Schiffman’s commentary, as long as the “Christian” movement was largely controlled by Jews, it was a Judaism and Jewish people who believed that a Jewish Rabbi was actually the Messiah were still Jewish. In fact, in that time and place, it was probably a no-brainer. No one would have even questioned that any Jewish adherent to the Way wasn’t Jewish, anymore than any Jewish person today would question the “Jewishness” of a Chabad adherent believing their beloved Rebbe will one day be resurrected as the Messiah.

Schiffman said that other Jewish streams would have considered Jewish Yeshua-believers as misguided but Jewish, much as other Jewish streams might consider the Chabad and their attitude about the Rebbe today.

If today’s Jewish people (or for that matter, today’s Christians) could look through that long telescope back to the world of Peter, James, and Paul, they might gain a vision that would help them see what I see in today’s Messianic Jewish movement; a perspective that illuminates the “Jewishness” of those men and women who are observant Jews and who have put their hope in the Messiah, who once walked among his people Israel as a teacher from the Galilee who went about gathering disciples, and ended up revolutionizing the world.

5 Days: Practicing Christianity

pakistani-christians-singing-hymnsBoth the Jews and gentiles recognized that the Jews denied the gods of the nations and claimed that their God alone was the true God, the Lord of the universe, but for both Jews and gentiles the boundary line between Judaism and polytheism was determined more by Jewish observances than by Jewish theology. Josephus defines an apostate as a Jew who “hates the customs of the Jews” or “does not abide by the ancestral customs.” He defines a convert to Judaism as a gentile who, through circumcision, “adopts the ancestral customs of the Jews.”

-Shaye J. D. Cohen
Chapter 3: The Jewish “Religion”, Practices and Beliefs
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed.

Many years later, as recorded in Acts 21, the apostles reaffirmed that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were all “zealous for the Law.” To clarify the key difference between Jewish and Gentile believers, they continued: “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 21:25).

Based on this ruling and on the revelation Christ gave to him personally, the apostle Paul staunchly fought for the right of Gentile believers to remain Gentiles. This is actually what Paul was arguing for in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the body of Messiah accepts everyone as they are – it doesn’t matter whether you’re slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile. You don’t have to become something you’re not in order to follow Yeshua.

-Boaz Michael
Introduction, pg 20
from his book
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

That’s comforting to know. God is the ultimate supporter of diversity. No matter who you are, where you come from, what your race, ethnicity, nationality, language, heritage, or anything else is, you can be reconciled to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach, the Savior of the world and the Jewish Messiah King.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (ESV)

This is Paul, saying the same thing we read in Galatians 3:28 and it fits very well with how Cohen states Josephus defines a convert to Judaism. Since we know that Paul opposed Gentile believers becoming circumcised when they came to faith in God through the Messiah, then we understand that the Gentiles did not convert to Judaism. They retained their Gentile identities. If we compare the message of Acts 21 with the rest of the definition of a convert as presented by Josephus, we can reasonably believe that the Gentile disciples of Messiah were not required to adopt the full yoke of the Torah and not commanded to perform the entire body of mitzvot.

I know I’ve talked about this before in The Uncircumcised Convert, Part 1 and Part 2, but when I started reading my actual, official, published copy of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David (yes, it finally arrived) and in parallel, took up Cohen’s book again (I couldn’t access it for a while because I needed to get my Kindle Fire replaced – battery problems), I immediately saw how what both Michael and Cohen wrote dovetailed into this message.

christian-coffee-cultureI know it seems as if I’m off on another religious harangue designed to bring the so-called “One Law” or “One Torah” movements within Hebrew Roots (as opposed to Jewish roots and as more opposed to Messianic Judaism) to task, but this is more personal, or more to the point, this has more to do with my personal identity.

After a recent encounter, I’ve received a very strong message that I need to redouble my efforts to return to church, stay there, and become part of the body of believers within their walls and their context. Part of that effort is picking up, to whatever degree I’m able, the identity of a Gentile believer, a Christian. Boaz Michael in his book plainly defines a “Messianic Gentile” as:

While these believers are still Christians, for the sake of clarity and definition I will call them by the term “Messianic Gentile” (the term “Gentile” meaning nothing more than “non-Jew”). A Messianic Gentile is a non-Jewish Christian who appreciates the Torah, his relationship with Israel, and the Jewish roots of his faith.

-Michael, pg 17

There are probably a fair number of Christians in churches who are also “Messianic Gentiles” based on that definition, but who just haven’t thought of themselves in such a light.

Based on my recent coffee encounter as well as other factors, not the least of which is Boaz’s book, I know I have to go to church and stay in church. It still doesn’t particularly thrill me at this stage, but I must proceed hopefully. And I know I’m not going in to change anyone or to present myself as some sort of “expert.” I’m certainly not going to bill myself as a “Messianic Gentile,” though I suppose the definition fits me after a fashion.

But who I am needs to fit better with other Christians. I can study the Jewish texts forever, and forever I will be isolated and alone because I’m not Jewish. It’s not my “Messianic Gentileness” I’m taking into the church and it’s not even my Christianity…it’s my desire to encounter God within the context of his non-Jewish disciples. Perhaps at some point, my voice will be added to theirs but for now, I need to be a learner and not a teacher.

I know I’m not a Jew and I know based on the Bible, that I’m not required or directed to act like one. Yes, the very early Gentile believers took on a number of the mitzvot such as giving to the poor among Israel, donating to build synagogues, studying the Law of Moses, and the fixed times of prayer.

All these texts imply that the recitation of prayers was a prominent feature of Jewish piety, not just for sectarians like the Jews of Qumran but also for plain folk. Jews who lived in or near Jerusalem prayed regularly at the temple. This is the plausible claim of Luke 1:10, “Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside [the temple],” and Acts 3:1, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

-Cohen, Chapter 3

PrayingWe know the early Jewish disciples met at Solomon’s colonnade (John 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12) at the Temple for daily prayers. The later Gentile converts to “the Way” most likely adopted the times and “the prayers” in their own worship (Acts 10:3) as well as other Jewish customs and practices, but of course, as we’ve seen above, they were not considered converts to Judaism nor obligated to the mitzvot, although it seems like they were certainly allowed to perform the mitzvot in a number of instances. That had limits, particularly in terms of access to the Temple.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

Acts 21:27-29 (ESV)

We may never recapture the full history of what the relationship was like between the early Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master, but we can take what information we have and use it to reasonably recognize who and what we are today as Christians. For me, that means pursuing a course of action that requires following both the timeless footsteps of the first Christians such as Cornelius (Acts 10) and the modern Gentile believers, with the firm conviction of who I am and who the Jewish people are in relation to God. If God permits, maybe my role will one day be of some use to Him among His people in the church, but for now, I just need to practice being who I am…a Christian.