Tag Archives: theology

The Failing Light

Candle in ObsidianIn some naïve areas of Christian consensus people imagine that Jews obey Torah because they believe that this will save them. However, a simple conversation with the average religious Jew, or reading in books by religious Jews will demonstrate this to be a fantasy. And which of us has not heard the proposition that Judaism is a religion of law and Christianity a religion of grace, with Judaism being pictured as Mount Sinai covered in thunderbolts, and Christianity, the grace of Jesus dying on the cross. People forget, or never seem to get, that it was on that very same Mount Sinai that God revealed himself as “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“The Foundational Reason Jews, Including Messianic Jews, Should Obey Torah”
Interfaithfulness.org

There are times when I think I’m going crazy. No, not hallucinating, voice-hearing, I-need-my-meds crazy, but when the world of Messiah that I see being constructed around me is roundly and soundly contradicted in every detail by people I respect and admire, I feel crazy.

I had the “crazy” experience last night in my weekly meeting with my Pastor. I had several weeks to “get my ducks in a row,” so to speak, to present my side of the story about why Jews remain obligated to Torah, but there’s a difference between walking into your Pastor’s office with half a dozen books in hand plus a bunch of notes, and being a Pastor who has decades of experience interpreting scripture, a Master’s degree in the subject, and someone in a Doctoral program in religious studies.

I’d need about twenty years to catch up and he’d always have the same amount of time to stay ahead of me.

I used to be amazed that I seemed to be able to “hold my own” in our little debates, but last night was proof positive that I’ve definitely been “fighting out of my weight class” all along.

As a “Messianic apologist,” I’m terrible.

But when I read commentaries such as Dr. Dauermann’s or many of the resources produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), what they say seems to make so much sense, and they don’t require “retrofitting” the Tanakh (Old Testament) with later interpretations to make the Messianic prophesies work alongside what the Apostolic Scriptures say about Yeshua (Jesus).

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Yeshua said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.”

John 8:39

Deeds are a natural response to faith. In fact, one can’t exist without the other. Messiah’s brother knew this all too well.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James 2:14-26 (NASB)

abraham-covenant-starsI see a completely clear line leading from Abraham to his physical son, the only son he had that was promised the inheritance, his son Isaac, and that line extends to Isaac’s son Jacob (but not Esau), and then to Jacob’s offspring, whose descendants are the twelve tribes of Israel, with that line extending out of Egypt, to Sinai, to the Torah, to the Mountain of God, to the Land of Israel, to the Messianic promises, to Messiah.

Unfortunately, I can’t verbally articulate that line and all of its details, at least not convincingly. Sure, I can write and write and write, but as you can see, over a thousand blog posts later, I’m still writing, I’m still exploring. I’m still trying to understand.

But I still can’t explain why it seems so simple and so reasonable and so Biblical that Jewish people, past, present, and future, and yes, Jewish people in Messiah, are obligated to observe the mitzvot, not as a condition of salvation, but because of the continual stream of ratified covenants God made with Israel and only Israel (name a covenant God made that wasn’t with Israel) and as a definition of the relationship Jewish people have with each other, with the Land of Israel, and with God.

The LORD appeared to Isaac just as He had appeared to Abraham. He told him, “I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham” (Genesis 26:3). He restated the promise to multiply his descendants, to give them the land and to bless all nations through them “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:5). Isaac was inheriting the Abrahamic blessing because Abraham had merited God’s favor.

How did Abraham keep God’s charge, commandments, statutes and laws? The commandments of God’s Torah—His divine law—had not been given yet. Did Abraham know all the laws of the Torah given through Moses at Mount Sinai? If not, how could he be said to have kept them?

Rashi claims that this means Abraham kept the entire Torah and the oral traditional law of Judaism. That seems like a stretch, but what does it really mean? What laws did Abraham keep?

-from “Abraham’s Torah”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot
FFOZ.org

The Torah and the Prophets never really talk about salvation the way the New Testament does, so it’s hard to make comparisons. People like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua didn’t seem to worry or fret over their own salvation or the personal salvation of others. They worried about listening to God, and obeying God, and encouraging others to obey God, lest they become disobedient and as a consequence, die physically (their ultimate spiritual fate was never discussed).

So how can I compare the importance of obedience as we see in the case of Abraham above, when we have to deal with Paul?

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Romans 3:21-30 (NASB)

practicing_faithFaith has to be the common currency for salvation, otherwise non-Jews could never be justified before God without converting to Judaism and observing the entire Torah. Faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness, and so it is with us, but then why does God commend Abraham, not for his faith, but for obeying God and keeping his “commandments, statutes, and laws?” (Genesis 26:5). In fact, in verse 3 of the same chapter, God says that it’s because of Abraham’s obedience that he re-established this promise with Isaac to multiply Abraham’s descendants, to give those descendants the Land of Israel, and “bless all nations through them.” It’s because of Abraham’s faith and obedience to God’s commandments, statues, and laws that we, the people of the nations, are blessed through Abraham’s seed, that is, Messiah.

I don’t want to quote from too much of Dr. Dauermann’s article, but commenting on the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon recorded in Jeremiah 35, he says:

What point is the Holy One Blessed be He making here? Just this: that the Jewish people have failed to show to Him the honor and respect due him. While the Rechabites show honor to their father Jonadab by obeying his rulings, the people of Israel dishonor God by not obeying his Torah.

And THAT is the reason we as a people, and as a movement, should be far more concerned with Torah living—because we honor God when we do so, and we dishonor him when we do not.

This very closely mirrors something the Master said to his disciples and his critics among the Jewish people:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19 (NASB)

Jewish people, and especially Jewish teachers, who annul (fail to obey or disregard) the least of the commandments of God (Torah), will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Messianic Age. But those who keep and teach the commandments, statutes, and laws of the Torah will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. A Jew annulling the Torah is dishonoring God and as a result, will be least, but a Jew who keeps the Law and teaches other Jews to do so, is honoring God and as a result, will be great.

If this makes so much sense to me, why can’t I communicate that convincingly to someone else? Really, I’m not making all this up, it’s in the Bible. If the primary matrix with which you interact with God is your intellect, and your primary tool for doing so is the Bible, shouldn’t you at least consider the possibility that this explanation has merit, even if it conflicts with your current tradition of Biblical interpretation?

Sigh.

smallI’m ranting. It’s been a frustrating week. I have to keep reminding myself that no matter what happens to me, if I get tossed out on my ear into the street tomorrow, it won’t affect God or His promises to Jewish Israel in the slightest. The fate of the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

So why am I here? Why do I matter? Do I matter?

In principle, the Bible seems to say so, but in the face of an infinite God, I always feel so terribly small and insignificant.

After reading some commentaries written by Christian blogger Tim Challies about MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, I posted this on Facebook and Google+:

I was just thinking of MacArthur and his “Strange Fire” conference again (reading a Fundamentalist blogger my Pastor recommended). It occurred to me that MacArthur would no doubt view the Messianic movement as “strange fire” as well. I got to thinking that if MacArthur were aware of my existence, he might “come after” me, too. Then I realized I’m just small potatoes and I would be totally beneath his notice. I also realized in the same moment that I am never beneath God’s notice. What an odd situation. I can be too small to be noticed by a big-time famous Christian Pastor but I’m never too small to escape the notice of God.

In the 1994 film True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, the character Simon, played by Bill Paxton, delivers this line when he erroneously thinks he’s going to be killed by Schwarzenegger’s character:

Oh God, no, please don’t kill me. I’m not a spy. I’m nothing. I’m navel lint!

Compared to all the Christian Pastors, and Christian bloggers, and Christian theological instructors, a guy like me “on the ground,” just praying, and studying, and worshiping day by day is pretty much “navel lint.” Compared to an infinite and cosmic God, I absolutely am “navel lint,” and actually, far, far less.

So why am I here? Why do I matter? Do I matter?

Why do I feel like God expects something out of me and that I have some sort of job to do…and if I fail, it won’t be a good thing…it will matter if I fail?

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

-Edith Wharton, American writer

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that Israel was called to be a light to the nations by God (Israel 42:6). I know that Jesus, as Messiah, the firstborn son of Israel said he was the light of the world (nations) (John 8:12), and he said that his disciples (presumably including all future disciples such as me) are the light of the world (nations) (Matthew 5:14). If all that is true and it filters down to the level of the individual, that is to say, me, then I’m supposed to be a light to the world around me.

As Edith Wharton rather aptly states, I can be a candle or a mirror. I guess either will do. The worst thing that can happen is that I can go dark, either because I’ve been blown out or I’ve been shattered into tiny pieces.

walking-into-churchFortunately, Messiah’s light can never go out, and his light isn’t dependent on me. In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-12), five let their lamps go out, so I guess it’s not impossible for my light to fail as well, at least while it’s in my charge.

But if I have failed, then what use am I? Of the billions of “second chances” God has already given me, does He have one more, or is it all over?

I don’t know. I guess all I can do is keep showing up until I find out one way or another.

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A Quick View of Revelation Through a Christian Lens

trumpets-on-the-lords-dayI was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Revelation 1:10-16 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

The previous entry is Trouble Breaking into Church with Messianic Prophesy.

Last Wednesday, Pastor and I talked about (among other things) a summary of his understanding of the Book of Revelation, that really confusing, mystic experience of the apostle John, the vision he experienced during his exile on Patmos.

In one of my previous blog posts, I had tried to sketch out my understanding of Pastor’s conceptualization of Revelation but missed the mark. This is my attempt to correct my mistake, but it’s also part of my investigation into “the end times,” that part of Christian/Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish doctrine I’ve been avoiding for so very long.

The following (and this time, I took notes) is my summary of Pastor’s summary of Revelation. Basically, I’m just laying a little groundwork for what follows. No conclusions, just the fundamentalist Christian mapping to the return of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation, and the Messianic Era.

Here goes.

According to Pastor, in Revelation 1, we see the resurrected Jesus. As you might imagine, he’s not quite the way John remembered him during their time together in Israel.

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the churches, but according to Pastor, after this point in the book, the Church (big C), the entire body of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ everywhere, disappears, to be taken up to Heaven with Jesus for the seven years of tribulation. For those seven years, there are no Christians on Earth at all.

Chapters 4 and 5 show us the Church in Heaven.

Chapters 6 through 19 show us the tribulation period, God’s judgment and wrath on the unsaved of the Earth. Since there is no mention of the Church in these chapters, Pastor believes the “argument by silence” here supports the Church being absent from the Earth during this time. Those people who come to faith in Jesus during the tribulation are saved, but they are not part of the Church. Those ancient Israelites who lived and died before Jesus are resurrected (Pastor says he’s not quite sure on the timing of this event) and are saved, but they too are not part of the Church.

Chapter 19 says something important.

And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

Revelation 19:14 (NASB)

Depending on which Bible translation you use, the phrase could be rendered “armies in heaven” or “armies of heaven.” If it’s of heaven, then it’s most likely talking about angels. But according to Pastor, if it’s in heaven, then it’s likely talking about the Church, the group of Jewish and Gentile believers who were raptured up to Heaven with Jesus but who now follows Jesus back down to Earth. Their being “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” indicates their righteousness and purity. There’s a further implication that in Jesus striking “down the nations,” that as his army, the Church, will also “strike” (Pastor didn’t mention that last part, but seems to make sense, given the context).

Chapter 20 of Revelation is the Messianic reign. I mentioned to Pastor that one chapter being devoted to such an important time period seemed a little skimpy, but he reminded me that there are many prophesies in the Old Testament (Tanakh) that speak at length about the Messianic reign. I can’t wait to map them to the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of events to see how (or if) it all connects.

final_battleRevelation chapters 21-22 are the final battle, the new Heaven and new Earth and progressing into Eternity.

We spent some time covering a little theoretical ground on the rapture before tribulation (which is Pastor’s viewpoint), rapture after tribulation (which Pastor says most churches go with), and rapture in the middle of the tribulation. Pastor believes the following is the critical portion of scripture that supports his perspective and that all other perspectives must somehow explain it in order to be considered valid.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NASB)

Pastor also mentioned there are differences of opinion about when the Messianic Era will occur, but my current opinion is that the wars (all but the final one) must all occur and all of Israel’s enemies must be defeated before we experience a thousand years (or a long but undefined period of time) of peace under the reign of the King.

This all leads back to who and what is the church, the fate of ethnic Israel (Romans 11:26), and what I consider the “splitting” of “saved Israel” (the righteous Israelites such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and so forth) vs. the Jewish people who believed in Jesus and are part of the Church. It still bothers me that Israel has two separate expressions in the Millennial Kingdom, one as saved Israel and one as Israel in the Church (occupying the body of Messiah with the Gentile Christians).

The prophesies in the Tanakh don’t presuppose a divided Jewish people unless you consider those that mention Israel and Judah, such as the following:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NASB)

I don’t want to go too far down that road right now. Like I said, I’m just laying the groundwork for what follows, but if you have any ideas about how the Christian and Jewish points of view about the coming (or return) of Messiah are supposed to fit together, let me know.

Christianity Today and Why Paul is Not Anti-Judaism

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusThe misconception about Paul with the longest historical pedigree is that he was anti-Jewish. Many imagine that after his Damascus Road experience, Paul immediately rejected Judaism and embraced Christianity. They assume that in the first century these were two clearly distinguishable religions. Before his encounter with Christ, the thinking goes, Paul was wrapped up in a legalistic pursuit of salvation and was teaching others a similar philosophy. So great was his passion that he persecuted the Christians who taught salvation by grace through faith. After his conversion, everything changed. He embraced God’s gracious salvation by faith in Christ and rejected the system of dead rituals bound up in Judaism. Paul left Judaism, therefore, and turned to Christianity.

-Timothy Gombis
“The Paul We Think We Know” (originally published 7-22-2011)
Christianity Today

Someone posted this on Facebook today and as I was reading it, I wanted to jump up out of my chair and scream YES! YES! Someone finally GETS IT!

OK, I’m not really that emphatic in my behavior but it does excite me that someone writing for a traditional Christian publication understands what I understand and what I’ve been trying to communicate in the church I attend for nearly a year.

Let’s cut to the chase. What does Gombis really think about Paul and more importantly, Paul’s struggle to integrate non-Jewish disciples into a Jewish religious stream?

The problem in the early church, therefore, was not the temptation toward legalistic works righteousness. They faced the communal challenge of incorporating non-Jewish converts into the historically Jewish people of God. First-century Judaism didn’t have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism. This is the issue in Acts 15, when Christian Jews from Judea urged the Gentiles in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

While the early church leaders decided in theory that non-Jewish believers in Jesus were not required to become Jews (Acts 15:13-21), many churches struggled with the practical challenges of becoming healthy multiethnic communities. Paul, as pastor and theologian, addresses these challenges by claiming that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:20). This is not a condemnation of Judaism as inherently legalistic, but an affirmation that God does not justify a person merely because he is ethnically Jewish. Jews and non-Jews approach God on equal terms when it comes to salvation (emph. mine). All have sinned and all stand in need of God’s redeeming grace in Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). Therefore all who are in Christ are equal siblings in God’s new family (Gal. 3:26-28).

The “in theory” comment seems to relate to the ongoing struggle to integrate, with anything approaching seamlessness, Jewish and Gentile disciples within a single religious and social framework, but I’ll return to that issue in a moment. The main point here is that Paul did not reject Judaism for Christianity, supported continued Judaism and Torah observance for Jews, and identified the primary problem among Jewish believers and their difficulty in accepting Gentle disciples not as legalism but ethnocentrism. Many of the believing and non-believing Jews could not accept Gentiles as equal participants of a Jewish religious branch without requiring that they convert to Judaism. After all, whoever heard of Jews and Goyim being equal in the sight of God? Gombis already quoted this verse, but it should be repeated.

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)

PaulThis was the core problem Paul faced in his mission to the Gentiles and it would always haunt him. It was the cause of most of his major problems with the various Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora. He would never see a day when this conflict was ultimately resolved and the echo of his struggle still rings in our ears. That is, if we’ll actually let ourselves listen.

But what about Paul, Judaism, and his relationship with Jewish disciples?

A second reason why we cannot envision Paul as anti-Jewish is that even after his conversion, Paul remained a Jew. He did not imagine that he was inventing a new religion, nor did he leave Judaism to join the Christian church. At the end of his third missionary journey, Paul arrived in Jerusalem and, at the suggestion of James, went through purification rituals at the temple (Acts 21:23-26). Paul saw no contradiction at all between his commitment to Christ and his faithful participation in Jewish practices. Explaining his ministry before a variety of audiences, Paul emphasized his Jewish identity and claimed to be acting in faithfulness to the God of Israel. Before the Jewish Council in Jerusalem, he declared, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6, emphasis added). And to King Agrippa, he again claims to be a Pharisee whose hope is in the promises of God to Israel (Acts 26:4-6).

Third, Paul never calls upon Jews to reject Judaism. Instead, he exhorts them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and welcome his non-Jewish followers as siblings in God’s new family. We get a glimpse of his preaching to Jews in Acts 17:1-3: “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said.”

The Paul of the New Testament, therefore, is not anti-Jewish. He was faithful both to the Scriptures and to his Jewish heritage. He preached Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel, but was insistent that salvation in Christ was not limited to ethnic Jews. According to his gospel, all Jews needed to receive Jesus as Messiah, and all followers of Jesus—Jewish and non-Jewish—needed to embrace one another as siblings in God’s global family in Christ.

I’m stunned that this is being published in an online Christian venue. I’m absolutely shocked. I’m pleased beyond wonder. Paul never stopped being a Jew, never stopped Jewish observances, and absolutely never, ever encouraged any Jew to abandon Jewish practice, lifestyle, and faith. Turning to Messiah is a completely Jewish act and does not require the slightest deviation from Jewish Torah observance.

But what about “in theory?”

Gombis isn’t suggesting that in theory, the Gentiles became Jews either by formal conversation (which Paul opposed) or in action but not name by observing the mitzvot in a manner identical to the Jewish disciples. The author is only acknowledging what I have been saying all along: that in principle, the requirement was to unite Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master within a multiethnic, multinational framework where all could share in the grace and salvation of God without anyone being compelled to surrender their unique and individual national and ethnic identity.  In practice, this was never accomplished and ultimately, both populations pursued wildly different trajectories. Their struggles are what we see in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today.

walking_discipleEarlier, I posted my review of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode Raising Disciples. This is particularly relevant to today’s “extra meditation” because we encounter the topic of disciples as imitators. What did Paul say to the Gentile disciples he was raising up about imitating their Master?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he told them to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” but we don’t know what they are supposed to imitate. My suggestion is that the manner of Jewish and Gentile imitation is not identical across the board, since it would obliterate Jewish and Gentile distinction in the body of disciples and thus eliminate the problem of Gentile integration. If Jewish and Gentile disciples were identical and homogenous, the basis for schism would have been severely blunted if not done away with entirely.

However, it was a given that Jewish disciples were intended to continue Jewish practice according to Gombis and the legal decision rendered by James and the Council was that the Gentiles had no identical obligation. By common association, the Gentile disciples might have acted very similarly to their Jewish counterparts, at least to an outside observer, but there remained a difference in obligation between the Jewish and non-Jewish disciples within the body of Messiah.

That probably isn’t a very satisfying answer, but I’m still thrilled that a Christian online magazine is promoting a view of Paul that is so close to my own. Now if I could just send this link to every church Pastor in the country with a note saying “READ THIS!” and if they’d keep an open mind while doing so, I’d consider it a step forward.

Interestingly enough, today is Hoshana Rabbah, the traditional day of judgment for the nations of the world. How will God and Israel judge us if we do not learn to see Paul and the Messiah in the manner Timothy Gombis suggests?

That Square Peg in a World of Round Holes Feeling

Worker Hammering Square Peg into Round HoleAccording to Ezekiel chapters 40-48, the millennial age will feature a magnificent temple (much larger than any historic temple of Israel) that will serve as the center for the priestly rituals and offerings. In attempting to explain the sacrifices of this temple, the thought is not that the death of Christ is insufficient but rather that the sacrifices are a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, much as those in the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment in Christ’s death. (emph. mine)

-John F. Walvoord from his book
Major Bible Prophecies
as quoted in my Sunday School class notes for Sept. 22nd

I’ve got material in my head for three, maybe four blog posts, but I’ve only got time to write one. So which one shall I write?

In going over my notes of Pastor’s sermon on Sukkot, I could make a blog post out of it, but I really think Pastor did a very good job on this topic. Nothing he said particularly surprised me and I don’t have hardly anything to disagree with him on (except maybe to say that while the future of Sukkot is the “meat” on his plate, we don’t have as much linkage into the future of “the feast” without a present, lived experience).

I have somethings I want to say about reading the last entry in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club and ending my year-long study of Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, but I think I’ll save that for another later this week.

Especially as the Torah cycle is ending and about to begin again, which marks the approach of the first anniversary of my return to church, I want to write an update to my review of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David, describing my own experience, but I’ll need more time to re-acquaint myself with the book’s material and view it through fresh eyes.

But I do want to comment on my experience in the Christian church through the lens of today’s Sunday school class. Notice in the above quoted passage from Walvoord’s book, I emphasized text that threw me for a loop. Am I reading this wrong, or is Walvoord (and by inference, my Sunday school teacher), saying that the Israelites of old while making offerings to God realized that somehow this was all deficient and they looked forward to their fulfillment in Christ’s death? Of course, after reading the sentence a few dozen times, I realize Walvoord may not have meant that the ancient Israelites thought this way, but that the Temple sacrifices “looked forward” to a time when they would be fulfilled (ended) by the crucifixion.

Either way though, the anachronism is blatant.

jerusalem_templeFrom the context of the Israelites at the time of the Tabernacle, and later, Solomon’s Temple, the sacrifices were korban, a way of drawing closer to God, by removing barriers and obeying the God who gave them the Torah through Moses at Sinai. I seriously doubt that most of them considered a future time when the Temple would not exist and certainly they never would have imagined that Messiah, hung on a tree to die, would kill the sacrificial system. Sure, from a traditional Christian perspective, we’ve been taught to believe such things, but that means we become incapable of putting ourselves in the shoes of a Jewish person of old and comprehending his or her lived experience and how wonderful they thought the Torah mitzvot were (and modern religious Jews continue to see the Torah as a joy). Read Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 for examples of what I mean.

How about this?

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16 (NASB)

It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Jerusalem will come up every year to worship the King Hashem, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Succos.

Zechariah 14:16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Now, here’s one of the questions in my Sunday school notes regarding this verse:

In verse 16, what will the unsaved Gentiles in the Millennium be required to do each year? (emph. mine)

Excuse me? Unsaved Gentiles? Where does it say that in the verse? Actually, the answer has to do with my teacher’s perspective on “the end times” and the “Millennial reign of Christ” based on very traditionally Christian sources. I actually challenged him, saying that the term “saved” was being anachronistically inserted into the Jewish text. It just says that each of the nations that went to war against Israel will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem at Sukkot to pay homage to the Jewish Messiah King and to celebrate the festival. There’s no implication regarding their spiritual state.

(For an alternate commentary on this passage, see Toby Janicki’s blog post God-Fearers: Zechariah 14, Sukkot, and Anti-Semitism.)

churchesBut then I realized that he believes (or could believe) that all of the “saved Gentiles” were living with the “saved Jews” in Israel and only “unsaved Gentiles” lived in the other nations of the world. Of course, that implies that somehow we believing Gentiles are given a portion of the Land, of Israel, during Messiah’s reign. I’m not sure how or if that sort of thing works out and I’m inclined to believe it doesn’t.

Pastor preached on this when he said that once the Church is “raptured” (in his view, up to Heaven) with Christ, they (we) will return to Earth with him with special jobs to do, especially during Sukkot. This is very confusing because it seems as if there aren’t very many believing Gentiles and Jews around if we can all fit in a country about the size of New Jersey. It’s also rather strange if only we believers live in Israel and the rest of the world are “Goyishe sinners” living in all of the other countries on the planet…and yet somehow, they acknowledge that they are ruled by the Jewish King from the Jewish Kingdom of Israel.

I guess the idea is all of those “unsaved Gentiles” will use the time and opportunity to become “saved,” but then, as my Sunday school teacher asked, will they receive “glorified bodies” instantly or will only their children get those? My question is, when a Gentile is “saved” during the “Millennial reign,” do they immediately “make aliyah” to Israel?

I’m putting a lot of words and phrases in quotes because most of them are Christian anachronisms and theological concepts being forced into the Jewish text (and let’s keep in mind that the New Testament is also a Jewish text). I think I’m getting a headache.

Here’s something else from my class notes. I’m not sure if it’s from Walvoord since the citation seems a little confused:

Note: The battle of God and Magog here (after the Millennium) is totally different from that in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39 (during the Tribulation) -Walvoord. There, Israel is attacked (while her “friends” watch) by a coalition of Russian and Muslim nations from the north at a time when Israel is at peace. (emph. mine)

Not that it couldn’t happen this way, but how can the author possibly know with such certainty exactly which nations/powers are involved? Couldn’t some European (or other) nations also be attackers (and the way the EU and especially the French have been treating Israel lately, I wouldn’t be surprised)?

In discussing Revelation 20:11-15, the class notes ask the question, When they face Jesus Christ as their Judge (II Tim. 4:1, Phil. 2:9-11), what 66 “books” will He open to judge “their works”? In class, the teacher said he supposed other books could be involved besides the Bible, but even putting such a detail in these notes assumes quite a bit about what we think we know.

The last such “interesting” bit of wording I’ll insert comes from the notes for next Sunday’s class on Acts 15:1-21 (one of my favorite themes):

In Acts 15:1-2 and 15:24, Now with what Satanically inspired and dogmatic false teaching did these “certain men from Judaea” try to infect the church at Antioch, and why according to Galatians 2:4-5? (emph. mine)

Apostle-Paul-Preaches“Satanically inspired” teaching? Since when is discussing opposing theological viewpoints considered Satanic. Most Wednesday evenings, I meet with my Pastor to discuss similar topics and we don’t always agree with each other. Is that disagreement “Satanic?” Am I being “Satanic” when I disagree with my Pastor, since he represents a more mainstream Christian theological perspective?

I know it seems I’m really bashing my Sunday school teacher. Actually, he’s a great guy and I like him. He teaches a lot of the retired guys in the church on Wednesday mornings, which I consider a mitzvah. He obviously loves his wife and she loves him. He has a heart for Christ and is enthusiastic about the Master’s return and the restoration of Israel and the world.

But there are just some times I get that “square peg in a world of round holes” feeling, particularly in Sunday school.

Addendum: See an extension to this “meditation” by reading The Obscured Messiah in the Bible.

Born Again Idol Worshipper

jesus-idolAs Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the great Kabbalist and philosopher living at the turn of the century put it, “There is faith that is actually denial, and there is denial that is actually faith.” When a person says that he believes in God, but in fact, that God he believes in is really a conceptual spiritual idol, an image of God that he has conjured up, then his faith is actually denial of truth, heresy. However, when a person professes atheism because he just can’t believe in some almighty king with a white flowing beard floating somewhere in outer space, in a sense he is expressing true faith, because there is no such God.

-Rabbi David Aaron
“Chapter One: Getting Rid of God,” pg 7
Seeing God: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah

In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of original sin, Adam’s rebellion against God’s will in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases that original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.

But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this obstacle is more a matter of will, not at all inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world.

Any time we install a feature of creation and call it God, we are committing the sin of idolatry, the Jewish cardinal sin. It need not be a material object; it can be something much more abstract or elusive: a nation, history itself (as in Marxism), financial reward, or another human being.

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Introduction,” pp x-xi
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

It’s not really pleasant to be called an idol worshipper but that’s exactly what happened to me recently.

No, it wasn’t done in an unkind way and I understand the complete sincerity of the person involved and their desire to be “a light to the world,” so to speak, by encouraging me to reconsider what this person believes is a very bad decision on my part…worshipping a man as God.

I think it’s rather amazing that I checked out both Rabbi Aaron’s and Rabbi Gillman’s books from my local library a week or more ago, before I knew I’d be having this conversation with my friend. In reading their first chapters, they both seem to be speaking to the idea of worshipping idols, albeit from different directions. Rabbi Gillman’s book sounds somewhat like my friend in that it’s a Jewish person attempting to be a light to the nations by writing to Christians and letting us know how we’re not getting it right. We aren’t examining the Bible through the correct lens. There are just too many areas of the Tanakh (Old Testament) that either fail to speak of God becoming man and Messiah, or that directly speak against such a thing.

My friend and I have had these conversations before and while I try very hard to take his suggestions and information and examine them objectively, I continue to run headlong into my faith in Jesus as Messiah. I’ve been challenged to re-examine that faith against the Tanakh and seek my answers within its pages. Can we “prove” Jesus is the Messiah without touching the New Testament at all?

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:24-27, 31-32 (NASB)

I suppose I just cheated because I’m quoting from the New Testament, but look at what’s being said. Jesus, using only Moses and the Prophets (which makes perfect sense as none of the New Testament writings existed during this time in history), “explained to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

If I take that statement at face value, that means it’s possible to support having faith in Jesus as Messiah using only the Torah and the Prophets. Too bad Luke didn’t record what Jesus actually said. It would have made things a lot easier to investigate.

crossLately, I’ve been writing a lot to Christians in the church defending Messianic Judaism and the observance of the Torah mitzvot by believing Jews. I’ve spent almost no time at all directly addressing Jewish people who are religious but have no faith in Jesus, and who see worshipping Jesus as God as idolatry. Rabbi Aaron implied, based on the above-quoted passage of his book, that someone who doesn’t believe in a God that is not credible because He is quantifiable, physical, and definable, has more faith than a person who can point to Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Is worshipping Jesus worshipping an “image?” Is worshipping Jesus who lived a human life actually worshipping a man?

You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but you shall utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.

Exodus 23:24 (American King James Version)

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…

Deuteronomy 4:15-16 (NASB)

Those two verses don’t seem to have a direct bearing on the worship of God in corporeal, living form, since “images” and “graven images” address more manufactured items, like statues and such.

This all goes to the heart of how we Christians understand that Jesus was at once human and Divine. For most Jewish people, this does not compute. Rabbi Gillman’s book is written specifically to refute Christianity, although I’m certain with the best intentions.

When Christians try to explain their/our faith to most other groups, we rely a lot on the New Testament and we speak in all manner of “Christianese.” However, does this work very well with most Jewish people? The majority of Messianic Jewish people I know came into the movement by way of the church. Most of them became familiar with and invested in the Torah and a lived Jewish experience only later on. Faith in Jesus preceded a Jewish understanding of faith in Jesus.

Not being Jewish and not having that lived experience and education, I can only present the basis of my faith from a Christian/Gentile point of view.

A lot of Jewish people have a point in “defending” themselves against Christianity. Conversion and assimilation are considered a real threat to Jewish continuance forward in time. While I don’t believe that God would ever allow the extinction of the Jewish people and of Israel, Jewish people are still afraid. Further more, people like my friend and Rabbi Gillman authentically believe they are providing Gentile Christians a service in explaining how we are mistaken and how to correct our mistakes.

This is the sort of dialog that the church hasn’t done well at during the past twenty centuries or so. But if we can’t show from the Tanakh that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, what can we Gentiles in Christianity say to the Jewish people who challenge the validity of our faith and our identity in Christ?

Systems

broken-crossThe eye sees, and the heart desires.

-Rashi, Numbers 15:39

People cannot help when an improper impulse comes to mind, but they certainly can stop themselves from harboring the thought and allowing it to dominate their thinking. Yet, sometimes one may be responsible even for the impulse itself.

While some impulses are completely spontaneous, others arise out of stimulation. If a person reads, hears, or sees things which can provoke improper thoughts and feelings, he or she is then responsible for the impulses that are the consequences of that reading, listening, or observing.

This concept is especially important in our era, when not even a semblance of a code of decency exists as to what may or may not be publicly displayed. All varieties of media exploit our basest biological drives.

Given the interpretation of the right of free speech under which such provocative displays occur, the government has no way to restrain them. However, each person has not only a right, but also an obligation to be his or her own censor. No one has to look at everything that is displayed nor hear everything that is broadcast. Those who fail to exert their own personal censorship are tacitly stimulating immoral impulses, and for that alone they are liable.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid looking, hearing, and reading things which can have a degenerating effect.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 16”
Aish.com

I know that Rabbi Twerski was thinking of something else entirely, but when I consider trying to avoid exposing myself to things that have a “degenerating effect,” I have to include the world around me, including the world of “religion.” Well, “degenerating” isn’t the right term. “Discouraging” is.

Although you won’t read this until Sunday morning, I’m writing this on Thursday in response to my Wednesday night meeting with my Pastor. We were supposed to be discussing Chapter 8 in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but we got sidetracked on a few things.

I bring up the book because of my Pastor’s response to it. He told me that he was having difficulty accepting some of Lancaster’s assertions early on in the book out of concern that if he assented, he would end up traveling down a trail he didn’t agree with. That’s how I felt last night as Pastor and I talked about salvation, Jewish people, and the future of Judaism and Torah. I felt like I was being led to agree with doctrines that I wasn’t comfortable with but didn’t know how to refute. In going over the little pamphlet about Baptist Distinctives (that is, what makes the Baptist church different from all other churches), I could feel myself being tugged down the “garden path,” so to speak.

I ended our meeting by stepping out of the bowl of alphabet soup, all the letters and words of denominational doctrine and distinctives, and exploring actual experiences and relationships.

Well, sort of.

I’ve often imagined what it would have been like to live in the late Second Temple period in Jerusalem. What would it have been like to go into the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. How many people would be there? Who would I see? What would the air smell like? Then, I’d humbly kneel and pray to Hashem. This close to the actual “house of prayer for all peoples,” would I feel the tangible presence of the God of Israel? Would I hear the songs of the priests ministering in the inner court?

0 RI’ve often imagined what it would have been like to be one of the non-Hebrew shepherds tending the flocks of Abraham in Canaan. In the heat of the day, I watch him in the distance, studying his mannerisms and appearance, knowing that this is a man, among all human beings, who has spoken to God “face to face.” In the evenings after a meal, around the fire, would he teach us of his God? What would he tell us about a relationship with Him? How does one pray to the God of Abraham as a humble shepherd? In blessing Abraham, would I be blessing God and also myself? What a hard and yet simple life, living close to a prophet and to the One God.

We read “Bible stories” about “Bible characters” as if reading morality fables or fairy tales. We “know” that they’re real, but do we? It’s just words on a page. Does “Biblical inerrancy” result in forgetting that Abraham was and is a real human being? Do we discount the moments of his life we don’t find in the Bible but nevertheless, moments that must have occurred? When, in reading the Bible and praying, do we allow Abraham to stop being a work of “fiction” and become a living, breathing, talking, experiencing human being?

Religion is all about systems, and Christianity, in all of its flavors, is just another series of systems. The systems exist to tell us what the Bible means and how we are supposed to live our lives. The systems tell us what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, and what, if anything, we’re supposed to do about it.

But the systems totally ignore awe, majesty, terror, magnificence, and everything else everyone from Abraham in Canaan to a lowly, nameless goy in the Court of the Gentiles would experience in a living, breathing, bleeding, authentic, moment-by-moment encounter with God; the sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, thoughts, feelings, and dreams of actually being there instead of just reading the Bible and especially instead of filtering the Bible and everything else through religious systems that so very much remove us from authenticity and the jarring, electrifying, naked connection to our Creator.

I tried to explain how I thought that Jews and Gentiles both are a part of the unified body of Christ and yet the Jewish connection to the Sinai covenant and its conditions, the Torah, are not undone by that unity. I drew a diagram, which I’ve reproduced below, to explain my thoughts. “But the Jewish people haven’t accepted Christ, so they can’t be saved,” he says (I’m paraphrasing). “Not just faith in ‘a Messiah’ but ‘The Messiah,’ in Jesus,” he says (I’m paraphrasing again).

Something’s wrong. I’m agreeing to things I’m not sure about. My Pastor is so sure of so many things that I think we can only see through “a glass darkly,” and that exist as much in the realm of God as they do in the material world. I don’t know how to explain it, so it’s difficult to know what to say.

covenant_chart1And there are so many other people who seem so sure about unsure things. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning, just one day after being sentenced to 35 years in Federal Prison for releasing 700,000 secret military documents to Wikileaks, should come out as transsexual and declare that he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman, obviously changing how prison will be “applied” to Manning.

Religious systems. We craft them saying that we see their foundations in the Bible. But we craft them to say whatever we believe is important to us, and thus they reflect the political and social agendas and imperatives of the occupants of these systems. Extracting religious systems from the Bible is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, but because human beings are involved, they end up dramatically contradicting each other, sometimes (often?) based on generational changes in attitudes.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think I’d make a good Baptist, not because I have anything against Baptists per se, but because I don’t think any denomination or modern religious stream, old school or new, holds all the keys and unlocks all the doors.

I know they think they do. They all think they do. But being an outsider, I can see a different perspective. I can see lots of perspectives, and none of them make a lot of sense. Pastor pretty much agrees with what he reads in Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law and I can barely stand a single thing Schreiner wrote.

Pastor is also reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. He’s just finished the chapter written by Scott J. Hafemann, “The Redemption of Israel for the Sake of the Gentiles” and he likes it very much. I’m going to re-read it to refresh my memory of the text. What did the Pastor see in this chapter that we can agree upon?

Can there be a peace? Or is the only peace in the presence of God and to heck with the systems?