Monday, July 12, 2010
Forks in the Dusty Road
Consider this. In general the Judeo-Christian perspective uses the same fundamental document as the basis for our beliefs: the Bible. You would suppose that, since we all use the same authoritative document as our foundation, we'd all have, more or less, the same point of view regarding God, ourselves, and the world in general. Is that really the case?
I remember once sitting in a Bible study class in a church listening to an older gentlemen, who was a retired Pastor, tell us that he'd seen churches split over what color to paint the walls of the fellowship hall. Are we, as believers, really that petty? I suppose we are if that story is true. How many Christian denominations are currently in existence? How many different translations of the Bible are there, just in English? How many different sects of Judaism are there? Can we agree on anything?
I suppose you could use the phrase "drinking the kool-aid" to indicate that we sometimes avoid questioning the assumptions we make about our faith and about the specific methods we choose to express our faith. At least some of us swallow what we've been taught and never think that it could be wrong. Even after deliberate investigation, once we've come to a conclusion, we never look back...or look forward to new information. What makes one method of worship preferable to another? Is there a worship style that God finds more pleasing than others? Is there a right or wrong model for our faith? Are there different models of worship for different people groups?
The last question has been tossed about in the comments sections of a number of my blogs and among the blogs of the MJ and OL movements, particularly in relation to the discussion of the MJ/BE perspective. From that perspective, Jews who are believers in Yeshua as Messiah worship in the manner of the modern synagogue model on the Sabbath and Gentiles who are believers must worship on Sunday in the manner of the modern Evangelical Christian church. I am probably overstating this point, but it does appear as if we are relegated to our particular slots or pidgon holes. How do we know all this is true? Let's talk about some assumptions.
First of all, depending on who you are and your theological framework, what I call "assumptions" may not be assumptions at all from your point of view. You may consider them "facts" or "truth". From my point of view, we all have the same Bible but what we believe that Bible tells us seems to be different depending on our perspective. Here are some examples. I may not get the wording quite right for each group, but hopefully, I’ll come close.
Christian perspective: Jesus came to die for everyone's sins and to replace the Law with Grace for everyone. The covenant promised to the Jews now belongs to the (Gentile) Christians who are "spiritual Israel". If an ethnically and religiously Jewish person wants to worship Jesus, they need to renounce Judaism and convert to Christianity. There is only one path to salvation and that's through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One Law perspective: Yeshua came to die for the sins of all human beings. The Law or Torah remains intact, just as it was given to the Children of Israel and the Mixed Multitude at Mount Sinai. Both Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua are subject to the same Torah and the same commandments and, while both Jews and Gentiles remain distinct people groups, they are all equal inheritors in the covenant promises, both the natural and grafted in branches.
Messianic Jewish/Bilateral Ecclesiology: Yeshua came to die for the sins of human beings, to gather the lost sheep of Israel to himself and correctly interpret the Torah for the Jewish people. He also came for another pen of "sheep", the Gentile people, but Gentiles, as grafted in, are not "spiritual Israel" and are only subject to a subset of the Torah commandments. Jews who have become believers in Yeshua as the Messiah meet in a traditional synagogue setting on Shabbat and keep all of the 613 commandments including kashrut, praying with tzitzit and tefillin, and so on. Gentiles are not subject to these commandments, may worship on any day, are not attached to the laws of kashrut or any other part of Torah, and are expected to worship separately from their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Like I said, I can't promise I got all those assumptions right, but hopefully, I presented at least a fair idea of how these three groups view the same Bible, the same Yeshua/Jesus, and the same God.
Question is, can we all be right? If not, who is right and how can you tell? Even if I go through the Bible and particularly the Apostolic Scriptures with a fine-toothed comb, will I necessarily find the right answer?
When I say "right answer", I mean the one that God considers correct. Here's one of my assumptions. I believe that there's an absolute truth sitting out there somewhere. It's probably sitting right in the Bible if I just knew how to read it the way God wants me to read it. I don't see how all those different perspectives can be correct because they contradict each other. There is one interesting view, though. In some sense, traditional (that is, "non-Messianic") Judaism has a mechanism for them all being "correct".
Some time ago, I reviewed a book called At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden written by Jewish Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. In this book, Halevi records his own journey of faith through the worship and religious practices of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In some ways, it was a particularly dangerous journey, but one of his conclusions is that he could see how Christians and Muslims actually connect with God through their individual faith perspectives. He didn't believe that only the Jewish people had a relationship with God, only that the Jewish relationship with God is unique in all the world and among all the peoples. That is, Christians are not Jews and Muslims are not Jews, only Jews are Jews. Nevertheless, Halevi concluded that Jews and Muslims and Christians all had a connection to God.
I had a similar experience with my wife. Our faith perspectives have shifted somewhat away from each other these past few years. These days, she takes classes from the Chabad Rabbi and spends Erev Shabbat in the Rabbi's home with his family. While I admit that our separation in this area has caused me more than a little concern, I have to conclude that she is doing what she needs to do in order to connect to God and to other Jewish people as a Jew. I've been a little worried about how she saw me and my wee, little congregation but she said something amazing to me. She said that she believes I'm doing the right thing. Of course what she means is that I'm doing the right thing for me, but that's OK. She could have had a lot of other reactions that would have been very troubling to our marriage. This, more than any other part of my life, including this series of conversations, has caused me to re-evaluate my assumptions.
Can Messianic Jews say the same thing about believing Gentiles? Can they say we are doing the right thing, for us, but that it's separate from what they're doing? Actually, that's exactly what they're saying...at least as far as I can tell. Here's the problem.
Nowhere in the traditional (non-Messianic) Jewish framework, must Gentiles be included nor is there a commandment or even a suggestion that Gentiles be "grafted in" to Israel. On the other hand, the Apostolic Scriptures are very specific about somehow injecting or including or grafting in Gentiles to the Hebrew root so that, Jew and Gentile alike can be nurtured by the same God. I sort of see Gentiles as the "inconvenient truth" of the Messianic movement. If we didn't exist or if the Bible were more explicit about creating a parallel but detached relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers (or if the Bible said Gentiles were grafted into a maple tree in Vermont and Jews were the branches on the olive tree in Israel), we wouldn't be having this conversation and there'd be no arguing. However, the jury seems to still be out on this subject.
My view of MJ/BE (and again, I can be wrong) is that its entire theology and worship is identical to all of the other Judaisms with a single exception: belief that Yeshua/Jesus is the Messiah. MJ sees Gentiles somewhat in the same way as how all the Judaisms see us. Non-Messianic Jews believe God sees Gentiles, knows us, loves us, and has provided a way to salvation via the Noahide Laws. These laws are a very small subset of Torah that comprise the entire set of standards God expects of non-Jews in order to merit a place in the life in the world to come. If you tweak the perspective just slightly, you seem to come up with the MJ perspective, except that Yeshua is included and, in addition to the Jerusalem letter (which functionally is much like the Noahide Laws), faith in Yeshua is all that's required of a Gentile to gain salvation. But is this right and does it work? More importantly, is this what the Bible actually says and is it what God actually means?
You won't find the Noahide laws in the Bible, particularly as how they're applied by Judaism to the Gentiles, but from the Jewish perspective (non-MJ) it's how the Christian church can seem to make sense to a Jew. Nothing in the Noahide Laws presupposes a worship model. That is, as stated at noahide.org, if Gentiles are supposed to "Respect G-d and Praise Him", how can they do so corporately? Of course, there may be no mandate, from a Jewish point of view, for Gentiles to come together as a group to worship God, but if you love God, it seems to happen that way for most people. The answer, from non-Messianic Judaism’s perspective, is the Christian church. In the church (Jesus aside, as far as Judaism is concerned) we can praise and worship God, respect human life, respect family, respect other people, and respect other creatures. The only other requirement is to have some sort of judicial system, which most nations have in place. That's it.
Does this work for those who have come to faith under the umbrella of Yeshua the Messiah? I use the "umbrella" metaphor because, ultimately, believing Jews and Gentiles all fall under his authority, even if our individual worship practices, theologies, and covenant relationships are different. Because of what it says in the Apostolic Scriptures, believing Jews and Gentiles have a greater connection than non-MJ Jews and Gentiles (believers in Yeshua/Jesus or not). This is where the "problem" exists. This is where the question arises as to just how tied or untied are Messianic Jews and believing Gentiles (of any kind...OL/Christian/whatever)?
That's what I'm looking for and I'm looking for it in the first century. That's the original template. Paul knew the answer to this question. So did Peter. Even in their day, there was a huge issue with figuring out how to integrate Gentiles into a worship of the Jewish Messiah without it being necessary for them to convert to Judaism. Galatians is Paul's primary statement that Gentiles are not required to convert to Judaism in order to come to faith. Look at Acts 10 when Peter and other Jewish people are just completely amazed that Gentiles were able to receive the Holy Spirit. It was revolutionary. It was shocking. It came completely out of left field as far as the Jewish people were concerned. Only the Jews had been able to receive the spirit before. What did it mean? How did it work? What are the Gentiles now that they’ve received the Spirit (or are we anything at all)?
In Acts 11, Peter was criticized by some Jewish people for entering into the home of a Gentile, but when he explained what had happened and how God had made it possible for Gentiles to receive the Spirit and salvation, they had no further arguments and rejoiced in God's power and grace.
But what happened next and what happened after Acts 15? That's where we don't agree. Either there's a universal, absolute, and cohesive answer that is available in the Bible, or we're just going to have to wait until the Messiah comes to straighten this mess out. If the Gospels and the Epistles didn't exist, MJ could apply one flavor or another of the Noahide Laws to the Gentiles and we could either take it or leave it. However, they do exist and no one seems to be able to agree what they mean for the Gentiles.
One thing to think about is that there is no absolute answer. I don’ t know how that works except that any worship style that is not in direct contradiction of the Bible and does not violate the Word or Will of God is accepted by Him. Hard to believe since He was so specific about the Children of Israel and Temple worship. Why is there so much detail about the Temple but virtually no explanation about how to operationally graft Gentiles in to the olive tree?
Let the comments begin.