I'll say upfront that some of you reading this won't like what I'm about to say and certainly will argue against my opinion, but I've been considering this for quite some time and today, I gave it a voice.
I've been trying to identify what specifically has been bothering me about the various comments in the Messianic blogsphere since I started involving myself in this environment. While there have been blogs seeking to establish unity within the Messianic realm posted lately, such as Dan Benzvi's Is a meaningful dialoge possible? You bet! and Judah Himango's Some things we agree on, the question is, have the discussions been agreeable? Not really.
One of the issues for me is that the representatives of the Bilateral Ecclesiology "branch" of Messianic Judiasm (though this isn't the only expression of MJ), seem to equate the idea of them needing to be treated with respect as needing to be agreed with all the time. Of course, we all want everyone to agree with us. That's human nature. Most of us realize that this is an unrealistic desire, though.
I recall Gene Shlomovich saying that there have been One Law and Two House representatives who have "repented" and have since agreed with his position. Does that mean if I disagree with Gene or more generally with MJ/BE I have sinned and need to repent? Is having a difference of opinion a sin?
It seems as if MJ/BE is saying that, because they are "Sons of Abraham", they should automatically be respected (and perhaps agreed with), regardless of anything else including what they say and how they behave towards others. While I agree that Jewish people (Messianic and non-Messianic alike) have a unique covenant relationship with God, that relationship doesn't entitle said-Jewish people automatic respect and deference in any debate, discussion, and encounter, simply because of their status as Jews.
Consider what John said in the above-referenced quote to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they presented that argument. Also, consider the words of Paul:
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. -Romans 11:17-23No, I didn't miss the part that says the Jewish people are the natural branches and the Gentiles are the "wild olive branches", nor the part later on that says all of Israel will be saved, but look at the "glue" that keeps both the natural and wild branches attached to the root. It's faith. Any of the branches can be glued in or knocked off depending on their faith status, not their ethnic status and not even their covenant status. Righteousness isn't a matter of who you are but a matter of your faith and what you do with it. This goes all the way back to Abraham.
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. -Genesis 15:6Paul confirms this in Romans 4:3
What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."Respect isn't automatic, even in the sight of God. It's what we do, our "fruits" that make a difference, not just our covenant status. How you tie your tzitzit or if you do or don't wear tzitzit, while important within its context, isn't as important as the weighter matters of the Torah. It's these weighter matters, love, kindness, justice, charity, that are never mentioned in any of our blog conversations and comments. While One Law is most often accused of lacking these characteristics, I haven't seen them discussed significantly by MJ either.
Naturally, we must have a relationship with God in the first place, but once that's established, it's what we do with that relationship that counts. We can't simply wear our status like a t-shirt or some other garment and expect that's the length, depth, and breadth of our responsibility to God and to other people.
No, we don't earn salvation, it's free, but we still have to make the choice to accept an active relationship with God and then accept the lifestyle that goes along with it. For instance, how many religious leaders expect to be automatically obeyed and respected just because they're religious leaders, not because they're necessarily leading a holy and Godly lifestyle? I'm not comparing the individuals or the groups associated with MJ/BE with such leaders, but only offer them as examples of folks who thought their "status" earned them respect and entitlement, not their behavior.
Respect can't be demanded. You can't insist I respect you and seriously believe I'll roll over. Even children don't respect their parents beyond a certain point unless the parent behaves in the child's and family's best interest and not just in their own.
In Judaism, you have a position relative to God in the merit of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that diminishes or even deletes any personal responsibility. It's why a Jewish man, even if he is a Buddist or an atheist (but not a Christian or Messianic) can go into any synagogue in the world and still get an aliyah and read from the Torah.
So what did Yeshua change in terms of the Sons of Abraham? How about this:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. -Galatians 3:29Paul was specifically addressing Gentiles in this letter and so was affirming that non-Jewish believers are also Sons of Abraham, and not merely Sons of Noah, as rabbinic Judaism would consider Gentiles.
While we can say that Yeshua came for the lost sheep of Israel and not for the Gentiles, most of these arguments specifically ignore (as I've mentioned before) John 10:14-16 when Yeshua says he is the Good Shepherd of both the Jewish and Gentile flocks, and Matthew 28:16-20 when he commands his Jewish disciples to also make disciples for him from among all non-Jewish people on Earth.
Also, while we may argue about which commands of Yeshua do and don't apply to Gentile believers, consider these examples that go to the very core of our faith:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." -John 13:34-35Yes, Yeshua was speaking to his Jewish disciples, but are we to truly believe this doesn't apply to the later Gentile disciples? Does it mean that Jewish disciples are only supposed to love other Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples are only supposed to love other Gentile disciples, in some sort of "bilateral" way? If we only show love and kindness to those who are like us and disrespect those who are not, to quote Yeshua, "..even the tax collectors and pagans do that".
Of course, the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40, for example) contain what I consider the two "big buckets" for all the commandments. We are to love our God with everything we've got and, out of that love for God, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. When Yeshua said All the Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments, it's as if he were saying that they were the containers for all of the Torah and the writings of the Prophets. While we can all take these directives at face value and run with them, we can also dig into the buckets and explore what they contain...a wealth of God's wisdom, justice, and mercy for every disciple of Yeshua. If the words of Yeshua are not obeyed by all his followers, Jewish and Gentile alike then the little minutiae we argue about doesn't amount to much.
Those commandments are at the heart of the "stuff" we argue about (food, tzitzit, etc...). The "stuff" is just the interface by which we operationalize our encounters with God, they are not a means unto themselves. Just like the sacrifices didn't save, though they had meaning and purpose.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;It's the inner man who matters. Yes, Judaism says that even a good deed committed with a bad motive "counts", but it doesn't mean that having bad attitudes and going through the motions is desirable. It's just a place to start.
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. -Psalm 51:16-17
In dealing with my walk and with the MJ/BE/OL communities, I have considered walking away for it, usually due to the lack of unity I experience, not within my local group, but with the larger body of Messianic believers. I don't mind disagreements and discussion, it's the name calling and the snide, (and sometimes) behind the back remarks I find unworthy of followers of the Messiah. You may all be Rabbis and have advanced religous degrees and places of leadership within your own congregations, but that doesn't make it right to violate the command of Yeshua or the dignity of others.
In Judaism, the concept of Lashon Hara (the evil tongue) has much thought and literature dedicated to it, yet few if any of us pay any attention to it and feel free to violate this tenet whenever we please.
In our zeal to find a movement or person to follow that gives us an "edge", we've forgotten these words of Paul.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. -1 Corinthians 1:10-17If we have one shepherd, how come we're not acting like one flock. It's not like we're even acting like two flocks (Jews and Gentiles) but half a dozen flocks or more, each with our own priorities and requirements that we adhere to, regardless of the impact on others. I don't care who you are, Jew or Gentile, Messianic or One Law, Rabbi, or Pastor or whatever other label you attach to yourself. Messiah is all or he is nothing.
It's not about having all the answers, it's about continuing to ask questions. Our study of the Word, along with our walk with the Messiah isn't just something that happens once and then we're done. It's a journey we take all our lives. Sometimes we find we've made a wrong turn and have to change direction, but that's part of the journey
The greatest single thing for which I admire FFOZ is their courage in admitting they believe they made a mistake and then taking steps to correct it, no matter what the cost. I may not always agree with everything they say, but they have the courage of their convictions and a sincere desire to serve the Messiah.
You may think you have all the answers and I know that I don't. I know I'll pursue God all the days of my life, looking for how he wants me to serve Him better.
Being holy is a process, not an event. Don't imagine you've arrived. Once you stop questioning your assumptions and believe you are right all the time, you've stopped growing in God. You may impress the people around you or you may hurt or damage others, even to the point of preventing people from coming to faith, but are you truly listening to God?
That's how you teach...not as an expert...but as a student. Someone who expects to continue learning throughout life. As I said, it's not so much having all the answers, but being able to ask the right questions.
What did Jesus change? He brought the Gentiles into the family of God. I'm not sure there was agreement in the original Messianic Jewish movement about what to do with us and I'm sure there isn't agreement with what to do with us now. But we're here because God wants us to be here and because Yeshua is our shepherd and we, just like the Jewish flock, are also his sheep...and sons of Abraham.