Wednesday, November 11, 2015
My Journey to Now
When I was a Christian, I thought of Christianity as the only true way to approach the Old and New Testament. I believed that G-d loved the modern State of Israel and that He loved the Jewish People. But...
I also believed that He wanted all the Jews of the world to renounce Judaism and convert and become good Christians.
Then I had an awakening.
Immediately after learning how Christianity introduced certain adulterations in its approach to Scripture (namely its theological ambivalence and even antipathy towards Jews, its culture of anti-Judaism, etc), I wanted very little to do with Christianity. I believed that Christianity was a poisoned well. I needed pure water. I needed to go to the source. If Christianity was an adulterated version of the original Judaic faith presented in the Tanak and the Apostolic Writings, then I needed to find the original Judaic faith that the 1st Century Believers practiced.
My first stop on this journey to find the pure spring of the faith was a fellowship run by a Jewish Christian pastor. While this satisfied a need to fellowship with Jewish People and I had many, profoundly positive experiences there, something wasn't quite right. It was really just a typical, charismatic Christian gathering. The pastor, who identified as a Christian, had no interest in living out any sort of Jewish lifestyle--that I could see. I even tried to get him interested in Judaism. I gave him the classic Jewish apologetic work "This is My G-d" by Herman Wouk. He countered by giving me Sid Roth's "The Last Lap: The Emergence of the One New Man."
So what type of religion does Sid Roth advocate? He begins his book by explaining that Christianity has an anti-Semitic history going back to the Church "fathers" (e.g. Justin Martyr, John Chrysostrom, etc) and how in early Christian history when the "center of the Christian faith moved from Jerusalem to Rome, it became increasingly Hellenized, adopting pagan customs and philosophies rather than the God-ordained practices and beliefs of the Bible. At the same time Christianity became increasingly anti-Jewish..." pg. 33. Not only did Roth seem to reject Christianity on the basis that it is syncretistic but He affirmed that Yeshua did not come to abolish the law (pg. 41) and he talked at length about how the moedim (Jewish holy days) are not bondage but rather a blessing. These elements made Roth sound Messianic.
But then he made some very anti-Judaic statements in a chapter entitled "the Rabbinic Conspiracy." To accept anything from Rabbinic Judaism, in Roth's view, is to grant supreme authority to the rabbis. And he says that the "Oral Torah" is something that was invented after the 1st century common era and that "...one of the major goals of [the authors of the Talmud] was to keep the Jew from believing in Messiah Yeshua." This chapter made it clear that Roth saw no value whatsoever in halachic Judaism, seeing it rather as an anti-Yeshua construct.
So then at the end of the book we see that Roth believes the perfect religion is not Messianic Judaism ( "If the Messianic Jewish [movement] of the 1970s could have ushered in the One New Man, it would have happened"). He says that the ideal is to have "One New Man" congregations and these could be mega churches: "Some One New Man Congregations will be mega churches...Some will be very biblically Jewish in culture and others will only celebrate the biblical festivals. Let God be God....[The Church] will have some characteristics of Messianic Judaism and some of Gentile Christianity."
Bottom line: Roth's vision of the pure, unadulterated faith involved mega churches. Precisely the type of environment I was hoping to escape!
But Roth also said something that was extremely inconsistent. He said on page 23 that the commandment to "honor your father" applied to the "fathers" of the faith and that Christians were violating this commandment by rejecting the Jewish fathers of the faith and invoking curses upon themselves. But wasn't he also rejecting the Jewish fathers of the faith by summarily rejecting all rabbinic halacha? It was slightly inconsistent. He believed corrupt Christianity was easily reformable with One New Man congregations but corrupt Judaism was a lost cause.
So then I went through a period of "do-it-yourself" Messianic Judaism. I would enjoy the traditions of halachic Judaism (what little I understood) while maintaining my belief that Yeshua is the Messiah. Everything I ate had to have a hechsher (rabbinic certification) on it. No driving on Shabbat, etc. My philosophy was simple: Yeshua + as much halachic Judaism as I was capable of handling on my own. There was one small problem with this philosophy:
Judaism is a communal faith and not designed to be practiced in isolation. I needed a community.
My next stop on the Messianic journey then was a Messianic synagogue. For the first time, I saw people trying to implement some of those Judaic values that I had acquired after my Judaic awakening. The format felt Jewish, there was a "rabbi" rather than a "pastor", there was all the familiar Judaic ceremonies I had experienced from the Reform synagogue in my hometown, the liturgical songs, the delightful oneg portion of the service where people broke bread together.
But it was clear early on that to be fully accepted there you had to be Jewish. They wouldn't turn you away for being non-Jewish; they just wouldn't suggest to you that you should be studying or practicing Messianic Judaism--because it was for Jews only. In other words, they had a tiered communal membership structure that was unofficially based on race classification. Non-Jews, like stray dogs, were welcome to come in and visit but ultimately they could never have that top tier membership, could never be real family (unless they married in, which many did, or unless they converted, which many did).
My next stop on the Messianic journey was in the realm of the Hebrew Roots movement. Here were folks very similar to me...except that their faith had evolved in apparent isolation from actual Jews. They had a passion for the Torah, a passion for study. They were as wary of Judaism as they were of Christian teachings. The doctrine of the divinity of Yeshua, for example, had to be rejected since they believed this was a product of Christian teaching (which is actually not the case as we see in a wide variety of 1st century Jewish writings that to believe in someone as a Creator--i.e. Yeshua--was to believe in that person as G-d since ALL first-century Jews believed HaShem was the only Creator and Sustainer of Creation).
This isolation from Jews seemed to have the following consequence: they seemed to care very little for Jewish causes like remembering Zionist heroes, or remembering the Shoah, etc. They didn't seem to think of their movement as something that focused on going to the Jew first. Rather, they seemed to be creating a do-it-yourself Judaism in which little to no input was needed from Jews.
(A lot of people will say I'm being unfair in my assessment here. This is just my feeling though. )
But I still feel that what I need is a Messianic Judaism developed by Jews, that prioritizes Jewish outreach, that delights in Jewish causes, and also welcomes Gentiles as equal members of the communal family, that walks in tension with the rabbis (rather than showing utter contempt), that promotes communal holism (rather than individualism or isolationism), that promotes representative eldership (rather than pyramidal hierarchies where one man rules all or where a group of cronies rule all), that promotes gemeinschaft communities where maximal integration exists (not just a one day of the week superficial version of fellowship).
Ah, well, I've probably talked too long! Hopefully my Hebrew Roots friends won't be offended by this post. I see awesome potential in the Hebrew Roots movement--provided they find ways to prioritize Jewish People, showing them the respect they deserve as our older brother in the faith.
Shalom (and please don't be mad at me for speaking so frankly!),
Posted by Peter at 5:27 AM