According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Jewishness of the Messianic Scriptures



Introduction

Long years ago I became inadvertently involved in the (Jewish) Christian-based Torah movement (see a sampling list of Christian sectarian and gnostic movements here). At the discretion of my pastor I put together a Passover Sedar Feast during an Easter celebration to a congregation of second- and third- generation Dutch immigrants steeped in Reformed doctrine. To be sure this would have been a very odd type of Easter observance to these Western European emigres steeped in Dutch Reformed traditions, and yet, when done, became a visibly moving blessing to all.

A year later I found myself and my family at a new church plant that quickly became involved (quite innocently) in a Gentile proselyte movement based upon Torah study and led by a sect of well-meaning Gentile Christians wishing to "touch the hem" of our Rabbi Jesus' garments in form, function, doctrine, and structure. They held to a type of pseudo-Christian teaching that pretended to be informed by a Jewish-mindedness but in actuality were bending the Scriptures to suit their favored outlooks and ideas about Jesus and the church, while willfully revising hoary orthodox doctrines based upon their sectarian outlook. All-well-and-good except for the fact that it smelled sectarian right from the outset.

For several years I personally resisted this group's skewed "Jewish" teachings of the Bible until finally my new church home came around to this same idea after having pursued it hard during this time of spell and entrancement. One of our favorite teachers to the church was a Mr. Robert Vander Laan from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, whose video I present below. He had a hunger for the Jewish God of Scripture, and in all things wished to "fill" the atmospheres of the church's New Testament witness with insightful Hebraic words and phrases, customs and traditions. Especially as they revolved around Jesus and New Testament Christology.

It was commendable but again, the sect of people he attracted were looking to aggressively re-write church doctrine in a decidedly unorthodox way. Eventually this interest within our very young church became a questionable fad and regrettably died away because of the tension it brought when attempting to rewrite Christian doctrines in sectarian fashion however its basis and foundation.

A Christian sect focused on Judaism

What tension? That Jesus was primarily looked upon as God's prophetic Rabbi (priest) rather than as humanity's Rabbinic Saviour. That the (Gentile) church was a dishonourable place of cultic worship and better located in home cell groups on a Saturday evening lighting candles, singing psalms, wearing tassels on one's clothing, and bedecked in yarmulkes (Jewish skullcaps). That the apostle Paul was a Jewish Christian heretic who didn't deserve to be read - only the gospels of Jesus alone - and that all of the NT Scriptures must be held in a forced subservience to the Old Testament teachings of Judaism as this sectarian  movement wished to interpret them. Ecclesiology was re-written. Eschatology was re-written. The Christian Gentile calendar scrutinized, criticized, and disavowed. And generally, there was a forced doctrinal migration back into Old Testament worship (however it was comprehended) which was strongly recommended and acceded to by all active participants in this group.

Here was an instance of trying to capture New Testament teachings through the eyes of Jesus and Paul gone awry. Rather than leading to a deeper grace of understanding with our wanna-be "Jewish" Christian brethren it became a steep divide demanding all Messianic Christians to become Jewish Christians. A divide that was misappropriated and finally fell apart under its own weight of conjectures and hot passions that would worship God in the "right way." The Jewish way. As they understood it.

Hence, as much as I would like to recommend Ray Vander Laan's Bible Lands series... I do so with reservation based upon the hindsight mentioned above. Rather than serving as helpful insight and instruction it became a misdirected passion by a sincere sect of Christians wishing to remake the Christian Church Jewish instead of Messianic. A group that perceived God's fullest blessings only upon those few Christian followers dedicated to a culture of Jewishness, rather than teaching that both Jews and Gentiles alike were equally blessed by the grace of the Saviour regardless of a culture participation or ethnicity. That would divide Scripture to exclude much of the New Testament (such as the apostle Paul's writings), while rewriting standard church eschatologies of Kingdom  theology in a purer, fuller strain of a Jewish Kingdom rather than as a combine traversing all nations, tribes, and people. That is, the gospel of Jesus, in accordance to His Kingdom teaching, is trans-national, trans-cultural, trans-temporal - and not Jewish only-and-ever-and-always. It was a sectarian movement that had grand motives but held very bad, unbiblical theology, as strange as it sounds. It was as much mystical as it was confounding and sadly bound by a hard-headed leadership intolerant of all things of the church that were non-Jewish and Gentile-based (which included most of the Western/European Protestant heritage and Eastern Orthodox traditions).

Hence, as much as RVL's videos are very good, one must remember he is self-trained and hearkens back as one of the progenitors of these well-meaning, but doctrinally misplaced, "Olive-Branched" church sects seeking "purity" of worship through acts of the flesh by donning Jewish dress and adopting a Jewish diet, calendar, attitude, and temper as they interpreted it. Whose height of information always flowed first-and-foremost from today's orthodox Rabbinic Judaism (which is a good place to begin if you are to begin somewhere in order to understand Judaism). But the emphasis was so one-sided in this effort that the old observations by Jesus in the New Testament about the Scribes and Pharisees were beginning to haunt the doctrines of this newer sectarian Jewish-Christian group. They were fast becoming guilty of the very things Jesus had warned the Pharisees and the Scribes about 2000 years earlier.

Since then, I believe RVL has parted ways from these kinds of Christian groups while moving into the larger streams of evangelicalism if I read his website accreditations properly. Now mindfully, this is not meant to be a diatribe against our Jewish/Christian brothers and sisters but against the practice of proselytizing Christians into a Judaistic-form of Christianity knit by an interpretive Jewish form and structure. It is one thing to understand the church's heritage and attempt to capture its meaning but quite another to subtend the church into divisions within the Lord's body. Where one group is more favored of God than another. Where only the "inner" sanctum of "true" believers receive God's fullest blessings.

This kind of attitude is what makes this religious effort more of a sect and not simply another kind of protestant denomination. It has moved away from mainstream Christian orthodoxy. And though I do not wish to muddle things up, we should also further distinguish between Messianic Christian fellowships with deep Jewish roots from non-Jewish Christian sectarian groups... the former being more orthodox than the latter. The one places emphasis on Jesus while the other places emphasis on tradition. The one brings its Jewishness to Scripture as part of its heritage while the other forces it in and all else out. It is a different attitude or spirit of worship from one to the other and stands readily apparent to the questioning eye.

But to those who would add to the Lord's salvation by works of the flesh let us not think that God favors only those Christians who become Jewish in their Christian attitude. Or that God's Kingdom-to-come is going to be strictly Jewish and not multi-ethnic or multi-national. Or that God's greatest favor is reserved to those church fellowships dedicated to a kind of Jewish-mindedness rather than a Messianic-mindedness. The task of the Holy Spirit is not to proselytize Christian Gentiles into becoming Jewish Christians but Messianic Christians who know-and-respect the Jewish background and history of the Scriptures without becoming perversely sectarian in perspective.

Jewish Orthodoxy's Historical Connections

At present, most of contemporary Jewish orthodoxy has been based upon Old Testament manuscripts that can go no further back in textual variant than to that of the 6th century AD. The orthodox church itself also has a similar association with that of its own New Testament Scriptures because of the ravages of time and space to ancient documents and human cultures. And thus, when speaking of Jewish orthodoxy we must realize that its own history was being consolidated around the same time of Christianity. Even though Judaism goes further back in time than Christianity in its present iterations of itself it is about the same age as that of early Christianity. Now this is a stunning statement so we should go on to explain what this means....

In Jesus' day the Judaism we read of in the New Testament was in its earliest forms. We speak of it as an incipient (= early) form of early Rabbinicism (cf, Wikipedia - Origins of Rabbinic Judaism) which means that it was yet in its infancy during Jesus' time and not fully developed until around AD 200. What helped propel its consolidation was the religious rivalry it was experiencing from the early Christian church as Jewish Christians spoke the same Old Testament Scriptures and preached Jesus from its pages as God's revealed Son and Savior. Those Jews not similarly convicted were then motivated to increase their efforts to centralize around prominent aspects of their Jewish faith as distinguished from early Christian interpretations and practices of an unbounded Judaism decoupled from tradition and bounded unto the person and work of Christ Jesus. (I would go further to testify that it was this Yahwistic faith that Ezra and Nehemiah preached that Jesus much later took and re-orientated towards Himself. For followers like John the Baptist's Essene fellowship this was an easy adoption to make. But for other Jews not so much so).

Hence, the consolidated Rabbinic faith of AD 200 is the one that now serves as the basic structure for today's Jewish orthodoxy seeking to re-capture any of its earlier traditions as it may through archaeological research and discovery, legends and traditions, even as Christianity does as well. A rich religious history that attests to the sad legacy of man's evil and hate upon cultures that can no longer remember its own histories having been ripped apart by genocidal rage and death. The Jewish culture has been on of those unfortunate people groups that have suffered for thousands of years from war, deprivation, lost of faith and hope, death, mass exile, and various forms of national resurrection.

Even so, the Judaism we read of in the New Testament Scriptures from Jesus' and Paul's day was one that was birthed during the Inter-testamental period between the Testaments. A period the church considers as the "silent" period between the Old and New Testaments when God did not speak to His people but one that actually was not so historically silent or so lost from God as once was thought. For it was within this time period that God began to resurrect His people and culminate His promises to them through His Son. It would be a period of restoration begun at Nehemiah and Ezra's separate returns from Babylonian exile (450-350 BC) and resulting in a number of Jewish groups of varying belief and religious structure.

That this Intertestamental period must be understood as a time when the ancient Jewish faith purposely gathered together its remaining documents and oral histories with a dedication of mind-and-will that sought to retain its very ancient, very fragmented, very fractured, and mostly lost, Jewish traditions. This we know as the Second Temple period after the Babylonian exile. A period where remaining Jews dedicated themselves to restoring their faith and traditions.

Traditions that would flow forward through a multitude of interpretive sectarian Jewish doctrines during those 350-450 Intertestamental years into the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Accounts that saw Jesus debating with the priests of His day as to their private understandings and interpretations of their ancient Jewish faith. From these debates we gather that the Jewish faith then was as divided as the church is today around its many doctrines of God and Scripture.

That John the Baptist's Essene group was but one of those divided Intertestamental Jewish groups. A group that was popular within some regions of Israel and happened to be the one that Jesus' cousin (John) would become involved with. A group from which even Jesus would teach some of their beliefs to His surrounding countrymen either as a way to start a discussion or to modify a debate (it made for good semantics and great contemporary discussion).

Accordingly, early Judaism (or incipient rabbinicism) was a movement that would continue to solidify after the early church's formation (thus, incipient Christianity between AD 26-36) to eventuate into a body of beliefs some 200 years later even as the early Church Fathers were doing the same for the Christian belief. It is this rabbinicism - or early Jewish faith - that forms so much of today's Jewish orthodoxy. An orthodoxy whose remaining talmuds and tanakh (the tanakh is the Jewish canon of Scripture composed of both the OT + the Jewish Apocrypha) can only extend to around AD 600 in testimony to its hoary Jewish texts and manuscripts blighted by the ravages of time and war, loss and death. (cf. Wikipedia - The Talmud is composed of (1) the Jewish Mishna which is the oral records of the Torah and, (2) the Jewish Gemara, which are the teachings or commentaries derived from the oral Torah).

An orthodox Jewish faith that appreciates Jesus' reform and the Apostle's message, but a faith that does not regard Jesus as their Messiah. Nor the Apostle's New Testament writings as their Scriptures. Which prefers Judaism in its own cultural right as God's saving function of grace while seeing God's redemption as proceeding through the nation Israel itself by its practices and beliefs, and not through the Church that was formed in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost by the Holy Spirit made of both Jew and Gentile.

And while it is true that we observe the same God, venerate the same Jewish traditions, and seek the shalom of God in truth and love with all of humanity, the dividing line - as with all things in life - is Jesus as God's Son and Saviour. Who encompasses in His Person all the Jewish traditions and customs by His Name, Acts, Word, Incarnation, Redemption, and Resurrection.

Who is the Holy Lamb of God become our High Priest, Holy Prophet, and glorious King, by Yahweh's will and Spirit. Who is very God of very God. And very Lord of very Lord. Who is one in essence with the Father, and in Triune fellowship with both Father and Spirit.Who forgives sin because He is the sin bearer, the atoning sacrifice, divine mediator and advocate of all creation. Who is, in Himself, our very Shalom.

Conclusion

Hence, we stand in sympathy with any Christian church or movement wishing to more fully understand the Judaism of the Bible.... Thus the emphasis today on the "New Perspective of Paul" (NPP) popularized by N.T. Wright, James D.G. Dunn, and E.P. Sanders. It is a movement away from our sparse Westernized view and enculturated Gentile traditions of Scripture back to its rightful (Ancient) Near Eastern (ANE) outlook and how that movement might helpfully informed the Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic traditions in thought, attitude, doctrine and grace. But without the spiritual or Scriptural demand that those past, or present, church traditions must be modified towards any pretended Jewish form-and-function. That all Gentile traditions past, present, and future, may be content in-and-of themselves without any lessening of the divine grace of God through His Son.

That by trying to religiously observe the ancient Jewish culture (as perceived through the eyes of Judaism's contemporary orthodoxy) as a Christian man or woman is no more an act portending God's favor and righteousness than any other human acts wishing to add to Jesus' atoning salvation. A salvation that is at once Spirit-wrought by divine hands and not by human hands alone (or by traditions, teachings, acts of the flesh, lifestyle, attitudes... all is of human pride and self-rigtheousness). Rather, we utilize those traditions, teachings, acts of the flesh, lifestyles, attitudes as a testimony to our humanness and God's great grace in accepting us as we are and how we are. Nothing more and nothing less.

That the Gospel of Jesus does not require Gentiles to become any more Jewish than Jews are required to be any less Jewish. That God's Kingdom is formed of all nations and will not be Jewish alone so as to be more pleasing to Him. That the Gospel is founded on Jesus alone and not on man's traditions, customs, or any one particular culture that is any more sanctified than any other cultural grasp of the Lord Jesus. As such, this is the type of postmodern movement that we can stand behind and rightfully commend to any Christian wishing to follow the God of the Bible in His ways, heart, passion, and graces.

R.E. Slater
January 16, 2014

RVL | ON Green Pastures



Uploaded on Jul 14, 2011

Sheep in desert pastures need a shepherd to lead them. There is sufficient grass, but it is sparse. Sheep left on their own will wander searching for grass and eventually die. Staying close to their shepherd is a matter of life and death.

This clip is an excerpt from Ray Vander Laan's full-length Faith Lessons™ Vol. 12, Walking with God in the Desert.

View more clips and access the full-length Faith Lessons™ video series at: http://rvl-on.com

View complete series here: http://followtherabbi.com/

---

To read more about Orthodox Judaism go here:

Jewish Orthodoxy - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_orthodoxy

The Jewish Talmudhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmud#Manuscripts_and_textual_variants

Origins of Rabbinic Judaismhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_Rabbinic_Judaism

The Jewish Canon of Scripture, the Tanakhhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh

The Jewish Apocrypha/Pseudipigrapha (as part of the Tanakh)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_apocrypha
 and herehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudepigrapha (as distinguished from the Christian NT texts)



2 comments:

  1. I agree with most of what you say. I would, however, throw Ray VanderLaan out with the bathwater. So much of what he teaches is clearly contradicted by a plain reading of scripture. Scripture is the authority, and scripture interprets scripture. Equating modern Bedouin culture to the Jewish culture and practices of the second temple period is specious.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Rebecca. The point here is not RVL so much as to glean where we can and to remember that we are no less Christian as Gentiles nor any more Christian by immersing ourselves into a Jewish flavoring of our faith. For some this is meaningful but given those whom I knew who were leading and teaching this effort I became greatly unenthused and quite wary of the deeper significance of their intentional interpretations of Scripture. Thank you for your insight.

    ReplyDelete