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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

A Letter About Charismatic Influx and Divine Order

(What follows is the major part of a letter I wrote recently in response to an inquiry from a friend in Messianic Jewish leadership. It was an e-mail, so don't expect this letter to be a meticulously crafted tome. Still, it outlines some of my concerns and points of balance in these matters).

First of all, don't you agree that we ought to draw a distinction between the moving of the Spirit/the power of the Spirit and our sensations ? Was this not in part the lesson of Elijah's experience in the cave [on Horeb]? That God was not in the earthquake, in the the fire, in the wind, but in the sound of a gentle blowing. . .in the still small voice? Elijah was discouraged, and perhaps because of the powerful manifestations he had known [as on Carmel], had become addicted to and needful of "fireworks." He was discouraged because of the disarray and threat around him, and God reminded him in at Horeb that He was still at work, but in a quiet, counter-intuitively subdued but irresistable manner.

So with us. Let me explain further.

I remember the last time I was at a Glorieta, New Mexico UMJC Conference. I had spoken, and a young woman came to me asking for prayer. I laid hands on her, and in dependence upon the guidance of the Spirit, prayed for her. After she got up [she had been kneeling], flushed and perspiring, sensing that the Lord had been present with her in the time of prayer, she said to me "Did you feel the heat?" The answer was "No, I felt nothing." It is always like this when I pray for others, and perhaps so for many others as well. [It is true as well that] I sometimes sense the Spirit's moving as a sort of gentle gladness. I sometimes have what I term "visual words of knowledge," where there is an image implanted in my being that is both unobtrusive and persistent, like discovering a white package in the middle of one's living room. It is only upon noticing the package and inquiring about it, unwrapping it, so to speak, that its meaning becomes apparent--so it is with visionary means. . . But in each case, the Presence is real, the effects profound, but the style subdued.

And that is the crux of the matter which you allude to: we tend to confuse style with substance, and this is always an error.

Years ago two women from my congregation were chatting in the kitchen of my synagogue. Woman A said to Woman B, "You really ought to start coming more often to Ahavat ZIon. The Spirit is really at work here." Woman B, responded, "I'm glad to hear that. There used to be a lot more hands in the air than there are now." Woman B was naively equating the Divine Presence with hands in the air. This is a BIG error. My response to that is Nazi Germany. There were lots of hands in the air there, but this said NOTHING about the Presence of the Spirit.

Pneumatologically I am something of a Third Waver--I first entered into conscious sensitivity to what might be termed the operational immanence of the Divine Presence as a paradigm shift in thinking and in expectation--to take as a given that the Holy One is present, and to learn to count on His presence and seek to be both attentive to and reliant upon His presence. This is what I term "the immanence of the transcendent God." However, in keeping with Paul's admonitions in 1 Corinthians, chapter 14 for example, it is clear to me that we must not indulge in manners of manifestation which will make us appear crazy to the unitiated or "unbelievers." This is Paul's word to the Corinthians about their collective public speaking in tongues. . ."If you're all acting this way, and the unitiated or unbelievers come in, won't they think you are mad?" It is also crucial to remember that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets," meaning that except in the rarest of occasions when the Spirit's manifest Presence is so overwhelming that EVERYONE knows it, no one should be allowed to say, "I couldn't help myself--the Spirit was on me/led me/made me speak." Paul says that is not true. . .and so must we.

So. . .I think, following Scripture here, we must not equate God's power and presence with flashy manifestations [earthquake, wind, fire], we must realize that He *normally* works gently [John 3 says this too, about the coming and going of the Spirit], and we must learn to not be addicted to mannerisms as if they are inseperable from the reality of the Spirit. As communities, I believe we must continue learning to not be self-indulgent but to always have in mind those whom Paul terms "the uninitiated and unbelievers."

For the past year or more I have been experimenting with a once monthly service called an Emmanuel Service, which is especially geared toward cultivating among those present an awareness and responsiveness to the Divine Presence. I have another of these services tonite. We are learning to become aware of that gentle blowing, that still small voice, real, powerful, present, but neither culturally derivative nor behaviorly bizarre.

As for your brilliant word about the charismatic tendency to wrongly equate spontaneity with the Divine Presence, I could not agree with you more. I sometimes teach from 2 Chronicles 5 on this matter. Notice how scripted and liturgical was this event, and notice how extraordinary was the Divine visitation! The same was true of the dedication of the priests and of the altar of the Tabernacle when the fire fell, the same was true when the angel visited Zechariah when he was burning incense as had fallen him by lot, operating in a very scripted and liturgical manner, every step conscious and learned, the same was true for Cornelius when he was praying at 3:00 PM [mincha prayers] and the angel visited him, and for Peter on the housetop. In all of these cases and more in Scripture, it is in the midst of customary and ritualized faithfulness that the Divine Presence comes. Contrary to the postmodern expectations of charismatics and Third Wavers, the coming of the Spirit is not invariably a spontaneous inbreaking, but rather a visitation amidst customary and ritualized faithfulness. Indeed, the same was so on the Day of Pentecost. Is it not clear that the apostles and company, gathered in the upper room, among other things, must have been thinking and praying about Shavuot?

It is not structure that is stultifying so much as cultural discomfort, sometimes prejudice, and the learning curve. The more we learn to make the words of the liturgy our own, the more we enter into them and they into us, the more delights we find in the process. But we ought to realize that God is there and God is glorified in such service even when "I am not getting anything out of it." As I tell my people, the big question about a service is this: "Who is getting served?" Would it not be helpful to remember that the service is our priestly service to GOD in solidarity with our people throughout time! And would you not agree that it is when we fall to feeling or expecting or even demanding that the service ought to rather "meet my needs" that the doorway to dissatifaction is most widely opened?

This is a paradigm shift for all of us. But it bears consideration. In a service, who is being served? And what is our priestly duty as a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation? Should we not give ourselves to learning the script, or must every service be improvisational theater?

More later. You are a blessing to all of us.


At 7/02/2005 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Stuart,

When you are talking about liturgical worship, exactly in what context are you speaking? Are you talking about the modern orthodox, or what other standard are you settng as your benchmark for right order?

At 7/08/2005 6:40 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

While I realize this is a hot issue in the UMJC, I think that it is to a degree a straw man. This is because there is an underlying commonality in a wide spectrum of mainstream Jewish liturgical practice. I have been teaching for years that when Messianic Judaism matures, we will have congregations analogous to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism [ and beyond!].. All of these have a Shema section in their service, an Amidah, some version of the Alenu, etc. So I am arguing for a tradition-shaped service.

I teach the principle, "You can't depart from where you've never been." Many people want to innovate, to depart from the Jewish consensus. Nearly none of these people have ever meaningfully participated in or internalized the norms of Jewish liturgical life so that the liturgy lived and breathed in them. Therefore, they do not really have the right to "depart," for they have never been there. Their first task should be to participate in a Jewish worshipping community, so that the traditional structure of the service becomes second nature to them, and a beloved familiar friend.

For the record, my liturgical prayer life is patterned after Orthodox and Conservadox practice--with some innovations.

Good question.


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