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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.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mismatched Worldviews and Honoring God

Years ago, in Jewish missions circles, the frustration was with getting people to see that they were sinners. After all, if you can't get people to admit they're sinners, you can't get them to go for your Savior.

Same problem nowadays, but with a different twist and a different result.

Last shabbat I taught on Parashat Mattot which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about vows but were afraid to ask. Chapter 30 of numbers treats the inviolability of vows, except in certain cases. But for those rare exceptions, a vow made must be a vow kept, or one would have to face divine displeasure. It was clear to all in my congregation that failure to honor one's vows was, in Torah, a serious sin.

Chapter 32 of Bamidbar speaks about the Reubenites and the Gadites and their beseeching Moses for an exception: they want to inherit land on the east side of the Jordan instead of the west side with all the rest of Israel. Moses, acting as God's agent, worked out with them the terms of the agreement: that all the men of fighting age of the Reubenites and Gadites would cross the Jordan with their brethren, serving with them as "shock troops." Only after the battles were won and their brethren secure in having taken possession of the land, would the Gadites and Reubenites be free to return to the east side of the Jordan to settle down with their wives, children, flocks and cattle. The Reubenites and Gadites agree to this arrangment stating, "shall receive holdings among you in the land of Canaan, "Whatever the Lord has spoken concerning your servants, that we will do."

From the text it is clear that this is legal transaction, and that the leaders of the Reubenites and Gadites are acting on behalf their entire tribal groups. Clearly, no tribal member could exempt themselves from compliance with these arrangements, since their tribal heads and leaders were acting as their agents.

For the Reubenites and Gadites, collectively or individually, to have failed to complied would have been sin. They would have forfeited their inheritance due to breech of contract. And at the very least, in no way could breaking such an arrangment be construed as honorable.

To a person with Torah ears, the recorded statement of the Reubenites and the Gadites, "Whatever the Lord has spoken concerning your servants, that we will do." sounds familiar. It reminds one of another agreement, another covenant, another set of vows: that at Sinai. It was there that the people of Israel, acting as our agents, said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do, " and again "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." After this, Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

Our people entered into a solemn agreement with the God who redeemed us from Egypt, which our tradition in fact sees as a marriage contract. Even the Amplified Bible picks up on this, in its version of a passage from the Haftarah for Parashat Mattot. This is from Jeremiah 2:1-3:

1And the word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah], saying, 2Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the Lord: I [earnestly] remember the kindness and devotion of your youth, your love after your betrothal [in Egypt] and marriage [at Sinai] when you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. 3Israel was holiness [something set apart from ordinary purposes, dedicated] to the Lord, the firstfruits of His harvest [of which no stranger was allowed to partake]; all who ate of it [injuring Israel] offended and became guilty; evil came upon them, says the Lord.

This was a marraige contract. All of israel is honor bound to "love, honor and obey" our Divine husband. This means that obedience to Torah, our ketubbah, is our only honorable response to the One who redeemed us. It also means that modern Jewish and Messianic Jewish resistance to Torah obedience cannot be seen as anything less than dishonoring to God, and dishonorable of us.

The Newer Covenant doesn't ease the pain. Yeshua says this about vows in Mattityahu/Matthew chapter five: "33 Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil."

The Newer Covenant sets a higher standard for honoring our covenants, not a lower one. As Jonathan Kaplan reminds us on the blog , "Yeshua establishes a fence around the Torah by stating that one should avoid making vows altogether lest one transgress commitments made to God (and others). The importance of avoiding making vows which one fails to keep is also emphasized by Yeshua’s brother Ya‘akov who says, "Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation" (Ya‘akov 5:12).

While it is true that Yeshua took upon Himself the "curse of the Law," that is, the covenant jeopardy that accrues to us due to our disobedience, who would be so foolish as to say "Yeshua obeyed God so that we wouldn't have to," or, "Yeshua died for us that we might be free from the responsibility of Torah obedience." No, this cannot be. Yeshua died to free us from condemnation but not from responsibility.

Here's the problem: it is one thing for people to see that this is true. But how many of us will begin to reorder their lives accordingly? Under the prevailing worldview, inconvenient vows may be ignored, and it is better to ask to be excused than to be forced to do what one deems to be unpleasant.

O God, teach us to hold ourselves and each other accountable to honoring our Divine Husband. Renew our Days as of Old.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Because I Said So, That's Why!" - Messianic Jewish Practice and The Red Heifer

While I was away from you, I was on the East Coast teaching a course in Jewish Virtues and Values under the auspices of MJTI, Messianic Jewish Theological Institute. Each time I teach I meet more people, sometimes just one or two new people, in whose heart burns some spark of the vision that I share with you here at Ahavat Zion. It is a vision which is not mine alone. Actually, although founded in Scripture, and nurtured by the Ruach HaKodesh, the bones of this vision are found in the seven core principles of Hashivenu.

1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered "Jewish-style" version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.

2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.

3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.

4. The Jewish people are "us" not "them."

5. The richness of the Rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.

6. Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him; therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.

7. Maturation requires a humble openness to new ideas within the context of firmly held convictions.

These principles were viewed as radical, fringe views in 1997 when some friends and I crafted them. But now, gradually, more and more people are buying into them, and making them their own. But our views are not universally accepted, and there are even some people who misunderstand and misrepresent what we stand for.

One of the reasons people do this is because our principles don’t harmonize with their own core assumptions. Such assumptions are usually subconscious, unrecognized, and very powerful.

Let me illustrate for you through a quotation from a recent Jews for Jesus newsletter. JFJ has, especially during the past year or so, been misunderstanding us, misrepresenting us, and warning people away from people who hold views like ours.

In this quotation, let’s look at just one of the matters about which JFJ is warning people. Then, let’s look at the underlying, subconscious world-view assumption that is energizing this attack. This will help explain why JFJ is so upset, and will aid us in determining whether the attack is valid.

Here is the quotation:

"Some Messianic Jews are teaching that it is incumbent upon all Jewish believers to observe the Law of Moses and to worship exclusively in Messianic Congregations. They would agree that we are saved by grace through faith in Messiah Jesus. However, they would add that Jewish believers who want to fulfill their destiny as Messianic Jews must continue to be part of the Jewish community, which means living a ‘Torah observant lifestyle.’ . . .

"There is nothing wrong with celebrating the biblical feasts, or following certain rabbinical traditions, but we can do so only to the extent that we don not contradict the clear teaching of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, And part of that New Testament teaching is that, in Messiah, we are fully free to practice these things or not as a matter of choice and conscience." [End of quotation from JFJ Newsletter].

Sometimes underlying assumptions lie close to the surface, and this is one of those occasions. What are our JFJ critics assuming about the commandments of God, about commandment-keeping? They are assuming that the issue of whether to obey the commands or not is strictly a matter of choice and conscience. Furthermore, they are saying that this is what the Newer Testament teaches.

Not exactly.

While the Newer Testament does forbid us to oppress others with our convictions on such matters, it emphatically does not teach that commandment keeping for Messianic Jews is strictly a matter of personal conviction and preference. If I had the time, I would take you deeper into the article from which this quotation is excerpted and expose to your gaze a whole nest of false assumptions, such as their labeling these views "neo-Galatianism, pure and simple." The fact that Paul six times specifies in the letter that he is writing not to Jews but to Gentiles entirely escapes their notice. But, as I said, I do not have time this morning to look at these various ancillary matters. Today, I just want to concentrate on one question: For Messianic Jews, is the keeping of the commandments of Torah supposed to be purely a matter of personal preference ?

Not if we include today’s Newer Covenant reading in our Bible’s, it isn’t! Let’s look at that quotation together:

"Matt. 5:17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Now, we could argue about what it means to have a righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. But that question is subsidiary to points made earlier in the text. And these points totally refute the contention that, for Messianic Jews, the keeping of the commandments of Torah is supposed to be purely a matter of personal preference.

Notice how Yeshua sets up this discussion: he says "don’t think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets [the Torah or the N’vi’im]. Why would someone think that? Perhaps it was because Yeshua found himself at variance with the Jewish leaders of his day on certain matters. Since Yeshua was at loggerheads with the leadership of religious Israel on some matters, it might be easy to assume that he had come to overthrow the entire system. Or perhaps Matthew records this because already in his day, as Gentile congregations were multiplying, some were downplaying the role of the commandments for all the people of God. Furthermore, perhaps Yeshua is operating here out of prophetic insight, seeing that there would come a day when the consensus of Yeshua believers in the Church would favor an abolition of commandment-keeping.

Whatever the case, Matthew presents Yeshua standing up here and saying, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." He is not speaking here of Messianic prophecy, but rather of commandment-keeping, that is clear. That is why he says in verse 19, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Is he here speaking against Torah obedience for Messianic Jews? No, he is not. He is speaking against commandment breaking and against those who would teach others to break "one of the least of these commandments" in the Torah and the Prophets.

We must be careful against reading our own mentality and consensus back into the text. He is NOT speaking about Messianic prophecy. We know that because there are absolutely no cues in the context to indicate that Messianic prophecy is the subject under discussion. And when he speaks of our righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees and the scribes, he is not speaking of a righteousness apart from or other than commandment keeping. He just said one verse earlier, "19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven," and in the verse before that, he grounds it all in the Torah and the Prophets, and warns against thinking that he had come to abolish them.

No, the obedience he calls us to is *greater than*, rather than *other than* that of the Pharisees and scribes. He calls us to commandment keeping, but not to mere commandment keeping. We must keep the commandments out of abiding love for God and man in the power of the Ruach haKodesh sent forth by Yeshua. We must keep the commandments free of egotism, free of hypocrisy, free of religiously oppressing others, free of majoring in the minors [excesses also criticized in Jewish sources]. In all these areas, as Messianic Jews living in community, we will need and will have the gyroscope of the Spirit to help us. In this way, our commandment keeping can go beyond even the gargantuan efforts of the Pharisees and scribes. Our obedience is meant to be purer. It is meant to be stronger. But if Matthew five means anything at all, our obedience is not meant to be wholly other.

Notice that Yeshua sets a time limit on all of this, a time for when it may well be legitimate to argue that all this commandment-keeping is passé. What is that time limit? "Until heaven and earth disappear." But until that time, the keeping of Torah’s commandments should remain an imperative for Messianic Jews, and not just "a nice option if that’s your thing," or, something "we are fully free to practice . . .or not as a matter of choice and conscience," as some of our detractors suggest.

Consider the following,
[Edited from material Found on line, 7/8/05 at http://www.bje.org.au/adults/templateBase.php?id=906&gid=2 ].

"Jewish life identifies three categories of commandments, or mitzvoth. While "mitzvoth" is the general word for the commandments of God, they generally fall into three categories.

1. Mishpatim

These are the ‘mitzvot of justice’. These mitzvot are logical: their meaning is self-evident in that everyone accepts them as desirable and necessary. Mishpatim include prohibitions against theft and murder. They are laws that keep society under control.

2. Edot

This literally means ‘commemorative’ mitzvot or ‘testimonials’. Examples of these mitzvot are the rules of the festivals which commemorate important events in Jewish history.

3. Chukkim

These are ‘statutes’ or ‘decrees’ that God has set out for us to follow. Chukkim have no discernable rationale. Of the three mitzvah categories, chukkim alone are the ultimate test of faith. With mitzvot such as mishpatim, one need not be particularly devout to obey the law against murdering, or with edot, one may indeed enjoy celebrating Passover. However, chukkim are observed only because God told us to do so.

Today’s Torah reading in Bamidbar/Numbers 19 is the proof-text above all proof-texts for discussing what is meant by a chok [plural "chukkim"], by which we mean a mitzvah with no apparent rationale other than the authority of God. The commandment spoken of here seems foolish and irrational. It involves killing and sacrificing an animal, the "Parah Adumah -the Red Heifer," whereby everyone involved in killing and sacrificing the animal or handling its ashes becomes ritually impure. Yet, it is the ashes of this animal, mingled with water, that later will be the means through which people defiled by contact with the dead become pure! What is this? You become unclean by killing and offering an animal that is necessary for anyone to become pure? It makes no sense, and that’s why it is a chok."

What is the point I am making? Just this: that Messianic Judaism rightly so-called respects the fact that God is the commander and that we are the commanded, and that to be a Jew is to be a member of a people with covenant responsibilities. It is also clear that to the extent we think and operate as if our response to the mitzvot is a private and optional matter, we do not really understand what the Bible says to Jewish people.

Perhaps the following quotation from material found on the Web will help bring things into sharp focus for us.

"We, as servants, ought not obey His commandments because we agree with them, nor because they make sense to us. Rather, we should listen to the word of G-d because that’s what He wants us to do.
This can be derived through careful observation of the words of the Torah. The child asks, "What are the testimonies [edot], decrees [chukkim] and ordinances [mishpatim]?" To which the Torah says we should answer, 'We were slaves. . . G-d commanded us to perform all these "decrees" [chukkim]…'

Edot [Testimonies] and Mishpatim [Ordinances] are the types of commandments for which we may feel we have an understanding and that they have a meaning to which we can relate. Chukkim [decrees], on the other hand, are the ones we carry out for only one reason: because it is the will of G-d. Although the son asked about all three, the Torah, in responding to the child, reiterates only the decrees. The point is clear. Even testimonies and ordinances are supposed to be performed as if they were decrees, with unquestioning dedication." [Found on line 7/8/05 at www.denverkollel.org/torah/60/holiday/pesachI.html].

And remember our text from Matthew 5:17-20. This too should help bring matters into sharp focus for us all.

And finally, perhaps the following reference will help bring these matters home to us. In the relationship of every parent with his or her child, there come occasions when the he child questions why he or she must do something the parent has directed. Sometimes the parent will give an explanation: it is part of the growing process for the child, growing in understanding. But also, for every parent who understands and respects the meaning of his or her own authority and the need of children to understand authority as being not only within themselves but also outside themselves, at such times the parent will have to say, "Because I said so, that's why."

The child owes respect to the parent expressed in doing what he or she said to do simply because the parent said it. Don't we owe the same to the God who says of Himself through Malachi, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me" [Malachi 1:6]?

Increasingly, here at Ahavat Zion, may we honor the God of our ancestors by keeping His commandments. Messiah didn’t ask anything less of us, but rather, this and more.