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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, January 13, 2006

Is the Gospel Good News for the Jews? Not Since the Second Century

This is part of a presentation I delivered at a Conference held at Fuller Theological Seminary on “New Perspectives on Jesus and the Jewish People," October 20-21, 2005. You will notice that my rhetoric is adapted to my Christian audience, not as to content, of course, but as to style. Because the paper is rather long for a blog format, I am breaking it up into sections.

In the famous Christmas story, we hear and read familiar words, words so familiar that we miss their import.

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who Christ, the Lord."

Notice the phrase, "good news of a great joy which will come to all the people." It is too easy to carelessly misunderstand the reference to be "good news of great joy which will come to all the peoples of earth," but that is not the reference here. Here, the reference is to one people in particular, the Jewish people. As John Nolland succinctly reminds us in his commentary on this text: “παντὶ τῷ λαῷ--’panti tow laow’ is the whole People of Israel.”

However, this has not been the Jewish experience nor has it been the missionary’s message. The coming of Jesus is not experienced by Jews, nor conceived of by the missions culture or by the historic church, as good news to “the whole people of Israel,” but rather as good news only to that small remnant who will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved.

I am proud to be a two-time graduate of Donald McGavran’s School of World Mission and Church Growth, now transmuted into the School of Intercultural Studies. For McGavran, the watchword of the Church was “πάντα τὰ ἔθνη - panta ta ethne” [all the nations]. But today I am advocating for a negelected Biblical mandate, which I suggest should become something of a watchword for Messianic Jews and for those interested in what God is up to in the world among Jewish people --- παντὶ τῷ λαῷ - panti tow laow” all the people of Israel.

Historically, the gospel has been presented as good news for some Jews but bad news for the Jews as a whole. This is a theological worldview assumption that became canon law of the Church by the time of the Second Council of Nicea in the 787. But this assumption was already becoming well established as early as the second century. It is a theme that distorts and informs Christian and mission consensus concerning the Jews to this day.

I want to make it clear that I am speaking here not of anti-Semitism but of anti-Judaism. Lee Martin McDonald, commenting of the writings of the Church Fathers, makes a very helpful distinction for us, saying, “What at times may appear in the church fathers to be a reference to race—that is, Jews being condemned as a people or nation because of their race, is most often a reference to their religious identity rather than their ethnic origins.” Similarly, I am not saying that the mission culture and the Church manifest anti-Semitism in their assumptions about the Jews. But I am saying that anti-Judaism is endemic to much Christian thought and to Christian mission to the Jews, permeating the entire enterprise at the level of subconscious worldview assumptions.

Ignatius of Antioch, in his letters to the Philadelphians and the Magnesians [c. 114], is the first to speak of Judaism and Christianity as two separate and polarized religions, the anonymous Epistle of Barnabas [c. 130-132], and the writings of Justin Martyr, especially his Dialogue with Trypho [155-160 CE], plus the Epistle to Diognetus toward the end of the century, all sowed the seeds of various anti-Judaic positions, of which I will be highlighting two which were ratified and developed further by Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Aquinas. They became canon law, and part of the warp and woof of Christian thinking and doing. For example, it is to Justin we owe the habit of seeing Jews as categorically unbelievers, or as the Jewish mission culture calls them, UJ’s –unsaved Jews [because of their lack of Yeshua faith]. Justin said it this way “God promised Abraham a religious and righteous nation of like faith, and a delight to the Father; but it is not you [Jews], 'in whom there is no faith' [Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 119, emphasis added].

Today I only have time to examine two of these assumptions, which we might term bitter seeds.

1. The first seed: the assumed and theologically necessary assumed universal perdition of all Jews who do not believe in Jesus;

2. The second seed, the negation of Jewish relationship with God and the value of Jewish piety apart from faith in Christ. This includes the relativizing of Jewish covenant fidelity, relegating Torah obedience to the status of but one option among many.

As long as these seed assumptions prevail in missionary and church circles, as long as they are not uprooted and renounced, they necessarily sabotage the progress of the gospel among the Jewish people and misrepresent both the gospel and the Messiah of whom it speaks. And these assumptions clearly establish that the gospel is NOT good news for the Jews.

Let me demonstrate.

1. The First Bitter Seed is that of theologically necessary universal Jewish perdition. As normally conceived and presented by Jewish missions, the gospel includes this assumption: “Fifty generations of your fellow Jews [that’s two thousand years at forty years per generation], including the most pious among them, are of theological necessity in hell because they did not profess Christ as Savior, but you can be in heaven with him forever if you will receive Him now.” How is this gospel good news for the Jews? Isn’t it obviously bad news for “παντὶ τῷ λαῷ and good news for only that Jew or those few Jews in front of you, to whom you are witnessing, especially if he/she/they are narcissists? If they are narcississts, they will focus on the benefit to themselves, with the doom of their ancestors and family a dim, peripheral concern. But if are not narcissists, they are apt to recoil and say, "You want me to go to heaven to be with your Jesus even though my parents, and my grandmother and grandfather, and our relatives who lived, died, and suffered in Europe for generations, and their ancestors before them are by theological necessity all doomed to suffer conscious torment in hell for ever and ever?" Once a person realizes that this is the message, he or she is apt to rightly say, "Such a message is not good news for the Jews. It is the worst possible news for the Jews, and only good news for the few who accept this message and are prepared to suppress their awareness of the assured abysmal fate of their family members and fifty generations of their ancestors, a fate awaiting even the most pious of our Jewish contemporaries, apart from faith in Christ.” This message of certain perdition for fifty generations of our people is not good news for the Jews.

You will wonder whether I believe in hell. Unfortunately, I do. But I see hell as the place of punishment for the willful, unrepentant wicked, not simply as the final resting place of those who have failed God’s theology test, and certainly not the final parking lot for God's chosen people. I challenge you to find in apostolic preaching the kind of "find heaven, avoid hell" kind of evangelism of the Jews which is standard fare for those who claim to be the most orthodox in doctrine in Jewish mission circles.

And such an approach errs in assuming that all Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus are effectively pagans, without hope and without God in the world. Canadian evangelical theologian Douglas Harink reminds us that Paul’s message to the Gentiles was for them to turn from idolatry to the true and living God of Israel, through faith in Jesus Christ. But faithful Israel are not pagans, and assuming that they dwell in heathen darkness until the light of the gospel comes to them is not true to the Bible but rather echoes the strident polemics of Justin Martyr and company.

Rather than our preaching being based on a census of perdition, might we not instead follow Peter’s mandate in Acts five to "go stand in the Temple and proclaim there all the words of this Life," a message of a fuller Jewish life through Yeshua, the Messiah promised and sent to our people in the fullness of time, without our having to use a carrot and stick method of "avoid hell and find heaven," and certainly without opining that of theological necessity, fifty generations of Jews who did not believe in Yeshua must be in hell.

This may be an approach that wins approval in church circles, it may be just peachy with the mailing list, but it most certainly bad news for the Jews, the kind of bad news loyal Jews would find off-putting to say the least. It is worthless as a base for presenting the good news to a people whose pious ones have been faithfully seeking the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob for three millennia, of whom Paul says, “they earnestly serve God night and day” [Acts 26:7].

(End of Part One)

Is the Gospel Good News for the Jews? Not Since the Second Century [Part II]

This is the concluding part of a presentation I delivered at a Conference held at Fuller Theological Seminary on “New Perspectives on Jesus and the Jewish People," October 20-21, 2005. You will notice that my rhetoric is adapted to my Christian audience, not as to content, of course, but as to style. In this section I begin by addressing the common Christian and Jewish mission assumption that Jewish faith is valueless and spiritually void apart from explicit faith in Christ. I demonstrate that the Newer Testament speaks otherwise.

Time does not permit thoroughly defending my point but let me just reference the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews and the eleventh chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the author speaks not simply speaking of Biblical characters, but of heroes of faithfulness to the God of Israel. He moves beyond speaking of individuals to generalizing about those who exemplified suffering faithfulness:

35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-- 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

The author of the letter explicitly contradicts one of Jewish mission’s most common assumptions—that spiritual inheritance in Christ only comes to those Jews who have explicit knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ.

On the contrary, the author states that the purity of the faith of Jews who suffered mightily for the God of Israel is sufficient to make these named and unnamed heroes eventual beneficiaries of the work of the Christ whom they did not know, but whom they faithfully served and awaited nonetheless. Furthermore, the text says that it was the purpose of God, that as we of Israel who DO believe in Jesus enter into our greater fullness of inheritance through our knowledge of Christ and our explicit faith in Him, our blessedness washes back over the faithful of Israel with whom we are in solidarity. The letter clearly says that they too become beneficiaries of the greater inheritance we have received. Indeed it was the purpose of God that this be so.

Contrary to the post-Justin Martyr worldview we have inherited, which postulates that Jews who do not believe in Jesus have no faith, the Letter to the Hebrews extols Jewish faith and faithfulness, even among those ignorant of the Messiah who came.

F.F. Bruce expressed it this way, in his commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews.

They lived and died in prospect of a fulfillment which none of them experienced on earth; yet so real was that fulfillment to them that it gave them power to press upstream, against the current of the environment, and to live on earth as citizens of that commonwealth whose foundations are firmly laid in the unseen and eternal order. Their record is on high, and on earth as well.. . .

But now the promise has been fulfilled; the age of the new covenant has dawned; the Christ to whose day they looked forward has come and by his self-offering and his high-priestly ministry in the presence of God he has procured perfection for them—and for us. ‘With this in mind, God had made a better plan, that only in company with us should they reach their perfection’ (NEB). They and we now enjoy unrestricted access to God through Christ, as fellow-citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. The ‘better plan’ which God had made embraces the better hope, the better promises, the better covenant, the better sacrifices, the better and abiding possession, and the better resurrection which is their heritage, and ours.

Paul uses the same argument through two metaphors in his Letter to the Romans: "16If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy." It is the Yeshua-believing Remnant of Israel that is the part of the dough offered as first fruits, and the root of the branches of Israel. Paul’s argument, like that of the Letter to the Hebrews, is that the status of the Remnant washes over the rest of Israel.

Are we to assume that since the time of Christ, there have been no Jews who demonstrated this kind of exalted, suffering faith, apart from those who accepted the Christ proffered to them by a persecuting Church? Must we negate Jewish faithfulness in order to extol the King of the Jews? I think not!

2. The Second Bitter Seed is the negation or entire relativizing of the ways of life to which our ancestors adhered for thousands of years, the life of Torah obedience. This is now viewed as passé, and, according to many Christians, a form of fruitless bondage from which the Spirit of Christ and the good news of the gospel comes to deliver us. More commonly, due to contemporary assumptions of the primacy of freedom of choice, in Jewish mission circles, the commandments of God are treated as nice folkways that may be embraced if one chooses, as long as one doesn’t go overboard. After all, if you start obeying one commandment of God, that could lead to obeying others, and then where would we be?

Instead of loyalty to God’s laws for Israel, Jewish mission culture fights to preserve freedom of choice in this area, as if God’s commandments to Israel are but suggestions instead of mandates. This is part of the mission agenda to legitimize assimilation. This also disembowels the entirety of Jewish piety and ill commends our gospel to thinking Jews.

A recent Jewish missionary newsletter put it this way.

Some Messianic Jews are teaching that it is incumbent on all Jewish believers to observe the Law of Moses. . . . 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 a part of the Jewish community, which means living a "Torah-observant" lifestyle, a lifestyle that can only really be lived out in the context of a community of Messianic Jews. I have heard of instances where, failing to find a Messianic congregation in the area, some Jewish believers have chosen to attend a synagogue rather than a church. This is a form of neo- Galatianism, pure and simple (Galatians 3:2-3).

Notice how the author treats allegiance to Jewish covenantal responsibilities as secondary, and purely voluntary. Notice how he questions whether the commandments of God are “incumbent” upon us as Jews. For him commandments are more suggestions or optional folkways, or outmoded now that Messiah has come.

The head of another Jewish mission wrote me recently. He began by quoting from a statement on the website of Hashivenu, Inc., an organization I serve as President. He takes issue with our presuppositions. I encourage you to notice his presuppositions:

[First a quotation from our website].

When we say that Messianic Judaism is "a Judaism," we are also acknowledging the existence of other "Judaisms." We do not deny their existence, their legitimacy, or their value. We are not the sole valid expression of Judaism with all else a counterfeit. We recognize our kinship with other Judaisms and believe that we have much of profound importance to learn from them, as well as something vitally important to share with them.

He then begins his query.

How does one recognize the "legitimacy" and "value" of a religious movement that, at its core, denies the all-sufficient atoning work of Yeshua, the Son of G-d. Given rabbinic Judaism’s two millennia rejection of Yeshua, in what way does Messianic Judaism have "kinship with" these expressions of Judaism?

Stuart, if modern Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, et. al.) denies Yeshua, in what sense can one say that these expressions of Judaism hold equal legitimacy and value with Messianic Judaism which embraces Yeshua as the Son of G-d and as Messiah and Saviour? However much the various denominations within modern Judaism differ, at their core they are all opposed to Yeshua.

This negation of Judaism and its community leadership is fundamental to modern mission to the Jews and much Christian theologizing. Anyone who will take the trouble can find the seeds of this in the writings of Justin, Irenaeus, Ignatius, and others of the Fathers, Apologists and Doctors of the Church. And such a modern Jewish mission leader as I have quoted could never say and would never say what the Apostle Paul said of the Jews of his day, “they earnestly serve God night and day,” (Acts 26:7).

How is such a message good news for the Jews? Does not a Jewish person have a right to say "How can this Jesus be the Messiah if the result of his coming is the unraveling and dissolution of the way of life and the communal identity for which millions of my people suffered and died?" Such a message of the abolition and relativizing of Torah living is not good news for the Jews. Such messages, and such subtexts, are anything but good news for the Jews.

The key to what I am saying is this: We must abandon the habit of basing our gospel presentation to the Jewish people on their own alleged “neediness” and alleged spiritual bankruptcy. Instead of basing our evangelism of Jewish people on their “need for the gospel,” let us instead base it on this one splendid fact: “The Messiah has come, and he is coming again. His name is Yeshua, and he is the best possible good news for panti tow laow [all the people of Israel] as well as for panta ta ethne—all the other nations.”

Is it too much to ask for a good news gospel? I hope not!

Finally, then, what am I calling for?

1. I am calling for a gospel of humility rather than stridency. We need to demur from assuming as a starting point the eternal perdition of all Jewish people. We seem to forget that for Paul, the Jewish people were “home base” for the people of God, and Gentile former idol-worshippers, formerly without hope and without God in the world, who came serve the living and true God through faith in Yeshua His Son, only became part of the people of God as they became part of the commonwealth of Israel. Don’t you agree that the church needs to reconsider and renounce the “us-them” mentality inherited from the Church Fathers, such as Ignatius, who first postulated Judaism and Christianity as two antithetical religions and antithetical communities? Don’t we need to reexamine Scripture and renounce this historically conditioned legacy of stridency and polarization? As our Hashivenu Core Principles put it, “the Jewish People are us, not them.”

2. I am calling for a gospel of consummation rather than replacement. We need to realize that God is up to something among the Jewish people which he terms in the eleventh chapter of Romans “greater riches” than the salvation of the nations. The Great Commission will give way to this Greater Commission—God is not through with Israel yet, and the Church from among the nations is not God’s final word. And while the Church becomes part of the Commonwealth of Israel, it does not displace Israel no more than Canada displaces Great Britain. What God is up to among the Jews will not look precisely like what he has been doing in pursuing the Great Commission, and certainly any Great Commision which negates, minimizes or dismantles Jewish covenant fidelity is not good news for anyone.

3. I am calling for a gospel of affirmation rather than negation. If in Jesus all the promises of God are “Yea” and “Amen” then should this not include His promises to the Jewish people?

4. I am calling for a gospel that is unambiguously good news for the Jews which says, “The Messiah has come and He is coming again. His name is Yeshua, and his coming is the best possible news for panti tow laow [all the people of Israel].

The Kingdom of God, and the purposes of God, are broader and other than our organizational agendas and provincial concerns. It is past time to uproot the bitter seeds which have grown like tares amidst the wheat of the Kingdom. Come and join those of us who are serving the Greater Commission—the greater riches that will come to the cosmos, as the Jewish people enter into their rightful inheritance foreshadowed by the Remnant.

The gospel is still good news for panti tow laow—all the people of Israel. It is about time we said so.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Toward a Really New Year

No one can predict what is going to happen to them during the year to come. But we can predict in large measure how we will encounter what awaits us.

I haven't given a lot of thought to this: I've been too busy dealing with personal issues, and other matters. But come to think of it, there is a passage from a recent sermon text that, for me, at least, forms an excellent theme text for me to keep in mind and heart in the year ahead.

The text is from Luke 1:38, and chronicles Mary's response to the angelic news that she was goint to become the virgin mother of the Messiah. For a 14 or 15 year old Jewish girl of her time and social station, the prospect of being pregnant out of wedlock was no small thing.. But her response was huge. Mary said: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

This text provides me more than enough fuel, more than enough of a challenge, to provide a mooring point for my life in 2006. Let's briefly take it apart.

First is her statement, "Here am I." This of course reminds us of the Hineni passages found in the Older Testament as well as the new, passages where servants of God indicated their willing availability to the challenges and costs of heeding the intrusive and demanding voice of God. It is even used to refer to God's availability to us.

Isa 52:6
Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.

Ge 22:1
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."

Ge 22:11
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."

Ge 27:1
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, "My son"; and he answered, "Here I am."

Ge 31:11
Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, "Jacob,' and I said, "Here I am!'

Ge 37:13
And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am."

Ge 46:2
God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am."

Ex 3:4
When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."

1Sa 3:4
Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!"

1Sa 3:5
and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down.

1Sa 3:6
The Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again."

1Sa 3:8
The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.

1Sa 3:16
But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." He said, "Here I am."

1Sa 22:12
Saul said, "Listen now, son of Ahitub." He answered, "Here I am, my lord."

Ps 40:7
Then I said, "Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

Isa 58:9
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

Isa 65:1
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name.

Ac 9:10
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord."

Isa 6:1-8
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Lu 1:38
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Mary's "Hineni response" may be seen as analogous to a solider responding to his name being called and responding, "Aye sir!" This response has imbedded in it the attitude of willingness to obey. So was it with Mary, and so must it be in my life and yours.

The second challenging aspect of Mary's "Yes" to God consists of her refering to herself as "the servant of the Lord." If her Hineni response described her attitude of heart, in this she was making reference to her identity, her vocation as a servant. Her responsibility as a servant of the Lord was to do His bidding, even to the bearing of this unique son.

In what sense do we/do we not see ourselves as servants of the Lord, and how is this apt to impact our decision making and the conduct of our lives?

The third component of her "Yes" to God was, "Let it me to me according to your word.""

What did this mean in her situation? It meant, "I say yes to the details of God's will for my life. It is my ratification of the specifics.

What will it mean to say this in our own situation?

In your own words, how would you characterize Mary's attitude of mind and heart towards the authority of God and His will for her life?

How does this compare with your own?

What can you/need you do to make progress in this area?