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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

Thursday, March 30, 2006

On Being a Post Post-Enlightenment Messianic Judaism

It seems clear that no one is willing, in the last resort, to accept a total relativism about culture. All of us judge some elements of a culture to be good and some bad. The question is whether these judgments arise from the gospel itself or from the cultural presuppositions of the person who makes the judgment. And, if one replies that they ought to be made only on the basis of the gospel itself, the reply must be that there is no such thing as a gospel which is not already culturally shaped (Newbigin, "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," 1989:186).

Demonstrating his breadth of missions knowledge, Newbigin gives excellent examples of this contention, chiefly the example of missionary revulsion at the Indian caste system. He suggests that this revulsion was grounded in the missionaries’ post-Enlightenment convictions.

One is bound to ask . . . whether these ‘enlightened’ missionaries did not, perhaps, communicate an atomic individualism which was farther from the biblical picture than the strongly cohesive, albeit narrowly exclusive texture of the traditional society . . . a kind of individualism which failed to do justice to elements of value in the tradition, namely the sense of mutual responsibility for the extended family (186-187).

He said a mouthful. His observations are certainly apt in regards to the Messianic Jewish condition at the beginning of the 21st century.

For example, as proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm, Jews for Jesus has denounced those of us advocating the mandatory nature of the commandments of Torah, holding forth instead for freedom of conscience in these matters—free church, post-Enlightenment individualism. So it is that they say in one of their publications:

Some Messianic Jews are teaching that it is incumbent on 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 a 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 do 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 (“An Open Letter to the Family of Jewish Believers in Jesus Part II by David Brickner, July 1, 2005”, found on line March 23, 2006, at http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/2005_07/openletter2).

Notice how he says “there is nothing wrong with celebrating the biblical feasts, or following certain rabbinical traditions.” What he omits is the entire corpus and texture of covenantal life, and the embarrassing overabundance of Scriptural evidence for the mandatory nature and enduring status of God’s commandments, statutes and ordinances for the descendants of Jacob. And, in terms of our present discussion, what is most fascinating is his axiomatic advocacy of the freedom “to practice these things or not” as “a matter of choice and conscience.” This sounds more like Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant than Moses the Lawgiver—or Yeshua the Messiah, for that matter. But such is the invisible pull of culture.

The Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is an eschatologically driven movement. Scripture makes clear in more than one instance that there are certain truths which will only become apparent when their time has come (Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24; Daniel 12:4). We believe that such is the case with the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. It is becoming abundantly clear that this kind of Enlightenment-driven apologia for the primacy of individual choice and the acceptability of cultural assimilation must, in the fullness of time, give way to the foreordained renewal of covenant faithfulness among all the house of Israel of which Scripture speaks so unambiguously (See Deuteronomy 30; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 36-37). It is time for us to be as shocked by defenses of the optional character of God’s commandments as Rev. Brickner is by those who trumpet the mandatory nature of the commandments given Israel by the Living God. This paradigm is doomed to obsolescence. We are all being overtaken by the future and must catch up with it. And we must proceed beyond this pervasive post-Enlightenment mindset, becoming post post-Enlightenment.

Newbigin then discusses how the entire conversation about gospel and culture entails a misconception--that culture is the corporate aspect of life in its varied social relationships, and the gospel is a matter of individual response and soul salvation. “The gospel has been reduced to a matter of individual belief and conduct as though this could be separated from the shared life of society” (188). He insists that the gospel is something that changes the entire life of a community. When the gospel is seen as purely a matter of individual salvation along with “a wholesale rejection and condemnation of traditional culture, the result has been . . . a superficial Christianity with no deep roots and then—later—a reaction to an uncritical and sentimental attachment to everything in the discarded culture” (188-189).

He goes on to illustrate from the experience of a missionary friend who was surprised that some devout and committed African Christians he knew reverted to traditionally African ways of thinking and decision-making. He didn’t realize that although these people’s souls may have now been Christian, their hearts, lives, minds, bodies and personalities are still traditional African [189].

“There is not and cannot be a gospel which is not culturally embodied”
(189). This is because the gospel comes to and transforms not only the individual but also his/her social context and behavior within it.

This brings me to a point I have made for years. Once cannot pray as a generic human being. One may pray in a Jewish way, or in a non-Jewish way, but there is no third choice. I have long contended that Messianic Jewish congregants ought to choose ways of prayer and of living that reinforce and develop their own connectedness to the Jewish people and culture. To not pray as a Jew is to pray as a non-Jew, and how we pray, as well as how we eat, dress, marry and nurture our children, etc., shapes who we are and what will become of the next generation. As I mention in my article, “Do You See What I See?” there is no such thing as a generic Savior. The Messiah is not the Son-of-Man-Without-a-Country, but he is rather the Son of David, bone of Jewish bone, flesh of Jewish flesh, the One in whom all the promises of God to the Jewish people and to the nations are “Yea and Amen,” and the One in whom Jewish particularity is validated and Israel’s glory manifest.

Newbigin’s discussion concerning the evolution of self awareness among evangelized peoples is instructive for us in the Messianic Jewish Movement at this stage in our history.

The first converts reproduce faithfully the forms of Christian life and worship which the missionaries brought. This is not always or only because of pressure by the missionaries; the new thing is often welcomed just because it is new, for there are always in any society both conservatives who cherish the old traditions and radicals who question them. Later, when there has been time for deep study of the Bible in their own language, the new Christians—or more probably their children and grandchildren—will begin to look critically at the forms of Christianity which they have received and begin to make distinctions which the missionaries could not make between what is proper to the gospel according to the Scriptures and what is simply part of the traditional culture of the missionaries [1989:190].

In the early 1960’s, when I became a Yeshua-believer, it was assumed that Jews who did so became Hebrew Christians, and that our primary spiritual home would be a church of some sort. There were also para-Church entities which provided a venue for us to relate to each other as Jews, chief among these, the Hebrew Christian Alliance. In addition, Jewish mission stations sought to keep the embers of Jewish identity warm although not hot. Nevertheless, our patterns of association, of piety and of faith were essentially conservative Protestant. We were emphatically Christians of the Jewish kind, and our Jewish identities where never to be allowed to eclipse our primary identification with the Church world. This adherence to the Church world as spiritually, even if not ethnically, our primary community of reference, and adhering to these boundaries was regarded as a matter of spiritual integrity and orthodoxy.

When I inhabited a different paradigm, and vice versa, I was one of the founders of Jews for Jesus, which was, in its beginnings, considered radical in its call for forthrightly Jewish self-identification. Indeed, many in the mission establishment looked at Jews for Jesus as silly at best. After all, we didn’t dress, groom, nor act like respectable Christians! Still, the primary shift embodied in the Jews for Jesus phenomenon was more a matter of style and approach rather than of core identity. Jews for Jesus staff workers were all required to be members of local “ Bible-believing churches,” which generally meant free-church conservative evangelical churches. We were Christians of Jewish background who were reclaiming the right to identity as Jews and to communicate as Jews to other Jews.

The Messianic Jewish congregational movement went a step still further, in that the founders wanted to form congregations to foster the intergenerational transmission of Jewish identity to their children and grandchildren. Although “outreach” (evangelism) was not out of the equation, the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement was formed not as an evangelistic strategy so much as out of a need for Messianic Jews to cohere communally, and to transmit a cohesive identity to coming generations. However, it is significant that the statement of faith of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was patterned after that of the National Association of Evangelicals. This was because we needed to validate our authenticity by a Christian canon of measurement, and to win approval in from the Christian world.
It must be remembered of course, that none of these transitions was sudden and unanimous. Some people were prophetic figures and change agents, others were early adaptors, others came along later, at their own pace, and some not at all.

The Hashivenu group, a Messianic Jewish think tank founded in 1997, constitutes a conceptual fore runner of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. In its core principles, Hashivenu went a step further than the foregoing. One can see in these priniciples a move beyond what formerly prevailed. Here are the principles:

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.

In the context of our present discussion, of these principles, certainly the first five are a step beyond the self-definition that formerly prevailed, and serve to indicate a deeper rootedness and commonality with wider Israel than formerly prevailing paradigms.

In light of Newbigin’s treatment, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and its foregleaming, Hashivenu, involves a certain coming of age for Messianic Jewish believers, out from under being a sort of colony of Christendom, toward being an indigenous movement of Yeshua believers of, for and amidst wider Israel.

What follows is an imperfect and inexact parallel, because what is happening through the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm involves theologizing from above and a response to certain eschatological signs and influences, rather than simply being theologizing from below, that is, motivated by on the ground contextual factors. However, this illustration is helpful nonetheless. It concerns a woman I met in the early 1960’s who had been a Protestant missionary in Equador, and then did the unthinkable: she voluntarily came off the mission field. In the denomination with which she served, such an action was akin to apostasy. But she was convinced that “it was time that we turned the Church over to the nationals.”

The same is true of Messianic Judaism at this time in our history—it is time we came into our own. And it time that we claimed our own as our own—fully embracing the Jewish people, the Jewish heritage, and the Jewish destiny, in service to and fellowship with Yeshua, the King of the Jews.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Community Building 101

(This is a sermon for Shabbat Vayakhel-Pekudei presented March 25, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It examines and challenges the fundamental posture people bring to the prospect of engagemenet with a local congregation.)

If we believe that congregations of God’s people are the divinely ordained means of God accomplishing His will in the world, and that these congregations constitute a witness to His majesty, then what question should we be asking about ourselves and our congregation?

One of the usual questions people reflexively ask is “What am I getting out of my congregation?” But if our congregations are meant to be the means of glorifying God and accomplishing His will, shouldn’t our question rather be “What is my congregation getting out of me?”

This is quite a paradigm shift, quite a change in perspective. Can this change in perspective be demonstrated from our Scriptures and tradition? Let’s see.

If we take a close look at the beginning of today’s Torah reading, examining Shemot/Exodus 35:4-36:5, we will see how very much the community was occupied with serving God and seeing that He got the glory He deserved. We see nothing here of what is axiomatic and automatic in our generation. . . “What’s in it for me?”

Instead, we find the people investing their time, talents, and treasures in building something for God. They bring various building materials, of various kinds, from very expensive to less so. Then people of various skill levels came together to make all that the Lord had commanded. The participants included young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Also involved were those who were especially skilled, the craftspeople. At the head of the project were the especially talented Bezalel and Oholiab. And Bezalel was skilled not only in doing the work, but in teaching others to do so.

There is not a syllable here of the kind of “What’s in it for me?” mentality so prevalent in our day. Neither was there coercion. Rather, there was widespread communal “ buy in.” People rose to the occasion, and the occasion was splendid. So much so, that we read in chapter 36:4 all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged, 5 and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done." 6 Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: "Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!" So the people stopped bringing: 7 their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.

What an unambiguous model for community building: community building is a community effort.

Our bears this out as well. In the first verse of the Haftarah, Ezekiel 45:16, speaking of the idealized vision of the eschatological Temple, we read:
16 In this contribution, the entire population must join with the prince in Israel.

Notice—the entire population, the entire people of God, must join with the prince in His offerings. We are all to be involved. This is not something to be left up to the leaders and the professionals. As the leaders serve God, so must the people. That is why leaders are leaders—they lead the people in doing as they do.

I think we will agree that nowadays people evaluate congregations from a consumer mentality—“What is the best congregation to meet my needs with the least cost or inconvenience to myself?” “Where can I get the most bang for my buck?”

If we trust the Bible as our guide for right living, if we find we cannot entirely divest ourselves of this self-centered mentality, we would at least do well to make repeated efforts at reorienting ourselves, deciding to counterbalance this native narcissistic perspective with a different one, as modeled in these Scriptures.

As we think about our relationship God, we should develop the habit of asking ourselves, “Is my congregation getting enough out of me?”

Our Newer Covenant reading bears this out. Notice how the assumption is that everyone has a part to play—just as our Torah passage put it, just as our Haftarah passage put it. Many people imagine that now that the New Covenant has come, we are all off the hook as far as defined responsibilities are concerned, we only have to do what we feel like doing when we feel like it. Try harmonizing that with this Newer Covenant passage.

1 I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical "Temple worship" for you. 2 In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the 'olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed. 3 For I am telling every single one of you, through the grace that has been given to me, not to have exaggerated ideas about your own importance. Instead, develop a sober estimate of yourself based on the standard which God has given to each of you, namely, trust. 4 For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don't all have the same function; 5 so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. 6 But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, use it to the extent of your trust; 7 if it is serving, use it to serve; if you are a teacher, use your gift in teaching; 8 if you are a counselor, use your gift to comfort and exhort; if you are someone who gives, do it simply and generously; if you are in a position of leadership, lead with diligence and zeal; if you are one who does acts of mercy, do them cheerfully (Romans 12:1-8].

Notice this is addressed to “every single one of you.” Notice, “so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others.” Each of us—that means every single one of us—belongs to the other.

This language should remind you of something. In what other interpersonal relationship are people told that they now belong to each other? [Marriage]. Yes, membership in a congregation is like a marriage—it is a covenant relationship in the sight of God, one which entails responsibilities for each other. And “every single one of us. . . each of us. . .belongs to one another."

Community building 101 dictates that we not only ask ourselves “What is my congregation getting out of me?” which is itself suspiciously narcissistic question. We must also or even instead remind ourselves that we do not belong only to ourselves. We belong to God: “You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies, which are God’s” [1 Cor 6:17], and we belong to each other [Romans 12:5].

This is quite a distance from the “What’s in it for me Gospel,” isn’t it?

In your bulletins today, you have a copy of what we call the G.R.A.C.E. Criteria, the means whereby we gauge if people are appropriate for our congregation and appropriately related to it. It is easy to see that the lessons of today’s readings are echoed in these criteria:

Growing in relationship with God because of their involvement with us.
Responsive to and respectful of our vision and our leadership.
Appropriate to our congregation.
Contributing to the life of the congregation.
Engaged in healthy relationships with others in the congregation.

Actually, today’s readings strongly illumine the fourth of our G.R.A.C.E. Criteria—“Contributing to the life of the congregation”. And there is another verse a little later in Romans 12, that also illumines this: 11 Don't be lazy when hard work is needed, but serve the Lord with spiritual fervor.

What then does all of this mean?
First, it means that the gimme gospel is a product of the spirit of the age—and not the Spirit of God.
Second, it means that, if the Bible is true at all, then we should be asking ourselves, “What is my congregation getting out of me?”

Now, I know what some of you are saying inside. “I’d like to be more involved, but I am too busy.” And you are right, you are too busy. If you cannot be genuinely and consistently involved in contributing to the life our your congregation, by a combination of your treasures, your talents, and your time, then, if the Bible is true at all, your life is spiritually dysfunctional, and you need to cut back somewhere so that you might get it in better balance. I realize as well, that it is possible to be too involved in congregational life. In such cases, the balance needs to be restored on the other side of the scale. But, except for a handful of people here, that is not a danger.

If you would fulfill your God given relationship with your congregation, if you would honor your covenant with the others in this body, you will ask yourself, “What is my congregation getting out of me?” and you will make sure that you can honestly say, “I contribute to the life of Ahavat Zion with a combination of my treasures, my talents, and my time.” There are a wide variety of ways people demonstrate involvement, just as our Newer Covenant reading reminded us—“4 For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don't all have the same function; 5 so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. 6 But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the grace that has been given to us.” And all these ways are good, right and proper.

Some of you are very already heavily engaged with the life of our congregation, through giving of you treasures, your talents, and your time. God bless you. You make this body live.

For the rest of us, the message of today’s lesson is this: Membership in a community of God’s people is anything but a spectator sport. Get involved. Ask yourself this question and answer it: “What is my congregation getting out of me?” What are you contributing to the life of this congregation? This is not meant to be the occupation of the professionals and the superstars. As in our Torah reading, our Haftarah reading, and our Newer Covenant reading, it is all the people giving as their hearts move them, it is all of the people joining themselves with the priests offering, it ir rich and poor, male and female, skilled artisans and common people, building the community. Every one of us belongs to the others, and these imperatives are addressed to every single one of us.

If someone asks you to help with something, your first impulse should be to make yourself available, not to beg off every time. Sometimes we must excuse ourselves, but if we do it as a habit of life, then something is out of balance.

If you see that something needs doing, or someone needs help, volunteer. I did not say “overcommit.” This would be wrong; but volunteer, at least once in a while.

Let’s restore spiritual balance to our lives. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is my congregation getting enough out of me?” For in giving of yourself to your congregation, you are giving to God. And if you withhold yourself from engagement with your congregation you need to ask yourself, “Why?”

Some questions before we go:

(1) What are the signs that someone is overcommitted to religious community matters, activities and projects?

(2) What are signs that somone is undercommitted to religious community matters, activities and projects?

(3) What about you? And what are you going to do about it?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Newbigin and the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm: More Missiological Comparisons and Contrasts

In Chapter Fourteen of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" (1989), Lesslie Newbigin examines what would be the implications of taking honoring and glorifying God for His work in Messiah Yeshua as our foundational motivation for mission. This concern is what proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm would term "Kiddush Hashem." Newbigin suggests four immediate implications of making this motivation our own. These implications are excellent for informing the substructure of a Messianic Jewish agenda for engagement with the wider Jewish world, and beyond.

However, I would counsel my readers to realize that despite our affinity for Newbigin's thinking, proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm are by no means rubber stamp ratifiers of Newbigin's views point for point. There are both affinities and differences. In evaluating and responding to this post about Newbigin, as well as previous ones, it is crucial to keep this in mind.

His four points are as follows.

(1) “We shall expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the lives of those who do not know Jesus as Lord” [180]. This suggests part of the paradigm shift taking place in the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm as contrasted with the Standard Jewish Missions Model. As I have said repeatedly elsewhere, the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm seeks to minimize or negate any spiritual value of Jewish life and practice apart from explicit faith in Yeshua the Messiah. Although it is not politically correct for such persons to forthrightly say so, many adherents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm make the negation of Jewish piety apart from Yeshua faith to be a non-negotiable mark of Christian doctrinal fidelity and missiological integrity.

Diametrically contrasting with this, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm not only sees the signs of God’s grace in the Jewish religious world, we also see this to be the fruit of Yeshua’s unseen and unacknowledged Presence in the midst of historic Jewish life and community. In a significant modification of Newbigin's statement, we call the Messianic Jewish Movement to expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the midst of the Jewish community, both now and historically.

(2) “The Christian will be eager to cooperate with people of all faiths and ideologies in all projects which are in line with the Christian’s understanding of God’s purpose in history” [181]. If this is a valid summons to “cooperate with people of all faiths” on matters of common cause, then it is, especially for Messianic Jews, but also for Christians, most certainly true in dealing with the wider Jewish community: we should be eager to cooperate with members of the wider Jewish world in matters of common concern.

This should be an obvious desideratum. Yet, for proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm, the prospect of cooperation with those they term "the unsaved Jewish community" is surrounded by posted signs, warning of a minefield to be avoided at all costs. For example, in a March 2006 e-mail newsletter, Jews for Jesus Executive Director David Brickner says this:

It is understandable that evangelical leaders want to develop friendships with Jewish community leaders. I don't mean to impugn their motives. Nevertheless, while Christian leaders may simply be interested in collegial relations with their Jewish counterparts, Jewish community leaders have a definite agenda. They hope to use their relationships with evangelical ministers to persuade them that forthright evangelism to the Jewish people is at the very least offensive and unnecessary and at most, harmful [“Jokes, Jerry Falwell and The Jerusalem Post" By David Brickner, Executive Director, in Jews For Jesus Realtime March 15, 2006 Volume 33].

This pervasive dogma of suspicion toward Jewish community leaders, and avoidance of any cooperative efforts with them, has no place in the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. For one, following Rev. Brickner's logic, the Jewish community should avoid missionaries and mission-minded Messianic Jewish and Christians, because of their evangelistic intent, just as he counsels Christian leaders to avoid hob-nobbing with Jewish community leaders who seek to thwart that intent. Accepting this paradigm will only consign all to a "choose up sides and build your wall high" kind of intercommunal relationship. Doesn't sound very productive, does it?

By contrast, and in keeping with the irenic insights of Bishop Newbigin, we recognize an enormous commonality with the wider Jewish community, and recognize deep and broad areas of common concern and agreement. We would expect that our Yeshua-faith would be respected, or at least our right to hold to that faith respected, by Jewish community leaders with whom we labor in cooperative ventures, just as they have a right to expect that we would respect their right to not believe as we do. Yet, these guidelines do not and must not in any manner forestall cooperation and mutual trust within the context of engagement in matters of common concern. As the core principles of Hashivenu state, “The Jewish people are ‘us,’ not ‘them.’”

3. Newbigin comments further.
It is precisely in this kind of shared commitment to the business of the world that the context for true dialogue is provided. As we work together with people of other commitments we shall discover the places where our ways must separate. Here is where real dialogue may begin. It is real dialogue about real issues. It is not just a sharing of religious experience, though it may include this. At heart it will be a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story. If we are doing what we ought to be doing . . .the dialogue will be initiated by our partners, not by outselves. And, once again, the dialogue will not be about who is going to be saved. It will be about the question, "What is the meaning and goal of this common human story in which we all . . are participants?” [181-182].

Yes, indeed. True dialogue and appropriate witness can only happen where there is at least a semblance of intimacy, relationship, and mutual respect. These can grow between Messianic Jews and the wider Jewish community as we involve ourselves in issues of common concern. Within the compass of such relationships, we will develop a natural awareness of and curiosity concerning the areas in which we differ, and the trust and respect necessary to discuss them openly.

As for the dialogue being “initiated by our partners, not by ourselves,” as counterintuitive as this might be, my experience proves this to be true. When Jewish people see us as clearly Yeshua’s Messianic Jewish people yet not acting in accordance with their stereotypes and expectations of us, but rather in a manner demonstrating respectful wholehearted engagement with Jewish community issues and sancta, this engenders curiosity and openness. And if Newbigin’s construct of working with people with other faiths leads to “a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story . . . in which we are all participants” for Messianic Jews working with members of the wider Jewish community, this dialogue will involve our proposing the meaning and goal of the Jewish story in which we, and the wider Jewish community are co-participants, a story in which we contend Yeshua plays a decisive and hitherto unrecognized role. This takes us into the heart of what Mark Kinzer calls the "inner mission" of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm.

Part of the glory of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is that even in cases where members of the wider Jewish community are not, for now, open to our explicit testimony about Yeshua, or even hostile to it, our cooperative efforts with them in matters of common concern provide an implicit testimony and are a good in themselves as they advance the progress of righteousness, societal well-being and tikkun olam. Furthermore, as we Messianic Jews do what we ought to do with respect to and in concert with the wider Jewish community, demonstrating and catalyzing Jewish covenant faithfulness in the midst of the earth, we advance God’s purposes and glory in the world and in the midst of Israel. As part of the Remnant, this is our calling.

(4) Newbigin states that what we as Yeshua believers uniquely have to contribute is “the telling of the story, the story of Jesus, the story of the Bible.” Of course, this latter statement is controversial in Jewish space, because the mainstream Jewish reading of the Bible does not see Jesus as its center or culmination. Nevertheless, we Messianic Jews must tell the story of the Bible from the vantage point of our Yeshua faith, and develop a canonical narrative which demonstrates the presence of Yeshua in the Jewish story, and our own presence in the midst of Jewish life. As Newbigin points out, in the telling of our story, we have no control, nor should we take credit for who accepts the message. “This will always be a mysterious work of the Spirit, often in ways which no third party will ever understand” [182], This is certainly true, and we must consistently resist the urge to systematize or regularize the ways in which the Spirit works. We must pray, tell the story, and live in concert with it: the rest is up to God.

Newbigin closes his chapter by positioning himself with respect to certain hot-button words which are often thrown at those of us who adhere to the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. His discussion is useful for our purposes as well.

On exclusivism: “The position which I have outlined is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation of Jesus Christ, but it is not exculsivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian” [182]. Similarly, some who wish to attack proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm mislabel us as “dual covenant.” We have denied this in print and made unambiguosly clear our own rejection of the dual covenant approach, yet, the accusations will persist as long as they serve the polemical purposes of some. So it must be said yet again, "Our position is emphatically not a dual covenant position, and we deny the validity of the dual covenant perspective." We do believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. But this does not mean that we claim to know how that access is divinely mediated to every individual.

On inclusivism he states, “It [his position] is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian Church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation” [182]. Similarly, we do not believe that all religions are created equal, all being different paths up the same mountain. On the other hand, we do hold Judaism to be in a different and altogether unique category from say, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. In the words of John Howard Yoder, "Judaism is a non-non-Christian religion."

On pluralism. Newbigin states that his position is "pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ. . . . As a human race, we are on a journey and we need to know the road. It is not true that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. There are roads which lead over the precipice. In Christ we have been shown the road. We cannot treat that knowlede as a private matter for ourselves” [182-183].

We of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm would concur with this, and if anything, are more restrictive, in that we see Judaism and Christianity as separated out from all other religious systems. Furthermore, we see ourselves as Yeshua-believing Jewish communities within the Remnant of Israel and the Church from among the nations together constituting the one ekklesia—the people of God.

However, this is not to say that people of other cultures and communions have no light about God nor that they should be treated with anything but courtesy and respect. God has not left himself without a witness, and is at work in other cultures even apart from and prior to the efforts of missionaries.

I am mindful of a story told at the School of Intercultural Studies, of a missionary who worked amidst an African people group. Members of the latter told him, "You missionaries think that your brought God to us. God was already here. He brought you to us."

Like the priests of Malachi's time, we are always in danger of thinking we have God in a box. We are ever imagining we have Him domesticated and reserved for our team. We need to hear the words of the prophet, as did they:

Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, "Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!" . . . for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.

And is He not also great beyond the provincial boundaries of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kal V'Chomer and the Assumptions of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm

In Chapter 14 of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" (1989), Lesslie Newbigin discuss how every missionary knows that his/her communication with the receptor culture involves utilizing terms for God, and other spiritual matters, from the receptor culture. This confirms a prior commonality/common humanity with the non-Christian receptor culture, thus refuting the assumption that the receptor culture begins at zero, and only the missionary brings anything of spiritual moment to the table. There is never a total discontinuity. Newbigin says: “And anyone who has had intimate friendship with a devout Hindu or Muslim would find it impossible to believe that the experience of God of which his friend speaks is simply illusion or fraud” [1989:174].

This brings up something else somewhat unique to the Messianic Jewish context. In my missionary experience, the intra-group assumption was that Jewish people without Yeshua faith had neither relationship with nor actual experience with God, unless that experience was a lure from God drawing them to Yeshua faith. Indeed, for some who seek to “witness” to Jews, negating the spiritual experience or faith of the Jewish person without Yeshua-faith is essential, lest we somehow give the impression that they do not need Yeshua. [The latter is a red herring, by the way].

This negation is especially incongruous when dealing with serious religious Jews. Propoents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm are in effect saying their Judaism, their attempt to honor their irrevocable calling, and their avid pursuit of what they know to be Israel’s covenant responsibilities within the context of obedience to the demands of Torah, are without value and without substance, and that these seriously religious Jews are basically having a dialogue only with themselves, their communities, and their tradition—but certainly not with God. They are perceived to be dead in their trespasses and sins, without hope, and without God in the world, terms that Paul uses of pagans separated from the Commonwealth of Israel!

In this connection I am always mindful of Acts 10 and the story of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and a (Gentile) God-fearer, who “gave alms generously to the poor and prayed constantly to God [10:2]. Here we find two markers of Jewish piety: ts’dakkah and tefillah alms-giving and prayer. When the angel of God appears to him, he tells Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God [10:4]. Clearly, Cornelius is not yet a Yeshua believer, although he would soon become one. Indeed, at that point in the Acts account, he had not yet even heard the gospel. Yet he lived a disciplined spiritual life within the canons of Jewish piety [apart from circumcision, and therefore, covenant membership] and had a reputation in heaven. This is certainly not nothing! He is clearly not yet a Yeshua believer. That will happen the next day. But he is not a spiritual zero. And we must remind ourselves that the same must certainly be true in our day of religious Jews who themselves seek to honor the God of our ancestors and his covenant with our people.

To use an extreme example, how can we have any room in our thinking for the idea that Abraham Joshua Heschel had no relationship with God because he had no faith in Yeshua the Messiah? Do you not all see how dogmatic adherence to certain expiring missionary syllogisms results in monstrous thinking as if chopping our way through the Garden of Eden with a dull machete?

The Jewish mission enterprise, and the Christian world in general, with some exceptions, has been poisoned by the bitter root of anti-Judaism, planted in the second century by such as Justin Martyr, the Epistle to Barnabas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters to the Magnesians and the Philadelphians. One of the results of this is a lack of theological imagination, generosity, or flexibility when it comes to thinking about the Jewish people.

Jewish culture readily uses a reasoning approach called “kal v’chomer,” from the lesser to the greater. If something is true in a lesser situation, it is more certainly so in a related greater situation. Yeshua and the Apostles, Jews all, used this form of argument frequently. In the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), Yeshua argues that if an unjust human judge will grant justice to a persistent petitioner, then how much more will God, the altogether Righteous Judge, be responsive to the prayers of his people. Or, in Luke 11, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Paul says in Romans 11:24: “For if you [Gentiles] have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these [Jewish] natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree?” And there are many more examples.

Using this well-attested approach then, I would ask this question: If heaven values the piety of a Gentile Centurion who is embracing Jewish piety out of regard for the God of Israel, how much more must God value the piety of religious Jews who embrace Jewish piety out of regard for the God of Israel and out of respect for their own covenant responsibilities? But, perhaps without exception, proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm will have none of this. Why? Because of the ingrained tradition of anti-Judaism.

And again, kal v’chomer, if Newbigin can argue for respectful commonality between committed Christians and religious Hindus and Muslims, how much more should committed Christians and Messianic Jews find and celebrate respectful commonality with religious Jews who seek to honor the True and Living God and the covenant He made with our ancestors?

Those of us advocating the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm live very much in this space. Not everyone will join with us. Some will stand back, fearful of new attitudes and paradigms, at least at first. They may join with us later. Others will cluck their tongues and gather together in commiserating cabals exclaiming, “Ain’t it awful?” However, our minds are made up, we have set our faces like flint, and we know that we will not be put to shame (Isa 50:7).

Some questions for some of my readers:

(1) Looking through the gospels, where else do you find Yeshua using the kal v’khomer form of reasoning?

(2) Have you been taught to distrust “reasoning” altogether, as being somehow “unspiritual?”

(3) Is it possible to think about the things of God without reasoning?

(4) How might you respond to someone who says, “I don’t bother with ‘reasoning’ or anything worldly like that. I just go to the Word.’” [Hint: how do people decide which part of the “Word” they go to, and doesn’t that involve reasoning?]

(5) What light does this text shed upon the issues we are considering here? “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20).

(6) What is the difference between being childish and child-like? Which does Scripture applaud, and why?

(7) In the Romans 11:24 passage quoted in this article, what is the basis for Paul’s assurance that it is more likely that broken off Jewish branches will be grafted into the Olive Tree? In other words, in his thinking, why are Jews more “naturals” for being engrafted? In your experience, would proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm heartily agree, of would they be cautious about this? Why?

(8) Where else does Paul use the kal v’chomer line of argument?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What is God Up To in the World and What Does It Have to do with You?

(This is a sermon for Shabbat Parah presented March 18, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns how the gospel must be reconceptualized in accordance with the Emerging Messianic Jewish Pardigm.)

Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary to India for forty years. When he returned to his native England, he realized how much the Western world had changed during that time. He saw how we now live in a post-Christian, pluralist society, where many competing religions, philosophies and ways of life claim to be equally true, and where many people gauge the value of a religious commitment by the slogan, “If it works for you!” Newbigin began writing some important books about the good news of Yeshua and western society. “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” (1989) is one of those books. One of the matters he addresses in that book is the issue of contextualization, which is a concept that has long characterized the mission (outreach) enterprise.

According to Newbigin, the purpose of contextualization is to enable the gospel to come alive in each specific cultural context in a manner that comes as good news (rather than foreign news) to that context, yet in a manner which does not, for the sake of relevance and reception, sacrifice the nature of the gospel itself. It is a matter of presenting the gospel without being needlessly culturally intrusive. But Newbigin realized that if we are to keep the gospel intact in each of the cultures with which we interact, it is crucial for us to know what is the intrinsic gospel we are to transmit.

Of course, when we think about outreach, for the Messianic Jewish context there is another factor, unique to the Jewish world, which David Stern recognized decades ago in “The Messianic Jewish Manifesto” (1988). That factor is rediscovering the essentially Jewish context and nature of the gospel message despite two millennia of other-culture accretions. Here the issue is not one of adapting or communicating the gospel to the contemporary Jewish context, as is the concern of contextualization, but rather of, in Stern’s words,”restoring the Jewishness of the gospel.”

The concerns of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm which my associates and I are championing, and which we teach at Ahavat Zion, run deeper than this. Our concern is not simply the effective, non-imperialistic, culture-respecting communication of the gospel in a Jewish context, nor is it the restoration of the gospel’s original Jewish character and context. Rather, the project of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is the reconceptulization of the gospel itself in keeping with a post-missionary, non-supersessionist paradigm which is alert to the eschatological responsibilities of the Remnant of Israel.

“Post-missionary” does not mean “anti-missionary.” Rather it means that the times are changing and are calling for a different approach to our people Israel. More than that, both Scripture and the times in which we are living call for a very different concept of what our outreach task is! (More about that later).

As for “supersessionism,” by this we mean the theological position which views the Church as the new Israel, which, in the purposes of God, eclipses the old Israel. What shall we say about this?

The gospel cannot be good news for the Jews if its proclaimers treat the dissolution of Jewish community cohesion as a matter of secondary importance. Nor can it be good news for the Jews if, imbedded within it, is the assumption that the path of Torah faithfulness is a secondary issue, non-issue, or expired priority. Neither can it be good news for the Jews if the gospel we proclaim fails to prepare Jewish people for the eschatological commitments of which the prophets speak, including being “careful to observe” his ordinances [Ezekiel 36:27].

The concerns of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm are more than a matter of style and of being careful to not be culturally intrusive or imperialistic. They are even more than simply rediscovering what is the essential gospel, which is Newbigin’s concern. Rather, this paradigm is concerned with discovering, serving, and proclaiming the wider context of the will of God for the Jewish people, the setting in which faithfulness, even gospel faithfulness, is meant to be lived out by Jews, as highlighted in Ezekiel 36-37 and elsewhere throughout Holy Writ. This setting will include Israel's Regathering, Renewal, Repentance, Regeneration, and Recognition of Yeshua as the Messiah formerly hidden from Jewish eyes [as is evident from reading Ezekiel 36-37].

The Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is post-missionary in its assumptions, in part because the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm is supersessionist. Even Dispensational Jewish missions that doctrinally decry supersessionism are functionally supersessionist when they treat the distinctive covenant responsibilities of the Jewish people as expired or secondary. One Jewish mission routinely refers to itself as “an arm of the local church.” In doing so, they are acting not as the Remnant of Israel but as Jewish-born emissaries of the new and improved people of God, the Church. They are also committed to treating covenantal Jewish living as but one option among many, and term it "neo-Galatianism” when treated as a divine responsibility incumbent upon all Jews.

By contrast, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is non-supersessionist, seeing the Jewish people as still beloved for the sake of the ancestors (Romans 11:28), and Jewish Torah-based covenant responsibility not only as persisting since ancient times, thus a continuing obligation from the Jewish past, but also as a necessary and integral component of God’s consummating purposes for Israel, thus a present privilege and responsibility in anticipation of that consummation. If covenant faithfulness is our Jewish legacy from the past, and our destiny in the future, how can it not be our responsibility in the present?

Therefore, we are not calling for contextualization as commonly conceived, nor are we calling for the recontextualization of the gospel, as David Stern suggests. Rather, we are calling for a reconceptualization of the outreach task, especially for Messianic Jews, as it concerns being agents of God’s consummating purposes for Israel. That reconceptualization includes the imperative of assisting Jewish people to grow in Torah-based covenant faithfulness, for this too is the will of God for Jewish people, and this is what God is up to in the world. We should play our part.

Today’s Haftarah is crucial because it reminds us of the truest, the deepest motivation for outreach. And what is that motivation? It is the honor of God—the sanctification of God’s Name, or in Hebrew, Kiddush Hashem. This is the strongest and purest motivation for service to God, for obedience to Him, in short, for living for Him in any area of life. It is the deepest place in the heart of those who love God: they want to see Him honored, adored, treated as holy. In fact, when Messiah taught us to pray, he made this to be the first petition of what is termed “The Lord’s Prayer.” “Hallowed be Thy name,” in Hebrew, “Yitkadash sh’mecha,” is Kiddush Hashem—the sanctification of Gods Name, that He might be honored in every aspect of life, and ultimately, throughout the entire created order.

Rav Sha’ul, the Apostle Paul, mirrors this motivation, when he says in 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Of course the Bible is full of this kind of language—in both Testaments. David says, in 1 Chronicles 29: 10 . . . "Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. 11Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.” This is the sanctification of God’s Name, giving Him the honor that is due to Him alone in all of life.

The root of this imperative in the Hebrew Bible is found in Vayikra/Leviticus 22: 31 Thus you shall keep my commandments and observe them: I am the LORD. 32You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel: I am the LORD; I sanctify you, 33I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD.

The Amplified Bible translates verse 32 in this way: “Neither shall you profane My holy name [applying it to an idol, or treating it with irreverence or contempt or as a byword]; but I will be hallowed among the Israelites. I am the Lord, Who consecrates and makes you holy.” Our Stone Edition Tanach translates it this way: You shall not desecrate my holy name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel, I am Hashem who sanctifies you.” Three times in that one, core verse we find the Hebrew root “kadash” which is also found in Kiddush Hashem: V’lo titchal’u et shem kadshi vnikdashti b’toch be’nei Yisrael, ani Hashem mikdashchem.” And not only does this verse three times allude to Kiddush Hashem, it also includes the root very for the opposite of Kidddush Hashem, which is Chillul Hashem—the descreation of the Divine Name. And that term is found right at the beginning of our verse: “V’lo titchal’u et shem kadshi.”

Finally, we must not miss the fact that Kiddush Hashem necessarily involves keeping the commandments of God: Thus you shall keep my commandments and observe them: I am the LORD. 32You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. . ., or as Yeshua said it: "Hallowed be thy Name; Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And how can we do God’s will unless he tells us? This telling his will is the issuing of commandments. Our sanctification of God’s Name necessarily includes honoring His commandments.

For those of us who value experiences with the Holy Spirit, remember this: a good rule of thumb against which to measure options as to where you would invest your spiritual efforts is to find out what God seems to be doing in the earth, and help make it happen!

Today’s Haftarah tells us what God is likely to be doing among our people in these days. We are already seeing signs that now is the time. If you want to experience the Holy Spirit’s nearness in a deep way, the best idea is to involve yourself in what God is up to. And what he is doing is bringing renewal to the Jewish people in the area of covenant faithfulness. With the passage of time, it will become increasingly clear that God is doing this through Yeshua our righteous Messiah, in the power of the Spirit. This is already proving to be true in Israel, where some, in a Yeshua-believing Jewish community historically resistant to Torah living, are beginning to reconsider their position, due in large part to the influence of Jews from the fomer Soviet Union who are seeking a Messianic expression which is more of a Judaism than many Israeli Yeshua-believers have settled for up till now.

As for us, let us do our part in bringing honor to Messiah and to Hashem through pointing out to our people Israel what God is doing in fulfillment of Scriptures through the Presence of Messiah and His Spirit, and through honoring God ourselves through Messiah, in the power of the Spirit.

Newbigin goes on to say the following, which echoes what I have been saying to you here for a long time. Listen:

[Yeshua-believers] have privatized this mighty work of grace and talked as if the whole cosmic drama of salvation culminated in the words “For me, for me”; as if the one question is “How can I be saved?” . . . . But this is a perversion of the gospel. For anyone who has understood what God did for us in [Yeshua the Messiah] the one question is: “How shall God be glorified? How shall his amazing grace be known and celebrated and adored? How shall he see the travail of his soul and be satisfied?” [Isaiah 53:11] The whole discussion of . . . who is going to be saved in the end. . . God alone will answer, and it is arrogant presumption on the part of theologians to suppose that it is their business to answer it. We have to begin with the mighty work of grace in [Yeshua the Messiah] and ask, How is he to be honored and glorified? The goal of missions is the glory of God [1989:179-180].

He didn’t know it, but Newbigin was talking here about Kiddush Hashem. And so should we. Is it not obvious that this should be our deepest and sufficient motivation for outreach to our people Israel, and also to the nations?

23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

. . . 24 My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes [Ezekiel 36:23-27; 37:24].

This leads us to a number of important questions:

1) What is God ultimately up to among the Jewish people according to these passages?

2) What might this mean for us personally, congregationally, and as a Messianic Jewish movement?

3) What if we don’t choose to get involved or to see things this way? What might be lost?

4) What role should and does Kiddush Hashem, honoring His Name, that is, bringing glory to God for who He is and what he has done/is doing, especially through Messiah in the Ruach HaKodesh in our days, have in our personal lives, our congregational agenda, and that of the Messianic Jewish movement?

5) If not this, what? If not you, who? If not for you, why? And, if not now, when?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Amalek, Saul, Samuel and You

(This is a sermon for Parashat Zachor, presented March 11, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It deals with how we may and should internalize the lessons to be found in the ancient story retold in our haftarah reading).

In today’s Haftarah (1 Samuel 15), we read of three leaders, one evil, one ineffectually weak, and one decisive. In today’s d’rash, I encourage all of us to consider the roles of evil, ineffectual weakness, and decisiveness in our own lives.

The identities the various parties in this story, and their meaning for contemporary life are the subject of extensive discussion in the Jewish world. In a fascinating posting on the web at http://headheeb.blogmosis.com/archives/020255.html, we read the following [heavily edited by myself].

Amalek, or so the story goes, was the grandson of Esau and the ancestor of the biblical Jews’ most implacable enemies. The tribe of Amalekites are mentioned in the Torah on several occasions, the most significant being their surprise attack on the Israelites soon after the departure from Egypt. It was this attack that resulted in the divine commandment to exterminate the Amalekite tribe:

17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt;
18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not G-d.
19 Therefore it shall be, when HaShem thy G-d hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which HaShem thy G-d giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.

The duty to obliterate Amalek is regarded as a positive commandment, and Saul’s failure to comply with it cost him his kingship. Haman is likewise described as the heir of Agag king of Amalek, and the Book of Esther is the story of his attempt to exterminate the Jews of Persia - a story that ends with the Jews being given permission to defend themselves and decimating his tribe instead.

What is one to do today, though, with a positive commandment to commit genocide? The dilemma is made somewhat easier by the fact that there is no nation or ethnic group today that claims descent from Amalek, but to those Orthodox Jews for whom all 613 commandments have continuing relevance, it must retain some form of meaning. The modern-day significance given to it, however, varies widely from interpreter to interpreter.

There are three ways that the commandment to exterminate Amalek can be interpreted today. One is to regard it as a dormant duty, similar to the commandments relating to sacrifices in the Temple - one that cannot be performed today because there is no Amalekite tribe, but which will be incumbent upon Jews if Amalek returns to the world. In some variations on this theme, the identity of Amalek wil be made known upon the coming of the Messiah:

... we won’t know who the people of Amalek are until Elijah the Prophet comes and tells us. And then, we will wipe out all remembrance of Amalek from under Heaven.

Another possibility, which is sometimes advocated by Kahanist extremists, is to equate Amalek with the enemies of the Jews, and to accord the legal status of Amalek to any group that aligns itself against the Jewish nation. Under this interpretation, the term “Amalek” has been used to describe the Nazis and the latter- day enemies of the State of Israel, particularly the Palestinian Arabs. To those who follow this doctrine, a religious duty exists to make war upon the Palestinians until they cease to exist as a people or cease to threaten the Jews. Some go so far as to describe the Baruch Goldstein massacre [In Hebron some years ago] as a sort of perverse reenactment of the Purim story.

The third interpretation removes the concept of Amalek from the physical world entirely and recasts it as an idea. This could involve Amalek being equated with anti-Semitism, and the duty to exterminate it being reinterpreted as one to fight against anti-Jewish bigotry in all its forms. The battle against Amalek may also be viewed as a personal struggle against the evil within. To Rabbi Shraga Simmons, for instance, Amalek is the force of chaos and irreligion, and Jews may fight against it by embracing Torah:

In our own lives, we can gauge the extent of Amalek’s encroachment by measuring our own level of belief in God. To the extent that an individual doubts the existence of God, is the extent that Amalek’s philosophy of randomness has become a part of us. One of Amalek’s battle tactics is to create doubt about God’s presence, in an attempt to confuse and ultimately destroy the Jewish people. Appropriately, the numerical value of “Amalek” -- 240, is the same value as the Hebrew word safek, meaning “doubt.”

Reform rabbi Sylvia Rothschild prefers an Enlightenment-based interpretation, equating Amalek more generally with injustice and inhumanity:

Our tradition paints a picture of Amalek as one who will hurt for the sheer pleasure of hurting, who will destroy aimlessly, who derives no benefit from the destruction or mutilation of the other but will do so anyway. The word describes the one who is the antithesis of ‘godly’ in that they see no humanity in the other, recognise no common bond between people, care not one whit for the feelings or emotions of the stranger. The Amalakite is estranged from relationship, alienated from a sense of shared ancestry, views others as commodities or objects. It is a state of being we can all slide into on occasion - we too can be Amalek [...] as we celebrate the gory end of those who tried to murder us, as we relieve ourselves of some of the stress of a minority existence amongst people who resist our particular difference, lets spare a thought for the Amalek inside all of us, the characteristics of selfishness or conceit, of narrow mindedness or wilful ignorance of other’s pain. Our world contains violence and famine, slavery, hatred, huge discrepancy between rich and poor, warfare and oppression. If that isn’t the presence of Amalek, I don’t know what is.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs also equates the struggle against Amalek with the pursuit of justice, and applies it to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in precisely the opposite way the Kahanists do: as “our internal Jewish fight against justifying the oppression of another people, and as our attempt to guarantee that this people may live in dignity.”

I would add but one interpretation the excellent material quoted here, and that is this. We all have Amalek in our lives, and each of us, as well as each of our groups, congregations, organizations, affiliations, families, or whatever, are challenged by God as to whether we will be Saul or Samuel in dealing with them.

In such a construct, we might take Amalek to be a symbol of irremediable evil. God calls upon us to deal with such evil decisively and thoroughly, as was his commandment to the Jewish people and as was His word to Saul. Yeshua mirrors this mentality for us in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, where we are told: “29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” This is very decisive language, reminiscent of God’s instructions about dealing with Amalek.

If Amalek is a symbol of irremediable evil, then Saul is a symbol of ineffectual weakness. At the very best, Saul’s approach to dealing with irremediable evil was a form of tokenism. But isn’t that true in our own lives as well? Are there not areas of evil, of sin, of compromise in our lives, which we know God has called us to deal with in a radical manner, which we instead deal with ineffectually, making only a token effort to deal with “our stuff”? And in our organizational or congregational lives, are there not times when we tolerate things that are intolerable, and put off dealing with them far too long? Yes, my friends, we are often Saul. And our ineffectual weakness will eventually lead to a loss of authority, power and opportunity.

In the context of the Purim story, it is Saul’s failure to deal decisively with Agag the King of the Amalekites, that accorded him the chance to procreate before being dispatched, becoming the ancestor of Haman, the Agagite, who almost wiped out all the Jews of Persia. Similarly, we can never know the long-range consequences of our ineffectual weakness and indecisivenes in dealing with the Agags and Amaleks in our lives.

Finally there is Samuel. Notice how decisive he is in dealing with matters here, first in confronting the waffling Saul, and then in dealing with Agag.

25 Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the LORD." 26 Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel."
32 Samuel said, “Bring forward to me King Agag of Amalek.” Agag approached him with faltering steps; and Agag said, “Ah, bitter death is at hand!”
33 Samuel said:
“As your sword has bereaved women,
So shall your mother be bereaved among women.”
And Samuel cut Agag down before the Lord at Gilgal.

There are and always will be Agags/Amaleks in our own lives, in our own contexts, irremediable evils God has called us to cut down. The only question is this: Will we be Saul or will we be Samuel?

Deuteronomy 25:19 tells us what we must do: “you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

What Agags/Amaleks are you letting live which should be cut down in your life? And what might be the long range consequences of your indecisiveness?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On Not Playing God: Something Always Difficult for Evangelicalized People

In Chapter 14 of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," Lesslie Newbigin examines the position held by some—“the strictly exclusivist view”—“that all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are eternally lost” [1989:173]. Newbigin gives several reasons why this position is difficult for him to accept. First, if this were true, it would be obligatory and permissible to use any means available, including modern forms of brainwashing, to rescue people from perdition. And, since God alone knows the human heart, how are we to judge whether a given individual has the requisite faith to be considered one of the redeemed? If the strictly exclusivist view is in fact true, then determining this issue is surpassingly vital. This need to know would lead to all sorts of faith tests, socially selected visible criteria which satisfy our need for certitude. Historical experience demonstrates that such criteria prove to be overly narrow and ultimately oppressive. “We are bound to become judges of what God alone knows” (1989:173).

Newbigin’s cogent observation is huge in its implications and relevance. The entire Messianic Jewish movement and almost all evangelicalism lives in the conceptual quicksand he here describes. Perhaps a case in point will drive the point home.

Years ago, in San Francisco, it was my honor to know an extraordinary Jewish lady named Hazel. I knew her when she was in her seventies until her late eighties, when she died. Hazel was intelligent, witty, and the most gifted and “anointed” personal evangelist I have ever known. She had an intimacy with God that was uncanny, and was readily responsive to His leading, which almost always led to life-changing encounters with all sorts of people in all sorts of settings.

Hazel was in her forties when she came to Yeshua-faith. Her mother had been a Yeshua believer before her, but Hazel would have none of it. However, one night she went to visit the church where her mother was a member, and as Hazel told me, “Honey, that night the Lord got me!” It is hard to describe exactly what happened, but that night, unexpectedly, everything came together for her, and she had her own personal Damascus road experience.

When she arrived home that night and reported on matters to her sister, she inquired, “Did you walk forward at a meeting?” When Hazel responded in the negative, her sister dismissed the entire event saying, “Well, then, you’re not saved!” (For those unfamiliar with fundamentalist jargon, being "saved" means having entered into a living relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ).

It is easy for us to see how naïve and narrow-minded Hazel’s sister was. And more than forty-five years of winsome relationship with God and service to the cause of Yeshua proved that she was as wrong as wrong could be in her dismissal of the validity of Hazel’s experience. But before clucking our tongues over Hazel's sister, we must acknowledge that such naïve cultural selectivity is widespread in our own circles to this day.

For example, as Newbigin hints in his treatment, many confidently affirm that only those who “pray to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior” have any claim on the eternal life He came to provide. And Newbigin is entirely right in his perception that the need for such a faith test is driven by a certain combination of evangelical anxiety combined with a craving for certitude. However, this shibboleth is certainly invalid when one considers that the kind of spiritual transaction here described was introduced to the Church by Charles Finney who flourished in the first quarter of the 19th century. Before then, as far as we know, no one in history “prayed to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” I know my statement concerning Finney sounds like heresy to many. However, besides having done some research on the matter myself, I have checked out my opinion with a world class Church historian from the Free Church tradition who validated my suspicions.

Some, bonded permanently to their pet metaphors, would then say that no one was saved between the time of the apostles and Charles Finney. If this seems hyperbolic, let me just report a conversation I once had with a prominent Jewish mission leader who held that pretty much no one was saved from the time of the Apostles to the advent of Martin Luther. In his case, it was having a correct doctrine of the atonement that saves us. This salvation by having right doctrine and by not having wrong doctrine is rampant among us. It is for this reason that there are many who cannot affirm that Mother Theresa of Calcutta is in heaven, because she believed some things about the Virgin Mary which they hold to be in error. How interesting that for such people, this preoccupation with what they view to be Mother Theresa's wrong beliefs eclipses an appreication of her right beliefs as validated by a glorious life. Behind this doubt is the assumption that people are saved or lost according to the orthodoxy of their theology.

I am one of those benighted souls who prefers to believe that we are saved not by passing a theology test but rather by the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, and that it is simply not given us to know how God applies and supplies the benefits of Messiah’s work in each individual case.

A.W. Tozer was certainly a conservative Christian voice in his day, and something of a prophetic one at that. Agreeing with the position defended here, he too decried the tendency to make absolutes out of time-bound culturally selected metaphors. In the first chapter of his classic, “The Pursuit of God,” he speaks of modern evangelical naivete in these words:

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of "accepting" Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshipping, seeking, singing Church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart- theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.

For Tozer, the mark of a relationship with God is not a crisis experience of “accepting Christ” or “praying to receive Jesus as your personal Savior.” He dismisses such as not even being found in the Bible. Rather, for him, the mark of a relationship with God is the individual’s ongoing pursuit of the Holy One. In the early 1960’s I heard James Packer speak at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting in New York City. I can remember as if it were yesterday when he said, “Don’t ask me to believe that a person who walks forward at a meeting and never prays is a Christian.” For Packer the mark of a relationship with God was an ongoing communicative relationship. And how God makes sinful people from his enemies into lovers of God is hidden in the counsels of eternity. Isn’t it time we admitted the horrible truth that there are some questions for which we do not know the answers? Or is it better to manufacture answers and to cobble together certitude rather than face the chill wind of unknowing?

I am not arguing here against “praying to receive Jesus as your personal Savior.” Rather, I am arguing against making this a shibboleth by which we infallibly separate the living from the dead, and against the horrid practice of labeling as spiritually suspect, dangerous, or lost, anyone who fails to uphold this metaphor to be inviolable and essential to the faith once delivered to the saints.

This issue becomes much more complicated when we are dealing with a Jewish context. After all, Jews, and here let's restrict ourselves to seriously religious Jews, are not pagans, not devotees of idols, but the covenant people of God, whose gifts and calling are irrevocable, a people seeking to serve the one True and Living God. To glibly opine that of theological necessity all of these are irretrievably lost until and unless they "pray to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior" and that those who don't agree with this verdict are theologically dangerous seems at best to be a trifle hasty, don't you think? Certainly, even the evidence presented in this brief posting, and the opinions of acknowledged thought leaders in the Christian world, as here quoted, should give us pause. But pausing does not come easily to us. Certitude beckons, and few can resist its siren call. And after all, the mailing list loves and even insists on certitude, doesn't it?

Isn't it likely, indeed, hasn't it been demonstrated, that those who insist that only those who "pray to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior" have any hope of eternal life, are clinging to a position which is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Instead of such bumper sticker religion, shouldn't we instead return to leaving the final verdict on such matters up to the One who does all things well (Mark 7:37), the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right (Gen 18:25), and to the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, and not convert into absolutes our own pet metaphors and boundary markers? Shouldn't we leave up to Him and not to ourselves the full and final tally of the census of the redeemed?

(On the subject of the faithfulness of Messiah, Richard B. Hays suggests that most English translations misinterpret “pistis christou” as being “faith in Christ,” when Paul intends “the faithfulness of Christ.” It is not our faith in Him which is the source of our salvation: in such a case, it is we who become the saviors. It is His faithfulness to His Father, to us, and to His calling as our Redeemer and Savior that is the basis of our hope. (On the subject of Christ’s faithfulness rather than our faith in Him being the heart of the Pauline emphasis see Richard B. Hays, “The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11” [1983]).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Universalism, Particularism and the Privileged Uniqueness of the Jewish People

In "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," Newbigin brilliantly responds to those who say that with the recording of blessing to all the nations multiplying on earth after the advent of Noah, the Bible speaks of pluralistic blessing. While acknowledging God’s providential blessing and love over all He has made, Newbigin reminds us that:

It is very misguided exegesis which sets these two elements [universalism and particularism] against each other. God’s love for all his creation, his purpose of blessing for al human beings is fundamental from beginning to end. But . . . that purpose is fulfilled by way of election, of the choosing of one for the blessing of all. Both dimensions of the divine purpose, the universal and the particular, show themselves in different ways throughout the Bible. To set one against the other is to misunderstand both [1989:166-167].

This tension between universalism and particularism is an issue that constantly crops up, usually unrecognized as such, in theological and missiological discussion. It is a worldview assumption for religious Jews that is not generally mirrored in the attitudes of Western Christians. Instead, the latter assume that the gospel is meant to have a homogeonizing effect, that being “all one in Christ Jesus” is equivalent to all being the same in Christ Jesus, which was never to be the case.

The School of Intercutlural Studies, with its zeal for the gospel being for “panta ta ethne (all the nations),” while strongly affirming particularism, misses and neglects the priority and singularity of the people of Israel. Indeed, Western democratic instincts recoil at the idea, especially when goaded by the anti-Judaic instincts of Christendom.

I remember the outraged response of one world class missiologist, not at Fuller by the way, who took strong exception to a song I had sung at a public meeting, where the words spoke of Israel being “of all the nations in the world, most precious in His sight.” Although he is certainly a champion of ethnic particularism for all nations, this leader was incensed to the extent of flaring nostrils by my referring to Israel as God’s most favored nation. That Scripture affirms this multiple times in language far more “insulting” than mine has totally escaped this world-class leader, who like most of Christendom itself, is unable to see what the Scripture clearly affirms.

Texts which affirm Jewish uniqueness include but are not limited to Balaam’s prophecy of Israel as “a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations” [Numbers 23:9, NASB], or, as the New Living Bible says it, “a people who live by themselves, set apart from other nations.” Other texts teach this same uniqueness, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” [Amos 3:2]; “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel” Deut 32:8, NKJV], “19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances” [Psalm 147:20]; “He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!” [Psalm 105:44-45]; “For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you; I will make an end of all the nations among which I scattered you, but of you I will not make an end" [Jer 30:11].

Those who champion a homogeonized people of God, transethnic and transnational, misrepresent and misunderstand Scripture. Even those who champion particularism often miss that Israel is “not to be reckoned among the (other) nations.” Israel remains unique and privileged in the midst of God’s wider community of the redeemed. "Of all the nations in the world, most precious in His sight."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Treasures Old and New

I have just returned from a trip to and from the East Coast, and during my considerable travel time, including lay-overs in both directions, I read in a book which I could hardly put down. It is called “Em Habannim Semeichah: On Eretz Yisrael, Redemption and Unity." The Hebrew title mean "A Joyous Mother of Children." The author is Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, of Blessed Memory.

Rabbi Teichtal was a right-wing Eastern European Orthodox Jew, who, like today’s Satmar Hasidim and the Neturei Karta, vigororously opposed Zionism. However, when the Holocaust began to rampage through the vineyard of Lord of Hosts (Isa 5:7), the magnitude and extent of the sufferings caused Rabbi Teichtal to reconsider his former opinions, convinced that these sufferings were a divinely ordained inevitability for the Jewish people living in exile, and that the only place where the Jewish people could be safe would be in their own homeland. He vowed that if God would keep him and his family alive, he would write a book extolling the halachic responsibility of supporting and participating in settling in the Land.

Fleeing from the Nazis, he settled in Budapest, Hungary. During the course of a year, he wrote this work of over 500 pages while hiding in the attic of his Bet Midrash [House of Study], with ten other families. In this magnificent book, he quoted perhaps 2500 to 3000 references and sources, entirely from memory, and penned a work which for intellectual acumen and spiritual depth can scarcely be equaled. Reading it is proving to be a heart-rending and spiritually elevating, edifying and intellectually enriching experience.

To give you a measure of the author, consider the following: Eventually he and his family were apprehended by the Nazis, and sent to Auschwitz. However, this was very late in the war (1945) and, with the Allies closing in on the Polish camps, the Nazis began moving prisoners by railway car to camps in Germany. Rabbi Teichtal was one of many placed in railway cars for transport from Auschwitz to Mauthausen. His crowded railway car was filled with Jews and Ukranians, most of whom despised the Jews and were collaborators in their destruction. After a few days without any food, the Nazis tossed a few breadcrusts into the car, to see how people would scramble for them. One of Teichtal’s former neighbors got one of those scraps, but the Ukranians started beating the man to get it from him. Rabbi Teichtal sought to intervene. A number of people tried to stop him, but he said he could not stand by while one of his brethren was fighting for a crust of bread which might mean for him the difference between life and death. So it was that Rabbi Teichtal intervened, whereupon he was set upon by the Ukranians, who tortured and killed him.

And so a righteous man, a genius and a saint, died seeking to preserve the life of another. Truly, he was the kind of person extolled in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, one “of whom the world was not worthy,” who suffered for the sanctification of God's Name.

Too many of us have been taught not to seek spiritual enlightenment from Jewish people who do not believe in Yeshua. Some have told us that because these people lack Yeshua-faith, they could not have the Holy Spirit, therefore, why learn of them about spiritual matters?

I am reminded of a time when I was in the Midwest and visited a Christian seminary bookstore with a Jewish mission figure. He became enraged when he discovered that one of the books on the shelves there was Abraham Joshua Heschel's "The Prophets." He quickly dictated a letter to the President of the Seminary protesting that good Christian people were spending their money to see seminarians trained for the ministry, and not so that these students might learn from "unsaved rabbis."

Of a variety of good responses to this position, I will restrict myself to but one.

When he was in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17, the Apostle Paul was not ashamed to quote from two pagan poets whose insights helped him make his points in preaching to the Athenians. Now, if Paul was not ashamed to quote from pagans, dare we categorically exclude the words and writings of such Jewish giants of piety, members of the Chosen People, whose books proceed from lives of burning zeal to glorify the Holy One which we don't begin to understand or equal? These are no pagans here: these are members of the chosen seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose lives, and often, whose deaths, were entirely for the sanctification of God’s Holy Name.

Such giants have incalculably much to teach us. The question is, do we have the humility and sanity to sit at their feet, to drink in their words, and to imitate their lives? Failing to do so will leave us impoverished. Refusing to do so should leave us everlastingly ashamed.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Building A Sanctuary For God

(This is a teaching lesson on Parashat Terumah presented March 4, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns the counterintuitive directive Hashem gave to Israel that they were to build a Sanctuary for Him that He might dwell among them, and how particular He was about how they were to go about it. What does this have to say to us?)

You may have noticed, the Ahavat Zion liturgical service style is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people think it be better if we had an entirely different kind of service. If we pause for a moment to think about this, we will discover that this is an example of a market driven mentality—we ought to have the kind of service people like. Although there is something to be said for this approach, and I could certainly argue for it, today’s reading comes at things from another angle entirely.

Today’s passage speaks about the worship of the people of Israel during the lifetime of Moses; it is a style of worship that continued in the Temple, and all in all continued for well over a thousand years.

They shall make a Sanctuary for Me—so that I may dwell among them—like everything that I show you, the form of the Tabernacle and the form of all its vessels;m and so shall you do (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:8-9)

As is often the case when we read the Bible, there are some surprises here as we apply it to our own situation.

1. It is we who must make provision for the worship of God in our personal and community life, it is not something anyone else can do for us.

2. We need to make room for the worship of God, and make decisions as to what modes of worshipping Him are most suitable. These should be ways that honor Him, that teach us about Him, that cause us to grow in honoring Him, and as Messianic Jews, that give due respect to our own distinctives, chiefly, the person and work of Yeshua our Righteous Messiah, and His identity as the bearer of covenant blessings to Israel and the Nations

3. If God seems distant and unreal, chances are we need to get more serious about “building a Sanctuary.” It is we who must make provision for encountering Him.

4. Contrary to the modern impulse, the worship of God should not be conceived of as an “anything goes” or “whatever you find meaningful” matter. In fact, it is not about us, it is about Him. God has a particular way He wants to be approached and worshipped.

5. It is our task to find out what that way is and to share it with others.

The Jewish way of worship is intensely reverent, ancient, biblical, and takes God, His commandments, and his mighty acts seriously. Yeshua and the apostles commended this way of worship through their own participation, and comment [Acts 26:7]. At Ahavat Zion, we have over thirty years experience worshipping God in these ways. Consider Jeremiah 6:16-30.

And now, some questions:

1. What do you see in today’s Torah text and in Hebrews 8-9 that would cause you to be cautious and thoughtful before simply seeking another form of worship that is more user-friendly or trendy?

2. Would you agree or disagree with the following statement? “According to the Bible, the worship of God is priority one.”

3. Does Scripture model the priority of private worship alone, or also of communal worship? Is that true in the Older Testament only or also in the Newer?

4. Do you find the worship at Ahavat Zion appropriate to the majesty, holiness, and mercy of God?

5. What factors in contemporary life hinder us from commitment to and participation in the heartfelt worship of God?

6. As a portrait of apostolic worship, consider Acts 24:1-27. What do we learn here about how the apostles related to traditional Jewish worship?

7. If the Bible treats the worship of God as priority one, if Yeshua meant what He said when He said, “the Father is seeking worshipers,” what priority is the worship of God for you? And what does your answer say about how biblical your values are, or how much you are pressed into the mold of contemporary culture?