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

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Children of Abraham by Faith

This is a sermon on Parashat Lech Lecha, presented Shabbat, November 4, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It calls us to examine just what we mean when we refer to ourselves as "children of Abraham by faith."

1 Now ADONAI said to Avram, "Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you are to be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
4 So Avram went, as ADONAI had said to him, and Lot went with him. Avram was 75 years old when he left Haran. 5 Avram took his wife Sarai, his brother's son Lot, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, as well as the people they had acquired in Haran; then they set out for the land of Kena'an and entered the land of Kena'an.

It is our habit to call ourselves “children of Abraham.” Not only Jews do this, Christians and Muslims do as well. And in the Christian and Messianic Jewish tradition, when we call ourselves children of Abraham, we usually focus on having the same kind of faith as Abraham.

In the shadow of the Reformation, we tend to take pride that we believe in faith, not works. We don’t all know exactly what that means, but we take pride in it nonetheless. My concern in this drash is that we tend to feel, if not say, that we believe in faith instead of actions. Most of us would protest that this is not true. But how about this? Do we not tend to believe in faith instead of obedience? I would say that on the level of comfortable assumptions, and my observation of how nice people like us operate, this is exactly what too many of us believe, too much of the time.

And if I’m right, then this preference for something we call “faith” over obedience indicts us for not having faith at all. Certainly not Abraham’s kind of faith.
Just look at today’s parasha and notice here, and in all the parshiot about Abraham, how Torah describes Abraham’s characteristic response to the commands of God. One thing’s for sure: he doesn’t just say, “I believe you God!.” No, something else happens, more often than not.

That something is clear from the very time Avram is presented in the Bible as the subject of a verb. We find this at the beginning of verse four: “vayelech Avram--So Abram went.” God has spoken, and the very next thing we read of Avram is that he does what God said.

This is the faith of Abraham—it is obedient action expressing trust. That’s what Abraham’s faith was, and is—nothing less, nothing more, and nothing else. And if we are going to call ourselves children of Abraham who share in Abraham’s faith then we too should be people who lives are characterized not by words of agreement with God, but rather deeds of agreement with God, what is also called obedience.

Abraham is the icon of faith because, more often than not, he displayed reflexive obedience. It’s like what happens when you go to the doctor’s office and he hits your knee cap with that little rubber hammer, and, if your body is not ready for the scrap yard, in immediate response to the stimulus of the hammer, your lower leg reflexively moves forward. And if we are truly children of Abraham by faith, we too will obey as a reflexive habit of life.

I don’t think it an accident that time and again, the Torah records Abraham’s obedience in immediate proximity to his hearing the word of the Lord. In the next chapter, chapter 13, we read that God tells him, “Get up and walk through the length and breadth of the land, because I will give it to you." In the very next verse, the text says this: “Avram moved his tent and came to live by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hevron. There he built an altar to ADONAI” (Gen 13:16-17).

Here again, the word of the Lord comes, and Abraham obeys—this is what it means to be a person of faith. It means to hear the word of the Lord obediently and respectfully.

This reflexive obedience characterizes Abram/Abraham throughout Torah. It is strikingly evident in the account of the binding of Isaac, toward the end of Abraham’s life. In this account, we read, “1 After these things, God tested Avraham. He said to him, "Avraham!" and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ 2 He said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitz'chak; and go to the land of Moriyah. There you are to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will point out to you.’” The very next verse says this, “Vayashkem Avraham baboker--Avraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with Yitz'chak his son. He cut the wood for the burnt offering, departed and went toward the place God had told him about.” Here, as a very old man, as before when he was just embarking on his journey of faith, we see Abraham obeying immediately, reflexively, characteristically.

The question arises concerning us: are we people such as Isaiah speaks of, “The kind of person on whom I look with favor is one with a poor and humble spirit, who trembles at my word.” And will this trembling be evident in immediate obedient action?

I like the way Reform Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf puts it:

By definition, you cannot freely choose to be commanded. . . If there is a God, there cannot be a fully autonomous human being. . . . How you know God’s will for you, and whether you’re able to do God’s will are difficult question, but they are secondary to the belief that, if you know, when you know, however you know God’s will, there is no choice about performing it. There is only obedience or sin.

I would only add this to what Rabbi Wolf said so well: “When you know, however you know God’s will, there is no choice about performing it. There is only the obedience of faith or sin.

If we have Abraham’s kind of faith, then we will obey. And if we don’t obey God as a habit of life, let’s not deceive ourselves: we don’t have the faith of Abraham.
We would do well to take to heart these words from the beginning of Hebrews 11:8: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.” If we are children of Abraham, then we will obey too whenever and wherever we are convinced that God has spoken.

At 11/05/2006 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the challenge being convinced that God has really spoken? God speaking with someone is so personal and subjective. How can one be sure?

At 11/05/2006 8:50 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

It seems that at least sometimes, even for biblical characters, it was tricky validating whether God had spoken--it necessitated some sort of processing on the part of the individual or the community. For example, see Jeremiah's experience in 32:1-8.

I would issue a few caveats and guidelines here.

First, I do not believe that God speaks to us today with the same kind of enscripturating authority as in biblical times. His words to the canonical writers have a normative status unique to themselves.

Second, one of the ways God speaks to us is through the Scriptures, and this takes place on many levels: the Scripture establishes norms, as mentioned; there are also times when, while reading something in Scripture, one has a sense of being addressed. In addition, the Scripture is something of a casebook, estabishing precedents for how God speaks and the kinds of things He says. Also, Scripture establishes a tether, setting limits for what we may and may not claim to be the will and ways of God.

Third, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, one must be prepared to submit what one has heard to the test of the wisdom of the tradition, and of the community. Although this vexes some people, the practice is a necessary counterbalance to the kinds of prideful and pathological delusions to which people are prone, including us

Some object that the prophets are recorded as speakiing to communities that rejected their words, but that the prophets were right, and the communities, wrong. True. But I am not here teaching how to become a prophet, nor am I advising my readers to consider themselves as such. I am dealing with more personal matters of the Spirit's guidance, rather than, as with canonical prophets, people claiming prophetic authority to enforce or establish guidelines for the community.

Fourth. God does speak to us today--the Spirit does guide us. One learns from experience to detect the nature and texture of that speaking, and one learns from attentiveness to how He speaks to others, as to how He might speak to us. Dallas Willard has written masterfully on this matter in his book, "Hearing God" (hightly recommended).

Fifth, in my quotation from Rabbi Wolf in this posting, I indicate my own agreement that discerning what and when God has spoken is difficult, so I agree with your question.

Sixth, the issue I wanted to touch on in this article is the issue of commandments, and how we have imbibed an antipathy to the acknowledgment of having been commanded and being therefore accountable. I also wanted to touch upon a misunderstanding of "faith" which limits it to assent or inward spiritual knowing. Biblically, faith is more trust in action, than the kinds of inward illumination or agreement often touted in our day as being in themselves sufficient apart from accompanying obedient action.

Our antipathy to being commanded and therefore accountable is due to axiomatic autonomy courtesy of the Enlightenment. Nevertheless, if we are going to speak of God at all, we must speak of commandments, and we need to grapple with the fact that we are a commanded people. It is more important that we find ways of discerning what God has commanded than that we find ways of alleging that the process is too difficult to ascertain, don't you think?

The Jewish people have a legacy of commandments and thousands of years of discussion about pathways of obedience. Neither Yeshua nor the apostles presumed to ignore or uproot these pathways and discussion, although they did differ when and where they found the community's leadership in error in interpreting the direction and breadth of the path. My point is, Jewish believers in Yeshua should not see themselves as starting at zero in trying to discern what God requires--Scripture and tradition have already mapped pathways we need to follow. The Christian tradition as well ought to be consulted, especially by those linked communally to the Church. I think the assumption that discerning the will of God is always and simply "just me and my Bible" is erroneous, sometimes prideful, and often naive. It is also in itself unbiblical.

Finally, we live in a generation with too little experience with communal discernment. Our spirituality is reflexively individualistic. What might happen if worshipping communities, and work groups within those communities, set about to discern together the mind of God on a given matter? And what does it say about us that we rarely encounter groups that seek to do so?

Thank you for your thoughtful question.

At 11/05/2006 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A piece that is puzzling is how the creator of the universe that knows everything about everything since He spoke it existence from nothing seems, suddenly loses His ability to speak with clarity to His creation. As a good rabbi said, "God speaks to us is through the Scriptures." So on what scriptural basis does the good Rabbi make the following conclusion, "I do not beleive that God speaks to us with the same kind of enscripturating authority as in biblical times?"

Biblical times covers from Adam through the Holy Spirit counseling all believers as He did with the prophets? I can't believe that you would say Jer 32:1-8 supports your theory so please explain your position from scriptures that would.

At 11/05/2006 11:43 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I am sure my response would fail to impress or satisfy. Perhaps you will find someone wiser that I who will have a better answer. Happy hunting.

At 11/06/2006 10:19 AM, Anonymous Menachem said...

Deut 30: 11For this commandment which I command thee this day<<<<


As you know I have spent a considerable number of years in the faith struggling to understand and implement this verse in my life. I still dont know what it means. What is "this commandment"? I ask different people with different persuasions and receive a variety of responses. Some say it is to accept the validity of the Torah and mitzvot. Others say it refers to all the mitzvot. Christians say it means to "accept Jesus Christ". Paul seems to identify it with the "word of faith" in Romans 10.

What is clear to me is that the issue is not clear. And I dont know why Hashem has left us in this situation. Having said this, I find myself agreeing with R.Wolf. There is a posture of willingness to accept Hashem's commands which precedes understanding. "We will do and we will hear". This is what we observe in the life of Avraham Avinu. What is the nature of this posture and where does it come from in a depraved and fallen mind? How do we cultivate it given what we know from the NC scriptures about ourselves?

I dont have answers for any of these things. But I sure am grateful for someone like yourself who is raising the standard of this issue for us to examine collectively.


At 11/06/2006 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if Bill Gates stated that he could not communicate with computers in the 2003 version of Windows as he did in the 1995 version and the spokesperson said, take it or leave it, would that make sense to you? Wouldn't you think that as time progressed that God would get better at His job than worse as you assert?

At 11/06/2006 1:13 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I assert nothing of the sort. In fact, I am sure most of my readers would agree that speaking of God's "job description" bespeaks an Everest of chutzpah.

Of course, if your God concept requires you to believe that you and all other Yeshua believers are or should be prophets of the rank of an Isaiah or an Elijah, and that it is God's job to make you such, who am I to argue?

Enjoy yourself. But color me unconvinced.

At 11/06/2006 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I do not believe that God speaks to us today with the same kind of enscripturating authority as in biblical times.

So if God was to speak to you, and He passed all the tests you placed before Him to prove He was who He said He was, are you saying that these words don't carry the same authority to you as if you read them from scriptures?

At 11/06/2006 9:53 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Tish, tosh. We're not being argumentative, are we?

I already indicated the meaning of my reference--that I do not believe that people can claim God has spoken to them with the same level of enscripturaing authority as He spoke to Isaiah and the prophets, that is, so as to establish norms in the sense that Scripture does.

I do believe that God speaks today, but by His choice, the circle of authority of this speaking is narrower than in Bible times.

I bet that won't satisfy you either. I wonder why????

At 11/06/2006 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please understand the importance of the "to you" in the statement. My assumption is whether my Father writes a letter giving me instruction or tells me directly, it is still disobedience not to follow. To say that to be disobedient to His written word is worse than to something He told me to personally seems absurd.

At 11/07/2006 7:25 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Yes, it is absurd, which is why I neither said nor implied it.

At 11/07/2006 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet that won't satisfy you either. I wonder why????

Probably because the rules and their application don't apply to you.

Sounds like nothing has changed since Yeshua said to follow the Pharisees only because they sat in Moses' seat.

At 11/07/2006 12:51 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Ladies and gentlemen. The above Anonymous poster has been sending me nasty comments, usually multiple times daily, for at least a year. Hitherto I have barred him from my blog because I view his comments to not content-driven but rather to proceed from his animosity.

Unless I receive a groundswell of protests to the contrary from non-anonymous commentators, I will again banish him from my blog. Decision to be made 12 noon, PST, Thursday, November 9.

What say ye?

At 11/07/2006 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not been writing for a year.

But what difference do the facts make when you are here to tell us how it really is?

At 11/07/2006 1:07 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I write the way I do because I'm a shmuck.

What's your excuse?

At 11/07/2006 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thank you for your thoughtful question." would need to be changed to accommodate the assumption that all anonymous post are from one individual.

At 11/07/2006 4:25 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I am able electronically to differentiate between one anonymous poster and anothter because of how my site is set up.

At 11/07/2006 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every religion is valid in the good times. As Yeshua taught, it is during the storms of life when people can tell whether they put into practice the words of Yeshua.

Say an 86 year old man refused to slander his LORD and was tied to a stake in order to be burned.

Would you say that this man was to figure out from the scriptures what He needed at that moment or when God spoke to him that He did so in order to complete what the scriptures didn’t say?

What community could come to a consensus in time to be of value to this man?

The man was a martyr in Rome after Yeshua's ascension. The account is part of the history books. Only the believers heard God speak but they all heard the same thing.

God does meet the needs of His people today as He spoke to the prophets to meet their needs. If He didn't the scripture would not have said so. And He when He speaks, He doesn’t have to establish a rank from which He will not descend below a certain point.

And while a prophet’s revelation is timeless, it is also to broad to meet the specific needs if a person:

created by God to live in a unique point and time....

to fulfill a unique purpose....

that also fulfills the law we are live under.

See, the broad, timeless word of scripture can not give the specifics to how to fulfill every believer's purpose for 2,000 plus years.

Nor can the community give instructions past pray about it. If the community knew how God would answer, then God would have had to reveal it to them as well. The revelation would require the community to validate their own revelation. Where in scripture is such a passage?

At 11/07/2006 11:52 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I know this is not going to satisfy you, but here goes.

Notice for example, Deut 13 where Scripture lays out the criteria whereby the community is to validate or invalidate the claims of prophets. The prophets are not self-authenticating; even their miracles are not self-authenticating. It is the community which judges on the basis of criteria mapped out in Scripture.

Wayne Grudem discusses 1 Cor 14:33, which states," 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. " This word "weigh" is diakrino, from which we get our word "discern," or "discernment." When NT prophets spoke in the congregation, it was the responsibility of the other prophets and/or the congregation to determine the validity/invalidity of what was said.

BTW, Grudem holds, and I agree, that the NT parties whose authority parallels that of the OT prophet is not the person with the gift of prophecy, but rather the Apostle. The Apostolic teaching is normative to the same degree as were the words of Isaiah.

Study Grudem on the gift of prophecy in the NT.

In both the OT and the NT, the validity of a prophet or prophecy was determined by the congregation. In addition, I am one of those benighted people who are convinced that the voice of tradition is often wiser than the impulse of the person who thinks he has a word from the Lord.

At 11/08/2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“First, I do not believe that God speaks to us today with the same kind of enscripturating authority as in biblical times. His words to the canonical writers have a normative status unique to themselves.”

What about the prophets yet to come? The Apostle establishing "enscripturating authority" said fit into this understanding since the Apostle wrote as part of our scripture,

"10The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth."

To conclude that prophets in the league of Elijah and Daniel or the Apostles are no longer possible would be difficult to justify in light of what the Apostle said. Since this is coming “at a time no one know,” how is it that you can conclude that “today” God isn’t going to speak to us as He did given the Biblical use of the word?

Shock of all shocks, I agree with you when you say, “In both the OT and the NT, the validity of a prophet or prophecy was determined by the congregation. In addition, I am one of those benighted people who are convinced that the voice of tradition is often wiser than the impulse of the person who thinks he has a word from the Lord.”

The key is not to change the word "often" into "always."

At 11/08/2006 12:43 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

My mental desert was visited by a brainstorm last night, which your most recent posting affirms. Here it is. In this current interchange, you are proposing extraordinary examples as exceptions--the martyrdom of Polycarp or something of that sort a few comments ago, and now the end time prophets mentioned in the Book of the Revelation to John. I, on the other hand, am dealing with the ordinary, with guidelines for the normalcies of every day life.

I think it unwise to base policy and expectations on the unique or clearly extraordinary. We need communal and personal guidelines for day to day living, without precluding God's prerogatives to color outside the lines.

At 11/08/2006 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it unwise to base policy and expectations on the unique or clearly extraordinary.

Since when is martyrdom for believers unusual? Because it is currently unusual in the USA, does that make it unusual?

It is calculated that more have picked up their cross and died because of their faith this century than ever before…so why trivialize it?

At 11/08/2006 9:40 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I am not trivializing martyrdom, and you are picking a fight.

At 12/01/2006 10:52 PM, Blogger jon cline said...

I think I would respect the comments of the 'anonymous' poster(s) if they made the simple choice to become known.

It seems a bit paradoxical to seek understanding and even influence in a community without allowing yourself to be known. Regardless of any defense given, 'anonymous' will never be taken seriously as we do not learn from precepts and dogma delivered generically in a vacuum. We learn through relationships with people that we respect.

In my perspective, the anonymous voice in a forum such as this is a catalyst to factions.

As a fellow learning, I say "be known or be gone".


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